As the article explains, Orienteering is an interesting blend of trail running and navigation. Competitors head out on to the course with a map, compass and little else. The goal is to navigate to several locations on the map, called “controls”, where you’ll find a unique hole-punch that you will use to mark a spot on a card that indicates that you’ve actually visited the control point. From there, you’ll navigate to the next control, collecting that punch, and so on, until you’ve collected them all. Then it’s a dash back to the finish line, with the first one to cross, and successfully demonstrate that they have all the proper punches for each control, wins the race.
Most of the time the courses are between 1 and 5 miles in length, and are plotted out in an outdoor, wooded environment. You’ll need wits, backcountry skills, the ability to read the map properly, and good conditioning to compete against the other racers and navigate the course properly. Some of the controls can be well hidden, thus requiring even more detailed map reading skills.
The article does a great job of laying the groundwork for what orienteering is, and what a new competitor can expect. The author, Dougald MacDonald who also writes a blog entitled The Mountain World (different from this MountainWorld by Jake Norton) has more than two decades of experience in these events, and clearly has a lot of insight to offer someone new to the sport.
I haven’t ever tried orienteering, but it looks like it would be a lot of fun. I know that adventure racers will often compete in these events, as it helps to hone their navigation skills before a big race. Considering the rising popularity of the activity, it’s likely that there are events being held in your area, and you don’t even know about it. You can find out more at the U.S. Orienteering Federation website, including local clubs, events, necessary skills, and more.