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 This is usually the shortest course on offer and is aimed at young children. The courses are very simple and stick to main 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 The orange courses are the usual start point for adult beginners at orienteering. Here you will be presented with basic route choice options and will use simple compass skills
Light Green 3.5 - 4.5 km Here the technical and physical difficulty is increased again. The courses are slightly longer than orange and utilise point (e.g. boulders) and contour features.
Green 4 - 5 km These courses are at the most technical level (TD5) and are aimed at those wanting a relatively short run with a technical challenge.
Blue 5 - 7 km The courses and those below are all still at the highest technical difficulty, but are longer and more physically challenging than green courses
Brown 7km + The brown courses are technically difficult and fairly long.
Black 10km + These are the longest courses at standard orienteering events with typically distances of over 10km

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. Equal to daytime Blue standard
Short Night (Olive) 3-5km Technically difficult, but relatively short. Not suitable for first timers. Equal to daytime Green standard
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.