Maps and Equipment


Orienteering maps are probably a bit different to what you are used to.  They are drawn to a large scale, most commonly 1:15,000 (1cm=150m) or 1:10,000 (1cm=100m) and use an internationally agreed set of symbols. These are logical and easy to get used to.  They usually include a detailed key as well.  The colours on the map indicate how easy it is to move through a given area.

  • WHITE is used for wooded areas which are easy to run through.
  • GREEN is used for thicker wooded areas which are harder to run through – the darker the shade of green, the thicker the forest is.
  • YELLOW is used for open areas – a solid yellow for grassy spaces such as playing fields, and a paler yellow for rougher terrain (‘rough open’) such as heather.
  • BLACK is used for most man-made features such as paths and tracks, and also rocks and cliffs.
  • BROWN is used to show landform, including contour lines, gullies, pits and small hills.
  • BLUE is used for water features such as lakes, ponds and streams.

Orienteering maps are drawn using magnetic north at the top, rather than ‘grid’ north.

The example map below is taken from the British Orienteering website. It shows a typical course, a key of symbols (bottom left) and a list of descriptions of each of the control points (bottom right).


The course on this map is an Orange standard course. You will see that the Start is marked with a triangle, each of the control points are marked with a circle connected by lines, and then the Finish point with a double circle. This notation is used for all orienteering courses (although most maps will not include the words “Start” or “Finish”, so remember that the Start is a triangle!). You will always be at the Start point when you pick up your map and it will be marked with an orienteering flag on the ground.

The course above has 10 controls to visit.  You must visit the controls in the correct order, 1-10, but the route you take between the controls is entirely up to you.

The control description sheet (see bottom right above) contains details of the control codes and a description of the location of the flag. For example, control number 1 has code 33 and is located at a vegetation boundary (i.e. the boundary between some forest and open land.) When you find the control with code number 33 you will know you have found control number 1 – “punch” it with your SI card, and move on to number 2!


Full leg cover is required at orienteering events, so shorts are not suitable. Apart from this rule, any old clothes and trainers will do as long as you don’t mind getting them a bit muddy. More experienced orienteers will wear a lightweight top, running trousers and tough orienteering shoes for extra grip, but this kind of kit is certainly not required for beginners. Waterproofs can be a good idea if the weather is nasty, and a spare set of clothing post-event is highly recommended.

You will also find it useful to bring a pen, a whistle and possibly a compass. The whistle is for safety in case you need to attract attention.  A compass will help you navigate and keen orienteers always carry one, although it is not essential. You will be able to find cheap compasses available at good sports shops, and can also purchase one at many orienteering events. You do not need to be an expert with a compass, but it is always useful to know which direction is north!

The typical cost for an event is around £5 for a smaller event and up to around £10 for a larger one. Prices are always stated in advance in the event details on the website of the organising club.

All other equipment is usually provided. The orienteering map will be provided at the event, and you can hire an electronic chip card (a “Sport Ident card” or “SI card”) to record your time at each of the check points in the forest. Smaller events may not use electronic timing.