Learn more about Control Descriptions!

The purpose of a control description is to give greater precision to the picture given by the map of the control feature, and to indicate the location of the control flag in relation to this feature, thereby helping the competitor to better visualize the control site.

However, a good control is found primarily by map reading. Descriptions and codes can assist in this task, but should be kept as short and simple as is necessary to locate the control.

Learn more, and download the 2018 version of the IOF Control Descriptions from our website, here.

The Five Key Skills of Orienteering

via Quantico Orienteering Club http://qocweb.org/content/five-key-skills-orienteering

When you can use the following five techniques skillfully, you will be able to find any control on any orienteering map in the world. On some legs you may use only one technique, but for most legs you will need to combine several, or maybe all five, techniques.

Before we get to the five key skills, here is an insight into using compass bearings: Accuracy deteriorates as distance increases.

Our compasses aren’t surveyors’ tools – any bearing you measure on the map will likely be off by one or two degrees. As you follow the bearing, you are likely to unconsciously veer off another degree or two. Sometimes these errors will offset each other and you’ll end up exactly on target. But at other times they will compound each other. Over a 100 meter leg, a 3 degree error will put you 5 meters off course. You will likely still be able to see your target. But over a 500 meter leg, the same error would put you over 25 meters off course. You might very well not be able to see the control.

So use your compass wisely as you apply the Five Key Skills: Use it to orient your map, and use it to aim yourself in a general direction, but when you use it to try to pick a precise line to a specific point, keep the distance as short as possible.

The Five Key Skills

  1. Pick out a CATCHING FEATURE that will let you know if you’ve gone too far. When planning your route, look on the map a short distance beyond the control you are heading for, and pick out a big, distinct feature that you can’t fail to recognize. If you arrive at this catching feature, you will know you have overshot the control, and can turn around and go back. It will “catch” you and keep you from wandering too far past your control.
  2. Follow a HANDRAIL. Even if it were pitch dark, you would be able to easily negotiate a winding staircase if you just put your hand on the handrail and followed where it led. Handrails in orienteering are features that are you can follow just as easily. Trails and roads are the most obvious, but you can follow fences, streams, ditches, the edges of fields, and other long, narrow features just as easily. Following a “handrail” takes much less concentration than following a compass bearing. Also, since the handrail is illustrated on the map and a compass bearing isn’t, following the handrail makes it much easier to keep track of exactly where you are.
  3. When following a compass bearing to get to a distinct point near or on a handrail, try AIMING OFF. If you pick a compass bearing that aims directly at the precise point you are heading for, if you err even slightly you won’t know if the feature you want will be on your left or your right as you approach it. By deliberately aiming to one side of the feature, you can confidently predict which side it will appear on. This technique works best when the feature is on or very near a handrail – for example a boulder near a stream. If you aim right at the boulder, but don’t see it when you hit the stream, you won’t know whether to go upstream or downstream to look for it. However, if you deliberately aim a little upstream of the boulder, if you don’t see it when you hit the stream you will know to turn downstream to look for it.
  4. If the control isn’t on or near a handrail or other large, distinct, easily identifiable feature, choose an ATTACK POINT that you are confident that you can identify and take a compass bearing from there. Some controls, especially on advanced courses, are placed in the middle of large areas of bland, nebulous terrain, with no trails, streams, reentrants, or other distinct feature to help you keep track of where you are. An example would be a man-made pit in the middle of a flat flood plain, or a boulder on a smooth, even hillside. You have no choice but to follow a compass bearing to find it. But remember that when following a compass bearing:
    1. The bearing is only good if you really are where you think you are when you start following the bearing.
    2. Your accuracy in following the bearing decreases as the distance you travel increases.

    So pick the closest feature that you are sure you can find, and go in from there. Note: using an attack point is also useful in less challenging situations, where you don’t have to use a compass. In many cases you may be able to use some other directional scheme, like “straight downhill from the trail intersection” or “up the left reentrant from the reentrant junction” or “clockwise around the marshy area from where the stream comes in”.

