Getting Started

Who can orienteer?

Everyone. You can orienteer whether you are;

  • 8 or 80;
  • a novice or an elite athlete;
  • a runner, a walker or a trotter

What do you do?

In orienteering, you use a special map to follow a route. The route goes through a number of control points to the finish. Beginners courses will follow strong features such as paths; while the experts will have to navigate through the forests or across the moors and fields. Each "control point" is a distinctly mapped feature, such as a path junction or hilltop. It is marked with an orange-and-white flag.

The Thinking Sport

Most events use staggered starts, to help ensure that you get to navigate on your own without interference. The route you take between controls is up to you. You select which way of travelling between controls will be the most efficient for you. The element of route choice is what makes orienteering a mental challenge. It is not enough to simply be able to move faster than other orienteers, you must out-think them as well. Because of this, Orienteering is often called the "thinking sport" because it involves map reading and quick decision-making in addition to athletic ability. What do I need

Getting Started

FVO have several great ways to get started:

  • Try our Evening Events
    • we run these in the early summer months Apr-Jun on a roughly weekly basis, where we're out in the forest, and from August to October, when we run on the streets. If you have some experience of night navigation, you could even join us at our Night series, which runs from October through to March, but this probably isn't the best place to start if you have little or no background in orienteering. Details on our event page
  • Try our Local weekend events
    • These are becoming more and more popular, and are now running almost weekly throughout the year (except in high Summer, when the vegetation is too high for orienteering). Details on our events page
  • Try our Permanent Courses
    • These are open all year. Maps for Abbey Craig, Plean, Beecraigs, South Achray, Doune Ponds, Muiravonside and The Lodge, Aberfoyle are available to download for free from our permanent courses page

What to wear

  • Long trousers covering the legs are best. Tracksuit bottoms will do, the lighter the better, or any old clothes. Jeans are not a good idea, as if it is wet they hold water and take a long time to dry.
  • A T-shirt is fine for the upper body is the weather is fine; though you may want to consider long sleeves and/or extra light layer if it is colder
  • For footwear - running shoes are best; but any shoes with a good grip will do.

Remember, that what you wear might well get dirty and/or wet - so you might want to consider some clean clothes to change into after your run. Don't forget the spare shoes and socks. Orienteering courses often have some quite muddy bits in them

Extras you might like to consider are waterproofs, a woolly hat and gloves if you think you might get cold.

Choosing the Right Course

Orienteering courses vary in both their length and their technical difficulty. The lengths quoted below are a rough guide only and may differ at the event you choose to go to.

Don't overestimate your ability. Courses may look relatively short, but the more technically difficult ones are likely to involve going across country rather than along paths. This could mean you have to go through undergrowth, cross streams and so on. There will almost always be hills to climb. Climb is measured for each course, and is presented in metres. Generally longer courses have more climb. Courses are measured in a straight line from Control to Control. You will almost certainly travel further than the course length suggests, because you are unlikely to be able to go in a direct line from one Control to the next.

With all that in mind, it is best to start with an easier course and move up to a harder one. There is nothing to stop you doing two courses at the same event, using the first one as a 'taster'.

It is OK to retire at an event without completing the course. But it is not OK to do so without reporting that you've done this. Even if you retire you must go through the 'download' procedure covered later on under the heading 'After you've completed the course'. Why? The course officials will have a record that you have started. If they don't also get a record of you having been through the 'download' area you will be counted as 'missing in the forest'. The safety systems orienteers use mean a search party will have to be sent out for you in case you are hurt and needing assistance.

Orienteering courses are always measured in kilometres. 1km is 0.6 miles.

Within the colours below you may see short, medium and long variants designed to offer a set level of difficulty but different distances.

