What is Orienteering?
Orienteering is an outdoor sport enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities. The usual type of event is to navigate on foot around a forest or fell using a specially drawn orienteering map to visit a series of controls that have been placed on a course. The time taken to do this will be recorded. However, not everyone regards it as a race, and you are advised to go at your own pace. At each event, there are usually several courses of varying length and difficulty. The courses are normally distinguished by colour codes. Start times are usually staggered over a two-hour period, so you won't start at the same time as another competitor on the same course. This means that when you are out in the forest, no-one knows how well, or badly, you are doing. At most events you can, if you want, compete in pairs, small groups, or families.
However, if you intend to bring a large group (ie. 8 or more) to a WAOC event with overprinted maps, we'd be very grateful if you'd let us know in advance, as we have to estimate the number of maps required for each course, and can be taken by surprise if a large group turns up unannounced. A contact name and email address will be shown on the next event details which can be found from the events web-page.
Exactly how an event is organised, especially with respect to registration (see below), varies from event to event, and is dependent on whether electronic punching and/or overprinted maps are being used. However, this page gives general guidelines. There are usually sufficient notices posted up at each event to describe the procedure on the day.
Most WAOC colour-coded events have both electronic punching and overprinted maps.
Registration is the process of paying your entry fee, choosing your course and being allocated a start time.
Course Standard Distance String very,very easy 1.0 km White very easy 1.0 to 1.5 km Yellow easy 1.0 to 2.5 km Orange fairly easy 2.0 to 3.5 km Red fairly easy 4.5 to 6.0 km Light Green fairly hard 2.5 to 3.5 km Green hard 3.5 to 4.5 km Blue hard 4.5 to 6.5 km Brown hard 6.5 plus km
These are the straight line distances between controls, rarely the best route. As a guide to runners if you can orienteer in minutes per km as fast as you can run minutes per mile you will be doing very well. Beginners should start with the easier courses. eg. Novice juniors should start with White or Yellow, novice adults should start with Orange or Red.
(The string course is literally a 500m - 1 km piece of string, laid out on the ground, which competitors as young as two or three can follow to the control kites. The string course is usually free and doesn't require registration, just go to the string course start (which will be separate from the main start).)
These values should be considered as only a rough guide. In particularly flat terrain, such as in East Anglia, courses may in general be somewhat longer.
The organisers will be taking registrations and (possibly) issuing maps, usually from cars in the event car park.
If electronic punching is being used (this should be obvious from the event adverts, and from notices at the event) you will need an electronic control card (ecard) to compete. If you're a regular orienteer, you'll probably have bought one, but if not you'll have to hire one at the event before going to the registration car for your course. There'll probably be a separate car dealing with ecard hires. Most East Anglian clubs charge a 50p hire charge per ecard, and some may charge a returnable deposit (the ecards, although small, are relatively expensive).
Next go to the car which is registering your chosen course. You will be asked for your name, age class and club (you don't have to belong to one to enter a colour coded event), and your preferred start time. (Unlike road races, orienteering events have staggered starts with no two competitors on the same course starting at the same time.) Choose a start time which gives yourself enough time to get ready and get to the start area.
If overprinted maps are being used (ie. the maps already have the courses printed on them), this will be the point where you pay your entry fee. Beginners can compete in pairs or groups. One entry fee (usually) covers the whole group, unless they want a map each.
You will be given your start time and will also receive a control description list on a slip of paper for your course. If electronic punching is not being used you will also be given a control card with numbered boxes which you "punch" at each control as you complete your course. If the registration marshall hasn't filled in the details such as your name, age class, etc. in all the relevant areas on the card, do this now.
If overprinted maps are not being used, you will need to buy a special orienteering map of the area, which you'll later use to copy your course on to. In this case, you probably won't pay an entry fee at the registration car, but you'll have to buy the orienteering map at a different car, before or after registering. (Buying the map is effectively paying your entry fee.) Note that you cannot use ordinary Ordnance Survey maps of the area: Orienteering maps are much more detailed.