  5. Use COLLECTING FEATURES to keep track of where you are. The most successful orienteers know exactly where they are at all times. They do this by constantly identifying features as they pass them, and locating them on the map (or “collecting” the features). Here are two types of situations where using collecting features is particularly helpful:
    1. The “I’ll just head west until I hit the trail and then turn right” situation. This can be a good strategy, but if the trail has grown indistinct, or is covered with leaves, or is hidden under a fallen tree, you could walk right over it without noticing. Or you might inadvertently veer southwest instead of west, and hit a different trail. By identifying the terrain and features as you go (“There should be a reentrant coming up on my right, and then there will be a marshy area off to my left”), you will know when you are coming close to the trail, or when you are starting to drift off your line.
    2. The “I have no choice but to follow a compass bearing a long way” situation. Break the long leg up into several shorter sections between identifiable features, even if it means following a zig-zag course. It often is faster to go a slightly longer, zig-zag distance, following several different compass bearings short distances from one distinct feature to another with great accuracy, rather than to go the shorter straight route on a single bearing with your accuracy deteriorating the closer you get to the control.

Smarter is Faster

by Peter Amram
Originally appeared in the NEOC Times, Volume 36, No. 1, Dec/Jan, 2005/2006

The best way to improve time on the O-course is to reduce the frequency and magnitude of mistakes.

If you could have trimmed 10 minutes worth of errors off that last 67-minute run on Orange, that would have been an improvement of 15%, just by running smarter, not faster. (How likely are you to quickly improve your 10k time by 15%? Could you speed up that much ever, at any distance?)

The opportunities to make mistakes while orienteering are virtually limitless, and a standard catalogue of errors looks uncomfortably like a graduate-student reading list. Instead of focusing on a frightening multitude of potential mistakes, let’s work on a few specific techniques to avoid them.

A – Hold the map properly

The map should be held in the “weak” hand: the non-dominant hand, i.e., the hand you do not use to reach for the code card, to hold the punch, to grasp a water cup.

The map should be parallel to the ground. It is hard enough to relate 2-dimensional symbols to 3-dimensional reality without doing it in two planes.

The map should be oriented properly so that objects in the natural world are the same direction from you as their representation on that piece of colored paper.

The thumb of the map-holding hand must at all times be on present location. The thumb moves along the course as you do. This gives your dominant hand something to do on the course: it continually adjusts the map so the weak thumb is always where you are.

thumbing the map

Seeing where you are on the map obviates (ie, solves a potential problem in advance) the common errors of:

  • overrunning the target
  • moving too slowly ever to get there
  • failing to “check off” meaningful features en route
  • not appreciating the proper scale of the map
  • not checking the orientation of linear features with a compass
  • generally losing “contact” between the map and terrain

B – KISS = Keep It Simple, Stupid

A favored acronym of football coaches, KISS (the last word is addressed to one’s self) reminds that simplicity is the ultimate virtue, which in orienteering is the use of a linear feature to reach a point feature.

Linear features come in three levels of abstraction.

The most concrete is a trail, stream, or stonewall.

The intermediate, most commonly employed linear feature, is one which an orienteer creates in his/her mind from a string of point features which can be employed as a line in the right direction.

The least reliable linear feature is imaginary: a compass bearing, which should be used as a last resort and even then cautiously.

ida bobach

Try to make each individual leg a Yellow course, the course on which you follow a trail (linear feature) to the control (point feature) nearby. Identify the needed linear features and head for the target. And, having once decided on a route, don’t change it. (In the NFL this wisdom is expressed as “Dance with the girl you brought to the dance.”)

The perfect route never presents itself. The idea is to keep moving in the right direction.

C – MYOB = Mind Your Own Business

A leading British coach has stated: “More than half of competition mistakes involve being put off by other people.”

