Classic orienteering involves a race between controls in a preset order. The winner is the person who completes the course in the shortest time. Courses are normally designed so that the fastest route is not straightforward to find on the map, or to follow on the ground.
A relay race is run by a team of competitors, each running one 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 provided. For a team of three: three courses could be provided (a, b, c) with each of the team members running one course. Teams usually run the courses in different orders: e.g. abc, bca, cab. In the larger events these courses cross over and have a common control. Those courses can then be split into two parts e.g. a, b, c and x, y, z. Each team has to run all six parts but competitors run one of nine different combinations: ax, ay, az … cx, cy, cz”.
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 most points is the winner.
Shorter events, often held in city parks and other more urban settings. Map scales are usually 1:5,000 or 1:4,000. Control sites can include benches, litterbins, sculptures, and other objects common to urban parks.
Competitors use a headlamp to navigate in the dark. Reflective markers often are used on control point flags, which shifts the tactics from precision navigation to searching. Competitors can travel at high speed to the vicinity of the control point, and then sweep the area with the light to catch a reflection off the control flag. If a night event starts before dark, a mass start is necessary so all competitors have equal time in the light and dark.
Competitors follow a string around a short course, noting down things that they find on the way. This is generally used by children and people who are new to the sport and want to learn it.