What is Orienteering?
The simplest definition is that it is finding your way from one point to another, using only a map, a compass and your brains. Orienteering is usually done in the woods, hills or parks, with the participants on foot.
At a typical organized Orienteering event, several courses of varying difficulty are laid out in the woods by the event organisers. Each course consists of a series of checkpoints (or “controls”) marked by a brightly coloured, distinctive Orienteering flag. Participants are given a map with the locations of the checkpoints circled. The starting place, the sequence in which you visit the controls, and the finish location are also shown. Then, using the map and a compass, it’s up to the participant to find his or her way from one control point to another in the order specified.
How can I try Orienteering?
The easiest way to start Orienteering is to go to an event. Almost all events will have a course that is suitable for beginners. Look through the fixtures list for one that is convenient to where you live. Alternatively, you could contact a member of your local club who will be able to help get you started. When you are Registering at the event explain that you are a Newcomer. Below is an example of what you will see on the Fixtures List.
When you go to the fixtures list, click on the ‘Venue Name’ or ‘More’ to get details of the event.
Alternatively, you can try one of the Permanent Orienteering Courses at any time.
How do I enter an event?
For the vast majority of events, you can just turn up and enter. A small number of events require pre-entry. These will be marked as such in the Fixtures List.
Once you have arrived and parked, look out for “Registration”. This can be in a car or a tent. There will be a “REGISTRATION” sign or a list of courses and prices in front of it.
Pick up an entry form and fill it in. Choose a course from the list. You can enter individually or in a group. Once the form is filled, hand it in to the official, along with the entry fee. In return (s)he will give you “Control Descriptions” and a “SI Card”.
“Control Descriptions” give a description of each control that you must find on the course. They are usually in a pictogram format for the more difficult courses and in Text format for easier courses.
An “SI card”. This is a small piece of red plastic with an elastic strap. You will use this at each control to record that you were there. When you start to Orienteer more frequently you may wish to buy your own SI Card, but at the beginning you can rent one at each event.
Once you are ready you can follow the signs to the start which may be a few minutes walk away.
At the Start, an official will allocate you a start time. At that time, you can pick up your map and begin your course.
What course should I do?
If there is a special beginners/wayfarers course then you should do this. At colour coded events, you should try the Yellow or Orange course. At championship events, where most competitors enter beforehand, there will usually be one or two “entry on the day” courses. Pick one of there.
You may think that these courses seem very short (1 – 2 miles) but you should note that if you make a mistake you could end up going much further than that. If you find that the course you picked was too short then you can usually do a second at no extra cost.
How do I get around my course?
The thing that makes Orienteering unique is that it’s up to you do decide which route you will take. Once you visit each control, in order, you may pick any route you like. There are, of course, some limitations – some areas may be Out-Of-Bounds (eg. private land). These will be marked on the map and you should do your best to avoid them.
This shows a typical beginners course. Note that the map may look a bit different to what you are used to (eg. road maps or Ordnance Survey 50,000 maps). There is usually a Legend on the map to explain the symbols.
Take the first leg as an example. The start (marked by a triangle) is located on a path junction. Control 1 is also on a path junction. There are 3 reasonable options to get from the start to number 1.
- Go through the forest (white means forest that is easy to traverse) onto the forest road on the right of the map. Follow the road until you see a path coming down the hill. Follow this path up the hill to the control.
- Follow up the path, across the forest road and turn left onto the other path. Follow this path to the control.
- Go directly from the start straight towards the control. This is the shortest option but may not the the quickest as the control will be more difficult to find and it will be difficult to get through the thick forest (green on the map).
The choice is yours.
Continue from control to control until you reach the finish. More advanced courses will be longer and have controls that are more difficult to find.
What equipment will I need?
All that you need to start orienteering is:
- Clothing that is suitable for a walk in the woods. You should not mind too much if they get dirty. A pair of boots or strong runners is a good idea. In wet weather a raincoat is pretty much essential. You should not wear jeans, especially if it is raining.
- A change of clothing for after the event.
- A whistle. Sometimes, the organisers insist that you carry a whistle to call for help if you injure yourself.
- Approximately € 6 – 8 per person.
- You do not need a compass but, if you have one and know how to use it, you may find it useful.
