About Orienteering

What is Orienteering??

Orienteering is a sport involving navigation between locations known as controls, usually using specially developed maps. The challenge is to find the best route in the quickest time. It does not matter how young, old or fit you are, you can run, walk or jog, you decide your own pace. You are able to start orienteering at a level which suits you, and progress at your own rate.

Orienteering can take place anywhere from remote forest and countryside to urban parks or school playgrounds. The most challenging orienteering takes place in remote areas which have testing terrain and fewer paths.

Orienteering at the elite level is a highly competitive sport involving intense concentration, skill and fitness, running against the best in the world at international competitions.

However to start, all you need is a sense of adventure, outdoor shoes and clothing. Orienteering can be a great sport to take up with friends and family, as everyone can compete at their respective level – and share tales of adventure on the way home.

What Do I need??

Newcomers to orienteering need very little equipment to make a start, just old clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty, and a sense of adventure.  It doesn’t matter how young, old or fit you are, you set your own pace. Orienteering is a sport which involves finding your way between control points and getting around the whole course in the quickest time.

It is almost always necessary to have full leg cover when orienteering in order to protect yourself from vegetation when venturing away from paths. Note that the wearing of shorts is prohibited at most events. For further protection of the lower legs some orienteers wear robust gaiters. In addition, most orienteers wear specialist orienteering or fell shoes, providing more grip than normal trainers on slippery slopes.

When you go to an orienteering race you will always be given the map for the event. However, it will soon be very helpful for you to have your own compass. There are two main manufactures of compasses, called Silva and Moscow.

Most orienteering events these days make use of electronic timing.  A ‘dibber’ is a small electronic device that is used to register your time at each control along the course and at the finish. Worn on the index finger, it is a short plastic rod with a clock inside that needs to be inserted into a slot at the control – a positive ‘punch’ is recorded by an LED flash and a beep. The advantage of e-punching is that when you get back to the finish your overall time and your time between each individual control can be given to you on a computer print out. By the time you get home, all the results may have been downloaded via a mobile phone to a web site and you can go onto the web site and compare your time to everyone else’s.

There are two systems widely used in the UK, which are SportIdent and EMIT. However, all north west clubs have adopted the SportIdent system so unless you orienteer further south you are unlikely to come across EMIT cards in the near future. It will always be possible to either hire or borrow the required dibber for any particular race if you don’t have your own.

What type of events are there??

Orienteering events can be characterised in a number of different ways – by level representing the size of the event and consequently the distance people will be willing to travel, by length of the courses on offer and by the type of terrain. Further, there is a nationally recognised system of characterising the length and technical challenge of courses which are identified using colour codes white through to black.


There are four types of orienteering events from Level A to Level D. Level A events are major national events such as the British Championships, Level B events are high quality competitions for people wishing to travel, Level C events attract participants from around the local Region and Level D events are usually aimed at participants in a ‘localised’ area such as a town park. Level D events are ideal for newcomers as by defintion there isn’t too far to travel, they are low key and people are always on hand to offer assistance and answer any questions. At some events, very young children may also be able to take part on a string courses, where they have their own map and follow a line of string which takes them around a set of controls marked by fun characters.

Course Lengths

Events are also characterised by the course lengths on offer – Long, Middle and Sprint. The best orienteers will typically take around 60 minutes to complete their courses at Long event, 40 minutes for a Middle event and 20 mintues for a Sprint event.

Terrain Types

Orienteering events traditionally took place in rural locations such as in forests or on open moorland. Such events are described as classic events. This reflects the origins of the sport in Scandanavia, which has vast areas of accessible forests for highly technical orienteering. However, urban orienteering is a fast growing part of the sport and is something many members of the SELOC club are very keen on. Obviously, given our own geographic location urban areas are much closer at hand for orienteering. However, we are fortunate that the West Pennine Moors and Lake District are not too far away.

Types of Orienteering

The SELOC club is predominately interested in the traditional form of on-foot orienteering. However, there are several other forms of orienteering which are growing sports in their own right. Some of these are trail, mountain bike, canoe, ski. We also have a member who is very keen on the more niche activity of radio orienteering.


More information is available in the British Orienteering Newcomers Guide.