British Orienteering

What is Orienteering?

Orienteering is an exciting outdoor adventure sport suitable for all ages and fitness levels – learn more about why you should give orienteering a go today!

About orienteering

Orienteering is an exciting outdoor adventure sport that exercises mind and body. The aim is to navigate between checkpoints or controls marked on a special orienteering map. There is no set route so the skill and fun come from trying to find the best way to go! In competitive orienteering, the challenge is to complete the course in the quickest time.

Where can I go orienteering?

Orienteering can take place anywhere from the streets of Central London to the wilds of the Scottish Highlands and everywhere in between including forests, parks, moorland, town centres, school playgrounds, and university campuses!

Members of Swansea bay Orienteering Club
Getting Started

A great way to get started in orienteering is to contact your local club, to find out what is happening near you and have a go. As well as information on events both local and further afield, clubs have advice for beginners and juniors, and in many cases, will run training sessions and other activities to encourage newcomers of all ages and abilities. UK orienteering clubs are listed here. Clubs will be happy to answer any questions and will help you get started.

Click on each of the tabs below to find out more about ways in which you can orienteer, or to find your local club. 

Orienteering Image

Orienteering anytime

With over 500 Permanent and Virtual Orienteering courses  throughout the country, it's time to find your next adventure!

Orienteering Image

Find an event or activity

With an exciting and busy calendar of orienteering events and activities taking place nationwide, it's easy to find your next adventure or challenge. Access our event finder or activity finder today. 

Club members participating at the British Orienteering Championships 2023

Find your local club

Be a part of something incredible – join your local orienteering club today and meet like-minded individuals within the sport. Access our club finder here

Watch this short video by Manchester and District Orienteering club to find out more about getting started. 

What do I need to orienteer?

Orienteering kit comprises a lightweight top and usually Lycra leggings. As a newcomer, just be dressed ready for an outdoor activity prepared to run or walk as you choose. It is good to have shoes with some grip though trainers are fine at first. If your first event is in woodland or forest, full leg cover is compulsory. Shorts are allowed in most urban events. At the event, you will be able to hire or borrow the timing device to record your race and a compass.

How to choose an orienteering course

Courses are graded by a colour indicating the increase in technical and physical difficulty. ‘White’, ‘Yellow’ and ‘Orange’ courses are designed for complete beginners. These courses are usually short (up to 2.5K in length) with checkpoints (orange and white flags) on paths or visible from the path. Green, blue, brown, and black courses get harder and longer and are only recommended if you have some experience. Some events use the equally beginner-friendly ‘score’ format, where you choose which checkpoints or controls to visit in the time limit.

Course lengths

Orienteering Maps

Orienteering maps are special. They are produced at a larger scale than most Ordnance Survey maps and include very detailed information about the terrain using many different symbols. You certainly don't need to know these when you start but it is useful to know the symbols for tracks and paths, walls and fences, and water features (blue) such as streams and ditches.

The key thing for a beginner is to take note of the colours. Open land is yellow and forest that is easy to run through is shown as white. Forest that is a bit thicker is shown as light green. After that, the thicker the forest the darker the green. Most orienteering maps will also provide a detailed legend to help you understand the map.

Find out more: Orienteering Maps

Going on a Course

Unlike a road race, there is no mass start. All competitors have their own start time and you can go individually or in a very small group. The course will be printed in red with a triangle indicating the start, and numbered circles showing the checkpoints (also called controls) with a double circle at the finish. You must visit the checkpoints in numerical order.  At the ‘start’ you will need to ‘punch’ the control, which involves placing your timing device into a unit which starts the timer. At the finish, you are required to ‘download’ the information which is on the timing device. This shows whether you have completed the course in the correct order. You must download whether you have completed the course or not.

Also, on the map is a list of 'control descriptions'. This tells you what is at the control site, for example, path end or fence corner. Each checkpoint unit will also have a number and you need to check this when you get to the control.

Punching control
Night orienteers enjoying an event
Orienteering with the family
Accessible orienteering
Orienteers at a Find Your Way event
Female orienteers taking part in the British Sprint Relay Championships 2023