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Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions:
What is orienteering? Orienteering is an organized sport for people of all ages that involves navigating a course by hiking or running through forests and fields from one checkpoint to another. It can be a competitive race of navigational skills and physical speed, or simply a hike with the added fun of finding the checkpoints, also known as control points. The basics can be learned easily, but you can spend a lifetime honing your skills.

Do I have to join the Minnesota Orienteering Club to participate? No. Events are open to anyone. When you do join however, you receive a discount code that can be used when registering for events. The discount code saves you $3 on most event registrations. Purchase memberships here.

What should I wear? Beginners should wear clothing and footwear suitable for a hike or run. For intermediate and advanced courses, you’ll want long pants and long sleeves to protect against scratches. An inexpensive nylon warm-up suit works well. Sneakers, trail-running shoes or light hiking boots are appropriate. Wear clothing and footwear you don’t mind getting dirty. Avoid wearing shorts because some routes may take you off trail into brush or briers. Orienteering-specific clothing and equipment can be ordered from stores that specialize in orienteering.

What other equipment is needed? A baseplate compass, orienteering map (supplied by the club) and watch are essential. Depending on weather, consider bug spray, sunscreen and a hat. You may want to bring a change of clothing and footwear. Since you may go off trail, you could get muddy and wet.

What’s different about an orienteering map? It is a custom-made, large scale, detailed topographic map printed in five colors: green for thick brush, yellow for clearings or fields, white for normal forest, blue for water, brown for terrain features and contour lines, and black for manmade features such as roads, trails, fences and buildings.

How are distances measured on an orienteering map? Distances in orienteering are measured in meters. Map scales are expressed as a ratio, such as 1:10,000. This means one unit of distance on the map, whether it’s inches or centimeters, equals 10,000 of those units on the ground. For instance, 1 centimeter on the map would equal 10,000 centimeters on the ground, which is the same as 100 meters.

How do you orient a map? You study a road map with the writing face up, but this isn’t the case with an orienteering map. When you orient a map, you rotate it so that the features on the map always line up with the same landmarks you are looking at on the ground. This is an important basic technique for finding your way.

What compass should I buy? Start with an inexpensive base plate compass that consists of a clear plastic rectangular base plate with a rotating compass housing. These can be found in most camping and sporting goods stores. The club has a supply of compasses that can be rented or borrowed for an event.

Can I do the sport with a partner? Orienteering can be done solo or in groups of two or more (we recommend keeping your group to a max of 3 however), although serious competitors often race alone. Families are welcome.

Can someone teach me how to orienteer? Members are always available to provide basic instruction at events, and the club sometimes offers dedicated learning opportunities.

How much does an orienteering event cost? Most events cost between $8-$15. Some special events may charge more, such as the Corn Maze-O and the Orienteering Skills Clinic. You may purchase an annual membership to the club and receive $3 discount for most meets (using the discount code emailed to you along with the receipt for the annual membership that was purchased).

Will I get lost? All orienteers, elite or novice, occasionally get "disoriented." Keep in mind that most of our events are held at parks that have roads surrounding them, so the worst case is that you keep walking until you hit a road.  Another tactic that’s often used is called relocating. This is where participants find a major feature on the map (trail, building, etc.) and re-orientate themselves from there. And if all else fails most participants carry a whistle or cell phone.

What does "Course Closure" mean in the event schedule? When the course closes, all participants must be checked back in at the finish. It is very important that participants return on time. Always have some way to know the time while you are out on the course.

Where and when are events held? The club conducts meets year round at many locations near Minneapolis and St. Paul with a few further away, Most events start at noon. But, times do vary, so check the schedule on the website.

Are events ever cancelled due to weather? Events are held rain or shine, so dress appropriately for the weather. Occasionally meets have been cancelled due to severe weather for safety reasons, such as icy road conditions or windchills below -20 degrees. Meets may be delayed or interrupted due to lightening so people can seek shelter.

How long do events last? It depends on the length of the course, the skill of the participant and whether you run or walk. Beginners can expect to spend an hour out on a course. The Course Closure time is listed on the event webpage. All participants must be back from their course and checked back in by the Course Closure time.

