Orienteering Jargon

Orienteering Jargon


Age group

Age groups exist so that everyone can compete against others of similar age. For adults, from age 35, age groups go in 5 year bands, and there is one each for men (M) and women (W). Thus a man aged 50 would normally run as M50, and a woman aged 39 would normally run as W35. The open age categories for adults are known as M21 and W21.

Age groups for juniors are in 2 year bands from 10 to 20, though in most events juniors can choose the standard at which they wish to compete. In these events, courses have names such as JW1 or JM5, where J indicates Junior, W and M indicate men's or women's courses, and the number shows length and difficulty, with 1 being the shortest and easiest.

Term used specifically to cover the (usually fairly small) area covered by the map for a particular event.


Badges are awarded for achievement of particular standards. "Badge events" are those where a competitor's course is determined by colour coded courses.
Most experienced orienteers use a compass to take a bearing so they know which direction to go. But you can start orienteering without being an expert with a compass.
British Orienteering Championships
(pronounced "brick") - the electronic gizmo carried by participants in an event using Emit. The funny spelling is because the word originated in Scandinavia.
British Orienteering or BOF
British Orienteering was formally referred to as the British Orienteering Federation (BOF). You may still see BOF referred to in old publications. British Orienteering is the National governing body for the sport.


Top level competition, often for a particular set of people, e.g. Schools Championships, North Area Championships, Scottish Championships. You don't have to be a top-notch orienteer to take part though!
Also known as a control or marker
Each control site is marked on the map with a circle, usually 7mm across. When you are close to the control, you might say you are "in the circle". But you still might not see the control immediately!
Another name for the long distance event
Closed event
An event or competition which may be entered only by particular people; e.g. an event just for schools.
Closing date
The last date for acceptance of entries. This applies only to those events that you have to enter in advance.
Colour coded

Colour coded courses use a particular colour to indicate length and difficulty, and these should be consistent from one event to another. The event structure is currently under review but the usual courses are:

  • White: easy and short; all on paths or tracks.
  • Yellow: slightly less easy, and a little longer.
  • Orange: not all on paths, and longer again.
  • Light green: navigation skills needed; longer again.
  • Green: the shortest technically difficult course.
  • Blue: technically difficult, medium length.
  • Brown: technically difficult and long.
  • Black: even more so (only found infrequently).
Community Orienteering
Community Orienteering aims to provide weekly training and activities in a non competitive environment that will allow for skill development at a social and motivating level for people of all ages and abilities
An event can sometimes be part of a series that makes up a competition.  
Contour interval
The distance between heights shown by contour lines - usually 5m, but check on your map.
Some events offer a special map which shows only the contours of the lad (not the vegetation, paths, streams etc.). This makes navigating more difficult, but is excellent practice.
Each point marked with a circle on the map, which a competitor is required to visit. Controls are usually marked by a punch.
Control code

The unique code that identifies a control; usually 2 or 3 numbers, sometimes 2 letters. Sometimes referred to as the number on the control, but of course this is different from the control number. The control code will be clearly visible on the control, and you should always check the code of each control to make sure it really is the one you are looking for.

Control description

A description of the feature where the control is placed.

Control description sheet
The sheet that contains the control descriptions.
Control marker
See flag.
Control number
The sequence number of a control on a course - 1, 2, 3 etc. Not to be confused with the control code. You must visit controls in the correct number order.
The person who has ultimate responsibility for the fairness and correctness of an event.
Courses are made up of a number of controls that you must visit in order.
Crossing point

To avoid damage to walls and fences, you sometimes have to cross these obstacles only at specific points. These will be shown on your map, and your control description sheet will say "use crossing point". Your control description sheet will say if the crossing point is compulsory. If it is, you can be disqualified for crossing the obstacle anywhere else.


The electronic device carried by participants in an event
"Did not finish" - if you don't complete your course, the results will show DNF by your name. If you decide to abandon your course (i.e. to DNF), you must report to the Download, otherwise a lot of time and effort could be spent looking for you.
After you finish an event that uses electronic punching, you must go to Download to register the fact that you are back safely and find out how long you've taken.


Electronic punching
An electronic means of gaining evidence that you have been at a control.
Anyone who intends taking part in a National Event or other major competition is not allowed to go onto that specific mapped area for 6 months before the competition. We say the area is embargoed.
One of the types of electronic punching. Full technical details are on www.emituk.com
English Orienteering Association
Entry on Day - turn up at the event and enter there and then.
Event officials
Mappers, Planners, Controllers and Organisers


A distinct topographical object marked on the map, e.g. a stream, boulder or hill.
The point marked on your map with a double circle. Events using electronic punching often don't have officials at the finish, just the electronic unit at which you should punch. Remember then to go to download.
Fixture list
The list of all events  currently registered and in the calendar.
A white-and-orange fabric marker that is hung at each control. Also referred to as a kite.
Form line
A land shape might not be quite high enough to merit being shown with a contour line, but it is noticeable on the ground. It will probably be shown by a dashed contour line, known as a form line.


  1. On maps, various shades of green indicate different density of vegetation.
  2. See also colour coded



Home International
Competitions (comprising individual and relay events) between teams from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.


International Orienteering Federation - the worldwide governing body for the sport. See www.orienteering.org
IOF descriptions
Standard pictorial descriptions approved by the IOF and used throughout the world for events are many levels.


The Jan Kjellstrom Festival of Orienteering is Britain ’s biggest orienteering event. The JK is held annually over the Easter weekend.
All participants under the age of 21.
Junior World Orienteering Championships


See flag.


