Introduction to Orienteering

| Getting Started | Your First Event | Learning to Orienteer | Rules | Join the Club |

What is Orienteering


  • Orienteering is finding your way to a series of points circled on a map.
  • It is a competitive sport with the winner being the fastest to complete the course. A challenge for both mind and body.
  • Competitors decide their own route between the ‘control’ sites which are marked by a red and white flag.
  • The terrain has traditionally been forests, moorland and other wild countryside, but now-a-days it includes urban events, e.g. in parks, college campuses and town centres.
  • Competitors’ ages range from 5 to 85 with fitness varying from elite athletes to casual walkers.
  • Elite runners aim to shave seconds off their time, whilst slower competitors may be content with the satisfaction of accurate navigation regardless of their time.
  • The maps use symbols and colours to consistent international orienteering standard.
  • WIO-2

  • Events usually offer a range of courses with different distances (from 1.5km to 12km) and levels of difficulty starting with very easy path routes.
  • At most events competitors start at minute intervals over a period of an hour or two.
  • Most competitors’ times for the longer courses at most events are under 90 mins. There are also sprint events with short fast courses.

Take a look at the Newcomers Guide on the British Orienteering website for more information: (opens in a new window).

Getting Started

Individuals and Families:
WIO-3You can start by visiting a permanent course to try it out on your own or as a group. There are a number of these in Leicestershire parks and woodlands. Maps can be requested via the permanent course link.

Leicestershire events always include courses that are suitable for beginners and children. Club officials are always pleased to advise and assist newcomers. It can be helpful to let the event organiser know beforehand, so somebody can look out for you. Events are at weekends all year round and on weekday summer evenings from Easter to late Summer. Please arrive early to your first event to give plenty of time to prepare and to participate. See the fixtures list for forthcoming local events.

Club & Activity Nights during term time can introduce you to some training and fun activities as well an opportunity to meet some club members.


Youth groups
WIO-4All LEIOC events are suitable for youth groups. Please notify the event organiser if you plan to bring a group to an event, so that sufficient equipment and maps can be made available.

Permanent Orienteering Courses are an ideal way to try orienteering at times and places to suit your group.

School and Colleges
See the School Orienteering page for advice and to get our schools newsletter.

Leicestershire Orienteering Club can provide tailor made orienteering events to companies as part of team development exercises. Contact the club’s
if you are interested in this.

Your First Event

Clothes and equipment
WIO-5Your clothes and shoes should be comfortable for running or walking and suitable for the terrain. Other than urban events, terrain can be muddy, uneven, and sometimes have brambles or other rough undergrowth. This means leg cover is required and shoes should have a good grip.

Beginners’ courses for children follow linear features such as paths so do not need compasses. Adults will find a compass helpful, but advisable to get advice, or borrow and try, before buying your first specialist orienteering compass.

Most events use electronic timing. The device for this can be hired at the event.

Choosing a course

At informal events such as the Summer League the organiser will advise you whether to start on the short or medium course.

At larger events such as the East Midlands League the courses are designated a colour that relates to their distance and difficulty. For children the most suitable course is ‘White’. Child novices should enter as pairs or be accompanied by an adult. For Adults the ‘Orange’ course is suitable to get familiar with the map colours and symbols and will give a bit more challenge than the shorter courses.

Event Registration

You can normally enter the above courses on the day. When you arrive seek out the registration or enquiries point, which may be an official’s car or tent. Explain that you are a beginner and someone will help explain the map, start procedures, timing system and give any other advice you need.

Timing and Results

Timing is usually by carrying an electronic device (often called a ‘dibber’ or ‘SI card’) which bleeps when put into a timing box at the start, finish and at each control point. Before the start you will clear the old data from the dibber and after finishing the data will be downloaded and you will receive a list of all the times. The results are sometimes available on the day and normally posted on the internet very soon afterwards.

Learning to Orienteer?

There are some basic skills and navigation techniques that are helpful to pick-up early (see British Orienteering’s Top Tips). The initial skills to develop are familiarity with reading the map symbols, estimating distances and handling a compass.

For children and parents the Monday club nights at South Charnwood High School, Markfield are a good place to learn and practice these skills. The club nights include sessions on skill training as well as fitness which might suit older beginners. See Club & Activity Night details page.

The club coaches are always pleased to advise beginners and improvers.


The main principle for beginners to remember is to take part in a spirit of fairness and consideration for the enjoyment of others.

  • Do not distract others concentration at the start or whilst competing.
  • Do not hinder other competitors particularly near control points or give away their positions by shouting.
  • Do not inconvenience members of the public.
  • Orienteering depends on keeping the goodwill of landowners. Do not put this at risk by damaging crops, fences or walls; by going out of bounds; or by leaving litter.
  • No dogs unless it has been specifically stated on the pre-event notice.

The MOST IMPORTANT safety rule is that all competitors must report to the Download point, even if retiring, or did not start your course.

You can read the full rules of the sport on the British Orienteering website.

Joining the Club

You do not need to be a member of the club to compete at an event. But there are advantages in club membership, if you orienteer regularly, you get to know and learn from other orienteer and arrange to share transport. There are other activities such as club nights and socials.

Help is always needed in putting on events, and many orienteers enjoy being part of an ‘on-the-day’ team helping put on events.

Clubs generally cover geographical areas within which they organise events. Leicestershire Orienteering Club covers all Leicestershire, Rutland and parts of Northamptonshire. The abbreviation the club is known by nationally is LEI.

For details about the Leicestershire Orienteering Club click on: Welcome Pack
If you are a Junior or parent of a junior then also have a look at our Junior Welcome Sheet too.

For details of joining the club click on: Join LEI