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What is Orienteering?

Orienteering is a sport in which the participants use an accurate, detailed map to find points in the landscape. It can be enjoyed as a walk in the woods or as a competitive sport.

A standard orienteering course consists of a start, a series of control sites that are marked by circles, connected by lines and numbered in the order they are to be visited, and a finish. The control site circles are centred around the feature that is to be found with each feature also being defined by the control descriptions. On the ground, a control flag marks the location that the orienteer must visit. To verify a visit, the orienteer uses a punch hanging next to the flag to mark his or her control card. Different punches make different patterns of holes in the paper. The route between "controls" (i.e. the flags or the sites) is not specified and is entirely up to the orienteer. This element of route choice and the ability to navigate through the forest are the essence of orienteering.

Most orienteering events use staggered starts to ensure that each orienteer has a chance to do his or her own navigating, but there are several other popular formats, including relays and score events in which the orienteer must find as many controls as possible within a specified time.

The material on this page (and its links) was derived from Heather Williams' site "What is Orienteering?". The original can be viewed at