Orienteering USA


Orienteering training includes both physical fitness to improve speed as well as mental training to improve navigational skills.

Basic Techniques

  • Understand contours: know how to quickly determine when landforms are going up (smallish oval areas surrounded by larger ones indicate a high point) or down (look for streams, marshes, or other bodies of water)
  • Handrail: Using a linear feature, such as trails, streams, fences, power lines, as a guide along a route. Advanced courses may use more subtle handrails, such as swamps, reentrants, ridgelines, and vegetation boundaries.
  • Attack Point: An unmistakable feature near your control that signals you to slow down and use precision navigation to find your control.
  • Collecting features: Features you mentally “check off” on a route that tell you you’re on track; often referred to as “staying in touch with the map.”
  • Catching features: Features behind a control, such as a trail, a stream, or a hill, that tell you you have passed your control.
  • Aiming Off: Deliberately approaching a control along a linear feature from the left or the right to increase the chances of locating the control quickly.
  • Rough compass: using the North arrow on your compass to keep your map roughly oriented
  • Precision compass: setting a bearing to your next control and finding a feature in that direction to go to

As a general guideline, a competitive beginner has mastered the basics when they can complete an Orange (Intermediate) Course at a rate of 10 minutes per kilometer for men or 12 minutes per kilometer for women. For example, a male runner who completes a 3.5km Orange course in 35:00 minutes has met the 10 min/km standard.

Advanced Techniques

  • Distance Estimation: estimate the distance traveled on trails and through terrain using pace counting, time duration or similar.
  • Rough map: Getting a general understanding of how feature areas are different and how they connect, with different possible routes among them.
  • Precision map: identifying specific features, combinations, directions, and distances to precisely target a control point location.
  • “Red light, yellow light, green light”:
    • Red: slow and careful moving, precise direction
    • Yellow: slow down, cautious movement and orienteering
    • Green: full speed, rough direction
  • Contouring: practice staying at the same elevation along a hillside (imagine following a contour); a useful skill to use when faced with a leg that crosses a very steep hill or valley
  • Control extension (enlargement): picturing the area near a control feature so you’ll recognize when you’re close
  • Projection / visualization: mentally visualize a map of the terrain, and mentally visualize the terrain from the map
  • CAR (Control – Attackpoint – Route): on the run, look at your map to find your next control, choose a solid attackpoint, and determine the route you will take to quickly and safely travel to the attackpoint

Orienteering Skill Program

The Orienteering Skills Program is a sequential, four-step program for improving navigation from beginner to advanced orienteer. Each level features concepts, learning, and demonstration of skills that build on each other, as well as a completion patch. This is intended for use by coaches and beginner orienteers to ensure a proper progression of skills.

This program is especially useful for youth-development organizations and schools, whether used stand-alone as its own program or as informed orienteering guidance to support navigation, map activities, and badges already developed elsewhere.

Each level consists of a number of requirements to complete in three categories:

  1. Concept requirements require you to learn concepts related to orienteering and then explain them to someone to show that you understand.
  2. Skills requirements require you to show that you can perform a specific skill that is related to the sport of orienteering.
  3. Application requirements require you to participate in the sport of orienteering by completing courses, reviewing your performance, and helping at events.

Recommended training activities are also included at the advanced levels. These activities are particularly recommended if you are serious about competitive orienteering. If you cannot find someone skilled to coordinate these activities for you, they are optional and not required to complete each level.

If you have any questions or comments, contact Clare Durand.

Tools for Training

Training and Technique Videos – These videos provide instructions on necessary orienteering skills.

OUSA has a Repository of numerous Orienteering Coaching and training videos and documents.

The National Junior Program develops orienteers 20 years and under.

Attackpoint (AP) is a website created by and for orienteers that has many performance and training tools for athletes. The majority of the members reside in North America, but there are many from all over the world. One can check on future events, or on results, photos and discussions of past events, as well as follow discussions on an abundance of topics.

World of O is the best starting point for international orienteering. It provides information and news about elite athletes and elite races, provides links to maps and and courses from events all over the world.


Catching Features is a PC based orienteering simulator in which you can race and train on your computer.  Races can be against the clock, online comparing times with others, or head-to-head in online multiplayer mode.  The game is fairly old but still has a loyal and active following, with new online races being posted quite frequently.

Virtual-O is a newer PC-based orienteering simulator similar to catching features.

Virtual Punch and O-Range are apps for select Garmin watches for orienteering training without flags/markers.

GPS Orienteering, USynligO and iOrienteering are smartphone apps which allow ‘electronic punching’ without flag/markers.