There is other, specialised, orienteering and running equipment that you will see other orienteers using (eg. studded shoes, compasses, light-weight clothing etc.). There is absolutely no need for you to get any of this unless you start orienteering regularly.
How do I get to an event?
There will be directions and a location map in the fixtures list. Usually, organisers will post last minute details, including directions, on the forum during the week before an event. There will also be a grid reference for each event. You can use this grid reference to look up the location on an Ordnance Survey Map. Once you get close to the event, keep your eyes open for “Orienteering Signs”. Follow the arrows on the signs and they will lead you to the event.
Where do I find my local club?
There is a list of clubs with contact details in the Clubs page. You can get directions for events from these people. They may even be able to help you to get a lift if you have no transport.
The easiest place to meet up with club members is at an event. It’s even easier if they are organising the event. In this case just ask the person selling maps or giving you your start time. There is usually a person in charge of new members. They will give you all the information you need.
If you do join a club then it’s a good idea to get to know other members of the club. Many clubs hold regular social evenings or training sessions. This is a very good way of meeting people. By far the best way of meeting other club members is to help at club organised events.
What is a Control?
Each control is marked by a 3-dimensional flag, or “kite”. It is red and white and approximately 30cm square. There is also an electronic box or plastic pin-punch. The Orienteer either uses their SI card or paper card to register that they have been to the control.
What types of Orienteering Events are there?
There are 3 levels of events that take place in Ireland, (1) Local, (2) League, (3) Championship.
Local Events are the smallest type of event and usually only have 2 or 3 courses; Long, Medium and Short. They often take place in parks in city areas. They are more likely to use pin-punch rather than electronic punching. Each punch has a different pattern of pins; these are checked to ensure you visited all the controls!!
League events usually have Electronic Punching, called SportIdent. You carry a SI Card and when you reach a control you insert the card into the SportIdent box. Your visit and time is recorded onto your SI card. There are usually 6 courses coded by colour in terms of difficulty, Brown, Blue, Green, Light Green, Orange, and Yellow. Brown is the most difficult and Yellow is the easiest.
Championship events occur near the end of the season (usually May or June) and use Electronic punching. You will need to enter these beforehand. The courses are more difficult and the terrain more interesting. In Ireland, each province has their Championship Event and there is also the National Championship event.
Do I need to be fit?
Orienteering can either be a race, or a casual recreational activity, depending totally on your own attitude towards the event – and at typical events, you will find people of all inclinations and athletic abilities.
Orienteering is considered a competitive sport by some; the winners being the ones who’ve been to all the control points in the least amount of time, usually running the whole way. Competitions are held at all levels including the World Championships.
But, it’s also considered a recreational activity by casual walkers. People come out alone, with friends, or with family, admiring the view and taking time to appreciate nature. It can be considered a walk with some mental challenge added.
How Difficult is it?
There are usually several courses at each event, and they vary in difficulty. What differentiates them is the length of the course, and the placement of controls. So the course for experienced Orienteers might be 8-12km (5-9 miles) long, and finding the control markers would require advanced navigational techniques and an experienced pair of eyes reading the map. On the other hand, the course for beginners would only be about 2-3km (1-2 miles) long, and the controls would all be displayed prominently near paths. The other courses fall somewhere between
When can I take part?
In Ireland, orienteering takes place mainly during the months of September to May. During this time, most events take place on Sundays from 11am to 1pm. During the summer, there are often events on Tuesday or Thursday evenings between 6pm and 7:30pm.
What other Types of Event are there?
There are other variations of orienteering that are also popular, such as Mountainbike Orienteering, Ski-Orienteering (which takes place on cross country skis), relay competitions, and Night-O. You will sometimes find, especially at low-key club meets some of the less common variants, such as ‘score orienteering’ or map-memory.
The main source of information is the Irish Orienteering website. It has all the information you will need. Some clubs have their own web pages. There are links to them in the clubs page. There is also an Orienteering Education section Orienteering education.
There are also many other pages from around the world:
Very often, last minute information about an upcoming event is posted on the Orienteering Events Forum. There, you also find information and discussions on all aspects of orienteering in Ireland.
The Evening Herald on Thursdays usually has a list of the weekends events. It also contains notices form some of the Dublin clubs. The Irish Independent and Examiner usually have events listed on Saturdays. The Irish Independent often has some results on Mondays.