The first module offers an overview of orienteering in its different forms so that the reader can familiarise with basic orienteering skills and knowledge. The module will provide all the necessary information about orienteering, its origins, the tools needed and its applicability to urban or natural environments, as well as the factors that must be considered in establishing an orienteering competition. At the end of the module, the readers will have gained an insight into the world of orienteering.

Introduction to ORIENT and sport for social inclusion

Sport has always helped people to lead healthier lives, develop new skills and engage with their local communities. The potential of sport as a vehicle to promote social inclusion is widely acknowledged: sport brings people together, breaks down social barriers and builds bridges between people. Sport can create opportunities to build cohesive communities, especially among vulnerable young people and other disadvantaged groups such as migrants and people with disabilities or other minority groups. Social inclusion through sports can hence be promoted by fostering pro-active behaviours, options and actions to make people from all backgrounds, ages and abilities feel welcome and respected and included within a group or a structure.

Specifically, and as evidenced by Celestino and Pereira (2015), the sport of orienteering is a highly flexible discipline, adaptable to the needs of heterogeneous groups of participants, hence maximizing the inclusivity potential of the sport itself. For example, orienteering has proven to be suitable also for people with limited mobility, visual impairments (Langbein, Blasch, Chalmers; 1981) and intellectual disabilities (Orienteering NZ, 2014).

In this context, the ORIENT project seeks to bring together young people from different backgrounds through Orienteering as it can help people to lead healthier lives, to develop new skills for employment and to engage with their local communities. In this sense, sports have demonstrated efficacy in building local skills, knowledge, and resources, increasing social cohesion, facilitating structures and mechanisms for community dialog, leadership development, and encouraging civic participation. The project aims to enhance social inclusion and knowledge of local realities across different countries while promoting a sense of agency and positive change at local level.

By exploring a certain area and discovering its natural and cultural assets through orienteering, young orienteers can have a deeper knowledge of their local community and this can provide opportunities for marginalized groups to participate in community life. Similarly, dialogue and teamwork between young people with different social and cultural backgrounds can foster community building. Furthermore, orienteering is an effective tool to promote capacity building: through orienteering, youngsters can improve their ability to move in unknown environments, feeling less disoriented and scared at the prospect of facing new situations. Thanks to orienteering activities, young people will step out of their comfort zone and become more autonomous and independent, as they will have the tools to seek – and possibly create – their own place.

Given all these potentialities, ORIENT will promote young people’s sense of agency and ownership over the project not only as participants in the orienteering activities at local level, but also in the design of specific content of their own orienteering routes. Young people make invaluable contributions to communities and are empowered themselves when they participate.

This process, guided by sports trainers’ and CSOs workers, has also the potential to enhance their abilities to encourage participation and ownership of shared values. Hence, the project seeks to raise awareness among local communities, stakeholders and policy-makers of the value of sport as a tool for inclusion that can foster solidarity and participation as well as cohesion and inclusion policies at a larger scale.


What is inclusion?

Which groups are most at risk of social exclusion in your local context?

In which way can orienteering facilitate their social inclusion process? 


Orienteering rules and features: specific knowledge on orienteering to enable trainees to organize proper orienteering activities

What’s orienteering about?

Orienteering is the sport of navigation, usually practiced in the woods but nowadays in the historic centres of the cities as well. It is, of course, an outdoor activity where you go as an individual or as a group, using some specific tools. In other words, orienteering requires navigational skills using a map and compass to navigate from point to point in diverse and usually unfamiliar terrain whilst moving at speed.


Orienteering Canada, 2021

What are its origins?

The history of orienteering begins in the late 19th century in Sweden, where it originated as military training. Since the soldiers were often asked to move within unknown areas, as well as in any kind of terrain, they had to be able to proceed using the information they could find in the maps given to them. It was maybe for fun, or maybe to challenge their skills that on 28 May 1893 the first competition was held at the yearly games of the Stockholm garrison for Swedish military officers. From then on, the term ‘orienteering’ meant the crossing of unknown land with the aid of a map and a compass. The activity slowly gained popularity, and in 1897 the first civilian competition took place. But it was only during the 1930s that the sport became widely practiced, because of the invention of inexpensive yet reliable compasses. In order to allow every citizen of the world to join the competitions without language barriers and under the same conditions as the others, in 1961, some orienteering organisations founded the International Orienteering Federation (IOF) that dictated the rules and chose the universal language of the maps (Wikipedia, 2021a).

Orienteering Canada, 2021

The foundations of orienteering

As in any kind of sport, orienteering is based upon some ground rules, actions and aims. The following five concepts are the foundations of Orienteering:

  • Understand where you are on the map and where you are going;
  • Orientate your map;
  • Choose and plan your route;
  • Go from A to B;
  • Find the control point. 

Which formats of orienteering exist?

The sport of orienteering nowadays features a variety of different formats:

Foot Orienteering

The first discipline that had been introduced, today maintains its original characteristics: there is no marked route and the orienteer must navigate with map and compass while running.