Do you walk or run? Many participants walk. But the object is to complete a course in the shortest possible time, so competitive orienteers run as much as possible. Nevertheless, a fast runner can lose to a slower person who is a better map-reader. A great thing about orienteering is that it can be done at any pace.

What else can I expect at an event? When you check-in, you will receive a map and a description of the checkpoints (controls).  “Classic” events usually have multiple courses, for example: beginner, intermediate and advanced. After receiving a brief instruction session (if desired), you will be given a start time, and off you go, using the map to find the controls. Each control is located on or near a distinct feature on the map, such as a trail junction, stream or boulder. At each control, you use a digital punch to record that you have found the control. Upon your return, your total time and split times between controls are displayed.

What are the course options? Local events generally offer three difficulty levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced. In general, beginner courses are on or near trails and focus on distinct map features. Intermediate courses will take you off the trail and advanced courses are intended to be as challenging as the terrain will allow. Sometimes the courses are referenced by a color. White is the beginner course; Yellow is advanced beginner; Orange is intermediate; and Brown, Green, Red, and Blue are all advanced, differing only in length.

What do the names of orienteering events mean? The major types of orienteering events include cross-country, also known as point-to-point or classic or regular; score-o; sprint; and Rogaine. See info about event types here.

What’s Cross-Country Orienteering (i.e. a “Regular” meet)? This is the standard format used for most meets. Competitors find control locations in a specified order. The winner is the person with the fastest time. Route choice is important.

What’s a Sprint event? A sprint event is a shorter course, with beginner to intermediate level navigation. Speed plays a bigger role.

What’s a Score-O? The object of a Score-O is to visit as many controls as possible in a preset time. Participants choose which controls to visit and in which order. The controls are worth points, and the challenge is to pick the most efficient route in the allotted time. The winner amasses the most points.

What’s a Rogaine? The acronym now stands for Rugged Outdoor Group Activity Involving Navigation and Endurance but the name was coined by three Australians: Rod, Gail, and Neil Phillips who combined the first few letters of their first names.  These are long Score-O events, usually with time limits of 6, 12, or 24 hours and are often held in rugged terrain.

Can I practice map-reading? Yes. There are 3 permanent courses set up in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. You can purchase a map on our website, or in some cases, at the park office. Get info on permanent courses here.

Where else can I orienteer? Orienteering is practiced world-wide. Local clubs exist all across the U.S. and Canada. In the U.S., the National Governing Body is Orienteering USA which organizes various championship events and supervises a ranking scheme. International events are coordinated by the International Orienteering Federation.

How can I learn more about orienteering? There is an entire section on our website that will help you get started orienteering. You will find these resources here. There are also many other resources online. Check out Orienteering USA's website.

Are there awards? Not at our local meets. However, at national meets, there are typically awards based on age and gender classes.

Can I keep my map and e-punch when I'm done? The map is yours to keep, but you’ll need to return the e-punch ($40 charge if e-punch is not returned). If you participate in meets frequently, you may want to consider purchasing your own e-punch, which will cost around $50.

Can I try another course after I’m done with my first? If you finish your first course and the start window is still open, you can try another course. Just go to the registration desk and the registration volunteer will assist you. Remember you must finish by the Course Closure time!

Where are results posted? During the event, preliminary results may be posted on the web here (this depends on the availability of internet access at the park). After the event, we publish the overall results on our website (typically within 2-3 days). For a more in-depth analysis of your splits, we also publish the results to two orienteering websites: Attackpoint and Livelox. These websites allow you see how you compared against other participants on a map.

What does DNF on my results mean? When an orienteer does not complete a course, DNF (Did Not Finish) will appear in the finish-time column of the results. The orienteer did not complete the course​—​that is, one or more controls are missing from their results. They may have gotten lost, tired, or injured, or they may not have found one or more of the controls. Or, they may have simply forgotten to punch a control. When the orienteer reports to E-punch Download (or at the Finish when [paper] control cards are used), the E-punch computer will note the missing control(s) (or the results crew will notice the missing punch[es] on the [paper] control card), and the DNF classification will be applied.

