What is Orienteering?

804778f7023604518b4c2bc5e4ea551f.media.400x280The 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.

Trying Orienteering


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. Either email them before the event or you could also ask on the day. 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?

all welcomeFor most events pre-entry online is required, usually available up to a day or two before the event. Most events use a timing system called SportIdent ('SI') which has its own little timing chips ('SI Card') but you can usually hire one for the day so you don't need to have your own.

If you're not sure which Course to enter you can contact the organisers (or just opt for a shorter, easier course).

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.

“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.

Control Descriptions

An “SI card”. This is a small piece of plastic with an elastic strap. You will use this at each control to record that you were there. When you start SI cardto 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 (and/or check you off a list of some sort). At that time, you can pick up your map and begin your course.

What course should I do?

If there is a special beginners/short 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 these.

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 checkpoint ('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 must avoid them.

Sample Orienteering Map

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).

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 possible  options to get from the start to number 1.

  1. Go directly North through the forest (white means forest that is easy to traverse) and cross the marsh (blue lines). This is the shortest route but you might get your feet wet!
  2. Go North West uphill (crossing the brown contour lines) along the broken path then turn right (East/Northeast) down the bigger path. This option is the longest and involves some slower climbing uphill
  3. Follow the path that curves around Northeast to Control 1. This might be the quickest option, but the choice is yours.

Continue from control to control until you reach the finish (double circle). 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.
  • 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. Sometimes, 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”.Orienteering Flag 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?

Do you need to be fitOrienteering 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.

More Information


WWW sites

The main source of information is Orienteering Ireland's 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.

There are also many other pages from around the world:

How to use a Compass

A General Guide to Orienteering from US

Beginners Guide from Austrialian Orienteering Association

Basic Map Reading Guide


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.