What is it?
Orienteering was originally developed in Scandinavia for the military as a path finding exercise. Since then it’s developed into a sport that, whilst especially popular in Scandinavia, has communities all over the world including a strong one in Australia.
In orienteering, there are things called controls, which are basically objectives placed along a trail or across an area. These are marked on a map. The aim is usually to get to them as fast as possible, though there are other variations, such as reaching as many controls as possible within a certain time.
Although foot orienteering where you reach your destination by walking or running is the most common type, there are a number of other disciplines including car orienteering, ski orienteering, canoe orienteering, and mountain bike orienteering.
What do I need?
As far as equipment needed, there are relatively few things:
- A map. You may often also need a way to protect the map, like a plastic bag
- A way to indicate that you’ve visited a control. This is called a control marker, and is usually a sheet of paper that is hole-punched at the control, either manually or electronically.
- A compass.
- A whistle. Not always mandatory, but some groups use them for safety
- Sensible clothing. Depending on the terrain, some groups recommend to not wear shorts, especially if going cross-country.
- If you’re doing a variation, you may need specific equipment; for example, ski orienteering will obviously require skis, poles, ski suits and goggles.
Where can I do it?
There are a number of orienteering groups and societies around the world. In Britain, the national body is British Orienteering, which runs a number of events each year. There is also a considerable number of local orienteering clubs, and also fixed orienteering paths or trails across the country. Maps for these fixed sites can either be found online at the websites for British Orienteering or the local groups, or physically found in cultural places nearby, for example, some museums or forest authorities sell them.
If you want to try orienteering, you can find a number of free maps online to download. If you want to become more serious about it, your best bet is to try joining a local group, and the members will most likely know more sites and have more maps. This will also introduce you to the community. Some clubs may also run local events, as well as potentially allow you to participate in competitions either nationwide or even further afield.
Orienteering as a sport
The popularity of orienteering drastically depends on the location. Although there are communities worldwide, almost all of the major ones are in Europe with an emphasis on Scandinavia. The only exception is Australia. These are the countries who take orienteering seriously.
On a competitive level, each type of orienteering has a separate governing body and separate competitions. Most major types have some kind of yearly world championship. Just like China is known for gymnastics and the USA is known for swimming, the Scandinavian nations of Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway are probably best known for orienteering, although Russia, Switzerland and the Czech Republic also often place high in the medals across the boards.