Can I bring my dog? Before bringing your dog to a meet, please check with park management or on the park's website to learn about the rules regarding dogs at that park. Although MNOC does not have specific rules regarding dogs at regular meets, we would like to emphasize that club officers have worked hard to develop good working relationships with the park management. All participants in MNOC-sponsored events should conduct themselves in a manner that enhances that relationship on behalf of the club. Using your best dog-owner etiquette will help us maintain access to the club's most precious asset: the parks we orienteer in. Sometimes that may mean leaving your dog at home while you orienteer.
Please also remember that the chaos and congestion that occur at the registration and start/finish area create an environment that is not appropriate for a poorly behaved or unpredictable dog. And at certain events, MNOC prepares and serves food items, so keep in mind that dogs should be kept at least 50 feet from food storage, service, consumption, and preparation areas.

Do you offer an introductory course on how to use a map and compass? Each Spring the club offers a Skills Clinic where participants can learn map and compass skills from Minnesota Orienteering Club (MNOC) experts. Families and people of all abilities learn through classroom instruction, skill stations geared for beginners, guided practice courses, and an official ‘sprint’ course with electronic punches.
When participating in events, we recommend that those who are new to orienteering should start with easiest courses for regular events (white or yellow) and Adventure Runs (Short). (See Event types)

I'm new to orienteering but I am an experienced endurance athlete. I know how to read a map but have had most my experience on designated trails. Which course do you suggest I do for my first time? We always encourage participants to start easy so as not to be discouraged. We also allow multiple courses on one entry fee, so if the course you initially select doesn't challenge you, you can opt for the next most difficult course. I would suggest starting on a white or yellow course, which would familiarize yourself with orienteering maps and their level of detail. We don't typically set courses that are confined to a paved trail, so you will still wander off the terrain that you are familiar with. A practiced and fit orienteer can do a yellow course in less than 30 minutes. You may want to then progress up to Orange at the same meet. There will likely be some duplication, but then that enables greater understanding of the differences between a yellow and an orange course in the same park. Please understand, similar to downhill skiing, an orange course at one park will likely have a different difficulty than an orange course at another park. We try to make them equivalent, but terrain and options foil those efforts at times. Before you endeavor to do a Brown, Green or Red course, I would encourage you to engage a MNOC volunteer to talk over route choices, methods, etc. to ensure you have a good grounding on the map and principles of orienteering. We want you to be challenged, but we also want you to enjoy the experience.

What do I get as part of my registration? Whether registering to go out on the course as an individual or a group, every registered individual/group gets 1 map (which you can keep) and 1 e-punch (you must return the e-punch to MNOC at the computer desk upon returning from your course). Additional maps and whistles may be purchased. Compasses may be rented.

Is there a limit to the number of people who can orienteer as one group? Although exceptions can be made, e.g., when a parent comes out by themselves with more than 2 young children, it is the recommendation for large groups to come with sufficient adults or teens of babysitting age to be able to split into smaller groups. Smaller groups make it easier to follow the Orienteering Etiquette and make orienteering more enjoyable for all. Participants will also learn better when everyone gets to practice orienteering, which is more efficient in smaller groups. See orienteering etiquette here.

How do we register as a group? Most (but, not all) events allow you to register several people in a group. At most of our regular events, we allow up to 3 people (but recommend a max of 2) to participate together on a single registration. To do this, one person should register and select a course. The second and third person then register, but instead of selecting a course, select "Not Participating," and add a note in the “Note” field stating who you will be participating with. Those signed up as “Not Participating” will not be charged. (Events such as The Corn Maze-O and the Skills Clinic do not allow for group registration however.)

I paid for a club membership this year. Where do I get the discount code to use when registering? When you purchased your membership online, you should have received a confirmation email which included a pdf of the membership card that included the discount code. If you no longer have access to that email or you purchased your membership in-person at an event, please email and we will email your code to you.

Do I need to pre-register online before the event? Online pre-registration is available for most events up to 48 hours before the event. After that, you may register in-person at the event unless otherwise noted on the event webpage. Note, you can save $3-$4 on your registration fee by pre-registering online for most events.

