Beginner’s Guide

So you're new and lost?
This page will explain what orienteering is all about so you don't get lost in the woods.

Orienteering is a fun outdoor activity in which you run (or walk) a course in the woods, using only a map and compass to guide you. Control locations are marked on your map and your goal is to find them in the woods. This can be as competitive as you want; from a nice relaxed stroll in the woods, to making your competitors eat your dust! It is enjoyed by kids, families, groups, individuals and is good training for adventure racers. Also known as the “Thinking Sport”: it is not always the fastest runner who wins.

Introduction

This is a sample of what an orienteering map looks like with a course and a series of checkpoints (aka “controls”).

FAQ

I've never orienteered before. How can I learn to orienteer?

Getting started in orienteering is easy. Beginner Instruction is provided at all regular local HVO meets, starting 30 minutes before the beginning of registration/start time. Usually, registration/start times are from 11 AM to 1 PM, so Beginner Instruction starts at 10:30 AM. However, times are variable, so check out our events page for event specific timings. Some meets are not suitable for beginners and therefore instruction is not provided. In those case, this will be mentioned in the schedule. Again, check the schedule. When you arrive at the meet, simply go to Registration and ask for Beginner Instruction. You will be taught everything you need to know to immediately go out on a course. HVO occasionally schedules meets designed specifically for newcomers and beginners.

What happens at the average regular local HVO meet? Walk me through it.

If you need Beginner Instruction, come before the first start. Before registering, you can check out the Master Maps to help you decide which course to run. Go to Registration and tell them which course you will be doing. Fill out all 3 parts of the registration card, and hand it back with your payment. You can rent a compass, if needed, and a electronic punching stick (e-punch), if needed. You will be given a map with your course, a control description for the course, and compass and e-punch, if renting. Go to the Start and the person there will assign you a start time. While waiting for your start time, you can study the map and decide how you will get to your first control. Then it’s time to go! Each time you reach a control, check the control id number – to make sure it is in fact your control – before e-punching it. At the Finish, download your results using your e-punch stick. For safety reasons, you must download at the Finish, even if you didn’t finish the course and you must not be out longer than 3 hours. The only way we know that you are safely out of the woods is if you download your results. Otherwise, we have to send out a search party.

Which course should I do on my first time out? What do the course colors mean?

Regular Orienteering courses are color coded. As a beginner, you should start with a White course. If it was really easy and you get back at least 10 min before the end of Start Times, you can try the Yellow course. To do this, you must go to the Registrar for a new control card and clue sheet. There is no extra cost if you copy the Yellow course on your original map (if you want a new map, it’s just $2). Then get a new Start Time. Remember to check in at the Finish, even if you don’t complete the Yellow course. It’s the only way for us to know that you are safely out of the woods.

Course  Level / Age Group Classes Distance
White (W) Beginner (controls located on trails) 1-3 km
Yellow (Y) Advanced Beginner (controls located mostly on  trails) 2-4 km
Orange (O) Intermediate (many controls away from trails) 3-5 km
Green (G) Advanced (controls off trail) 4-6 km
Red (R) Advanced (controls off trail) 6-8 km
Blue (B) Advanced (controls off trail) 8-12 km

What is the purpose of the clue sheet? What do all of those symbols mean?

On the map, a circle is drawn around the feature where the control is located. However, this circle covers a large area, so the clue sheet is used to give you details (clues) about the feature and the exact location of the control. For example, if the control is on a boulder, but in the circle you can see 2 boulders, then the clue sheet would specify which boulder, the size of the boulder and which side of the boulder you will find the control. The clue sheet will also list id numbers for each control; this corresponds to the number you will find attached to each control in the woods.

On White and Yellow courses, these clues are spelled out in English. But on clue sheets for Orange and above, you will find symbols (which are used all over the world – so no language barrier). If interested, you can see what these Symbols look like.

What Clothing and Equipment should I bring? How about a Compass?