Mountain Bike Orienteering

Orienteering riding a mountain bike and following trails and tracks.

Ski Orienteering

Winter sport combining navigation and cross-country skiing across a rough terrain using prepared cross-country ski tracks. (IOF, 2021a).

Trail Orienteering

This orienteering discipline is centred around map reading in natural terrain. It has been developed to offer everyone, including people with limited mobility, a chance to participate in a meaningful orienteering competition (IOF,2021 b).

Try a simulation of trail orienteering http://www.trailo.it/Presentazione.asp

What tools are needed?

This sport typically requires five tools:

Topographical map

Orienteering maps are silent, as they use symbols and not words, and highly detailed. In fact, a map must show all the basic information:

  • the shape of the ground’s surface;
  • the legend that tells us what the different symbols mean;
  • the starting point, usually represented by a triangle;
  • the controls or the checkpoints that are shown by a circle and a number;
  • the finishing point that is where the double circles are.

The map is always drawn to scale and has a scale bar in it, with grids aligned to magnetic north that is always at the top of the map. All maps use an internationally agreed set of symbols and these are logical and easy to learn, in order to be readable by any competitor regardless of background or native tongue. Usually, the start and finish points are separate, but they could be in the same exact spot.

An orienteering map of Palermo city centre


The colours used in the orienteering maps are seven:

  • Magenta indicates routes and dangerous or private areas;
  • White represents the wood;
  • Green shows the stretches of wood that cannot be walked on;
  • Blue stands for any source of water: lakes, rivers, sea, fountains et cetera;
  • Yellow is used for clearings and lowlands;
  • Brown for the shape of the ground, the trails and the streets;
  • Black represents the rocks and all the man-made features.


(Andersson, 2020)

A compass

In order to navigate around checkpoints, a compass is needed. There are two main types of compasses used within orienteering: the thumb compasses, which are smaller and often used by professional athletes and the baseplate compasses.

Thumb and baseplate compass (Wikimedia commons, 2016)

The easiest way to use a map and compass together is to orient the map towards the North. Simply align the map meridians with the compass needle so that ‘up’ on the map is pointing North. Now everything on the map is in the same direction as on the ground.

Using a compass can be challenging, even because reading it is not a skill required nowadays: phones and GPS can easily replace it. Thus, new ways of finding the right route should be implemented. For instance, competitors could choose their path, in urban contexts, thanks to the map and the information they can get from local people. It would represent not only a fundamental tool to locate the control point and to identify the route to reach it, but also a way of getting in touch with other people who can share some details about the point of interest the competitors are looking for.

A control point

It is a marked waypoint, usually represented by a triangular flag with white and orange colours, accompanied by a control punch, used to punch marking holes into orienteering control cards. Different punches make different patterns of holes in the paper.

An alternative to traditional control points are QR-code control points, which allow orienteers to simply scan with their phone the code hung at each control site. This procedure requires having laminated cards with a printed QR code, a mobile phone with a barcode reader application and a web connection throughout the race.

A control card

It has to be punched in each checkpoint. The control description, or the control definition as it is also called, gives you detailed information about the controls. A control card used in the woods is significantly different from the one needed to compete in an urban race. As a matter of fact, in the former case, checkpoints are labelled with numbers, while in the image below the control card is enriched by some pictures that clarify the competitors what they are searching for.

The orienteer has to use the control punch hanging next to each control point to mark the different boxes of the control card. All controls need to be punched in the order they are shown on the map. (Iredell County, 2015).

How does the race work? 

To ensure fairness between competitors the map is not usually provided until the start, and competitors start at not less than one-minute intervals. The tracks are different based on the categories: most of the time, beginners participate in the easiest one. Those who have already taken part in other competitions are divided according to age and gender. The starting time is registered, as well as the arriving time. From the starting point, the orienteers have to reach the first checkpoint and gradually all the others in sequential order. Control points are marked in the terrain by white and orange flags, called ‘lanterns’. Every checkpoint has a number on top and an electronic or a manual punch box to register that the competitor found the correct location. The manual punch box is different in each control point, in order to be identified at the end of the race. Every competitor is free to choose which path to follow from a checkpoint to the other. What matters is that the control card is marked in the right order and in the shortest time possible. 

At the end of the race, once the control cards are examined, prizes are given to the winners of the different categories. In order to make the sport more suitable to be used as a tool for social inclusion, the race can be organized in a non-competitive way, introducing various cooperation models, that may include the possibility to let the competitors who first find the checkpoints leaving some hints and clues for those who are behind in the race. Another way is to create teams, each member of which is in charge of finding one or two checkpoints, so that at the end, the team has as many control cards as the number of the team’s participants. The competitors will feel empowered, as part of a whole who shared the same experience and values. 

Swiss-O-Week 2014

It takes time and resources, both human and material, to organize an orienteering competition and to ensure it is carried out safely. Several professionals work before and during the event: from the race director who locates the checkpoints in places he or she knows are not dangerous and at the same time interesting from a historic, a naturalistic or geographical point of view, to the timekeepers; from the competition judges to the medical staff.




