Don’t Get Lost – Orienteering

orienteeringPart of maintaining our personal independence is building skills that can keep us alive when we find ourselves in bad situations.  Every year, we see stories in the news about people that intend on taking a day trip “out in nature” and they become lost.  Some don’t make it back alive.

Just as the sport/activity of geocaching is a fun way to develop skills to find and retrieve cached items, orienteering builds the skills needed to navigate unfamiliar terrain.

What is orienteering?

Orienteering is a sport where people navigate through a series of checkpoints using only a detailed map and a compass. It is usually completed where participants have not been before so they have to rely on their navigational skills to get them to each checkpoint.

The Aim:

The aim of each orienteering session is to navigate through the checkpoints and to the finish line by covering the shortest distance and therefore having the quickest time.

What you need:

  • A Compass – these come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Whichever style you choose, it is vitally important that you have your compass ready to use at all times to ensure you are heading in the correct direction and not getting lost.
  • A Whistle – to be used in an emergency to indicate your position should you happen to get lost or injured on the course
  • A Watch – to make sure you are aware of the time you have been navigating for and to make sure you make it back to any meeting points  at the required times.
  • Clothing – although you can purchase specially designed orienteering suits (one piece nylon suits), any comfortable fitting clothes are suitable. You need to bear in mind that you will be outside at the mercy of Mother Nature so making sure your chosen garments are waterproof and tough for colder, muddier months and breathable and looser fitting for the warmer months is essential.
  • A Map – most maps used for orienteering are drawn specifically for the event at which it is being used. They are usually drawn at scales of either 1:10 000 or 1:15 000. Orienteering maps will show everything that is in the area from hills and ditches to forests and marshes. The colours used on the maps are different from the colours used on normal maps and most symbols are unique to the orienteering world. Maps used are usually drawn with the North lines pointing to magnetic north which makes compass use easier for participants.
  • Footwear – like with the clothing options for orienteering, specialist footwear is available. Shoes that are specifically designed for orienteering will have spikes or studs on the sole to ensure good levels of grip are created. However, broken in walking boots are suitable if you want to go round the course at a slower pace.
  • Backpack – as a survivalist I do not go many places without a backpack of some description. In this type of environment a basic kit should also be with you just in case the worst happens and you find yourself lost or away from the rest of the group for an extended period of time. I would make sure I have plenty of water, a tarp for a quick shelter, some high energy snack bars, extra clothes to help keep warm and a knife (never leave home without one).

How to do it:

  • Know where you are going – you will need to make sure you understand all symbols and colors used on orienteering maps such as numbered circles connected by various lines which indicate the points you need to visit and in which order (called controls)
  • Have a plan to reach each control – on easier beginner courses (normally called white or yellow) the path between each control will follow easy to follow routes such as alongside rivers, power lines etc. The route between each control is not specified and is completely up to each person. If you manage to reach intermediate or advanced levels (orange, green red or blue) the controls will not follow a straightforward path and you will certainly need your compass.
  • Punch your card – once you reach each control, you will need to punch your card (some courses have electronic cards that you swipe at each control) This card then records that you have visited each point.
  • Check out – once you have finished the course or if you decide to leave halfway through completing a course, make sure you check out at the finish table to ensure any organisers know you are no longer in the field so they do not send out rescuers thinking you are lost.

How to get involved:

A great starting point for anyone in the USA who would like to get involved in orienteering is to visit the website  This site lists orienteering clubs by state and gives lots of information about how to get started.

Want a head start or simply more information on map and compass reading?  Go to the free section of the BoomerPreps Independence Library, and download the US Army’s, “How To Find Your Way”.


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