Orienteering

Compasses for orienteering have one major key feature. Their needle is fast; extremely fast. It’s main mission is to keep you company and guide you forward when running – and competing in orienteering. If you haven’t tried this noble sport yet, we suggest you give it a try: it’s tricky and sweaty but, oh, so fun!

It's not just a sport - it's a lifestyle

Orienteering as a sport is growing like never before. More and more people are finding their way off the roads and lit-up paths to discover the joy in finding new places with nothing but a map and compass to navigate them through unknown terrain.

No matter your age, level of ambition or individual experience, we guarantee that you can find a form of orienteering that suits you.

THE 5 FOUNDATIONS OF ORIENTEERING

  1. Understand where you are on the map and where you are going
  2. Orientate your map
  3. Choose and plan your Route
  4. Going from A to B
  5. Find the control

Learn more at orienteering.se (in swedish)
Learn more at IOF (in english)
Pdf from orienteering.se (in english)

Orienting the Map

The easiest way to use a map and compass together is to orient the map towards North.

Learn how to orientate the map to north with the SILVA 1-2-3 System:
1-2-3 for Thumb compasses
1-2-3 for Race plate compasses
1-2-3 for Wrist compasses

The map

The most common map scales within orienteering is 1:15.000 and 1:10 000.  The scale of the map describes the distance in relation to reality.
At a scale of 1:10 000, 1 cm on the map equals 10 000 cm in reality, in other words, 100 metres. Contour intervals (distance between brown lines) describe the difference in height between the contours. The most common equidistance is 2.5 or 5 metres.

The map symbols

The orienteering map is a highly detailed representation of reality and is full of symbols, colours and map signage.

List of map symbols (in swedish)

The course

On the map, the orienteering course is made up of the start, controls, finish, connecting lines and controls numbers. The starting point is marked with a triangle, the controls with circles, and the finish with a double circle. The controls have to be taken in numerical order. In reality, the control object is marked with an orange and white flag, and is always in the middle of the control circle.

Control description

The control description, or the control definition as it is also called, gives you detailed information about the controls. Pay extra attention to the code on the description and the control point – that’s how you know if you have found the right control. From the description you can also tell the character of the control object and on what part of it you can find the orange and white flag, for example ”the rock, eastern side”.

The control description is often printed directly on the map, but for those wishing to wear it in a special ”definition holder” on their arm, there are separate copies as well.

Classes and difficulty levels

Generally, there are two classes of orienteering – competing and open (leisure classes).

The competition classes are divided by gender and age, ranging from 10 yrs to 95 yrs.

The open classes are divided by difficulty according to the scale below, where green is the easiest level and black the hardest. There are always open classes of different length and difficulty at competitions that you can sign up for on the day and start whenever you want.

Competition distances

There are five individual distances for foot orienteering;

1. Sprint
Sprint is the shortest and most intense form of competing, characterised by many controls, quick decisions and small margins. A simple level of orienteering that gets difficult because of the high speed. Winning time is usually around 15 minutes.
2. Middle
Many controls, quick decisions and technically challenging. Winning time is around 30 minutes.
3. Long
Longer distances where route choices are essential. Winning times for the elite levels are around 90 minutes on a 17 km course.
4. Ultra long
The longest and toughest distance where stamina and route choice are essential. Winning time around 2-3 hours.
5. Night
The most renowned type of competing, done at night with a headlamp. Similar to Long orienteering due to the long distances and important route choices. Important to keep things simple and be diligent in your bearing/route choices.

The compass

The compass is your best friend. It will help you to orientate the map and figure out in what direction you should be going.

There are two main types of compasses used within orienteering; thumb compasses and baseplate compasses. They work in the same way, and the type you prefer is only a matter of individual preference. The majority of orienteers today use a thumb compass as it is considered slightly easier to use. There is also the wrist compass, used in Mountain Bike Orienteering and Multisport.

Thumb compass

SILVA’s race thumb compasses are perfect for the orienteer, the adventure race athlete or whoever is in need of a compass with outstanding quality, needle settling time and stability during running.

Baseplate

Our thumb baseplates features a design which contributes to perfect contact between thumb and map. It is also highly durable, in acrylic plastic with lots of transparency, which increases the map visibility. You use the edge of the baseplate to get your bearing.

Wrist compass

The OMC Spectra is a strong partner out in the track. Not only will it point quickly towards your travel destination after you set the course, it is also worn comfortably on your wrist.

Find out more about the features of SILVA compasses in our compass manuals.

Compass needle

SILVAs thumb compass needles come in two different versions:

The SILVA Jet Needle is the the world’s fastest compass needle, designed with a lot of transparency which increases the map visibility.

The SILVA NOR Needle is a stable and distinct, high-end quality needle with lots of transparency to increase the map visibility

Spectra pattern

The SILVA Spectra System™ is developed to simplify your orienteering, enabling you to be faster and more accurate through the forest. No matter if you are an elite or leisure orienteer – the Spectra System™ will help you by letting you stay on the right course at high speed while reducing mistakes.

The Spectra System™ consists of coloured reference points and dots on the capsule that are easy and quick to read and memorise.

Our goal is for you to become faster by helping you navigate more accurately, and to think more clearly. The tougher the work, the harder it is to make the right decision and do the right thing – quickly. To think clearly, you have to keep things simple. With our Spectra compasses you have an easier system and clearer reference points, which help you keep the right directions at competition speed.

