Frequently Asked Questions

What is orienteering?

Orienteering is a sport in which participants use an accurate, detailed map and, at intermediate and higher levels, a compass, to find markers hidden in the landscape. It can be enjoyed as a walk in the woods or as a competitive sport.

I’m new – how do I learn orienteering?

The best way is to attend our classroom and in-the-field training sessions early in the year. Reading about orienteering is a good second step, and there is a lot of information on the web. Check out the training link on our website, or Google orienteering and training. The third way is to get out and have some fun orienteering in the woods every week!

I’m new – what stuff do I need to bring to a meet?

Beside the waiver/membership form and some money for the meet fee (and membership or season pass, if you’re interested), you will need suitable footwear (people wear boots, trail-running shoes, and everything in between), clothing appropriate for the weather and for being out in the woods, perhaps some snacks and water, bug dope (there will be some at the start/finish, but you may want some extra along the way), and a sense of adventure! Loaner compasses will be available at the meet start area if you don’t have your own.

A whistle is required equipment (there will be some for sale at the start/finish) in case you are in very serious distress; do not blow it for any other reason.

I’m new – what skills do I need to bring to a meet?

Basic map-reading skills will let you get started. When you start going off-trail (some yellow courses and all harder courses…click on “What is a Traditional meet?”), you should know the basic skills of using a compass to orient your map to north and how to follow a bearing back to a known road or trail.

What does a control card look like?

What does a orienteering map look like?

What does a clue sheet look like?

What does a control look like?

What does a meet sign-up sheet look like?

What is a Traditional meet?

This is an orienteering event where contestants try to find a set number of controls (“flags” hidden in the woods), in a particular sequence, in the shortest time possible, using a map (and sometimes a compass). Courses normally offered at traditional meets include:

course name difficulty level # of controls distance (straight line) typical finish times
White beginner 6-10 1-2 Km 15-45 min
Yellow adv. beginner 7-10 2-4 Km 30-60 min
Orange intermediate 8-12 3-5 Km 40-90 min
Green advanced 8-12 3-5 Km 40-90 min
Red advanced 10-15 5-7 Km 60-120 min

At a traditional meet, you will pay your fee and sign up for a course and a start time. Start times are typically available every two minutes from 5 pm to 7 pm for each type of course. (Families and groups of two or more people are welcome to participate as teams.) Clue sheets and control cards will be available. Near your start time, you will be given a map showing the course. Don’t look at the map until your start time.

At your start time, go to each “control” marked on the map, in numerical order. Controls are printed magenta circles numbered sequentially, 1-whatever. The start is a magenta triangle. Often the finish location is the same as the start, but if different, would be a double circle. Straight lines run from the start, to each control, and back to the finish.

The lines between controls are to guide your eye. You are free to choose any route you wish. This is the essence of orienteering. The straight route is rarely the best way to go. Consider distance, ease of navigation, and ease of travel. NOTE: In a traditional meet, it is unethical to follow other competitors.

The clue sheet lists each control’s unique ID code and has a list of “clues” that help you find a control once you’re in its vicinity. For advanced courses, the clues are symbols; for others, they’re written descriptions.

A control is a triangular orange/white fabric marker (like a small box kite about 14″ tall) with a unique ID number (usually written on a piece of foam-core board at the top.) Compare the ID number on the clue sheet with the one on the control to make sure you’re at the right control. Punch your control card with the red/orange plastic paper punch hanging from the control. Be sure to punch the correct box on your card.

Back at the finish, give your control card to the “official” standing at the clock. Catch your breath, have some snacks (provided by the Club), and chat with other Orienteers. You’re done! Congratulations!

What is a Score-O?

A score-O is an orienteering race where contestants try to find as many controls (“flags” hidden in the woods) as possible, in any order, in a set amount of time. Usually, there is a mass start (everyone starts at the same time) and each ability level will have a different time allotment; e.g., 45 minutes for beginner, 60 for intermediate, and 75 for advanced.

Each control will have a point value based on its relative difficulty and distance from the start, other controls etc. Points are deducted for coming in over the time limit. If there is a tie in points, the competitor or team finishing ahead of the other prevails.

There is a different element of strategy in a score-O vs a traditional meet — choosing which controls to visit and in what order. Typically most competitors will not be able to visit all the controls. Bring a watch and keep a close eye on it. Plan your strategy before heading out and have alternates if you run short on time.

What is a Billygoat-O?

In normal orienteering, it is frowned upon to tuck one’s map into one’s pants and follow another competitor. The Billygoat is not, however, normal orienteering. Following is explicitly permitted, condoned, and some even say encouraged. If you can follow somebody to glory, all the more power to you! This event begins with a mass start, and typically you are permitted to skip one or more designated controls.

What is a Mountain-O?

This event is usually similar to a traditional event, except it is held “in the mountains,” navigation is usually easier (unless you are in clouds), there are often only two difficulty levels, and they are usually much longer and more physically demanding than traditional meets. For example, in 2003, the long course was 15 miles with 5,300 feet of elevation gain and loss, and the short course was 10 miles/2000 feet. The courses are set so that technical rock and mountain climbing skills are not required, but if you go off course due to clouds or poor route choices, you could get into terrain with serious consequences.

What is a Night-O?

This event is usually similar to a traditional event, except it is held “in the dark,” so navigation is usually more…entertaining. Visibility of the controls is often enhanced with reflective material and/or a glow-in-the-dark “light stick”. Bring one or more headlamps and/or flashlights! Generally, more light is better (so you can see well enough to travel without tripping), and having a back-up light is Nice To Have in case your primary source burns out.

What is a mass start?

All, or a group of competitors, start at the same time, as opposed to starting at intervals. Usually used at score-O or other special format events. Sometimes an event will have several mass starts. Come in plenty of time to be ready at the stated mass start time.

What is a staggered start?

Competitors start at assigned times, usually at 2-minute intervals. Individuals or teams running different courses usually are allowed to use the same start time. Most of Arctic Orienteering Club’s competitive meets use this format. Usually you will sign up for any available start time when you arrive at the meet. Be ready to go when the official clock indicates your start time.