Introduction to Orienteering

What is Orienteering?

Welcome. Orienteering is an challenging outdoor adventure sport for all. The aim is to find your way between checkpoints circled on a map and decide the best route to complete the course in the quickest time.

  • Competitors decide their own route between the checkpoints (‘Controls’) which are marked by a red and white flag. They have to  balance which route will be shortest, more reliable to navigate, or physically easiest.
  • The terrain has traditionally been forests, moorland and other wild countryside. Urban events (in parks, college campuses, town centres and suburbs) are now becoming popular.
  • Competitors’ ages range from 5 to 85 with fitness varying from elite athletes to casual walkers.
  • Beginners and children start with easier courses following line features such as paths and fences whilst learning the map scale and symbols and then move on to the more challenging courses. .
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Beginners often compete in pairs and children as groups.
  • Most competitors’ times on the longer courses are between 40 amd 90 mins. There are also sprint events with short fast courses.

Is it for you? If you like maps, problem solving and being outdoors, orienteering could suit you. This mix of physical and mental challenge attracts people to orienteering, and builds their addiction to the sport.

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


Video Introductions to Orienteering

Check out these videos

More Than just Running
Starting Orienteering
WIO-2
Smart Running


Leicestershire Orienteering Club

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 have a look at our Junior Welcome Sheet as well.

The club competes in national team competitions. Young orienteers can also take part in national junior competitions and join the regional training squad (see the Junior’s Pages).

Please use the Contact Us link if you need more help or information. We aim to reply within 48hrs.

You can also sign up here to received emails from the club about future events and activities, permanent courses, school orienteering or other club news.


Getting Started
WIO-3

Permanent Courses:  You can start by visiting a permanent course to try it out on your own or as a group. Permanent courses have small plaques to identify the Start, Finish and Checkpoints.

There are a number of these in parks and woodlands throughout Leicestershire.

They are an ideal way for families and youth groups to try orienteering at times and places to suit the group. They can also be used to practice your route finding skills.

The Go Orienteering website gives more information about Permanent Courses. Maps can be requested via the permanent course link.

WIO-4

There are also many ‘Virtual Orienteering’ Courses where the Start, Finish and Checkpoints  are identified by GPS signals on your smart phone. These require an app to be first downloaded to your phone. More information about the app and local courses can be found at MapRun

Club Events:  Local 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 all forthcoming events. The event organiser’s contact details can be found on each event’s web page.

Club Activities:  Club Nights are held on a weekly basis during term time. These provide a range of training, practice and fun activities as well as an opportunity to meet some club members.

Youth groups:  All 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.

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

More Information:  Please use the Contact Us link, if you need more help or information. We aim to reply within 48hrs.


Orienteering Maps

Orienteering maps use colours, symbols and scales that are very different to Ordnance Survey maps. It is advisable to make use of your first course to get used to the scale and to familiarise yourself with the more common symbols, rather than focusing on speed. You can gradually learn more symbols as you gain experience.

Colours

The most significant colour use is that White represents forest that is easy to run in, whereas open areas with no tree cover are Yellow. Different shades of Green represent denser forests and specific vegitation such as distinct trees. Black is used for man-made features including paths and fences, and also for rock features. Brown is used for contours and other earth shapes such as depressions and Blue for water features. On Urban maps Olive is used to depict residential and other areas which are out of bounds.

Symbols

The symbols are drawn to an international standard. They are usually listed on permanent course maps, but not often on competition maps. You can download a full listing of symbols and colours from here. O-Symbols Sheet.

Scales

The map scales vary depending on the area. Maps where one centimetre represents 100 metres (1:10,000) are quite common. Urban maps are usually larger scales.



Your First Event

WIO-5

Clothes and equipment
Your clothes and shoes should be comfortable for running or walking and suitable for the terrain. Terrain can be muddy, uneven, and sometimes have brambles or other rough undergrowth. This means full leg cover is usually required and shoes should have a good grip. For urban events, the event details usually indicate what kit is suitable.

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

Once you have got experience you may wish to your own kit. Suppliers websites are listed on the Useful Links page.

Event Registration

Normally you can enter beginners’ courses on the day. However, during the Covid-19 crisis advanced entry is usually required.  Links to do this are on the event’s web page. Adult entry fees vary depending on the status of the event from £3 to £25, with juniors much cheaper.  If you inform the organiser in advance that you are new to the sport, they can ensure that somebody is available to help you.

When you arrive seek out the enquiries point, which may be an official’s car or tent.  Explain that you are a beginner and someone (often a club coach) will help explain the map, start procedures, timing system and give any other advice you need. After you have finished you may find it helpful to talk through how well you did and get tips for future events, so ask to speak to a coach when you download your results.

At larger events such as the East Midlands League the courses are designated a colour that relates to their distance and difficulty. See the table below for suitable course to get you familiar with the symbols and map scales. At informal events such as the Summer League the organiser will advise you whether to start on the short or medium course. Child novices should enter as pairs or be accompanied by an adult.

Timing and The Start

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. A dibber can be hired at the event.

Before the start you will clear the old data from the dibber at one box and check that it is cleared at another box. Then the Start box sets you going.

Finish and Results

After the Finish you must download the data and receive a list of all your times. It is a rule that you don’t leave the event without downloading even if you retire.

After you have finished you may find it helpful to talk through how well you did and get tips for future events, so ask to speak to a coach when you download your results.

The results are sometimes available on the day and normally posted on the internet very soon afterwards.


Events and Courses

See the fixtures list page for all forthcoming LEI events. The event organiser’s contact details can be found on each event’s web page.

Local events within Leicestershire are informal with just 1 or 2 people organising. These include the summer and winter leagues. They provide 2 or 3 courses, one of which will be short and easy.

Regional events have 7 or more courses and require a large number of volunteers. These include the East Midlands League. White, Yellow or Orange courses will be suitable for beginners and advice will be available. Neighbouring club websites are listed on the Useful Links page.

National events attract large numbers of competitors and usually have assembly areas with traders and catering available. They have courses specific to each age group as well as courses suitable for beginners.

Beginners Course Choices

CourseLengthDifficultyExpected Time
White1.0 – 1.5kmFollows line features (e.g. paths and fences) with a control at each junction. Suitable for children.20 – 40 mins
Yellow1.5 – 2.5kmAs White but controls not at all junctions so you have to decide which way to go. Suitable for families.30 – 60 mins
Orange2.5 – 3.5kmControls on features not far from paths but you will need to navigate to them. A compass is very helpful. Suitable for adults.30 – 75 mins

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


Learning to Orienteer?

5 Top Tips for Beginners

1. Fold your map – Fold your map to easily keep track of where you are. Keep your thumb near your position and move if as you move on the ground.

2. Orientate your map – Hold your map so the features in front of you on the ground are in front of you on the map. Each time you change direction change your grip on the map so that the map is still lined up with the features around you. A compass can be used to line up the north lines on the map with the red end of the compass needle.

4. Check your control description – Read the control description list to know what you are looking for. Check that the code number of the list matches the number on the control box.

5. Have fun. Orienteering should always be fun and enjoyable!

Basic Skills

The initial skills to develop are familiarity with reading the map symbols, estimating distances and handling a compass. See also Orienteering Skills for more advice on developing your skills.

For children and adults Tuesday club nights at South Charnwood High School, Markfield are a good place to learn and practice these skills. Club nights include sessions on skill training as well as fitness. See the Club & Activity Night details page.

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


Rules

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 orienteers 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