The 'standard' form of TrailO

A typical PreO control site: four flags - which, if any, is where the circle is on the map?

How does PreO differ from ‘standard’ orienteering?

PreO completely eliminates the element of speed over the ground, but makes the map interpretation element much harder. Depending on the level of difficulty, up to five control markers are hung at each site and only one will correspond exactly with the control description and control circle position. Indeed, (except on Novice courses), one possible answer is 'None of the controls corresponds'. Sites are chosen so that they can be seen from a wheelchair-navigable path or area, but they may be quite a distance into the forest or non-navigable terrain. The only special equipment needed is a compass. An escort can give the competitor physical help - pushing a chair, holding and orienting map and compass, even marking the control card with the decision according to the competitor's instructions. However, it is an important rule that escorts must not help in the decision-making process; they can give as much physical help as may be necessary, but must not offer advice or opinions to the competitor.

At international level there are separate O (Open) and P (Physically challenged) classes, but at most competitions able-bodied and disabled participants compete on equal terms.

So who is the winner if time does not matter?

The primary ranking is on how many of the total number of control sites are correctly identified. That is likely to leave several competitors with the same score, so there is a second element, based on time, to identify one or two controls, which acts as a tie-breaker.

But you just said speed did not matter!

Time over the ground does not matter; but at a 'timed control' the competitor is handed a 'clean' map with just one control circle and one description on it. The time to make the decision is recorded, not the time taken to get from A to B. The shorter the decision time, the higher the ranking against competitors with an equal number of correct scores.

What's all this about classes and levels of difficulty? You said there was no classification by disability.

Different classes cater for different levels of experience - you can usually decide for yourself which one to enter. Degree of disability has nothing to do with the different classes. In British events it is normal to have Elite and Standard classes, and sometimes there is also a Novice class.

Aren't the able-bodied at an advantage because they can look all around a control site, unlike anyone in a wheelchair?

No, it is a rule that no-one must leave the path (trail) to gain such an advantage. Provided the able-bodied (and the more adventurous wheelchair users) observe this rule, all compete equally. Obviously, all the control markers must be hung so that they can be seen by anyone in a seated position on the trail.


Provision for disabled participants

Surely very few forests have tracks adequate for a wheelchair?

On the contrary, you do not need smooth paths, and it can be much more fun for disabled participants if they do get 'off the beaten track' for a change. Even an 'out and back' single track, provided it has some good features visible from it, will do - though a loop is preferable. Extra 'pushers' can be stationed at steep sections; sometimes they use ropes and become 'pullers' instead!

Wouldn't people in wheelchairs like to race between control sites?

Only a small proportion of people in wheelchairs have full strength in their upper bodies permitting them to race, and yes, racing wheelchair O events do exist. However, the multi-choice form of TrailO described here has been developed as a means of allowing anyone - in an electric, self-propelled or pushed wheelchair, with a walking difficulty, on crutches, even on a bicycle (which some kinds of disability are best served by), or any able-bodied person, all to compete in the same event on the same terms.

What about people with mental disabilities?

Research continues on the best way of providing orienteering for those with mental disabilities; a 'string' course similar to those provided for young children at conventional O events may be suitable, and some will be able to cope with TrailO novice courses which often have just two markers at each control site.

And what about the visually impaired?

Much more work needs to be done in this sector, but one approach is to draw 'maps' on special paper which swells where marked, when it is baked. Many 'registered blind' people have some residual vision, and blown-up colour photocopies of maps may be readable.

(Please note the original article, written by Don Braggins, was published in Challenge magazine. It has been adapted for use on this website.)


PreO control site



You need to think quickly in this form of TrailO! 

TempO is the speed version of TrailO, consisting of timed controls throughout. Each person is called individually to a control station and is seated – or if in a wheelchair, placed at the same spot – with a view out over terrain with usually 6 kites visible on different mapped features. The 6 kites are pointed out by an official, and then a stack of small map extracts is handed out, each aligned in the direction of view and showing one control circle. Initially a cover sheet hides the first map from view.

Controls are not visible until you're ready to start - everyone sits at exactly the same spot


Once the official has said ”Your time starts now”, the cover sheet can be removed and the first map studied. The centre of the control circle is a distinct feature in the terrain – the task is to decide if there is a kite there or not, and if there is, which one is it of the six in view. Picture the terrain when looking at the map, and then transfer this picture rapidly to the terrain in front. The answer, given verbally or by pointing to one of the letters printed in large type on a card, is one of Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo or Foxtrot (starting from the kite furthest to the left), or Zero if it is thought there is no kite at the site the circle shows.

The control official points out where the kites are


Quickly on to the next map in the stack – same map, but circle in a different place; same task, and so on. The timing is stopped when your final answer is given. There is a maximum allowed time, usually 30 seconds per task, and for each wrong answer a penalty of 30 seconds is added to your elapsed time.

Full concentration in deciding your answers


The stack of maps is returned to the officials manning the control station, and then you move, leisurely if you wish (no timing at this stage, and no map to study), to the next control station, and go through the same procedures again. On the way, sometimes kites for the next station can be seen in the distance.


In TempO there are usually at least 5 control stations with up to 5 tasks at each. Back at the competition centre, all your accumulated times (including penalty times) are added together, and the winner is the person with the lowest time overall.


Photos by Cedomil Gros