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What is Orienteering?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 23, 2024
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Orienteering is an outdoor sport, the art of finding your way from one point to another across unknown territory. Originating in Scandinavia during the First World War as a military exercise, it first found popularity in Britain in 1962. The combination of both physical and mental exercise makes orienteering an ideal recreational activity for both male and female competitors. Using little more than a map, compass and a sturdy pair of running shoes, individuals, or more commonly teams, make their way on a cross-country race from one agreed destination to another.

The mental activity comes from reading the map and assessing which would be the quickest route to reach the intended destination. This is not as simple as it sounds. It may, for example, look quicker to move in a straight line, as the crow flies, but skillful orienteering competitors can judge, from reading their map, that it may be quicker climbing hills and wading through streams than taking a well worn but winding footpath.

Orienteering is a growing minority sport, one which appeals to and can be enjoyed by people of all ages, from children as young as five to older competitors in their sixties. It is also a relatively inexpensive hobby. Orienteering compasses can be purchased for as little as $5 and running shoes, with or without studs or spikes, can be found at any good sporting stores. In case of changing weather conditions waterproof clothing is also advisable and is relatively cheap.

Another essential item for the orienteering enthusiast is a good whistle used to signal for help in case of emergencies. The universal signal is six short blasts and then a pause. This should be repeated until help arrives. The whistle should not be blown at any other time as this may cause other competitors to abandon the race to search for the distress signal. You will also need a pen to plot your course and a map case to protect your map in case of bad weather.

A big appeal for the orienteering enthusiast is the social aspect, a chance to meet up with like-minded people and partake in exercise and competition. You can get fit and healthy while taking in some spectacular scenery. There should be no problem in finding an orienteering club near you, and as it is now a recognized world-wide sport many hold weekly events with prizes and trophies. After a hard week of school or work this is a great way to have fun at the weekend.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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