TIP: Why are the East and West cardinal points reversed?
Find the answer in the thumb compass manual

Advantages with the spectra system™

  • You don’t need to hold the compass orientated on the map, in order to travel
    on the desired bearing.
  • You can run on a compass bearing at high speed.
  • Taking the step from using the traditional base plate compass to using a
    thumb compass is made easier.
  • You have more freedom to choose whether to run with the map and compass in the same hand or with the compass in one hand and the map in the other.
  • The use of colours and dots as reference points reduces the risk of making
    mistakes at extreme levels of physical and mental fatigue.
  • The use of colours and dots makes the teaching and learning of how to use
    the compass easier. It simplifies the explanation of how to use to map and
    compass youths and beginners.
  • The colour segments are easier to find and focus on, especially at high speed
    and you can correct your direction without stopping.

The 4 disciplines of orienteering

The sport of orienteering was first practised in the military but nowadays it features a variety of different formats

  • Foot Orienteering
    An endurance sport which involves a huge mental element. There is no marked route – the orienteer must navigate with map and compass while running.
  • Mountain Bike Orienteering (MTBO)
    An endurance sport attracting both orienteering and mountain bike enthusiasts.
  • Ski Orienteering (SkiO)
    An endurance winter sport combining navigation and cross-country skiing across a rough terrain using prepared cross-country ski tracks.
  • Trail Orienteering (TrailO/PreO)
    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.

The gear

When competing, you need to have covering clothes, something that is recommended also when you’re training. It means that the skin on your legs and torso should be covered, meaning that a long pair of trousers and a t-shirt is fine. Regular running clothes are more than enough when you orienteer but if you start doing it more regularly, buying special orienteering clothes and shoes that are adapted to running in the forest can be well worth it.

We also recommend that you get your own compass, you will need it to take out your direction and orientate the map.

Competitions are always timed electronically. The most common timing systems are Emit and SportIdent. If you don’t have your own SI-dibber or Emittag, the competition organisers always have spare ones to lend.

Checklist

RACING SUIT – A lightweight, stretchy suit protects from undergrowth whilst allowing maximum freedom of movement even if it gets soaking wet.

SHOES – Light, strong shoes with non-slip soles allow sure grip on all types of ground – including mud and bare rock.

MAP – The map provided by the organiser shows the course with the control points which must be visited. The map is designed to give detailed information on the terrain – hills, ground surface, and features such as boulders or cliffs.

COMPASS – There is a wide variety of sophisticated compasses to choose from. Basically they can be divided into two main categories: base plate and thumb compasses.

CONTROL CARD – To prove that they have visited all control points in the right order, the orienteers have to punch their control card at each control using an electronic device.

HEADLAMP – When orienteering at night – a good headlamp is crucial

Glossary

In orienteering, there are many special terms and words. This is a list of the most commonly used phrases and words that will come in handy if you are new to the sport.

ATTACK POINT – Also called “the last safe point”, a position that the orienteer chooses to “attack” the control from.
CHASING START – A starting form used in competitions that are run over several days where you start based on your previous results. First one to hit the finish line wins.
CONTROL CODE – Number on or beside the control screen and on the control description allowing you to make sure you have found the correct control.
CONTROL DESCRIPTION – The detailed information about the controls. Also known as definition or in Swedish is it referred to “deffen”.
DIBBER – SportIdent-tag to use when punching in the SportIdent system.

DIRECT COURSE – Old name for open classes.
DNF
– Did not finish, completing the course without taking all the controls.
DOWNLOADING – Registering that you have completed the course after taking the finishing control.
EMPTY AND CHECK – Before start you have to empty your SportIdent’s card memory and make sure it is working.
EQUIDISTANCE – Describes the difference in height between the contours. Also called contour interval.
FOLLOWING – Running behind or “hanging on to” another orienteer on the same course. In competition classes this is illegal.
HAND-RAIL – An eye-catching feature to run parallel to without having to check the map, for example roads, paths or power lines.

OPEN COURSES – Courses when you can enter on the day and run a course based on preferred difficulty level.
PUNCHING – Registering that you have been to a control.
REVERSE BEARING – When you are running in the opposite direction of where you are supposed to be going.
SHADOWING – Parent, friend or trainer running behind you in the forest, for safety or for training purposes.
SOFT – The Swedish Orienteering Federation
SPIKING A CONTROL – Finding the control marker on the first attempt.
TC – Competition centre, older word for the arena.

This kind of session is made up of a large number of controls, carefully selected to give you a scenic experience as you go along. These controls are usually available between April and October and you can visit them as often as you wish. It’s up to you if you want to walk, run, or sometimes even bike between the controls and you don’t need any previous experience. All it takes is a bit of time, curiosity and will. Naturpasset is arranged by orienteering clubs around the country and is on offer at around 400 locations throughout Sweden.

This is an event that offers orienteering in easily accessible areas, with courses of varying levels of difficulty and length that you can choose to do with or without timing. There is always an instructor on site that can help you choose a course and make sure you have everything you need.

These events are very similar to Naturpasset, with controls of various levels of difficulty. Online you have your own account and here you can register and compare the taken controls with others – your mum, friend och colleague. What makes these events stand out is that the activity is always located in and around urban areas. You are able to find the control by foot, bike or wheelchair. Focus at this activity is digital tools and the location of the controls.

Try it out

There are many forms of orienteering, so regardless of your age, ambition and individual background, you are likely to find a form that suits you. You can run in urban environments or further out in the terrain; long or short distances; easy or advanced courses; by yourself or together with others. You are free to choose to orienteer at a certain point in your life, for a longer period of time, or perhaps a little bit now and then – it’s all up to you!

Contacting your local orienteering club is a very easy way to try orienteering. Many clubs offer try-it-out sessions or courses for beginners and the level of activity and engagement is completely up to you.

Find out how our Friend and World Champion Tove Alexandersson started out here.

More information can be found here:
International Orienteering Federation
Orientering.se
Svenska orienteringsförbundet
World Orienteering Day: WOD
Norsk Orientering
Naturpasset.se
Hittaut
Motionsorientering.se