Orienteering in urban contexts and natural environments

As said before, an orienteering race can take place both in the woods, or in other natural environments, and in urban contexts. The former is the original and most common format, combining physical and mental challenges. It helps navigate remote terrain with few, if any, man-made features and it teaches how to observe the natural surroundings and, from these, get information about the directions and the routes. It is also useful to gain confidence in non-electronic devices: GPS and phones are not always reliable and they need internet connection in order to work. However, the natural environment can be dangerous. Animals, thick vegetation and non-flat terrains could put untrained and inexperienced competitors to the test. Moreover, in a natural environment it is difficult to find an alternative tool to the compass, which remains the main, and maybe the only, instrument to navigate places without specific landmarks. For this reason, the feeling of being lost could be common and frustrating for those who are at their first experience. 

An example of an orienteering race in the natural environment can be seen in the following video:

On the other hand, urban orienteering gives the participants the opportunity to develop some skills they can put into practice every day, while having fun and creating meaningful relations and contacts with other people, from the teammates to the strangers they could ask the info to. Moreover, joining a competition that takes place in the city can establish a special bond between the young attendees and the most relevant places of that city. It is a way of getting to know those sites which are landmarks for the community who lives in that specific area. Eventually, organizing a race within an urban context means allowing everybody to join, including those with limited mobility, whose involvement in the natural environment would be low if not excluded. 

However, urban contexts have their cons too. Since the area interested by the race is usually pretty extended and there are many external inputs, it is likely participants are driven to give attention to elements besides the ones they are actually looking for.  Additionally, organizing a race in the city centres can be challenging and undoubtedly harder than planning an orienteering meeting in the woods. As a matter of fact, permits and authorizations are required to restrict traffic and secure the perimeter of the race.

A typical orienteering race taking place in an urban area can be seen in the following video:

Given these elements, the alternative of conducting orienteering in the urban context can work better with some targets such as youth from different backgrounds, skills and mobility as they can take part in a safe and stimulating race while discovering the most interesting places a city has to offer. 


What are the advantages and the risks of organising orienteering activities in the city?


What are the advantages and the risks of organising orienteering activities in nature? 

What’s the best place to practice orienteering with young people in your local context?


Click here to train your orienteering map memory!

This application is provided by: http://catchingfeatures.com/b/skiomapmemory.html

How to organise an orienteering competition

Every competition has its peculiar elements, because both venues and groups involved change and require specific regulation. However, there are some activities that pose the common ground for every kind of competition. Here a step-by-step framework that can be used to plan an orienteering event.

1. Finding a proper venue

It has to be a place relevant from a naturalistic, historic or artistic point of view. In urban contexts, for instance, the historic centres are recommended, since it usually is the heart of the city, because of the presence of multiple churches, mosques, monuments, museums and business activities which are relevant either because they are centuries-old shops or because they represent an example of inclusion and co-working. A survey of the whole area where we are willing to locate the race should be conducted, so that it is possible to detect all the peculiar characteristics and any critical profiles. In natural contexts, for example, elements that must be taken into account in the woods are monumental trees, trees that are significantly different from the others, crossroads, fountains, water troughs, high-voltage power lines, ruins and houses.

2. Elaborating routes

Pathways are going to be different based on extension and difficulty according to the various categories of participants (kids, young adults, men, women) to whom the race is addressed to. Routes can have control points close to one another, but they must have a unique identifying sign.

3. Creating the maps

The routes are going to be transposed in the map, which will indicate with the proper colour the control points, private properties and restricted or dangerous areas. When significant dangers cannot be excluded from the area in which the competition will take place, a judge has to be nominated to supervise that specific zone to avoid any accidents. Whenever the race is long, the competition director has to locate the points where first aiders (whose presence is compulsory) are going to be stationed. If the routes are short, ambulances can be in close proximity to the start or to the finishing point.

4. Placing the starting point

The starting point has to be placed in an accessible and wide area, so that the competition judges can easily manage the participants and their starting time. 

5. Identifying control points

Each control point has to be identified by a punch box, which can be both manual and electronic, with a different pattern, so that the card will contain a specific sign in every box marked with a number. The patterns can be the most various: from a series of dots to lines or other symbols.

6. Organizing participants
After invitations are issued, those who want to participate need to be identified and divided into categories if running solo or in teams if competing with others.
7. Starting the race
The day of the race, right before the start, the control cards are given to the participants who can begin their competition when authorized by the judges.

You can find many more tips and suggestions, as well as official templates useful for organising an orienteering event, on the International Orienteering Federation website:  https://orienteering.sport/mtbo/internal/event-organising/plan-and-organise-an-iof-event/


Do you have your checklist sorted to start your orienteering race? Test yourself!




Due by



Site inspection and control of the suitability of the area





Obtain the permission to use the area for a public event





Identify safety issues and draft a risk assessment plan





Determine the route and choose control sites





Draw the orienteering map





Preparation of the materials for the event





Place control flags and trial run












Module 1

Module 2

Module 3