You don't need any special kit to begin with. However, legs should be covered to protect from scratches, stings and bites (ticks in forests). Track suit bottoms are fine. Similarly a long-sleeved top is also a good idea. If you intend to run then wear lightweight things so that you don't get too hot. For your feet, trainers or running shoes are OK.
If overprinted maps are not being used a pen is essential to copy the course onto the map. Most people use a red biro or a waterproof fine-point fibretip pen. A compass is not required for the easy courses, but bring one if you have one. You could trip in the woods and injure yourself, so a whistle is advised, as a safety measure to attract attention. If it is raining, you will need protection for your map and control card. An A4 size clear plastic bag will do. Safety pins are also useful.
After registering, get changed and then check that you have everything you need. If electronic punching is not being used you can write the control codes and descriptions onto the appropriate squares of the control card, if you wish, to make them easier to check as you find each control. Most people use safety pins to attach the control card to the front of their shirt or to their sleeve.
Get there in good time. Final check: Map, pen, control card (either electronic or traditional), control descriptions, whistle and compass (if you have them), plastic bag for the map. When your start time is called, hand over the stub from your control card if they're being used. The control card stubs are used as an essential check to make sure that you are not lost or injured in the forest. When you get back your control card is matched with your control stub so we know you're back. We send out search parties if we have any mismatched stubs at the end of the event, so it is essential that you report to the finish even if you retire. If electronic punching is being used, the computer performs the same function of verifying that you're back.
You will be asked to step into the box marked with tape on the ground. Ten seconds before your start time, the starter will tell you to step over the line and be ready to go at the signal, which is either a whistle blast or an electronic buzzer operated by the master clock. From that moment, you are being timed. If electronic punching is being used you'll be timed from the moment that you punch at the start control, adjacent to the start line. If overprinted maps are being used, you will now simply pick up the map with your course on it, otherwise go as quickly as possible to the nearby master maps (the starter will tell you where they are) and copy the course onto your map. Check that you have the correct course. They will be clearly labelled. The start will be marked as a triangle, all controls as single circles with numbers and the finish as a double circle, joined up by straight lines. If you are doing the white or yellow course, you may be allowed to copy it onto your map before the start time, and these master maps will be placed on the approach to the start box, otherwise the starting procedure is the same. You are not allowed to see the master maps of the other courses until you have started.
You must visit the controls in numerical order. Each control will consist of a red and white marker with a label carrying the appropriate control code and either a pin clipper if traditional punching is being used, or an electronic "punch box" if electronic punching is being used. If traditional punching is being used, clip the correct box on your control card after checking the code. If electronic punching is being used, insert your ecard into the hole in the electronic punch box and wait for a beep and the LED to flash (it'll take less than a second). Continue round the course, choosing your own route, but visiting the controls in the correct sequence for your course. Keep out of any areas marked out of bounds.
That's it. Well done. Go and have a drink and cool down.
Provisional results are often displayed later on. Usually the control stubs, with completion times added, or computer printout, are clipped up on a string in order of finishing times. Most clubs now also display results on the Internet, which is by far the quickest and easiest way to receive them. Alternatively, to get a printed list of results later through the post, write your name and address on a blank envelope with the appropriate printing and postage fee inside (see the box of blank envelopes provided for this purpose, for the current fee). The box is usually in the registration area (you may want to fill in an envelope before you compete, so you don't forget it later).
A good introductory book is Carol McNeil, Orienteering, the skills of the game, The Crowood Press, ISBN 1-85223-558-6
For information about Badge events, the next level up from the colour-coded events described here, try our newsletter article Going for Gold - An introduction to Badge events.
For general information about Orienteering in the UK, including full fixture lists and links to other clubs, try the The British Orienteering Federation home page.
The notes in this section were originally prepared by Fred Northrop (WAOC) with significant amendments by Dave Wotton.