Orienteering for the Young

photo by Georg Nadorff



is an outdoor sport using maps to find one's way. The children shown on the cover, above, are finding their way to terrain features marked by orange and white nylon markers on a String orienteering course.

For all ages

For children as young as toddlers there is a special orienteering course called the string course. The entire route is marked from start to finish, so no one gets lost. A simple map shows the route and the location of the checkpoints, called controls. As children become ready, they can learn about maps, map symbols, direction, figuring out where they are, and so forth, all while on a well-marked course they can follow themselves.

Older children and adults can learn to orienteer on White courses. The White course is for beginners, and is the easiest point-to-point orienteering course. Points are marked on the map, and the goal is to find them in order. Children usually first do White courses with their family or youth group, then with other children, and finally by themselves.

A guide for parents

This 'booklet' is designed as a guide for parents, teachers, youth group leaders, and orienteering organizers (but it can be fun as a general introduction to orienteering). It covers a wide variety of topics that are useful in getting children involved in orienteering, helping them get more out of orienteering, and expanding their skills with the resources available in North America. Some sections are suitable for people new to orienteering, and others will be of interest to those already orienteering.


Orienteering for the Young, by James E. Baker, was published in 1990 by the United States Orienteering Federation as a booklet. Some of the information included therein was included on the old USOF web site. Most of the original information is now included here, with general updates and an updated resource listing.

Our new section called New to O1 includes much useful information and many resources as well, so be sure to investigate the information there.

[For "printer-friendly" purposes, footnote numbers next to links throughout the document refer to URLs, listed at the end of the document.]


The string course

The string course is a short orienteering course which is marked by a continuous ribbon or yarn. The map below shows a sample string orienteering map with the course marked. The map is usually simple and includes just the area around the course. Children may color it in with the appropriate map colors.

From the start, a continuous length of ribbon or yarn, called the string, leads you along the course. The route that the string takes is shown on the map. When you reach the places circled on the map (called “controls”), you will find an orange and white nylon marker (called a “control marker”). At each control there will either be a marking device or a bag of stickers, for marking the appropriate box on the map. Eventually the string leads back to the finish, usually the same place as the start.

Sample string-orienteering courseA child needs only to follow the string around to find all the points and will not get lost. For the youngest, this is sufficient and gives the child exercise, fun and some exposure to maps, as well as confidence in being alone in the woods. Even at this simplest level, however, children can be taught map symbols, map colors, and simple orienteering skills.

For children ready for more challenge, the locations of the controls can be left off the map. The child must figure out where the controls should be on the map. Alternatively, some controls can be placed off the string inside the loop formed by the string. Many variations are possible.

The white course

The white course is the easiest standard orienteering course. It is suitable for adult and teenage novices, as well as for younger children who have developed the necessary skills. It is usually two to three kilometers long, just about right for a short hike.

Control markers on a white course are placed on major features such as trail junctions, streams, buildings or clearings. Navigation takes place along trails or streams, through fields, or in other simple areas.

Teenagers and adults should try the course singly or in groups of two or three at most. Younger children should be accompanied until they have learned to navigate by themselves.

White course at Weir Hill; map courtesy of NEOC c1994, reprinted with permission
A sample white course


Legend for an orienteering map

The Little Troll program

Little Troll patches

Orienteering USA has a program for youngsters completing string courses and white courses at member club events, called the Little Troll program. This incentive program has four levels. The child completes a course and receives a sticker for his/her Little Troll card. When the card has the required number of stickers it can be redeemed for a patch and a new card.

The first level is the simplest, called Little Troll. It only requires the child to complete string courses.

The next level, Chipmunk, is for youngsters doing either string courses or white courses with significant adult help. In either case, the child should be learning several skills: being comfortable in the forest, recognizing the basic map symbols and colors, recognizing control codes (typically two- or three-digit numbers identifying particular control stations, so you know you've reached the correct one for your course), and familiarity with event procedures.

The Rabbit level is for youngsters completing the white course with some adult help. A 'rabbit' should become familiar with most common map symbols and basic safety rules, and learn to orient the map using terrain features (see the section on teaching basic skills), navigate along paths with few junctions, and consider route choice.

