Orienteering is a challenging outdoor adventure sport enjoyed by people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. The aim is to navigate a sequence of control points marked on a map. Test your mind and body as you decide the best route to complete the course in the quickest time.
There are numerous races every week, mostly in countryside (forests, heathland etc.) within an hours drive of London, and in the parks and streets of the capital. Each event has a range of courses between 1km and 10km, with varying levels of navigation technical difficulty. Around 150-350 runners participate in any one event. The British Orienteering website has a good newcomers guide and the South London Orienteering website also has good newcomer videos about orienteering.
It does not matter how young, old or fit you are, as you can run, walk or jog at your own pace. As you improve, you can take on more challenging courses, start running against the country’s best orienteers and even take part in international events.
If you enjoy running you will find orienteering an exciting challenge: a race of brawn and brain across exciting terrain.
If on the other hand you fancy a quiet walk in the countryside, choose a course of the desired length and set off.
What you need for orienteering
- Running shoes with a good grip (it can be muddy in the winter);
- Long running trousers are required to protect against brambles (urban and park events may allow shorts – please check the event details);
- Bramble-bashers/gaiters protect your shin against brambles;
- Running top;
- Orienteering compass;
- ‘Sportident dibber’ or an ‘Emit card’. These are small handheld electronic items that record your time at the control. You can always hire one at an event;
- Whistle for emergency;
- Map with your event course. You will get this at the start;
- List of control numbers and location descriptions. These are usually printed on the map, but are also loose and can be put in a transparent holder that you strap to your forearm.
- Cash. The events cost around £5-£15 to enter, depending on the size of the event. It is cheaper for juniors and British Orienteering/LOK members.
- Transport. Most events are in the countryside and inaccessible by public transport. Contact the club chairman about sharing a ride if you do not have a car.
Have a go!
Attending an event is the best way to get involved because the volunteers will be able to help you with any questions you may have. However, a Permanent and Virtual Courses may also be a great starting point. ‘POC’s and ‘VOC’s are all over London and allow you to try orienteering for free, at your own convenience, whenever suits you. All you need is a printer!
What to expect at an event
You can usually sign-up for events online, but most will allow newcomers to enter on the day. On arrival, find the registration – most events will have a tent and a club flag set up by the registration. Here you can enter and pay for the race, hire a ‘dibber’ (which records the controls you find during the race) and leave your car key if you wish. You can ask any questions here, and decide which course you would like to run. You can now follow tapes or marshals to the start.
At the start, a marshal will guide you through the start process. The ‘dibber’ will need to be set up by ‘punching’ a few control boxes in the start procedure – these will be clearly labelled and explained by the marshal. Orienteering is a navigation based sport, so each competitor starts at different times to spread out the field and make it a fair race. When it is your turn to start, ‘dib’ the start box, pick up your map and locate the purple start triangle. Use your compass to orientate the map and make sure it matches your surroundings. Locate the first control on the map, work out how you’re going to get there and which direction to run, then start running/jogging/walking towards the first control! It’s usually sensible to take it easy on the first leg, to get familiar with the map and the terrain and not feel lost straight away!
Once you’ve navigated to the control site, you’ll see an orange and white flag and a control box. Check the code on the box matches the code on your map (if it doesn’t, then unfortunately you’ve found the wrong control!) then record it by putting your dibber into the box until you hear a beep and see a flash. Now onto control number 2!
When you dib the finish control the race is finished and your time has been stopped. You should now walk back to the registration tent to ‘download’. It is very important that you return to registration because search parties will be sent out if you have not returned, and downloading is the only way we know you’re not still out on the course. The download will check you visited the correct controls, in the correct order, and will give you your time.
Your race is now finished! Feel free to chat with other orienteers about the race, the weather, or anything else that comes to mind!
Orienteering maps use a unique set of symbols which can be confusing at first. Take a look at the helpful guide on this website to get an understanding of the symbols used. This symbol set is designed to allow us to map the terrain in a helpful way to runners. For example: white is fast runnable forest, then areas of forest that are denser or more difficult to run through are marked as shades of green, darker shades for more difficult / slower vegetation. Open areas are coloured yellow and water is blue. Try to identify the open parkland in the image above (yellow); identify the areas of trees (white), bushes (light green) and also the lakes and paths.
Most orienteering maps will have a key printed on the maps, especially on the more beginner friendly courses.
Guidance on event age categories
Click here to download a short PDF guide to knowing your correct age category (required for national, regional and other events).
Feel free to contact any of us using the contact emails under the ‘LOK Officers and email contacts’ section of the About Us page. We will try to get back to you as soon as we can! If you’re unsure of anything at an event, the marshals / volunteers should be very happy to help you.