Colour Approx. Length Age & Difficulty
White 0.5-1.5 km Easy. Ideal for children ages about 8 - 12. Courses do not leave paths.
Yellow 1 -3 km Easy but slightly harder than White. A good course for beginners, mostly on paths. Suitable for ages 10 and up, a good first course for anyone to try, and great for families to go around together.
Orange 3 - 6 km More of a challenge and the courses are a bit longer. Some controls are off paths. Again a good course for families to tackle together. Longer orange courses are ideal for runners trying orienteering for the first time.
Light Green 3.5 - 4.5 km Moderately hard but not too long. Suitable for runners moving up from an Orange course, and for improvers.
Green 4 - 5 km Technically difficult, but relatively short. Not suitable for first timers.
Blue 5 - 7 km Technically difficult, medium length. Not suitable for first timers.
Brown 7km + Technically difficult and long. Not suitable for first timers.
Black 10km + Technically difficult and very long. Only for the very fit and experienced orienteer.

Sprint and Night events use a slightly different way of classifying their courses

Class Approx. Length Difficulty
Long Sprint 3-5km Generally at Orange standard, but there will be fences, hedges and buildings in the way to distract you. Quick thinking is essential!
Short Sprint 2-3.5km As above. Note that Under 16s cannot participate in events that involve road crossings (most of our Sprint events have these) without an adult accompanying them, for insurance purposes.
Long Night (Navy) 4-6km Technically difficult and long. Not suitable for inexperienced orienteers
Short Night (Olive) 3-5km Technically difficult, but relatively short. Not suitable for first timers
Novice Night (Tangerine) 2-3.5km Still quite difficult, but technically easier than the Long or Short courses. You will need some experience of daytime orienteering at Orange standard, and a good headlamp.

How to take part in an event

The following assumes you have chosen a come and try it event or a Local event as your first experience of orienteering.

When you go to an orienteering event you will see a central point, maybe a group of cars or a tent, at which you can get information about the courses available and book yourself in. This area is known as Registration, and it is the place where you formally enter the event. It is also a good place to look for someone to help you understand what to do and give general advice.

When you register you'll be asked for your name and age (orienteers are grouped within age bands). When asked what your club is just say you don't have one. You'll be recorded as 'IND', or 'independent'. Officially you are allowed to compete in three events before you need to join a club. This web site has information about joining FVO

In return for the information you give you will get the following things

What you get Points to note
Map You may get the map before you start or you may pick it up after you start. The course will be pre-marked on it,. The first thing to do when you get the map look for the scale. The two scales normally used in forest orienteering are: 1:10,000 and 1:7,500. The scale refers to how distance is recorded on the map. At 1:10,000 one centimetre on the map represents one hundred metres on the ground, whilst at 1:7,500 one centimetre on the map represents 75 metres on the ground.
Dibber Dibbers are part of an electronic system that is used to record your progress round courses and produce personalised results for you on the day and results for everyone to see after the event has finished. If you don't have your own Dibber, we'll lend you one free of charge (although if you lose it, we'll have to charge you £30 to replace it). It is a small plastic wedge which loops over your finger. Using this system, when you have completed your course, you will 'download' the contents of your electronic control card into a computer. It will be cumulated with the others from your course, and results produced electronically. You should get a printout of your 'split times' - the time you took between each control - immediately. The full results include split times for every competitor at every control. Take a look at the these results from a FVO event to see how these look.
Control Descriptions A sheet of paper listing all the controls on your course with a description of the kind of feature they are on. These may be 'pictoral' using symbols, or plain English. If they are pictoral, feel free to ask a helper at the event to explain them to you. These may be printed on the map, although at larger events, loose descriptions are also available.
Start time At many local events you can choose your own start time. Often you can just turn up and start when you are ready. If you have to select a time ask how far it is to the start, and how long it will take to walk there. The officials should be able to suggest how long you should leave before your start time.

What next

We look forward to seeing you at an event. Please make yourself known and ask for help .. we are a friendly bunch. So, please either

  • come along to one of FVO's events and ask for help if you would like some
  • contact our secretary for more information
  • look up further what to do's on the SOA website (That's the Scottish Orienteering Association)
  • use this online resource to improve your orienteering technical skills: Better Orienteering