  • If doing a White or Yellow course, wear whatever clothing you would normally for a trail hike or run (this is very weather dependent, so wear layers which you can remove if it gets too warm). And comfortable walking shoes or lightweight hiking boots. When you move up to Orange and above, you will be off-trail, so wear clothing that doesn’t snag (and that you don’t mind if it tears), shinguards/gaiters and lightweight hiking or trail running shoes.
  • Wear a watch. You must not be out more than 3 hours.
  • We recommend that you carry a whistle for emergencies (3 quick blows).
  • A water bottle.
  • A compass. (A small number of compasses are available for rent at registration.)

Do I have to Orienteer Alone? Can we go as a Group?

At regular local HVO meets, you can compete on all courses as an individual or as a group. For groups, we recommend a maximum of 3 people (if everyone wants to be involved in the navigation). You might also want to consider letting everyone have a map ($1 for each additional map). If you are the leader of a group of minors (e.g. Scouts or JROTC), please bring a signed group waiver.

How do I interpret an orienteering map? What do the colors and symbols mean?

Each map will include a Legend. These symbols and colors will be the same on all orienteering maps. Orienteering maps are also aligned to Magnetic North. Most other maps are aligned to Geographic North (the North Pole), which is in a different place than Magnetic North, and this means that to use your compass a declination adjustment is required. But with Orienteering maps, there is no need for adjustments: the North on an O-Map is the same as the North indicated by the needle on your compass.

What's a Score-O? What are the different types of orienteering?

There can be variations on all of the following meet types. Our Fun-O events are usually a Score-O with a theme (e.g. instead of being assigned point values, each control might have a playing card assigned to it, and your goal is to make up a high scoring poker hand).

  • Foot-O: Regular course found at most local meets. Controls must be visited in a specific order.
  • Score-O: Controls are assigned a point value and can be visited in any order. Highest score within time-limit wins (usually 90 min). Points deducted if overtime.
  • Trail-O:Designed for the disabled, but a challenge to all. The mental portion of the sport: from a designated location on the trail, competitors must determine which of the several controls they can see, is the one circled on their map. Not as easy as it sounds. Trail-O Web Site link
  • Night-O:Foot-O course done at night. Flashlights a must.
  • Relay:Teams of orienteers run consecutive courses.
  • Motala:A one person relay; you run the first course, get a new map, run second course, etc…
  • Bike-O:Done on mountain bike.
  • Canoe-O, Kayak-O: Courses on water. Canoe-O Web Site link
  • Tri-O: a mini adventure race. A combination of 3 events (e.g. foot, bike and canoe).
  • Ski-O, Snowshoe-O: When Mother Nature is nice enough to give us snow.
  • String-O: For young children. Controls over a small area are linked with string or ribbon.
  • Photo-O: Done in the comfort of your home. You try to figure out where on a map, the photos were taken. There is also a version that can be done in the woods.
  • Extreme-O, Command-O: a Foot-O course with obstacles.
  • Long Distance Events: For experienced orienteers. Goat an extra long Foot-O course; Hudson Highlander HVO’s annual 26.2 km Goat event; Rogaine(not related to the hair product, though you might need it if your hair falls out from frustration during the event) a large Score-O course, covering lots of territory, usually on a USGS map, with a choice of time-limits, usually 6, 12 and 24 hours. Done in teams of at least 2 people. Rogaine Website; Billygoat Website
  • Training Exercises: Line-O the course is drawn as a line on your map. If you follow correctly, you will come across controls, which you then must mark on your map; Memory-O you don’t carry the course drawn on a map. You have to memorize it, then do it.

What's an A-Meet? What are the different types of meets?

  • Local Meets (also termed B or C) are organized by a club and attended mostly by local residents.
  • A-Meets are also organized by a club, but the meet and courses are sanctioned by the US Orienteering Federation (specific rules must be followed). These are attended by US and international orienteers, and may include a championship event. Pre-registration is required. These are often 2 day events. A-Meets are open to all, though Beginner Instruction might not be offered.

Resources

Compass and Navigation Instructional Video

Fun Videos

Orienteering vs Track Running

Hubman Brothers