Orienteering is a sport for all ages and abilities, for families and for elite competitive athletes, and for everyone in between. It’s a workout for both body and brain combining an outdoor physical adventure with map reading and navigational skills.
WHAT IS ORIENTEERING?
Orienteering can mean navigating on foot (adventure running, walking, or snowshoeing), bike (bike-O) or XC ski (ski-O) through forest, parks, or streets with the aid of a specially produced map of an area and compass. The object is to locate checkpoints (also called controls) marked with an orange and white flag – marked on the map. More skilled navigators plot their route through terrain in the most efficient way possible, visiting each control, and return to the finish line in the shortest amount of time. Newcomers to the sport can use trails and very obvious features (such as fences, bodies of water) to gain confidence as they learn to read the maps.
Anyone can do it!
As participants become more adept at route choice they can challenge themselves with increased course difficulties. Beginners' courses typically offer routes and controls based on obvious trails. As you improve you learn how to decide between options based on your own strengths — perhaps over a hill (shorter but physically challenging) or around the hill (longer but easier). It is this stimulating mental challenge as well as the physical activity that makes orienteering so popular. Most events in Ontario offer courses of differing lengths and levels of difficulty.
For some fun, check out OOA Board Member Kyra Paterson's personal blog page: Kyra On The GO
Kyra started orienteering recently and has chronicled her first impressions and insights as a newbie.
And check out the video below to hear why
orienteering is WAYYYY better than plain old running!
Do you answer YES to any of the following?
I want to make my walk in the park more interesting
I’m tired of just running down the road
I love maps
I love exploring new areas
I’m looking for a new activity for my whole family
I’m looking for a friendly and welcoming community
I love the idea of mentally and physically challenging myself at the same time
I love getting outdoors
If so, please visit the excellent Orienteering Canada page for beginners.
HOW CAN I LEARN?
The best way to learn to orienteer is to get some kind of introductory instruction, then practice and learn from your mistakes. Even the members of Canada’s national orienteering team make mistakes, so you will always have something new to learn! If you join a local club, you can attend their informal training sessions and learn from more experienced orienteerers in a relaxed setting.
A few events offer introductory instruction on orienteering basics – check the event web page to find out. In the past, the Toronto Orienteering Club has offered beginner navigation clinics at some of their summer park events and there have also been “mini-nav” clinics at Dontgetlost.ca training events. There are also some third party organizations, such as adventure racing companies, that offer navigation clinics.
If you would like to attend an event that does not offer any navigation instruction, send an e-mail to the organizer to see whether someone might be able to spend a few moments with you to show you how to read the map, even if it is after the event has officially started. Depending on the availability of volunteers, this may or may not be possible but organizers are always happy to welcome new participants and they will do what they can to accommodate you.
WHAT GEAR DO I NEED?
Nothing fancy, just a basic compass that points north. Event organizers can often arrange to lend you a compass, so if you do not have one, write the contact person in advance.
Mandatory safety gear for every orienteering event. Once again, organizers may be able to lend one if you ask in advance.
When you first try orienteering, you may want to carry a small pack with extra layers. In winter, this includes hat and gloves. Wear older clothes since you can expect to get dirty and it’s possible to rip your clothing when bushwhacking.
Experienced orienteers may wear shoes with cleats that provide better grip on uneven ground. Many participants wear regular running shoes. For those who plan to walk, hiking boots or winter boots are fine. In some winter races, snowshoes are recommended or even required; event organizers can let you know.
Many people wear clear cycling glasses or safety glasses to protect their eyes from branches. People who wear reading glasses may prefer bifocal safety glasses that enable them to read the map and see well at a distance.
Depending on the weather and length of a race, you may want to carry a water bottle. On longer race courses, water is usually offered at regular intervals, but some people prefer the independence of carrying their own supply. Snacks are usually not provided until the end of the race, so if you anticipate being out for an hour or two, you might want to tuck a gel or cookie in your pocket for energy.
IS IT OKAY TO JUST DO PART OF A COURSE?
Definitely. Some events offer Novice courses that are aimed at beginners. If you want to do an event that does not have a Novice course, you can feel free to do part of the course then return to the finish within the time limit. You will not be ranked as a finisher in the race but that doesn’t matter when you are learning. It is best to talk with the organizer to ask which controls you should visit, as some are more difficult to find than others.
WHAT DO I DO WHEN I FINISH AN O-COURSE?
One of the most important rules in orienteering is to check in with the organizers when you come off the course, before you go home. This lets them know that you are safe and prevents them from launching a search for you! If you have used an electronic SportIdent (SI) card in the event, you will need to download your results at a computer near the finish line. If you rented the SI card, be sure to return it as they are very expensive to replace. After that, most orienteers hang around and enjoy light snacks and drinks while sharing stories and reviewing their maps together. If you’re new to the sport, be sure to stick around and introduce yourself as this is a great time to learn from more experienced orienteers.