At the Roadrunner level, the child will be orienteering on a white course unassisted (an adult can follow for safety, called "shadowing"). The skills to be worked on are keeping the map oriented throughout the course, making route choices, and orienteering along many paths. Basic safety should be reinforced.

After completing a level, the child can work towards another patch at the same level, or move up to the next level. See the sections on teaching orienteering skills for ideas on teaching the skills relevant to these programs.

Also see Youth programs2 for more on the Little Troll program and where to obtain and redeem cards.

Advanced courses and competition

Advanced courses

Yellow is the next more difficult course after white. It goes mostly along trails and in easier areas, but has checkpoints on features just off a trail or otherwise in a little more difficult place to find. It is usually three or four kilometers, just a bit longer than white. Teenagers and adults are usually ready to try the yellow course after one or two times on the White course. Younger children may want to do the white course for a much longer time before doing the yellow course themselves, but they may enjoy doing the yellow course with an adult on occasion.

The orange course is an intermediate course which goes off trails and into the woods, although it usually uses more obvious features or features near bigger features. It is four to five kilometers long, which is long enough to put an emphasis on fitness. Teenagers are usually ready to try orange after a season or two of orienteering on the yellow course and achieving accurate, consistent navigation. Younger children may not be ready for this course until they are older, although they may enjoy an occasional orange course with an adult.

The brown, green, red and blue courses are expert courses. The longest, blue, can be ten kilometers or more. Teenagers often move up to one of the shorter advanced courses, and even try blue, after mastering the orange course, but this takes time and requires a good deal of acquired skill and experience. Due to the navigational requirements and the emphasis on endurance, adults often excel at orienteering well into middle and advanced age, so orienteering can be a lifelong sport.

Consult Karen Dennis's excellent guide3 on how to select an appropriate course, and what skills to learn before moving on to the next level.


Young orienteers can become competitive at many levels. At local events, there are usually others of the same age to compete against. There are interscholastic leagues in some states (or you can help your local club start a new one!). Some youth groups such as Junior ROTC frequently attend orienteering competitions in their area.

Larger, nationally sanctioned events, called 'A' meets, are held throughout the country each year. Although the focus is on competition, courses of all levels are available, making the events good for the entire family or for a youth group that wants to compete. The high quality of the maps and courses makes 'A' meets worth traveling to. Younger orienteers will also enjoy the chance to meet orienteers their age from different places.

See the events calendar4 for 'A' meets.

Your first time out

Finding an event

Get started orienteering at your local club. This web site includes a listing of all the U.S. clubs5, and a link to the Orienteering Canada6 web site if you live in Canada or close to the Canadian border. Almost all events have courses for beginners, and many have string courses for young children. If your local club doesn't have a string course set up, ask the organizers about it.

What should we bring?

The club hosting the event will provide the map. A compass may not be needed for a beginner's course.  If you have one, bring it along. Any compass in which you can see the needle will do to start out, though a baseplate compass like that shown below can be more useful than one with just a floating needle. If you do not have one to bring, the club may have compasses to rent.

An orienteering baseplate compassOutdoor, hiking, and camping stores carry a selection of compasses, and they are also available from orienteering supply vendors7. A baseplate model similar to the one shows can be purchased for ten to twenty dollars. The cheapest one is fine, but get one with a clear plastic baseplate and direction of travel arrow designed for orienteering. A lanyard (wrist strap) for the compass is helpful.

Wear comfortable walking clothing that you don't mind getting a bit dirty. If it's cold, wear several thin layers of clothing for adjustability, but avoid cotton which holds water. If it's warm, wear light pants but not shorts, since you may encounter brushy vegetation if you go off trail.

Bring some water and, if you want, something to eat afterward.


The registration table is probably the first thing you'll see at an orienteering event. Registration is usually open for a specified period, for example, 10 am to 1 pm. You can arrive and register at any time during that period. However, make a note of anything that might not be available throughout the event, such as beginner's instruction or a string course. Also be aware of course closing times so that you can return to check in with the organizers before they start worrying about your safety.

You will need to pay a small fee for the map, and sign a waiver. The organizers will give you a map of the forest, and sometimes a control card and control description sheet. If you do not have a compass you can usually rent one, though you might not need one for the beginner course. A map case (clear plastic bag) is usually available too, which can help keep your map, control card, and control descriptions organized and dry.

