What is Orienteering?

Orienteering is a sport. But because it exercises your mind as well as your body, you will often hear people call it a puzzle, a treasure hunt, or a mind game, "The Thinking Sport".

It is a sport for a lifetime. At any event you will see people of every age group and level of ability. Participants are young and old; they can be runners or hikers. You can go out on a course in groups or individually. Orienteering can be done leisurely or competitively.

Orienteering challenges you to read a map, make decisions, plan a route, all while moving across streams, over rocks or along scenic trails.You will follow the course drawn on your map to find orange an white flag markers (called controls). At each control, you will need to punch in to prove that you are in the right spot.

Everyone enjoys orienteering for different reasons. One thing they all will agree upon is: orienteering never gets boring. It is something new every time you try it: a new course, a new map, a new destination to explore. Eventually, the beginner courses may become too easy. Then it is time to move up to the next level.

Children start to learn the basics of orienteering by doing String-O. Following a streamer, they stop at small control markers to pick up stickers for their control cards. ALittle Troll Program is available to reward the children's efforts.

There are many different versions of orienteering. Foot-O and Ski-O (cross-country skiing an orienteering through a complex trail network) are the most popular. But you will also find clubs organizing mountain bike-O, horseback-O, and canoe-O events. Some clubs have unique offerings such as handicapped-accessible courses, Radio-O and courses to be completed using a GPS.

Orienteering History

Orienteering first started in Scandinavia in the early 1900s. It came to United States in the 1940s. In 1971, the U.S. Orienteering Federation (USOF) wqas organized. Member clubs now spread throughout nearly every state. These clubs organize regular local events and larger national and international events in conjunction with USOF and the International Orienteering Federation.

Although the sport is popular in much of the world, it is still relatively unknown in the United States. Approximately 35,000 people orienteer regularly in the U.S.

People are spending more of their free time enjoying the outdoors. Eventually, they may get tired of their familiar hiking trails. Or perhaps you are a runner looking for a more challenging workout. Orienteering is the adventure you are looking for. It is invigorating and satisfying.

Control / Punch Card

Each competitor is required to carry a control/punch card.The card has to be presented at the Start line and handed in at the Finish line, whether or not the competitor decides decides to complete the course. The control card is marked by needles or electronically at each control point to show that the competitor has completed the course correctly. All controls need to be punched in the order they are shown on the map. Most events now use electronic punching, although cards and needle punches are still widely used. 

Electronic punching

Electronic punching is a faster, better way to record your visit to each control on an orienteering course. Instead of carrying a paper card and punching it at each control location, you wear a platic e-card, or 'finger stick', which contains a microchip. At each control site, you insert the finger stick into a control unit, which records the controls number and time onto the microchip. 

Course Types

Course Name



Winner’s Time


2-3 km


30 minutes


3-5 km

easy to medium

40 minutes


4-7 km


55 minutes


3-5 km


50 minutes


4-7 km


55 minutes


6-10 km


65 minutes


8-14 km


75 minutes



Each competitor is responsible for his own safety. There are no rules, but there are guidelines, which should be followed. The basic safety check is the stub check. The competitor hands in his stub at the start and his control card at the finish. Event officials match the two and any unmached stubs represent a missing competitor. With electronic punching event officials can request a 'did not finish' report. All competitors must report to the finish whether they have completed the course or not.

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