Accordingly, ignore other runners, particularly those whom you consider the competition. As is true in most races, there is nothing you can do to affect a competitor’s performance. And don’t you have abundant problems of your own? As they say in competitive rowing: “Keep your mind in your own boat.”

Concentrate relentlessly on your map and the surrounding terrain.

Never follow other runners, who may be on different courses or quite lost themselves. And don’t get chatty. A nod of the head will suffice as a greeting. You can socialize after the race. It is astonishingly easy to lose concentration and “contact,” and when contact is lost, so are you.

Top 10 Health Benefits of Orienteering

Orienteering offers many benefits, but its real attraction is that it is fun! It is a joy to walk and run through forests and fields. Armed with a compass and a map, competitors must use their navigational skills to navigate from point to point in diverse and usually unfamiliar terrain, and normally moving at speed. If you like competing, there are many age and skill-level groups to fulfill that wish.

1. There is a balance between the physical and the mind

The ultimate quest for the orienteer is to find that balance between mental and physical exertion, to know how fast they can go and still be able to interpret the terrain around them and execute their route choice successfully.

2. Teaches self-reliance

Orienteers learn to be self-reliant since most orienteering is individual, and even in the team versions, teammates usually practice individually to improve and be better teammates.

3. Sharpens decision making skills

It offers the obvious development of individual skills in navigating while problem solving to locate each control. Decision making is paramount: Should I go left or right? Should I climb that hill or go the long way around it? These decisions that constantly arise require thinking more than quick reactions or instinct; again, that is why orienteering is called the thinking sport.

4. Teaches how to think and act under pressure

Decisions are constantly being made under competitive stress and increasing fatigue, helping competitors become mentally tougher in other stressful situations throughout their day to day lives.

5. Increased fitness levels

Most orienteering terrain is quite hilly and rugged, providing the perfect environment for athletes and non-athletes alike to develop strong hearts, legs, and lungs.

6. Increased cardiovascular capacity

Orienteering requires walking, running or jogging, and hiking. All of these activities increase aerobic capacity and cardiovascular strength.

7. Increased time in nature

There is nothing more calming and centering than being in nature. Exercising outdoors is good for vitamin D levels in the body and getting fresh air!

8. Increased self-esteem

It takes courage, endurance, and mental fortitude to forge ahead by oneself through unknown areas, particularly in unfamiliar terrain and forests. Every time one gets lost and find their way again, self-worth and self-esteem grows.

9. Can be very useful and even lifesaving

This sport teaches self-reliance and terrain discovery to the point where it could save lives. Orienteers acquire the skills and techniques to relocate themselves and to continue on to their destination, no matter what.

10. Become part of a community

The orienteering community is solid and is a great way to socialize while competing. Although it is a solitary sport, there is a sense of camaraderie among competitors both before and after a meet.

BONUS! Can be done anywhere globally

According to the US Orienteering Federation, it can be done anywhere you can make or obtain a map – “through classrooms, schoolyards, city parks, urban areas, residential areas, streets, state and national parks, and wilderness areas.

Even better, you can orienteer in your community, throughout the United States, and all over the world. Orienteering map symbols and appropriate colors are approved by the International Orienteering Federation (IOF) and are followed around the globe (for example, blue stands for water). Therefore, if you pick up an orienteering map in China or Russia, you do not have to read Chinese or Russian to understand the map well enough to orienteer on that map.”

via http://www.healthfitnessrevolution.com/top-10-health-benefits-orienteering/

Orienteering at Kenston Intermediate School

Recap of Events

As part of an effort to increase awareness of orienteering as a sport, and to incorporate the many educational and problem- based learning aspects of the sport into the curriculum, NEOOC teamed up with 4th graders from Kenston Intermediate School to put on an orienteering event. In what we hope was the First Annual orienteering day, 200+ 4th graders and staff took part in orienteering in and around the building, and most teams completed four courses covering more than 2 miles distance travelled.

