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What is Orienteering?

Orienteering is the skill of finding one's way through a series of checkpoints on an unfamiliar course using a map and a compass. Typically a course is set in a wilderness area and the participants are timed as they complete it.

Orienteering challenges both mind and body. The key to orienteering is the ability to make wise decisions, rather than the ability to run like a deer. Hence the name "The Thinking Sport". Out in the woods, you must make decisions and calculations; reading the map, recognizing the terrain, choosing routes, setting the compass, and sometimes counting paces. This mental challenge makes orienteering consistently stimulating.

The basics can be learned in half an hour, but you can spend a lifetime honing your skills. The equipment is simple and inexpensive, the conditioning necessary is modest, the primary skills easy, the rewards many. For an in-depth introduction to Orienteering you may want to consider Orienteering, by Steve Boga, available at Amazon.com.

At an Orienteering Event a specialized, topographic map is used to choose the best route to a series of designated land features (the control points). Each control point has an orange and white control marker, and a distinctive punch which is used to punch a score card. With those controls supplying the reward every few hundred meters, orienteering provides the suspense and excitement of a treasure hunt. The abilities to make decisions and to understand the map and relate it to the surrounding terrain determine how easily the control points are found.

The Minnesota Orienteering Club (MNOC) is a group of local orienteering enthusiasts that organizes "O-meets" in this area. There are usually several courses offered at each meet and the length and difficulty of the course is designated by a color.

If you are a beginner, try the shortest course first, the White course. As you get more familiar with map reading and orienteering, you can then proceed to more challenging courses.


Photo credit: Jerritt Johnston
What to Wear: In general we tell people to dress for the weather when orienteering. The course for beginners is on the trails, and it is usually adequate to wear whatever is comfortable for hiking. The course for advanced beginners usually goes off the trail no more than 20 yards, and scratches might occur on the legs.

For intermediate and advanced levels, the terrain often is covered by a variety of vegetation and hazards that are unkind to skin: nettles, thorns, poison ivy, and barbed wire. Protection is also needed from various wildlife, including mosquitoes, wood ticks and deer ticks. Therefore, participants on intermediate and advanced courses must wear long pants. We also recommend gaiters and long-sleeve shirts. Since you are certain to be off trail and likely to encounter water your shoes will get muddy and wet. Shoes that dry out quickly are a big plus.

For more information about our events and the types of courses we usually offer, check our schedule or our general information page. Or browse our Photo Gallery for a visual introduction to the sport of orienteering.

Comments, questions, and constructive criticism concerning the MNOC web pages may be e-mailed to: compass@mnoc.org
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