I signed up for the wrong course. Is it possible to change it? Yes, you may notify us in advance that you would like to change courses (email or let the computer operator at the event know you would like to change courses.

How do I register using your online registration system (EventReg) since I’m not a member of OUSA? When you are on the EventReg registration page, simply click the button that says “Enter Data Manually” and fill out the form.

Do I need to have a paypal account to pay for registration? No, you can choose to simply use your credit card. MNOC uses Pay Pal to process the funds, but you do not need an account to make the purchase.


Are MNOC memberships prorated? MNOC memberships are not prorated. They expire December 31 of the year they were purchased. Purchase memberships here.

Weather, Cancellations, Refund Policy:

Do you run meets/events in any type of weather? Yes! You’ll find that orienteers are active, go-getter outdoor types who love parks and can enjoy them in any season. Just dress for any type of weather, bring a change of clothes and warm beverage! (However, we have canceled a few meets due to severe weather for safety reasons, such as icy road conditions or windchills below -20 degrees). Meets may be delayed or interrupted due to lightening so people can seek shelter.

What is the refund policy in the event a meet is canceled? MNOC does not issue refunds for meet registration fees unless indicated in the official meet information at Since MNOC is a 401c3 non-profit organization, unused meet fees can be written off as a donation.

Permanent Orienteering Courses (POC) and other maps:

I see that permanent course maps take 2-5 business days plus mailing time. I was really hoping to do some orienteering this weekend. Is there any way that I can buy some and pick them up in person somewhere? You can buy maps at the entrance station at Afton State Park and Lake Elmo Regional Park (when the respective offices are open).

Am I allowed to go off-trail when visiting a park with an orienteering map, outside of a MNOC event? Each park system has different rules and in addition they may have local restrictions that do not allow travel in certain areas due to flora and fauna or other sensitive conditions. You must check with the park prior to going off trail except for the mapped MNOC permanent course locations.

Organizations Looking for Orienteering Training/Support:

Would someone from your organization come to our school and put on an event for our students? The Minnesota Orienteering Club is entirely volunteer-run and focused primarily on hosting orienteering events for our members and guests. Putting on separate events is not something we can offer. We can however, point you in the direction of a number of resources that could lead you to being able to set something up yourself, with the help of parent leaders in your group.

Check out the "Orienteering Basics” file and many other useful resources on MNOC's website

Our boy scout troop has chosen to do the Orienteering Merit Badge this year. Do you have any pointers for us? The Minnesota Orienteering Club is entirely volunteer-run and focused primarily on hosting orienteering events for our members and guests. Putting on separate events is not something we can offer. We would first encourage you to bring your scouts to one of our regular events. And, we can point you in the direction of a number of resources that could lead you to being able to set something up yourself, with the help of parent leaders in your group.

First check out the "Orienteering Basics" file on MNOC's Orienteering 101 webpage. This file was created primarily for the JROTC schools in the TC metro area who bring their teams to MNOC events, with a training section containing basic skills they can introduce cadets to and practice already on their school campuses or neighborhoods. To find maps you could use, either get a MNOC map of a permanent course (you can find Tamarack in MNOC's webstore) or else look through the folder of training maps, linked from the training section of the "Orienteering Basics" file.

For ideas of games and activities, some printable resources, or control flag and punch alternatives to use, check out the YMP Orienteering Map-Use Ideas, a resource for schools and youth organizations applying with Orienteering USA's Youth Mapping Program (YMP) to have a map made for them.

Please remember that possession of a map, any map, does not represent right-of-access to off-trail areas of parks. Please make sure you get the proper permissions for the group or number of students you are planning activities for.

If this is an activity you would like to be able to be held regularly on a map near your location, you may want to apply with the Youth Mapping Program to have one made (maps smaller than 1 sq km, with grants to cover 1/2 of the costs of a map of up to 0.5 sq km; all details on the page, including your involvement in the map creation, thus keeping map costs lower than what orienteering maps usually cost).

You may reach out to Andrea Schneider if you find activities you want to lead yourselves and need additional pointers to teach the basic orienteering skills. 

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