Students prepared with pre-orienteering materials in their classrooms, and completed practice problems solving mazes and orienteering inside a room to get aquatinted with relating the map to reality. A few instructional videos were used to enhance their knowledge of the sport itself, and they learned the importance or rotating the map, and orienting to north at all times.

Bob Boltz, map coordinator of NEOOC, had designed the custom Kenston Intermediate School map covering the grounds around the building, and laid out 4 courses each covering 9 controls over about 0.8km (800m) each. Andreas Johansson, NEOOC club member, and Director of Technology Integration at Kenston Schools, assisted with planning, teacher training, and supervision during the event. They had plenty of help from Kenston PTO to manage map exchanges and supervision around the building. A big thanks to Mr. Adam Fender, Principal at Kenston Intermediate School, for making it happen, and helping coordinating the event, and activities leading up to the very successful day.

Furthermore, the 4th grade students orienteering at KIS was part of a larger worldwide effort to set a new world record for World Orienteering Day (on or about May 11th, 2016), and their efforts were registered along with Kenston Middle School’s 8th grade students doing hot spot orienteering during a field trip to Washington, D.C., as well as the 7th graders orienteering while at 7th grade camp. In total, at least 650+ students and staff from Kenston Schools took part in World Orienteering Day activities, and were counted for the world record attempt.

We’re excited for the opportunities to build long-lasting relationships with the Kenston Schools, and look forward to holding many more orienteering events, including full campus sprint, cross country, and score events in the future.

Photos from 4th Grade Orienteering

Photo credits go to Josh Timmons, Tech Integration Specialist, and Andreas Johansson, Director of Technology at Kenston Local Schools.

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Recap / Boston Run Training 14MAY2016


Today’s event was a chance to work on skills that can help us improve as orienteers. Bob Boltz set a course targeted at two skills.

First, continuity. Most intermediate orienteers treat each leg as a separate problem to be solved. Then, after punching the control, we turn our attention to the next control, stand still, spread out the map, and consider our options. Bob set out the first portion of the course today with an eye towards improving flow through the course as a whole. During this ‘control picking’ portion there were a series of 16 short legs with frequent changes of direction. The goal was to never stop moving. That meant that we had to, at the least, pay attention to what direction to head out to the next control after this one. This was mildly complicated by the fact that today’s maps were printed without any of the trails.

Second, attention to local features. The next 5 controls were not marked on the map. Instead, a wiggly corridor about 30m wide was indicated. Bob set the controls so that if we stayed within the corridor, we would encounter the controls. This was further complicated by the fact that the map outside the corridor was blank, so the only navigational cues available were within the corridor (see the map here!, or below in photos)

An intrepid crew of ~25 experienced orienteers took up this challenge, and I heard a lot of praise for how much this helped them. The weather was cool and drizzly, and it was pretty sloppy and slippery. Lots of good stories emerged, and I think our club’s average navigational skill ticked up just a little after today.

Many thanks to all our volunteers, including:

  • Director: Randy Mitchell
  • Designer: Bob Boltz
  • Registrar: Kim King
  • Control Pickup: Neil Dollinger

RESULTS (unofficial)

There was no ePunch available, so timing is all self reported, and using the honor system. If you have a time, and course feedback, send it our way.

RouteGadget now available at: Boston Run Training

Download your GPS or draw your route from memory using the program.


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PS – one Blue Jacket was left behind! We will have it at next week’s Event at Sippo – just ask!

MAZE-O / Practice Your Skills

Practice your O-skills even when you’re not out in the woods! The Maze-O will challenge your brain, and sense of direction while finding the shortest, or the fastest routes through the mazes. Each turn slows you down, so try for a straighter line through, with the least amount of turns. And who knows, maybe you’ll see something like this in the near future…

If you want to generate your own mazes, go to http://www.mazegenerator.net/ for all the mazes you could ever want!

