Foot Orienteering
Tim Robertson Photo

Foot orienteers race with a map, a compass and a clipcard or an electronic key (ECARD or  SPORTident card) to record when they visited the controls (checkpoints).

The Map and Course

At an event, competitors are provided with a map, which they can only look at once their race begins.  The map is marked with the “course” the orienteer is to complete for that race, but not the route they must take – that is up to the orienteer and that is where the skill and strategy comes in.  The course marked on the map will be a series of numbered control points – from the start triangle through to the finish – and will be particular to that event, even if the map of the area has been used before, so every competition is unique and provides new challenges.

Competitive orienteers practice a wide range of techniques to increase their ability to read and process the information on their map while running at speed.  It is this challenge to be faster, more efficient and to navigate over rough or ever-changing terrain that keeps competitors coming back for decades.

Orienteering maps are more detailed than topographical or street maps and use precise colouring and symbols that conform to international standards.


Foot orienteering has traditionally been a rural sport – forest and farmland, with an emphasis on endurance and long distance navigation.  It is now increasingly also an urban sport, using parks, streets and cityscapes in fast-paced, spectator friendly sprint orienteering.

Sprint Foot Orienteering

Sprint Orienteering favours fast-thinking, agile runners who can make split second route choices, and interpret complex urban environments such as school and university campuses and city centres.

Sprint orienteering is a great, fun way to give orienteering a go, without having to have very much time available.
They are usually easy to get to as they are often within city or town areas.
The courses range from about 1 to 3 kilometres and are very often on hard surfaces around buildings or even intricate street areas.
The map is printed at a larger scale than for other events – often 1:4000, containing lots of detail, and even showing things like canopies and stairs.  There are often features such as fences, gardens or water mapped with special symbols showing un-crossable obstacles – which mean you are not allowed to cross them even if you can.

Route choice is the key with Sprint orienteering.  On many legs you have to decide which way to go around the obstacles, such as buildings, often down small alley ways.  You have to read the map VERY carefully or you will find yourself with something like an un-crossable wall or garden in your way, meaning you have to go backwards and re-trace your steps, losing valuable time.  This makes Sprint orienteering a great mental challenge – you have to decide which way to go while running fast.

For the recreational orienteer – walking is fine in Sprint orienteering.  You can stroll around and still be back within 30 minutes. Sprint orienteering is great for all the family (pushchairs included).  Go around together or challenge your friends and family to see who can be fastest.

For competitive Sprint orienteering – SECONDS COUNT!  Who can run the fastest and still keep thinking – one small bad decision can take you from first to last.

Individuals and Groups

Orienteering is usually an individual sport, with competitors starting at intervals. However there are also team relay events and mass start events. Many club and regional level events welcome small groups or families to complete a course together. 

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