Orienteering as a Hobby: Where Maps are Your Best Friend and Compasses are Your Guide

Orienteering as a hobby is a unique and exciting way to explore the great outdoors. It’s a sport that combines physical fitness with mental agility, as participants navigate their way through challenging courses using only a map and compass.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced orienteer, there’s always a new challenge to be found, making orienteering a thrilling and rewarding hobby.

See Also: What Are Some Sports Hobbies?

What is Orienteering?

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast looking for a new challenge, orienteering might be the perfect hobby for you.

Orienteering is a sport that involves navigating through a course using a map and compass. It’s a great way to explore new areas, improve your fitness, and challenge your mind.


Orienteering originated in Scandinavia in the late 19th century as a military training exercise. It quickly became a popular sport in Europe, and in the 1960s it spread to other parts of the world. Today, orienteering is recognized as an international sport and is governed by the International Orienteering Federation (IOF).


To get started with orienteering, you’ll need some basic equipment. Here’s what you’ll need:

MapA detailed map of the course you’ll be navigating
CompassA compass to help you orient your map and navigate
WhistleA whistle to signal for help in case of an emergency
Running shoesComfortable shoes suitable for running or hiking
ClothingWeather-appropriate clothing and gear

It’s also a good idea to bring water and snacks to keep you fueled during your adventure.

Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or just looking for a new way to explore the outdoors, orienteering is a fun and challenging hobby that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and fitness levels. So why not give it a try? With a little practice and some basic equipment, you’ll be navigating like a pro in no time.

Benefits of Orienteering

Orienteering is a fun and challenging hobby that offers numerous physical and mental health benefits. In this section, we will explore the benefits of orienteering in more detail.

Physical Health Benefits

Orienteering is a great way to improve your physical fitness. It is a full-body workout that requires you to use your legs, arms, and core muscles as you navigate through the terrain. Here are some of the physical health benefits of orienteering:

  • Improves cardiovascular health: Orienteering involves walking, jogging, and hiking, which are all great exercises for your heart. By regularly participating in orienteering, you can improve your cardiovascular health and reduce your risk of heart disease.
  • Increases strength and endurance: Orienteering terrain is often hilly and rugged, which makes it an excellent workout for your legs, core, and upper body. By regularly participating in orienteering, you can increase your strength and endurance.
  • Boosts flexibility and balance: Orienteering requires you to move your body in different ways as you navigate through the terrain. This can help improve your flexibility and balance over time.

Mental Health Benefits

Orienteering is not just good for your physical health; it can also have a positive impact on your mental health. Here are some of the mental health benefits of orienteering:

  • Reduces stress and anxiety: Orienteering is a great way to get outside and connect with nature. Being in nature has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety levels, which can have a positive impact on your mental health.
  • Improves cognitive function: Orienteering requires you to use your brain as you navigate through the terrain. This can help improve your cognitive function and keep your mind sharp.
  • Boosts confidence and self-esteem: Orienteering can be challenging, but successfully navigating through the terrain can give you a sense of accomplishment and boost your confidence and self-esteem.

Overall, orienteering is a great hobby that offers numerous physical and mental health benefits. Whether you are looking to improve your fitness, reduce stress and anxiety, or boost your cognitive function, orienteering is definitely worth trying out.

To learn more about the health benefits of orienteering, check out this article.

Getting Started with Orienteering

Here are a few tips to get started with orienteering.

Choosing a Course

The first step in orienteering is to choose a course that suits your skill level. Most orienteering events offer courses of varying lengths and difficulties, so it’s important to choose one that matches your abilities. Here are some common course types:

  • Beginner courses: These courses are designed for people who are new to orienteering. They are usually shorter and easier than other courses, and the checkpoints are located on or near trails.
  • Intermediate courses: These courses are longer and more challenging than beginner courses. They require more advanced map reading skills and the checkpoints are located off-trail.
  • Advanced courses: These courses are designed for experienced orienteers. They are longer and more difficult than intermediate courses, and the checkpoints are located in remote areas.