Here’s an idea…

How to Select an Orienteering Course

by Karen Dennis via OUSA

This article first appeared in the “Beginners’ Clinic” feature in the June, 1995 issue of Orienteering/North America, the magazine of the sport in the United States and Canada. O/NA frequently publishes helpful features such as this one. O/NA is available by subscription, but the best way to receive it is with a membership in the Orienteering USA (United States Orienteering Federation). Karen Dennis is an experienced orienteer, course setter, and mapper.

This is a description of the standard orienteering course levels and the skills required to do each one — ordered from easiest to hardest. This list is to help you decide which orienteering course and/or which training session to select. Above all, remember that orienteering is intended to be fun. Choose the course which challenges your current skill level but is still easy enough to be fun for you.

Course List

  White for the beginner
  Yellow for the experienced beginner
  Orange for the intermediate level orienteer
  Brown shorter course for the advanced orienteer
  Green short course for the advanced orienteer
  Red longer course for the advanced orienteer
  Blue longest course for the advanced orienteer

White Course—for the beginner

Choose this novice course if you are just beginning to orienteer and have had little or no experience. Before starting you should know:

  • how to interpret map symbols and colors (legend).
  • how to orient the map to North using a compass and/or land features.
  • what are the basic objectives (rules) of orienteering competition.
  • what to do when hopelessly lost (how to user a “safety bearing”).

This course is designed to introduce you to, and give you experience in:

  • following land features (“handrails” such as trails, roads and streams)
  • learning to relate the map to features on the ground
  • judging the distance between control locations
  • gaining self-confidence in map reading

Yellow Course—for the experienced beginner

Choose this beginner course if you have had some experience with orienteering and are quite comfortable with the beginner course, or have done a lot of hiking using topographical maps. Before starting you should know:

  • everything listed for the white course above
  • how to read contour lines
  • how to select and follow a “handrail”
  • how to select and use an “attack point”
  • how to interpret a scale and judge rough distance
  • how to take a rough compass bearing
  • how to select a route choice (safer vs. shorter)
  • how to “recover” from an error by backtracking to last known point

This course is designed to introduce you to, and give you experience in:

  • following handrails to an attack point (rather than to the control)
  • taking a bearing from the attack point to the control
  • judging fine distance between the attack point and the control
  • selecting between simple route choices
  • recognizing “collecting features” and “catching features”
  • reading and interpreting contours
  • recovering using attack points and maps features

Orange Course—for the intermediate level orienteer

Choose this intermediate course if you are moderately experienced with orienteering, you have mastered the white course and done a few yellow courses and been very comfortable with them. Before starting you should know:

  • everything listed for the white and yellow courses
  • how to navigate with or without a “handrail”
  • how to select and use “collecting features” and “catching features”
  • how to “aim off”
  • how to “simplify” a map
  • how to follow a compass bearing
  • how to recognize and avoid “parallel errors”
  • how to read IOF control descriptions

This course is designed to introduce you to, and give you experience in:

  • how to navigate cross-country with confidence
  • make route choices (according to your personal strengths and weaknesses)
  • recovering from “parallel errors” and other mistakes
  • fine map reading while traveling
  • visualization of contours
  • judging physical challenges and pacing yourself

Green Course—short course for the advanced orienteer

Choose this competitive level course if you are an experienced orienteer and have done several orange courses with confidence. Before starting you should know:

  • everything listed for the other courses
  • how to “pace count”
  • advanced techniques such as attacking from above, contouring, thumbing your map, red light, yellow light, green light
  • how to evaluate your own physical and orienteering skills
  • extensive recovery techniques

This course is designed to give you experience in:

  • pacing yourself (physically)
  • recognizing the challenges presented to you by the course setter
  • perfecting your orienteering skills
  • discrimination of mapping details
  • Brown Course—shorter course for the advanced orienteer
    Red Course—longer course for the advanced orienteer
    Blue Course—longest course for the advanced orienteer

These courses have the same difficulty as green, and vary only in the length of the course and in the physical challenge. Brown is shorter and less physically demanding, red is longer, and Blue is the longest and toughest advanced course.