If you are new to orienteering then this excellent video will give you a clear picture of what it is all about. Don’t be put off by the super-fit looking people running confidently through forest, most orienteers are not as fit as them!

Video – Start Orienteering – A Newcomer’s Guide – Presented by Graham Gristwood

The video link below takes you straight to it.

A Newcomer’s Guide

This newcomer’s video was produced by SLOW (South London Orienteers) with GB Team orienteers. It links to a series of other videos on techniques.

Here is a visual summary of what you need to remember when trying orienteering.

You can download a copy of the tips below:

Photo: Steve Rush BOK

The International Orienteering Federation also has 3 introductory videos appropriate for juniors. They take maps and navigation back to absolute basics and can be helpful for juniors starting out navigating and orienteering.

available at and linked below:

However, if you are already used to using maps, you can skip these videos and scroll down to British Orienteering’s Newcomer’s Guide.

Orienteering Part 1- The Map

Orienteering Part 2- Planning your route

Orienteering Part 3 – Finding your way

British Orienteering Newcomers Guide

British Orienteering has a produced a short introductory guide that covers the basics and has an example map and course. You can read the guide on British Orienteering’s website at the link below. The example map is included here to give a flavour of orienteering maps and courses.

Example map from British Orienteering – see Newcomer’s Guide

Maprunner has produced a summary of current Orienteering Map Symbols to help you read what maps are showing. You don’t need to know all these symbols straight away and you can refer to the key on the map.

The most important symbols to remember are:

Yellow is open land

White is forest you can run through

Green is thicker, slower forest. Darker green = thicker forest

Solid black line is a forest road or dirt track

Dashed black line is a path or track. Thicker dashes = bigger path

Brown lines are contours showing land of equal height

You will quickly get used to the other symbols as you encounter them.

Orienteering map symbols

Orienteering control marker

The controls you look for in orienteering courses are described in symbols that are used in orienteering all around the world. The table below from Maprunner shows you what the symbols used in orienteering control descriptions mean. (see direct link below) Beginner’s courses usually have a description in plain English alongside the symbols.

A helpful summary of control descriptions from Maprunner

Don’t be put off, these symbols become easy to understand very quickly.

Colour coding of courses explained

Orienteering is split into courses of different levels of difficulty and physical challenge on a colour coding system, so you will be able to find a suitable course to try. The major competitions are split into age groups where you will be competing against people of similar age to ensure a fair race.

The age groups for orienteering races go from under 10s to over 90. Juniors are in 2 year age groups up to 21, adults over 35 are in 5 year groups.

Photo by Rob Lines of Phil Broadhead M90

Orienteering is for everyone, as Phillip Broadhead (Wrekin Orienteers) M90 British Champion 2019 proves!

Orienteering world-wide

Orienteering may be a world-wide sport, but its homeland is Scandinavia.

This short video from the Swedish Orienteering Federation titled “Orienteering, more than just running”, gives a flavour of the different types of orienteering you can get involved with. After just a few words in Swedish at the start, it is a well filmed video showing footage of people competing at all the types of orienteering available. Hopefully it can inspire you as to the world of navigation fun that orienteering opens up. and linked below.

An overview of all the types of Orienteering – urban, forest, mountain bike and skiing

Where can I try orienteering?

You can try orienteering at one of many races run all across the country throughout the year. You can also try orienteering at permanent courses you can visit at any time.

Have a look at the section Where can I try orienteering?

You now know what orienteering is and how to come along and have a go.

Enjoy trying orienteering and do explore the rest of the Better Orienteering website!