For the white course, sign up to go out singly or in groups of two or three. Get a map for each person if possible (sometimes at an extra charge). It is not necessary to have an adult in every group that goes out, but children get a lot more out of it that way. Leaders of youth groups with too few leaders may want to be out on the course helping each group or at least help each group as they start.

If the club uses a multi-piece control card to keep track of controls visited, fill in the information requested on all parts, and specify the course you are doing. The control description sheet (sometimes simply printed on the map instead of supplied separately) lists the map features you will be looking for on the course, which will help you when you see the course map. Occasionally a club will have you copy your course from a master map; having the control description sheet handy can help insure you circle the correct feature! After registering, you can usually start the course as soon as you are ready to go.

Beginners' instruction

A short orientation session is usually available. This session will give you a few quick pointers on reading a map and how the game is played so you can do your first course. It is a good place to ask a lot of questions. Ask about the safety bearing to use in case you get totally disoriented and just want to return to the start (and how to follow that bearing).

Beginners' instruction is usually brief and introductory; just enough to get you going your first time out.  If you want to learn more, request a guided map hike if there are enough volunteers available; ask about beginner clinics (usually scheduled a few times a year), or read one of the books listed in the resource section, available from your local library, a bookstore, a sports store, or an orienteering vendor.

The string course

The string course usually has a separate start and finish location, and its own map. It is often organized in a do-it-yourself fashion without any timing. Get a string course map and mark the course on it if necessary. Do the course with your children if they are very young, but let older children do it themselves if they prefer. Since the course is marked the entire way, even pre-schoolers can usually finish the course by themselves.

Start for the white course

At the start you will be given a start time. On occasion you will have to copy your selected course from a master map onto your map (take time to copy it carefully); but more and more clubs are providing pre-printed maps to save you this step. Look again at the sample white course map that shows the general set-up of a course.

The start area will be marked with a triangle. On a typical point-to-point course, each checkpoint you will be finding, called a "control," is circled and numbered sequentially. The control description sheet describes the feature you are looking for inside the circle; for instance, a boulder, knoll, or trail junction. A double circle denotes the finish.

Child at a controlOnce you start, plan your route to the first control. Find your place on the map shown by the start triangle. Relate the features shown on the map near the start to the terrain around you. Pick out which way to go to get to the first control. It sometimes helps young children if you help them orient the map, then ask them to physically point their finger in the direction they need to head toward the first checkpoint. What is the feature you are looking for? Be sure to ask this out loud and involve your children. Don't expect them to do everything their first time out or they will be frustrated, but do let them take part in the decision-making so they don't become bored. You can use your compass to show where north is, and line your map up so that the north arrows printed on the map line up with the north arrow of your compass. Be sure to keep your map always oriented to north so you don't get turned around.

As you reach each control, check the control description to see that you are at the marker with the correct code for your course. If not, look around to problem-solve and determine where to go next. Ask if you've gone far enough, or perhaps too far, or down the wrong trail. Backtrack if necessary until you reach a place where you knew where you were (this process is called "relocating"). If the control code matches the one on your list, mark your card to prove you found it. Be sure to re-orient your map to determine where to go to continue the course. Most of all, have fun and enjoy the forest.


Girls running into the finish


You may run, jog, or walk on your course, but be sure to check in at the finish within the required time, even if you do not complete the course, so that the organizers are not searching for you. Check out the results board; results are usually posted as they come in, even for beginner courses. It is often fun to compare the routes you took with other people who did the same course.


Special terms, concepts, and gear

Orienteering maps

An orienteering map is a kind of topographic map made specially for detailed navigation. "Topographic" means that it shows the shape of the land -- hills, valleys, and so forth. It also shows many other features relevant to navigation, including streams, trails, fences, clearings, thick brush, and so on.

Although other types of orienteering maps exist, most orienteering maps are made to a common set of standards used around the world. Standard orienteering maps are printed in five colors, with each color used for a different class of features:
Man-made features, such as roads, trails, buildings, and fences, as well as rock features such as cliffs, boulders, and rocky ground

Topographic features, such as hills, valleys, ridges, earth banks, and ditches

Water features, such as lakes, ponds, swamps, and streams

Normal forest (this is different from government maps which may show fields with white and forest with green)

Clearings and fields

Thick brush and other vegetation, such as bushes or thorns
The symbols for features are generally fairly intuitive. For instance, light green shows light brush, and dark green shows dense, difficult-to-penetrate brush. Trails shown with a thick dashed line are bigger and wider than those shown with a thin dashed line. Nonetheless, it is worth spending a few minutes becoming familiar with the legend before you start. Take special note of the symbol for any feature particular to the area, such as large logs in the Sequoia forests.

