Basic Orienteering Course: Topographic Map and Compass

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When in an orienteering course, you are generally both in a race and honing your skills at reading maps.  This is a way to get exercise as well as get some skill in wilderness survival.  This can be an extremely fun way to gain experience in a VITAL skill in bug-out scenarios.  As a matter of fact, if you decided to do some orienteering courses while wearing your pack, you would also get a real sense of the wild a controlled wilderness environment.

Prepare for Orienteering


Preparing for Orienteering

Have The Correct Hiking Or Trail Shoes On

You must dress for the weather you will be hiking in.  In an orienteering race, you will probably be running a lot, even if you don’t just walking the course for practice.  Based on What you are doing, you should have the correct hiking or trail shoes on.  Also consider long sleeves to cut down on scrapes and insect bites.
Just like every outdoor activity, you should check the weather.  You may decide to stay home if bad weather presents, or quite the opposite if you want to be extreme.
Prior to going to the course, you should have a basic wilderness survival kit, along with a good compass and a whistle.
You need to have water.  This is based on a race, where other people will be close at hand.  Otherwise, you need a full wilderness hiking set-up.

Follow a Basic Orienteering Course


There is no need to go extreme quickly.  Stick with a very basic course that is about 2-4 km in length and stays mostly on trails.  Once you get more skill in reading terrain, then go more to the advanced courses that run 4-10 km.  The advanced courses are usually off-trail.

Sign Up for Wilderness Related Email and get information on how to use a map.

Study and Understand your Map and Compass

topographic map

Your map will be topographical (or it better be).  You should have a start, several control sites that are numbered, and a finish point.  The idea is to visit the numbered circles that are the control sites IN ORDER.

You need to learn to orient your compass and map.  The map will have a north arrow, which you will need to line up your compass readings and magnetic north with real north of the map.  I have a post on navigating with a compass for this.


Find Control Sites

Orienteering courses during a race will have a description sheet for each control site that will tell you what the flags should look like, so you know that you are at the correct one.  If you are doing this on your own, it would be good to go to the park ranger station to see if you can get one.  If not, you may be stuck with a basic topographic map.
During a race you will be required to punch your card at each flag (or an electronic scanner) to prove you were here.  Not of importance for us that just want to hike it.
If you DO participate in a race, you must ALWAYS check out at the finish table, so people don’t stay overnight looking for you.  This is EVEN if you decide not to finish.  Don’t be a butthole.

Using Attack Points for Advanced Orienteering

Choose a natural landmark that you can easily navigate to as your attack point.  If you are looking for a cliff face or river bend as your attack point, and you can see it from your current location, you don’t even have to use your compass until you get to it.
One you get to your attack point, you are far enough away, that if you are in a race no one else will see exactly what you are doing.  From the attack point, you will orient your compass and go to your control site.
Just like your attack point, you should also have chosen another easy-to-recognize feature to notify you that you have gone too far past your control point and that you should plan another attack.  You could use a second trail, river, ridge, power line, or other noticeable features.

What Wilderness Skills Do You Learn From Orienteering Trails

  • Hiking and Wilderness running (this IS a skill)
    • You will learn the correct ways to go up and down terrain at all speeds.
  • Navigation and Orienteering
    • You will learn how to read the terrain using a map, and then recognize it in real-life 3d. This can only happen with practice.
  • Attack and Precision
    • This could absolutely be an awesome and critical skill.
  • You also build your body for hiking with a Pack if you choose to use this as a training course.
So, if you haven’t given any thought to an orienteering course for awesome wilderness skills, go get a compass, map, and some basic survival gear and get your butt in gear.  Go Orienteering!
Infographic about Orienteering Basic Guide

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Ken is addicted to fitness and mountain biking. He is such a thrill seeker, people are starting to be concerned!He enjoys MTBing, Hiking, Climbing, Geocaching, Orienteering, Weight Lifting, and Wilderness Survival.

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