What is Orienteering?

Orienteering is the sport of navigation with map and compass. It’s easy to learn, but always challenging. The object is to run, walk, ski, or mountain bike to a series of points shown on the map, choosing routes–both on and off trail–that will help you find all the points and get back to the finish in the shortest amount of time. The points on the course are marked with orange and white flags and punches, so you can prove you’ve been there. Each “control” marker is located on a distinct feature, such as a stream junction or the top of a knoll.

Orienteering is often called the “thinking sport” because it involves map reading and decision-making in addition to a great workout. Any kind of map may be used for orienteering (even a street map), but the best ones are detailed five-color topographic maps developed especially for the sport. O’ maps show boulders, cliffs, ditches, and fences, in addition to elevation, vegetation, and trails.

Orienteering is a sport for everyone, regardless of age or experience. The competitive athlete can experience the exhilaration of running through the woods at top speed, while the non-competitive orienteer can enjoy the forest at a more leisurely pace. Most events provide courses for all levels–from beginner to advanced–and the sport has been adapted for small children and people in wheelchairs. If you love maps, exploring, and the great outdoors, try orienteering. You’ll be hooked for life! Read more about it here.

(printed from the USOF web site)

Helpful Documents:

Here’s another great Guide to what Orienteering is all about.

These are answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Orienteering.

This is a glossary of  Common Orienteering Terms used in Orienteering or another glossary here.

This is an excellent explanation of  IOF Control Symbols, comparing how they appear on a map to how they appear on a standard clue sheet.

Get an idea how to get ready for an orienteering course, the start procedures and how to start to navigate a course.


The Boy Scouts of America has a merit badge for Orienteering.  It also has a number of requirements needed for advancement that involve map and compass use.

In 2003 the merit badge book was updated to include changes requested by the U.S. Orienteering Federation.  The attached PDF file is a work sheet modified from the original file from www.meritbadge.com to reflect these changes.  The last page of the file contains the newest IOF symbols sheet (January 2004).  Check with your local Boy Scout Council for any additional requirements and a list of merit badge counselors.

Orienteering Merit Badge Worksheet without IOF sheet.

This is an excellent explanation of IOF Control Symbols, comparing how they appear on a map to how they appear on a standard clue sheet.

The following document was created to teach a class in compass and map use. It includes a lesson plan, skill demonstration outline, class teaching outline and question sheet.