Map Reading Basics

Once you’ve chosen a course, the next step is to learn the basics of map reading. Here are some key concepts to keep in mind:

  • Orienting the map: Before you start navigating, you need to make sure that the map is oriented correctly. This means aligning the map with the terrain so that north on the map is pointing in the same direction as north in the real world.
  • Understanding symbols: Maps use symbols to represent different features in the terrain, such as trails, streams, and vegetation. It’s important to understand what these symbols mean so that you can navigate accurately.
  • Using a compass: A compass is an essential tool for orienteering. It helps you orient the map, take bearings, and navigate through the terrain. Make sure you know how to use a compass before you start orienteering.

Orienteering Events and Competitions

If you’re looking to take your orienteering skills to the next level, participating in orienteering events and competitions can be a great way to challenge yourself and meet other orienteers.

There are a variety of events and competitions available, ranging in difficulty and length, so you can find one that suits your skill level and interests.

One type of event is a foot-O, where participants navigate on foot through a natural landscape to find checkpoints. These events can range from local meets to national and international competitions. If you’re interested in foot-O, check out Orienteering USA’s calendar of events to find one near you.

Another type of event is trail-O, where participants navigate on a trail or path to find checkpoints. These events are typically shorter and less physically demanding than foot-O events, but still require map reading and navigation skills.

If you’re looking for a longer and more challenging event, consider participating in a rogaine. Rogaines are endurance events where participants navigate on foot to find as many checkpoints as possible within a set time limit. The World Rogaining Championships are being hosted in Lake Tahoe California from July 17-30, 2023.

In addition to these types of events, there are also orienteering competitions that focus on specific skills or challenges. For example, the Night-O competition takes place after dark and requires participants to use a headlamp to navigate. The Score-O competition challenges participants to find as many checkpoints as possible within a set time limit, with each checkpoint worth a different point value.

No matter what type of event or competition you choose, it’s important to come prepared with the right gear and equipment. Make sure you have a reliable compass, a detailed map of the area, and appropriate clothing and footwear for the conditions. You may also want to bring food and water, as well as a first aid kit in case of emergency.

So, get out there and start exploring the world of orienteering events and competitions. You never know what challenges and adventures await you.

Advanced Orienteering Techniques

When you’ve mastered the basics of orienteering, it’s time to take your skills to the next level with advanced techniques. These techniques require more practice and experience, but they will help you navigate more efficiently and accurately.

Accurate Bearings

Accurate bearings are essential when you need to navigate in a very precise direction. To take accurate bearings, you need to hold your compass level and steady, align the direction of travel arrow with your destination, and turn the compass housing until the north end of the needle is inside the orienting arrow. Then, read the bearing from the index line on the compass housing.

Plan, Picture, Direction

Plan, Picture, Direction is a simple model that helps you draw together all the elements of orienteering. The model is summarized as Plan, Picture, Direction to make it easy to remember.

You need to plan your route, picture the terrain in your mind, and follow a routine with map and compass to navigate the leg.

Route Selection

Route selection is crucial when you want to navigate efficiently. The route you take to the control determines how many of the five techniques you will be using. Finding attack points, aiming off, following handrails, finding collecting features, and stopping at catching features could all be used depending on the route. Remember to see the control first and then choose the best route to get there.

Catching Features

Catching features are prominent features that help you know when you’re getting close to your destination. Examples of catching features include ridges, streams, trails, or buildings. When you reach a catching feature, you should slow down and take a careful bearing to your destination.

Control Flow

Control flow is the art of moving smoothly from one control to the next. To improve your control flow, you need to plan your route carefully, choose the best attack point, and use catching features to navigate accurately. You should also practice reading the map while running and staying focused on the terrain ahead of you.

By mastering these advanced techniques, you’ll be able to navigate more efficiently and accurately, and enjoy orienteering even more. Keep practicing and exploring new terrain to hone your skills.


In conclusion, orienteering is a fun and challenging hobby that offers a chance to explore the outdoors, improve your physical and cognitive skills, and meet new people. With practice and dedication, you can become a skilled orienteer and enjoy the many benefits that this hobby has to offer.

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