Note that the north lines drawn on orienteering maps point to magnetic north, which is where compass needles point. Disregard anything you may have read about magnetic declinations, true north, or grid north ... we make it easy.


Orienteering compasses are different from most other types of compasses, such as boating, sighting, or military compasses. In a pinch, any type of compass in which you can see the needle can be used, but orienteering compasses have some advantages.

The most common type of orienteering compass is the baseplate variety. The compass needle sits in a housing in the center, which is set on a clear plastic baseplate. With this compass you can set bearings from where you are to where you are going, which is useful for finding places with few nearby features to guide you. Another type of orienteering compass is the thumb compass. Preferred by some for competition and by others for its simplicity, the thumb compass allows for quick reference since it is held on the map as you go. The thumb compass lets you orient the map with ease, but, depending on the type, may not let you set bearings. Learn more about bearings in a later section titled "orienteering skills".

Special terms

A small valley or draw running down a hillside (a "u" or "vee" shape point into a hill).

A small ridge or protrusion on a hillside (a "u" or "vee" shape pointing out of a hill).

A small hill.

A brown line on a map used to show points of equal elevation. Contours show topographic features and are usually taught to children after they have mastered map reading and basic navigational skills. Books listed in the resources provide good explanations of contours.

This is the point circled on the map which you are to find, which can be any type of feature. At orienteering events, the circled feature is always one that is depicted on the map. The orange and white nylon marker placed at the point is sometimes also called a control.

The orienteering course is the set of control points you seek. Courses are set for different difficulty levels so that there's something for everyone.

A leg is the portion of a course between two consecutive controls.

Linear feature
A trail, stream, fence, stone wall, or other feature that is basically linear, which can in some areas include the edge of a large clearing. Contrast this with point features, like boulders and cliffs, or area features, like small clearings.

Catching feature
A large feature which is not easy to miss in the direction you are heading. You might use a catching feature, such as a lake or large trail beyond the control, to "catch" you if you miss the control.

The sport


Orienteering originated in Scandinavia around the turn of the twentieth century. Competitive events got under way in the ensuing decades. First done on cross-country skis, orienteering was soon adapted to foot, which is now the most popular variety. Now there are also races on bicycles, horses, canoes, and more. A recent variant is called Rogaine, which takes place over a full day and a large area.


The standard type of foot orienteering is point-to-point navigation. A course of controls to be taken in a specific order is designed and set up. Lengths vary from a few kilometers (a mile or two) for beginners, to ten or fifteen kilometers for experts. Long orienteering events and shorter sprint events are also held. Beginners' courses are on or near trails; expert courses are cross-country with intricate navigation.

Another type of foot orienteering is score orienteering, in which there is a time limit to find as many of the set controls as possible, in any order you choose. Controls may have equal or different point values depending on their location and difficulty.

There are relays, too: each team member completes a short course and tags the next team member. Since relays are begun with a mass start, they are fun to watch with head-to-head competition.

Ski orienteering is done on cross country skis, typically on areas with large and sometimes complicated trail networks. Organized as a point-to-point event, it involves careful route choice to pick the fastest way through the large trail network. A sample ski orienteering map with a course is shown below. Read more about ski orienteering at the bottom of the page.

Sample ski orienteering map, c1989 CSU

Rogaine (sometimes called Rugged Outdoor Group Activity Involving Navigation and Endurance) is a relatively new variety of sport originating in Australia. Organized as a score event, it takes place over large areas and longer periods, typically 12 or 24 hours. Teams of two or three must find as many controls as possible in the allotted time, eating and sleeping on the clock.


Competitive events are held around the country, including U.S. Individual Championships in various course lengths/types as well as national Relay, Ski, and Night orienteering championships. These championships, as well as regional competitions and a schedule of "A" events are open to all comers, though most will have pre-registration requirements for competitive classes to ensure that the host club obtains enough maps and supplies for everyone. Recreational courses are usually available as well at championships and "A" events, which do not require pre-registration.

