Orienteering Formats

Four formats of orienteering are sanctioned by the International Orienteering Federation: Foot orienteering, trail orienteering, ski orienteering and mountain bike orienteering. But horseback, radio, swim and even scuba events have been held. We orienteers are creative people! Here's an overview of some of the popular formats aside from standard foot orienteering.

Adventure racing

Adventure Racing

Adventure racing (AR) isn't really a type of orienteering, but orienteering is often a part of it. AR is a combination of two or more endurance disciplines, including orienteering (if an orienteering map is used) and/or navigation (when non-orienteering maps are used), cross-country running, mountain biking, paddling and climbing and related rope skills. An expedition event can span ten days or more while sprints can be completed in a matter of hours. There is typically no dark period during races, irrespective of length; competitors must choose if or when to rest. You'll find lots of information on AR at the United States Adventuring Racing Association site.

Canoe Orienteering

Canoe/kayak orienteering (also called CKO) is pretty much what it sounds like: orienteering using aCanoe Orienteering, courtesy of Phibious.org canoe, kayak, or other small boat. Usually, CKO is a timed race in which one- or two-person boats start at staggered intervals, are timed, and are expected to perform all navigation on their own. Portages are allowed. The control points, shown on an orienteering map, may be visited in any order. Standings are determined first by successful completion of the course, then by shortest time on course.

Traditional CKO controls may be places around a lake and in the woods. The course is usually designed as a Score course with points assigned to each control based on difficulty and distance. One or more competitors navigate the course in a canoe and the winner is the canoe team that accumulates the most points within the time limit.

While not a major form of orienteering in the U.S., right now, CKO has enthusiastic adherents: Visit Phibious.org to get involved in a community "dedicated to bringing competitive Canoe/Kayak Orienteering to the United States of America."

Mountain Bike Orienteering

Mountain bike orienteering (MTB-O or MTBO) is, as the name suggests, an orienteering sport performed on mountain bikes. Unlike in foot orienteering, MTBO competitors aren't typically permitted to leave the trail and track network. This makes the navigational tactics in MTBO similar to those of ski orienteering, where the major focus is route choice while racing at Mountain bike orienteeringhigh speed.

The sport attracts both orienteering and mountain bike enthusiasts. The most important orienteering skills needed are route choice and map memory. Extremely good bike handling and the ability to cope with steep slopes are an absolute must.

Mountain bike orienteering is the newest of the four orienteering disciplines administered by the International Orienteering Federation. It started in the late 1980s at a club level in countries where mountain biking was a popular outdoor sport -- primarily in Europe. By 1997, national championships were being organized in 12 countries, and the number is rapidly growing. There's now a MTBO World Championships every year, with the US fielding it's first national MTBO team in 2012. See this website's MTBO resources.


Radio Orienteering

Radio orienteering, courtesy of ARDF IARU Region II

Radio Orienteering, also known as Amateur Radio Direction Finding, is a racing sport that combines radio direction finding with the map and compass skills of orienteering. It is a timed race in which individual competitors use a topographic map, a magnetic compass and radio direction finding apparatus to navigate through diverse wooded terrain while searching for radio transmitters. The rules of the sport and international competitions are organized by the International Amateur Radio Union. The sport has been most popular in Eastern Europe, Russia and China, where it was often used in the physical education programs in schools. You can learn more about ARDF in the U.S., including club and event info, at the International Amateur Radio Union's Region II (Americas) web site.


Rogaining is the sport of long-distance cross-country navigation. It's a member of the orienteeringRogaine control family, but unlike in regular orienteering, there are no set courses. Instead, teams of two to five members visit as many checkpoints as possible, choosing their own order and routes, in a certain time period. Checkpoints are scored differently depending on the level of difficulty in reaching them; therefore, teams must choose a strategy (for example, to visit many low-score checkpoints, or a few high-score checkpoints).

Teams travel entirely on foot, navigating by map and compass between checkpoints in terrain that varies from open farmland to hilly forest. A central base camp known as a "hash house" provides hot meals throughout the event and teams may return at any time to eat, rest or sleep. Teams travel at their own pace, and anyone from children to grandparents can experience the personal satisfaction that comes from cross-country navigation at their own level of competition and comfort. Team members must stay within earshot of each other.

The length for a championship Rogaine is 24 hours, but shorter variations such as 6-, 8-, 12- and -15 hour events are also held (sometimes concurrently with a 24-hour event). Depending on the terrain, experienced rogaining teams can cover more than one hundred kilometers over the 24-hour period. There have also been longer events (dubbed "Endurogaines") lasting 48 and 50 hours. See rogaining info and resources.

Ski Orienteering

Ski orienteering is done on cross-country skis. It's typically a point-to-point event in which the participant tries to pick the fastest route through a network of trails. Standard orienteering maps are used, but with special green overprinting of trails and tracks to indicate their navigability in snow; other symbols indicate whether any roads are snow-covered or Ski Orienteeringclear. Navigation tactics are similar to mountain bike orienteering. Standard skate-skiing equipment is used, along with a map holder attached to the chest.

Ski orienteering events are designed to test both physical strength and navigation skills of the athletes. Ski orienteers use the map to navigate a dense ski track network in order to visit a number of control points in the shortest possible time. The track network is printed on the map, and there is no marked route in the terrain. The control points must be visited in the right order. The map gives all information the athlete needs in order to decide which route is the fastest, including the quality and width of the tracks. The athlete has to take hundreds of route choice decisions at high speed during every race: a slight lack of concentration for just a hundredth of a second may cost the medal. Ski orienteering is time-measured and objective. The clock is the judge: fastest time wins. The electronic card verifies that the athlete has visited all control points in the right order. See Ski-O info and resources.

Trail Orienteering


Trail orienteering is an orienteering discipline centered around map reading in natural terrain. The discipline has been developed to offer everyone, including people with limited mobility, a chance to participate in a meaningful orienteering competition.

Manual or electric wheel chairs, walking sticks, and assistance with movement etc. are permitted as speed of movement is not part of the competition.

Trail orienteers must identify on the ground control points shown on the map. As this is done from a distance, both able-bodied and participants with disabilities compete on level terms. Proof of correct identification of the control points does not require any manual dexterity, allowing those with severely restricted movement to compete equally. Most trail orienteering events have classes open for everyone. See Trail-O info and resources.