Orienteering is a sport that involves using a highly detailed map to navigate from point to point through wilderness or urban terrain. Enjoyed as both a great outdoor recreation activity or as a competitive sport, the objective is to run or walk to a series of checkpoints shown on a map as quickly as you can. Good map reading and clever choices on how to get to each checkpoint will help you find them all and get back to the finish in the shortest amount of time. The points on the course are marked with orange and white flags and electronic timing devices, to record the time taken for you to reach each checkpoint. Each checkpoint marker is located on a distinct feature, such as a bend in a trail, cliff or the top of a knoll.
Orienteering is often called the “thinking sport” because it involves map reading and decision-making in addition to a physical challenge. Maps used in orienteering are very detailed and large scale (1:4,000 – 1:15,000) to aid the orienteer in recognizing specific features in the landscape such as boulders, cliffs, streams and foot trails.
One of the unique aspects of orienteering is that it can be a sport for life, because it can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of age or experience. The competitive athlete can experience the exhilaration of running through the woods at top speed, while the non-competitive orienteer can enjoy the forest at a more leisurely pace. Most orienteering events provide courses for all levels from beginner to advanced. The sport has can also be adapted for small children and people in wheelchairs. At provincial, national and international competitions, orienteering courses are classified into numerous age categories, therefore it is possible to stay competitive regardless of your age. Some orienteers stay active in the sport well into their seventies and eighties!
If you love maps, exploring, or the great outdoors, try orienteering. You’ll be hooked for life! Contact a club in your area – and they will be able to get you started. For some helpful videos to introduce orienteering, check out the 10 elements of Orienteering (courtesy of the Irish Orienteering Association)