The United States also sends a team to both the foot and ski World Championships, as well as the World Junior and University championships and some smaller events. Since entry to the world events is limited, orienteers need to qualify to have a place on the team.


Though orienteering courses are held at the World Games, the sport has yet to reach the Olympics despite repeated attempts by various orienteering governing bodies. Ski orienteering has the best chance of being the first version of the sport to be included in the Olympic Games.

Ski orienteering

Ski orienteering requires some different skills than foot orienteering. Navigationally, route choice is important because of special techniques (such as skiing styles and waxing) required by various routes, along with careful contour reading to interpret the difficulty of the hills on various trails. Physically, ski orienteering requires good cross-country skiing skills.

Ski orienteering is done almost entirely on groomed trails. Although it is allowed to go off-trail, it is rarely desirable. Navigation becomes less a matter of finding the controls, and more a matter of picking the fastest way to reach them. Distances between controls are often long, with many paths in between, as well as hills, slopes, and other features to make route choice interesting.

Ski orienteering maps are sometimes smaller scale than foot orienteering maps -- 1:25,000 rather than 1:15,000. Contour intervals may also be larger. Off-trail features are de-emphasized; typically, only those affecting navigation, like fields, are shown along with contours. Overprintings on trails and roads give more information about their ski-ability.

Ski orienteering is organized regularly in northern and mountain states in January and February, but many clubs in other areas hold ski orienteering if it snows. Check the ski orienteering event8 page on the website for schedules of events.

Orienteering skills

This is an overview of basic orienteering skills and how to teach them as a parent, teacher or youth group leader. It is also useful as a quick primer for a newcomer wanting to learn some basic skills. More details can be found in the books for teaching young orienteers listed in the resources section. Orienteering vendors have vast collections of literature, materials and equipment for teaching and learning orienteering.

Of course, the best way to learn or teach orienteering is to do it, so by all means get out onto a map! An orienteering event organized by a local orienteering club can often be the best way to get a good suitable course and map, and yield a rewarding experience.

I'll start with skills for very young children. Older children and adults may want to start with adult courses, but be sure the basic skills are taught: orienting the map, understanding the map symbols, and so forth. For the younger ones, keep the courses easy at first, because confidence is gained through success.

Getting used to the forest

Younger orienteers may want to do activities to get used to being in the forest, to help their self confidence and sense of security. String orienteering courses are helpful for this, since they eliminate the risk of getting lost. So are other activities and games done in the woods.

What is a map?

One way to think of a map is as an aerial or bird's eye view. But for younger children, the concept of a map as a drawing of the forest may be more easily understood. An intuitive understanding of a map is a good base from which to build on later with more formal concepts.

Frequent exposure to maps helps build a sense of familiarity. Foster this by asking simple questions about the map. If the map is colored, quiz the child on what the colors mean -- yellow for clearing, blue for water and so on. Talk about places being far apart (or close together) since they are far apart (or close) on the map. It may be good advice to not get too complex too soon; the child may not yet be ready. Maps are a wonderfully intuitive and yet sophisticated concept that children will grasp when they are ready.

Simple exercises include having children draw a map of a small area. This can be as simple as making a drawing of a room or a field, or as formal as measuring a room or field and the objects within and drawing them all to scale on graph paper. Choose the level of sophistication suitable for the child.

If you discuss contours or topography at this stage, it may be good to start simple. Simple concepts to start with include hilltops (shown by closed contours), and the difference between steep areas (where contours are close together) and flat areas (where the contour lines are far apart).

Reading a map

Lead the children out on a map walk reading the map. Point out features as you go along. Ask the children to anticipate what features they will be seeing next by reading the map.

Studying an orienteering mapOrienting a map is an important skill. Turn the map until what is in front of you in the terrain is in front of you on the map. If you are facing east, then the east side of the map should be away from you. Don't worry if the lettering on the map is sideways or upside-down. Practice keeping the map oriented while on a map walk.

Thumbing is also a useful technique. Fold the map into a small, easily held piece and hold your thumb on the map near where you are. Keeping your thumb near where you are as you go along makes it easier to refer back to the map when you take your eyes off it. It also reduces the chances of your eyes “skipping” to another part of the map, say, to another trail junction. This is an easy error to make.

An example of a map reading exercise is to have the children do a string or line orienteering course. Mark the route on the map for them but don't show where the controls (checkpoints) are. As the children come to each control, have them mark where they are on the map. This will teach them to read the map and figure out where they are.

Learning to navigate

Navigation is the quintessential skill of orienteering, and it will take time to master. Be sure to teach (or learn) it progressively in small steps, allowing for success at each stage. Children may also still want to do the string course as well as they advance to adult navigation, which is good, since string courses often serve a social function and help reinforce a sense of success.

Navigating along linear features

Once children can find their location on a map, the next step is to start finding their own way on an unmarked route...in other words, on a standard orienteering course. At first, do the navigation together.

The first type of standard orienteering course for a child to do is one on linear features, such as trails, with only one decision to be made on each leg (see the page called Special terms). For instance, each control might be on a trail junction, but there should not be any trail junctions between controls. At each trail junction the child need only decide which way to go. This is easier than a typical white course, which is the easiest standard course usually available.

You may need to improvise. If you set the course yourself, use a small, well bounded area. If you want to use a normal white course, try to pick an event at an area that tends to have easier white courses, such as a small park. Or, if the course is hard, have the child do the navigation for some of the easier legs and do the harder legs together.

Don't worry about choosing the best route or the fastest way, just successful navigation. Route choice tends to improve with experience.

After children master simple linear navigation, they are ready for a more typical white course, where they will make multiple decisions on each leg. Follow them along at first, letting them navigate but keeping them from making big mistakes. Later, let them do the course alone.

At some point, teach a second technique for orienting the map: using a compass. Hold the compass on the map, as flat (level to the ground) as possible. Ignore all settings, dials and gadgets. Turn the map (not the compass) until the compass needle is parallel to the north lines on the map, with the red end of the needle toward the north end of the map. (The compass needle always points to north (magnetic north, to be specific), so turning the compass will leave the compass needle always pointing the same way.) Now the map will be oriented with the terrain, just like when you oriented it before.

Practice map reading while on white courses. While going along, have the child read what other features should be alongside the trail, and verify that they are there as you pass them. Also, practice relating distances on the map to distances on the ground. For instance, how far will the next feature be?

Off trails

The next more difficult course is yellow. The yellow course generally goes along trails and other linear features, but often has controls on features just off the trail.

Now it becomes important to plan a method of finding a control, not just picking which trail to take. Often this involves an “attack point,” which is a feature such as a bend in the trail, or a pond by the trail, or a hilltop, or so forth, at which you will head off the trail to find the control. Other times it may simply involve knowing when to look for a small hill or cliff near the trail. In any case, it is important to plan ahead.

Route choice starts to become important. At this point emphasize routes that provide the most sure way to find a control, rather than the fastest or shortest way. Consider factors such as whether there is a feature (“catching feature”) to let you know if you have missed what you are looking for. Is there a good attack point on this route? Is the navigation easy or hard? Are there lots of chances for wrong turns?

Using a compass to set a bearingCompass bearings could now be taught:
  1. Place the edge of the compass on the map so that it forms a line connecting where you are on the map with where you want to go. In the diagram at right in Step 1, a compass bearing is being taken from a trail bend to control point 3. (A trail is shown by a dashed black line; a red mark has been made on the diagram to point out the trail bend.) Make sure that the direction of travel arrow at the top of the compass is pointing in the direction you want to go, and not in the reverse direction.
  2. Holding the compass in place on the map, and ignoring the needle for the moment, turn the dial so that the lines in the housing line up with the north lines (meridians) on the map. Make sure that the N on the dial is towards the north (and not south) end of the map. (This is subtle in the diagrams; look to be sure you see it.)
  3. Leaving that setting alone, turn yourself and the compass and map until the red end of the needle points to the N on the dial. (Remember, the needle itself doesn't turn; it always points north. You and the compass and map turn around it. This takes a bit to get used to.) The direction of travel arrow on the compass now points in the direction you want to go. If you look in that direction and do not see the control feature, follow step 4.
  4. Choose a distinctive feature in the distance at which the direction of travel arrow is pointing. Keeping your eyes on this feature, travel towards it until you reach it. If it's not your control point, repeat this step until you reach your control.

Illustrated instructions are often included when you purchase orienteering compasses. Remember that the most important use of a compass is still to orient the map. And remember, reading the map is still important too!

At this stage, an orienteer is probably ready to make a very simple map of a small area, such as a schoolyard. This is excellent training for both map and compass skills, and will reinforce almost everything taught to this point. An orienteering training camp might also be useful and fun. Instructions for more advanced skills can be found in several of the books listed in the Resource section.

Physical training

Orienteering makes unique physical demands on the body. For those wishing to improve physically in orienteering, nearly any hiking or running training is relevant, but agility, strength, and footing on varied surfaces are important skills to build.

At a young age, the emphasis should be on regular exercise, rather than on intense training. Orienteering, walking, and normal play are good ways to get fit. If you want variety, hiking, biking, and skiing are good too.

For teenagers, training can be running, either on roads or cross country. In the beginning, it's not as important that each training session be perfectly relevant to orienteer so much as that a good fitness base is established. Most training can be similar to that described in numerous running training manuals. Consult such a manual, or an orienteering training guide, and pay attention to the proper age for the training to be done.

Since training is sport-specific, however, some training should take place in the forest, especially at the intermediate and advanced levels, to train balance, agility, and footing on rough surfaces. This training is also useful for injury prevention as it strengthens the muscles required for moving through sand, marshes, and the soft surfaces of woods and fields. Speed is not as important here; until footing is not a problem, training for speed is better performed on a track or smooth surfaces.

Simply running with a map in hand can offer training in map reading on the run. The map can be any orienteering map; route planning of legs on a pre-printed course can be practiced while running.

More advanced training should eventually include training through the various thicker vegetation found in the area. Blueberries, mountain laurel, and roses or other thorny bushes are commonly found in the northeastern states where many "A" events take place. Don't forget to train in rocky areas or on soft ground. Avoid injury by keeping training slower than race pace through difficult terrain until you have adapted to it. Several good books on orienteering training are listed in the Resources section.

Resource list

General orienteering books

An annotated bibliography9 of books about orienteering provides details about the most useful books to consult when teaching navigation to youngsters. Among these are the USOF coaching manual and Orienteering and Map Games for Teachers, both produced and sold by Orienteering USA.

Improving orienteering

Orienteering: Skills and strategies by Ron Lowry, and Armchair Orienteering by Winnie Stott are classic training guides providing exercises to help any orienteer.


Most of the general orienteering supply vendors carry equipment for orienteering education (kits, books, games, videos), and some provide educational services to schools and groups.

Permanent orienteering courses

Many clubs have permanent courses set on some of their maps, or in local parks. Using aluminum plaques as control markers, they are available year-round and are good for both for general practicing and for teaching school or youth groups. The club directory indicates which clubs can direct you to permanent courses.


Orienteering North America10, published by DMB Publishing, covers map and compass sports in the U.S. and Canada. Coaches' Corner is one of the regular features of this magazine, which is included as an Orienteering USA membership benefit. It is also available by direct subscription.

Orienteering USA

The governing body of orienteering clubs in the U.S., Orienteering USA is headquartered at Box 505, Riderwood, Maryland, 21139. Membership11 benefits include the subscription to Orienteering North America, voting rights at the annual general meeting, and discounted entry to "A" meets. Orienteering USA can help you start a club in your area, and brochures on several topics are available. Little Troll materials are provided to chartered clubs at no charge.

Come try orienteering!

Link URLs:
 1  http://orienteeringusa.org/new-o
 2  http://orienteeringusa.org/youth-leaders/youth-programs
 3  http://www.chicago-orienteering.org/selectcourse.htm
 4  http://orienteeringusa.org/orienteers/on-foot/events
 5  http://orienteeringusa.org/clubs/all
 6  http://www.orienteering.ca/get-involved/find-a-club/
 7  http://orienteeringusa.org/orienteers/o-vendors
 8  http://orienteeringusa.org/orienteers/ski/events
 9  http://orienteeringusa.org/new-o/resources/print-materials
10 http://orienteeringusa.org/ona-magazine
11 http://orienteeringusa.org/membership