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What is Orienteering
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Daphne Joel Beth Ben Events Orienteering  

What is Orienteering?

Orienteering Flag Orienteering is our family's favorite sport. You travel through the woods, using your map and compass to find controls (white and orange flags, pictured to the right). At each control, you will use the punch hanging from the control to mark a corresponding box on the punch card you carry along. Your constant challenge is to read the map and choose the best route from one control to the next.

What to Bring

Since you will be in the woods wear appropriate clothing. Long pants and long sleeves protect against scratches from branches and briars. Sturdy shoes allow you to clamber over any terrain you might face. Always bring a watch so you know how long you have been out. Some courses, Score-Os, only allow you to be out for a given time and require a watch. Some of the longer courses have water out on the courses but many people like to carry their own supply. And of course if you have a compass bring it.


Recreational orienteering meets are very casual and everyone is welcome to come. There is no preregistration required. Registration for NEOC meets are usually 10am - 1pm. Just go to the registration table and fill out some paperwork and sign a waiver form. Courses are $6 for nonmembers and $4 for members. If you don't own a compass, you can rent one at the meet.


If you are a beginner there is always instruction available. Don't be shy, ask questions. Beginner instruction familiarizes you with the map and the basics of orienteering. You are shown how to draw the course on your map, how to check control descriptions, and how to punch in at a control. When you have completed your first course, stick around for a while afterwards. Most meets have cookies and drink to replenish yourself afterwards. The Gould's meet always has homemade cookies. YUM. The day's results are posted so that you can see what your total time was out on the course. Then you can compare notes with the other competitors. Just ask, "How did you do today?" We always want to discuss what went right and what went wrong. You may find out that others had trouble with the same control you did.

The Map

At registration you will be given an orienteering map of the area. An orienteering map is a work or art, that takes hundreds of hours of work to make. You will find many more details than on an average topographic map. This can make the map overwhelming the first time you see it. But when you take a minute it starts to make sense. The legend tells you that the black dot near the black dotted line on the map is a boulder near the trail. And soon you will be matching the terain that you see to the terrain that is presented on the map.

The Courses

There are courses for every level of ability. There is even a string course for preschool and elementary school age children. The white and yellow courses are for beginners. They are designed to give you practice with an orienteering map. The white stays on the trails. The yellow keeps you on trails and handrails (a feature easy to follow like a rock wall or the edge of a meadow). The orange course is for intermediate level orienteers. It requires off trail work and has short stretches of following a compass bearing. On an orange course you will start to read contour lines. For expert orienteers, there are the brown, green, red and blue courses (listed in order of length). These are very difficult requiring expert levels of compass work, pace counting and contour reading.

For more information on New England Orienteering Club's Schedule go to their web site or call (781) 648-1155. For information on orienteering in New Hampshire and Maine go to the Up North Orienteers web site.

This web page (http://www.gouldhome.com/whatIsOrienteering.html) was last updated on December 19, 2001. For any comments or suggestions about the site contact Daphne Gould. Contents copyright © 1999-2003 by Joel and Daphne Gould.