A leg is the section of a course from one control to the next.
Line feature
Something like a path, track or stream, which you can follow easily.
Long Race
The Long distance race requires athletes to pace themselves carefully to ensure that they can navigate competently up until the finish line. The winning time for the elite is usually around 90 minutes.



Orienteering maps are very detailed and are produced by specialist map-makers. They are usually at a scale of 1:15,000 or 1:10,000 and cover an irregularly-shaped area of between 1 and 10 sq km. Colours carry different meanings from Ordnance Survey maps - particularly it is worth remembering that white on an orienteering map indicates trees. Most maps have a legend showing the meanings of symbols and colours, but sometimes this is available separately.

Map corrections

If things have changed in the area, for instance trees have grown or been felled, or new tracks created, since the maps were printed, there will be a map showing these changes or corrections. You should copy these onto your own map.

Mass start
At most events, competitors start at intervals of usually 2 or 4 minutes. Sometimes all or some of the competitors start at the same time. This is called a mass start, and it is only used at events that are in some other way out of the ordinary.
Master map

Not all events provide maps with the course already marked on it. At these events there will be master maps (usually 2 or 3 for each course) and you will be given a map without any course shown. You then have to copy the course from the master map to your map. DO THIS VERY CAREFULLY! Remember to mark any map corrections as well.

The term for Veterans on the international scene.
Middle Distance

The Middle Distance requires precise navigation skills. The winning time for the elite will be around 35 minutes.


National Orienteering Centre
Located at Glenmore Lodge, near Aviemore. Check out the website: www.nationalorienteeringcentre.org.
Night orienteering
Yes, this is simply orienteering in the dark. A good headtorch is essential. This form of orienteering is widely considered one of the most technically challenging.
Northern Ireland Orienteering Association www.niorienteering.org.uk


The person who sorts out all the administrative to make an event happen.


Pictorial descriptions

Descriptions of the controls, using symbols to describe the feature on which the control is placed. Standard international symbols are agreed by the IOF and can be found on their website.

Pictorial descriptions are used only for the more difficult courses, technical difficulty 3 and above.

The person who designs the course.
Some bigger events may require pre-entry.
After you finish, go do splits.
Once upon a time you proved you had been at a control by marking a card with a punch which had pins in a particular pattern.
This refers to the process by which you gain evidence that you have been to a control. Although the process is now usually electronic, the term has stuck.


Don't be afraid to ask event officials - or indeed one of the seasoned competitors.


A land shape somewhat like a small valley. On the map it usually shows as an indented contour line (or several).
An event in which a team (usually 3 people, but sometimes up to 11) run separate courses, one handing over to the other. The team's total time is what counts.
Interim results are usually displayed at the event, with final results being available on the internet soon after the event.
How you went from control to control. On all but the simplest courses there is usually a choice of routes. A particular pleasure and learning experience comes from discussing your routes with others on your course after the event.



The scale of most orienteering maps is 1:10,000 or 1:15,000. Always check this when you get your map.

A scale of 1:10,000 means that 1cm (about the length of the nail on your little finger) on your map shows 100m on the ground, i.e. the length of a football pitch.

Score event

A  type of event, in which you have to find as many controls as possible in a fixed time. The number of points scored for each control varies according to its distance and technical difficulty, you can choose which controls to go to, and there will be a penalty if you take longer than the time allowed.


Adults aged 21-35.

One of the types of electronic punching.
SI card
Another name for dibber.
Six Day
In alternate (odd-numbered) years, Scotland hosts a week-long event. There are 6 separate days of competition with a rest day mid-week. Have a look at www.scottish6days.com
Scottish Orienteering Association. www.scottish-orienteering.org

The time you take to go from one control to the next. If you're serious about improving, you will soon want to compare splits with other participants on your course. At an event using electronic punching, your printout will show your splits. Results on the internet usually show them too.


The full name of SI.

Short distance orienteering event, usually held in a town or park. Good spectator value.
Start control
Where the start triangle is shown on the map, a control punch the start control.
Start time
In some events, you are given a specific time at which you start. The time you take to complete the course will be calculated from this time, so make sure you aren't late!
Start unit
The electronics box at the start - if you are required to punch at the start.
String course
A short course for very young children, in which the route is marked by a continuous line of string.
Tear-off part of control card that was/is kept by start officials while the participant does the course, and was/is later used for temporary display of results.


Taped route

There is usually a taped route to the start for everyone. Also, some courses, particularly those for younger children, might have a section where it might be difficult for them to find the right way on the map, so they have to follow bits of plastic tape hung from trees etc.

Technical difficulty (TD)
Courses are graded from TD 1 (easiest) to TD 5 (hardest). Green, Blue and Brown courses should all be TD 5. Orange and Red courses should be TD 3, and offer a good starting level for adult beginners. See colour coded.
Technical difficulty (TD)

Courses are graded from TD 1 (easiest) to TD 5 (hardest). Green, Blue and Brown courses should all be TD 5. Orange and Red courses should be TD 3, and offer a good starting level for adult beginners. See colour coded.

An area away from paths, tracks and roads.
Trail O
This form of orienteering does not rely on speed and mobility, but challenges your ability to read the map accurately. Usually suitable for everyone, including people in wheelchairs.


As in control.


All participants aged 35 and above.


World Masters' Orienteering Championships - open to all aged 35 and above.
Welsh Orienteering Association www.woa.org.uk
World Orienteering Championships.