Beginners Information

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What is orienteering?

A competition in finding one's way, on foot, by the use of map and compass, over a course of from 2 to 12 km, usually in wooded or hilly country not known to the competitors.

The challenge is to navigate to a series of control points, which are shown as the centres of red circles on the map, and marked on the ground by prominent red & white marker flags.

For a more detailed description see our newcomers guide (PDF).

Who is it for?

Anyone who enjoys a challenge and likes using a map and walking or running in the country, be they young or old, male or female. The experts are all good runners, but you do not have to be an expert to enjoy orienteering.

What kind of map is used?

The Organiser provides a special orienteering map, recently revised and redrawn to magnetic north, and professionally printed using up to five colours. The scale is usually 1:10,000 (1 cm represents 100m), thus enabling a wealth of detail to be shown. This map is only given to you once you have started except for the White and Yellow standard courses where you receive your map at Registration.

The map uses special symbols to represent the features and control sites. For further information, see here

What happens at a typical event?

It is most unusual now to find an event that does not use the modern form of electronic punching. Those that do are usually the informal club summer series events. It is best for beginners to report to ENQUIRIES where you will receive help and advice about which course will be most suitable for your age and experience, and the REGISTRATION procedure will be explained, and the hiring of the electronic record device managed. The entry fee varies depending on type of event maybe about 5-7 for Seniors; 2-4 for Juniors.

You will receive an electronic recording device (if you're hiring), a CONTROL DESCRIPTION SHEET, and for the White or Yellow course a copy of the map. Virtually all events now use a punching start which means that you can go to the start whenever you like and queue for the next available start time. (Competitors start at one minute intervals). There may be quite a long walk to get to the start.

The location of the CONTROLS to be found are described on the Control Description Sheet and marked on the Map as the centres of numbered red circles. On beginners courses the challenge is to choose the correct route to the next control. Controls will be on line features such as paths, streams or fences. The technically difficult courses will include controls on point features (such as small pits) with no obviously best route between them.

At each control there is a red and white MARKER FLAG, about one foot square, with a code symbol that corresponds with that on the control description sheet, and an electronic gadget which records the current time and control number onto your recording device.

You must visit each control in order, and you MUST return to the download tent once you have completed your course. If you decide to retire from your course you must still go to download to register that you are no longer in the forest, otherwise a search party could be sent out for you unnecessarily.

Each competitor is timed round the course, and the fastest is the winner. Provisional results are often displayed near the Finish. Results can be sent to you by post, but are more easily obtained from the club web site (normally within 2 days).

What are the rules?

They can mostly be summed up in:-

"Competitors must take part in the spirit of fairness, good fellowship and consideration for the enjoyment of others."

Nothing must be done to inconvenience members of the public or risk losing the goodwill of landowners, upon which the sport depends (e.g. damage to crops, fences or walls; going out of bounds; rudeness or leaving litter). No smoking. No dogs (even in the car park) unless it has been specifically stated that they are allowed.

Each competitor should find the controls unaided; to give away their positions by shouting or noise spoils the competition and denies others the satisfaction of solving the problems set by the Planner for themselves.

GOLDEN RULE: All competitors must report to the Download tent, even if retiring, or did not start your course.

What skills are needed?

MAP READING: Familiarity with map symbols and the interpretation of contours. Study the legend on the map. Keep comparing the ground with the map so that you always know where you are.

COMPASS: Setting the map; Taking a bearing from a map and following it.

DISTANCE JUDGEMENT: Develop a feel for what 100m looks like on the ground and on the map. Discover how many double paces you take to cover this distance.

What equipment is needed?

COMPASS of the Silva or Sunto type, only really needed for the more technical courses from say Orange upwards, however learning to use a compass early is a good idea.

OLD CLOTHES and footwear you do not mind getting muddy. The rules state no bare legs. Long sleeves are advised. (The committed wear lightweight nylon or lycra orienteering suits and cross country running shoes).

MAP CASE: Optional extra. Most events provide maps already protected in plastic bags, or use maps printed on waterproof paper. However some events do not provide this so if the weather is bad your own plastic bag will be necessary. Registration will tell you if the map needs protecting or not.

CHANGE OF CLOTHES for afterwards. You may have worked up a sweat; you may be muddy; it may have rained.

REFRESHMENTS (a cold drink is usually provided free at the Finish)

WATCH, advisable; essential for Score Events. Courses do have specific closure times and if you're not back by this time search parties mat be formed.

Will it be too difficult?

Come-and-try-it events (CATI) are intended for new-comers, and there will be suitable courses at all Colour Coded Events.

STRING COURSES are safe for the very young; WHITE is for young beginners; YELLOW for young improvers & family groups; ORANGE for older family groups & adult beginners; GREEN for more experienced adults who have tried a few ORANGE courses.

Pairs or family groups must stay together all the time. Large groups are not a good idea.

Don't over-estimate your ability. If in doubt, choose the easier course and ensure success. If you arrive early, you might have enough time for another one afterwards!

When do events take place?

Usually on Sunday mornings, with start times 10.00 - 12.30; the courses close around 3 p.m, although there are now many events run on a saturday morning.

Does one have to join a club?

Not at first, but there are advantages to doing so once you feel that Orienteering is a sport you are going to do regularly.

As a club member one gets to know other orienteers, and can learn much from discussion of events with them. It may be possible to arrange to share transport. There are other activities such as training events and socials.

Help is always needed in putting on events, and many orienteers enjoy preparing orienteering maps, planning courses and helping in one of the organising teams "on the day".

What are the classes of competitor?

In Badge Events and above, competitors are divided into Classes according to their sex & age. Your orienteering age is the age you will be on your birthday in the year in question. Classes combine ages into groups e.g. W18 is for women turning 17 or 18; M35 is for men aged 35 to 39.

What is Permanent Course Orienteering?

There are about 150 Permanent Courses in the U.K. in parkland and other areas to which the public have ready access. A good way to improve skills!

Who controls the sport?

British Orienteering (BO), Web: