Your First Orienteering Event

If you are in the Southampton area then one of the best sources of information about upcoming events is Southampton Orienteering Club’s Events Calendar which can be found on this SOC website. Another useful source is the Find Event page on the British Orienteering website. This lists events all around the UK, and has links to information about these events provided by the organising clubs.

When you see an event advertised, it should give you directions how to get there. Often there will be red and white signs to guide you from a major road. Parking is normally in a field close to the area. Occasionally you may be asked to make a small contribution to cover the cost of hiring the field.


The first thing to do upon arrival is to find registration (usually a car or tent close to the entrance of the car park) and choose your course. Don't overestimate your ability. Courses may look relatively short, but the more technically difficult ones are likely to involve going across country rather than along paths. This could mean you have to go through undergrowth, cross streams and so on. There will almost always be hills to climb. Climb is measured for each course, and is presented in metres. Generally longer courses have more climb. Courses are measured in a straight line from Control to Control. You will almost certainly travel further than the course length suggests, because you are unlikely to be able to go in a direct line from one Control to the next.

With all that in mind, it is best to start with an easier course and move up to a harder one. There is nothing to stop you doing two courses at the same event, using the first one as a 'taster'. Having chosen your course, you will need fill out a small registration form and pay your entry fee - generally around £5 - £7. Your name, club, age class and choice of course will be recorded on the form.

You will also be given a set of control descriptions. These descriptions tell you on which feature the control will be found and also a number which will appear on the control so that you know that you are at the right one. 

You may also hire (usually £1) from here an electronic card for registering at the controls if you do not have your own. At many local events you can choose your own start time. Often you can just turn up and start when you’re ready. If you have to select a time, ask how far it is to the start and how long it will take to walk there. Add about 40 minutes to the time that it will take to get to the start to allow you to get ready and choose a start time about that far into the future. Try to get to the start at least ten minutes before you are due to set off - then you’ll have time to watch the procedure and ask an official for advice or help on how things work. Now follow the signs to the start.


When you get to the start you will see a clock. ‘Call up’ is usually three minutes before your actual start time. At the start you should find a grid laid out on the ground - several lanes, three or four boxes deep. Find the correct lane for your course and join the queue at the back of it. Each minute, a whistle will be blown (or a clock will beep) and you move forward into the next box. Finally you will get to the start line and someone will say, "10 seconds to go, step over the line," (this is simply to stop you tripping over it!) and then the whistle will blow and it is time to go.



At many events where there are pre-marked maps, if you are on the shorter, easier courses you may collect yours at the start before ‘call up’ time. This is so that you can check on your course before starting to be timed and get any help that you might need - understanding the map or planning routes.

You will collect your map from a box immediately after the start. The maps will be in boxes labelled with the course colours, so make sure you pick up the right one! The triangle marks the start control and the double circle the finish. The lines joining the control circles are simply to help you see which order to do the controls in. You do not have to follow the line but you must do the controls in the right order.



You can now start the course for real. In front of you should be a orange and white kite. On the map this is in the middle of the triangle. ‘Orientate’ your map either using a compass or by aligning features on the ground with those on the map. Decide how to get to the first control and then go! On the easy courses you should be able to take a route along footpaths. As you move, try and keep the map pointing the right way and identify features on the map as you pass them. When you get to each control check that it is the right one using the letters/numbers shown on your control descriptions. Then use your electronic card to register at the control.



On your control descriptions you will find the time at which courses close. Make sure you are back before then, even if you don't complete the whole course, so that the controls can be collected in. When you have punched the last control on your course either follow the tapes or navigate the short distance to the finish. Here you will find a final electronic control at which to register your finish time. From the finish, follow the tapes back to the download tent in the car park. 

The golden rule of orienteering is that you must report to the download tent whether or not you complete your course. If you don't, the organisers will spend hours out in the forest looking for you after the event has ended.

At download, your split times that are recorded on your electronic card will be downloaded onto a computer, and you will be given a printout showing your split time between each control and total time overall. Nearby you will find a 'washing line' or board with other competitors results on, as well as somewhere where you can help yourself to a well-earned cup of squash. Most clubs now publish their event results on their websites. 

What Next?

If you enjoyed your first orienteering event, you might like to take part in some more. Look around in the car park for leaflets advertising forthcoming events and take any that look interesting. Talk to the club officials and ask them about forthcoming events. Use the links from the SOC website to find out about clubs in your area and other orienteering events. You might even decide you want to become a club member. The SOC website has information on how to become a member. If you require more information in general about orienteering in general, the British Orienteering website is a good starting point.

If you’d like to practice your skills, SOC has a number of permanent orienteering courses in local parks. These are a great way to try orienteering out without going to a formal event. A list of the local permanent orienteering courses are available from the SOC website.


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