Training Exercises

Discovering Orienteering – An excellent resource for physical educators, recreation and youth leaders, and orienteering coaches, Discovering Orienteering distills the sport into teachable components relating to various academic disciplines, provides an array of learning activities, and includes an introduction to physical training and activities for coaching beginning to intermediate orienteers.  Guidelines take eager beginners beyond the basics and prepare them to participate in orienteering events. More than 60 ready-to-use activities assist educators in applying the benefits of orienteering across the curriculum. Developed in conjunction with Orienteering USA (OUSA), Discovering Orienteering addresses the methods, techniques, and types of orienteering commonly found throughout the United States and Canada. 

O-training.net is website with examples of different training exercises.

The Winning Eye is a book that consists of a series of orienteering trainings to improve your skills. Available here and here.

Octavian Droobers, a UK based orienteering club, has some great online tests to validate your knowledge of orienteering knowledge and navigation.

Orienteering Games is a book that provides a variety of activities to develop navigation and orienteering skills.

Go4Orienteering is a collection of printable orienteering games set up anywhere to develop navigation and orienteering skills.

British Orienteering Federation’s School Games provides numerous school games.

Orienteering South Africa’s O in a Box provides additional training ideas.

Canada Skills and Development Database – Orienteering Canada’s online database for training

Course Analysis

There are many different tools that allow you to perform analysis of your courses.

Attackpoint splits – Many events publish their intermediate times (splits) at each control point to Attackpoint. You can use these to compare yourself with the other racers on the course.

Winsplits is a another website that provides analysis of intermediate times (splits). This is more used for international events.

RouteGadget allows orienteers to draw and compare their routes online. It is also a great training and teaching aid, and quite useful to course setters. RouteGadget can also replay a race showing any combination of orienteers.

QuickRoute is a computer program for Windows that allows you to display a route from a GPS device, such as a GPS-clock, on an orienteering map saved as an image file. The main purpose of QuickRoute is to make it quick and simple to transfer your route from a GPS device onto a map.

2D / 3D Rerun are additional tools to compare routes, analyze courses, and provide visualization capabilities all online.


Whether runners, walkers, or something in between, we can all benefit from better cardiovascular endurance. A few things to consider in designing a fitness plan:

  • Frequency: Plan to walk or run at least three times a week to see improvement.
  • Duration: The time you spend training will differ depending on your goal. Workouts to build speed should be shorter and more intense. Workouts to build endurance should be 10-15% longer than you expect to spend out on a course.
  • Intensity: If you want to improve your speed, you need to train harder. Consider intervals, hill repeats, and tempo runs to push you outside of your comfort zone.
  • Overload:  Improvement in physical fitness comes from a program that progressively increases frequency, duration, or intensity. To avoid injury, start by incrementally increasing frequency or duration for the first 4-6 weeks, then focus on increasing intensity. Many running coaches recommend increasing mileage (or total training time each week) by no more than 10% each week.
  • Recovery: Our bodies need time to rest. Many runners take a day off after a hard run, or cross-train for active recovery.
  • Balance: Too frequent or too intense training leads to injury. Most runners include one tempo run and one interval or hill workout in their weekly training, along with one long run to push their endurance. Everything in between is cross-training or workouts to increase weekly mileage. A well-balanced plan incorporates two more key fitness principles:
    • Variety: Besides avoiding that feeling of being “in a rut,” variety keeps our bodies guessing. If you do the same workout every week, your body adapts to it and you get dimishing returns for your hard work. Good ways to ensure variety include not just changing frequency, duration, and intensity, but also mixing up the terrain you train on, the time of day you go out, and who you train with.
    • Specificity: The military calls this “training as you fight” – practicing in conditions that are as close to those you will race in as possible. A few things to consider:
      • Terrain: If we were road runners, we would do most of our training on pavement. But we’re not – we run on roads, trails, and cross-country in all types of weather conditions. Taking our workouts to the trails and the open woods can mean better micro-route choice and footspeed on uneven ground. This translates to faster splits in competition.
      • Time of Day: Rogainers and Night-O enthusiasts will tell you that darkness changes how you move, how you navigate, and how you perceive distance traveled. Experiencing this ahead of time allows you to make necessary adjustments to your strategy and equipment and builds confidence.
      • Interval training: Orienteering is an interval sport. We plan our routes, run hard along a handrail or between features, then slow down to conduct fine navigation into our control. Then we do it all over again. Our training should reflect this.

Sample Training Plans

The Furman Institute developed training plans for distances from 5K to marathon.
Link to the plans and a pace calculator that includes paces for road, trail, and cross-country

*No links associate endorsement, they are merely provided as resources.