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The international orienteering symbol. This marker is used to designate a control on orienteering courses.

Orienteering is a sport involving navigation with map and compass. The traditional form (sometimes referred to as Foot Orienteering or Foot-O) involves cross-country running, though other forms have evolved. Rules and principles are defined by the International Orienteering Federation.

The English name derives from Swedish orientering, "orientation".

Participants have a map, usually of an area with which they are unfamiliar, and a compass. They attempt to visit, in sequence, control points that are indicated on the map. Competitive orienteering is a race to visit all controls in order shown on the map as fast as possible.



Orienteering originated in Scandinavia, as a military exercise, in the 19th century. The competitive sport form began in Sweden in 1919. It gained popularity with the development of more reliable compasses in the 1930s. Orienteering started to spread to countries outside Scandinavia in the 1960s. The first world championships were held in 1966.

Over 60 different national orienteering federations are registered with the International Orienteering Federation today. World championships are held annually (bi-annually before 2002), and orienteering is a sport in the World Games. The sport is dominated by the Nordic nations and Switzerland.

Basic play

An orienteering course is marked on a map using a red triangle to indicate the start and a double circle to locate the finish. Red circles are used to show the control points. A staggered start is often used with competitors starting at minute intervals. Results are based on the time taken to complete the course, visiting all the controls in the correct order.

High levels of fitness and running speed are required to compete successfully at an elite level. Success is also heavily dependent on choosing the fastest route between controls. While controls are the same for the competitors in any particular category, the routes they choose may be very different. Competitors are often required to cross rough undeveloped terrain where accurate navigation is essential. Orienteering clubs usually offer a wide range of courses with varying physical and technical difficulty to appeal to competitors of differing abilities.

Map and control details

Maps are specially created by orienteers and professional mapmakers. They are more detailed, than general-purpose topographic maps and are typically of scales 1:10,000 or 1:15,000.

Control points are placed on distinct features, and clarified on a "control description sheet". They are marked in the terrain by white and orange (or white and red) flags. A competitor registers their visit by punching a "control card" with a needle punch, or using an electronic chip.


Championship distances are "Long" (winning time of 70 - 80 minutes for women and 90 - 100 mins for men), "Middle" (30-35 mins), "Sprint" (10-12 mins) and "Relay".


Teams of competitors each run a course and the result is based on the team's total time. Relays usually employ a mass start instead of a staggered start. To reduce competitors following each other, parallel courses are used where runners on each leg of the race can have different course combinations. To ensure fairness, the total of all the course combinations is always the same for each team.


Competitors visit as many controls as possible within a time limit. There is usually a mass start (rather than staggered), with a time limit. Controls may have different point values depending on difficulty and there is a point penalty for each minute late. The competitor with the highest point value is the winner.

The large-scale, endurance-style version of a Score-O is known as a ROGAINE, competed by teams in events lasting (often) 24 hours. A very large area is used for competition, and the map scale is smaller. The format originated in Australia. The term ROGAINE is often said to stand for Rugged Outdoor Group Activity Involving Navigation and Endurance; this is essentially a backronym, as the name actually originates from the names of Rod Gail and Neil Phillips, who were among Australian Rogaining's first participants.


Shorter events often in city parks and other more urban settings. Map scales usually 1:5,000 or 1:4,000.


Competitors use a headlamp to navigate in the dark. Reflective control markers are often used.


Orienteering on mountain bike. As bikes are not permitted to leave the path system, the major focus becomes route choice while navigating at bike speed. Special equipment required is a map holder attached to the front of the bike. Map scale is often smaller than standard orienteering maps.


Orienteering on cross-country skis. Standard orienteering maps are used, but with special green overprinting of trails and tracks to indicate their navigability in snow; other symbols indicate whether any roads are snow-covered or clear. Standard cross-country ski equipment is used, along with a map holder attached to the chest.


An orienteering form accessible to disabled competitors where the object is accuracy, not time. It involves determining, along a set accessible course, which of various controls in a small area is the one indicated on the map. Another form involves determining the position on a map of a control viewed from a set point 30-40 metres away. Maps are usually 1:5,000 scale.


Competitive Mounted Orienteering (CMO) is performed on horseback.

See also

External links

bg:Ориентиране ca:Orientaci cs:Orientační běh da:Orienteringslb de:Orientierungslauf et:Orienteerumine fr:Course d'orientation he:ניווט ספורטיבי hu:Tjfuts it:Orientamento ja:オリエンテーリング lv:Orientēšanās sports nn:Orientering no:Orientering sv:Orientering zh:野外定向


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