So, you’ve decided to go orienteering and you’re not quite sure what to bring. Fortunately, there’s not much needed, so you won’t be too encumbered as you move from control to control, whether it be in a bustling city or an empty forest.
This is hands down the most important thing. Orienteering almost always takes place in an unfamiliar environment and most of the skills needed are in the map reading and navigation. A map is the key distinction between finding your way and being totally lost. Most orienteering maps will have markers to show where the controls are so that, even if you have a map on your phone, it can only help so much. Definitely don’t lose it or else you could be stuck in that one section of the woods for some time.
Although they were first invented thousands of years ago, compasses are still relevant and often vital pieces of equipment today, especially to orienteer. A compass is your main guide to reading your map. Although you could try and use the sun to determine which direction you are heading, a compass is more precise and more importantly, it isn’t rendered useless by a cloudy sky.
For those newer to the sport, controls are essentially objectives. You usually have to get to one of them or, in some cases, visit a set number within a certain time. Control markers, therefore, show you where these important objectives are and are often marked on orienteering maps with special symbols. They are usually orange and white, flat plastic sheets, often square or triangular. Despite their bright colours, they can sometimes be devilishly tricky to find if you don’t know where to look.
Control cards are a way of showing which controls you’ve visited and they are especially important during competitive orienteering. Say you’ve visited a control marker halfway through a 1km course. You could just tell people you’ve seen it but you often need proof. You carry a control card with you and each time you reach a control marker you mark the card to prove you’ve actually completed the course without cheating. The cards can sometimes be marked by electronically operated punching systems, though needle-punching is also used.
Because orienteering can often involve less hospitable terrain, accidents can happen, which is why many who orienteer wear whistles. Even if they are separated from a group, it is easier to find them again, or signal any other passers-by if it’s needed. For some orienteering organizations, whistles are, in the interest of safety, mandatory.
The other things you must have are sensible clothes. As for most sports, clothing should be lightweight. Because you might have to navigate through bushes and forests, shorts are discouraged as they offer little protection for the legs. Additionally, there are many different kinds of orienteering, not just foot orienteering. For some orienteering, you will need extra equipment; mountain bike orienteering will require a mountain bike and helmet, ski orienteering will require skis, and so on.