What is orienteering? (And why you should give it a try!)

What is orienteering? A fun activity for runners and hikers of all ages! (Image credit: Getty Images)

What is orienteering? Orienteering is often described as the thinking person’s run or walk. This is because it combines trail running or hiking with map reading skills, planning and strategy.

The aim of orienteering is to navigate between control points (also called checkpoints) marked on an orienteering map. These controls have scores, which are added together as participants collect them to give an overall tally. 

In competitive orienteering, the challenge is to complete the course in the quickest time choosing your best route. 

There are other types of orienteering events, such as score courses, that challenge competitors to choose the control points to reach in a set time. The harder-to-reach controls will inevitably have higher scores.


An orienteering control (Image credit: Getty Images)

Who is orienteering for?

If you enjoy exploring new places, getting off the beaten track, like maps or you want to turn your run - or walk - into something new, then orienteering is for you.

Age, fitness levels and skills are not important because there are courses and competitions to suit all. 

There are also TrailO events for people of all levels of physical ability, including wheelchair users, where everyone competes on equal terms.

There are plenty of permanent orienteering courses that you can walk or run at your leisure, as well as orienteering events customised for different skill and ability levels and for a variety of age groups.

a boy with a compass

Orienteering is for all ages and for runners and walkers (Image credit: Getty Images)

What do I need for orienteering?

If you are already a trail runner, you will have almost all of the kit you need for orienteering. This includes trail running shoes, comfortable running clothes and a small hydration pack or waist pack so you can carry a few spare bits and pieces, plus snacks and water. The same applies for walkers.

In addition, you'll need a compass and it is helpful if you already know how to read a map and how to use a compass. There are plenty of on-line tutorials for map navigation and courses that you can join. 

Look out, too, for beginner orienteering sessions held by local clubs. 


Try orienteering courses and events across the world (Image credit: Getty Images)

Where can I do orienteering?

Orienteering can take place anywhere from mountains, hills and forest to urban areas and parks.

The different locations and terrains, as well as the weather (see: best weather apps), provide new challenges for each event. 

The best way to get into the sport of orienteering is to join a local club and learn from the experts. 

There are also many permanent courses in parks and forests that give people the opportunity to try orienteering, whether you run or walk. These are usually graded from easy to challenging. 

A new series of virtual courses have been popping up, too. For example see British Orienteering virtual courses.

For more information see British Orienteering, Orienteering USA, International Orienteering Federation and Scottish Orienteering.

Fiona Russell
Outdoor writer

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favorite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing (both downhill and backcountry). Aside from her own adventures, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy getting outside and exploring, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.