Five great ways to start orienteering

by Raphael Mak

Orienteering is a sport that originated from Scandinavia in the late 19th century. It’s a synthesis of running with navigation by map and compass: it enhances both your body and mind. What’s more, it can boost your geographical and spatial sense, a skill that’s more and more important in today’s hyperconnected world!

Traditionally connected to the forest and the wild, orienteering has now found a new stage in our cities, parks and streets. Orienteering is no longer just about wild adventures: you can experience orienteering even without leaving the comfort of the city!

While running has found a wide audience with fitness-savvy millennials and older generations all over the world, orienteering is mainly popular in Europe and has yet to gain major popularity in other parts of the world. In fact, many people still think of orienteering as treasure hunt. But, in fact it’s a serious sport with well-defined rules and lots of fun!

So, wanna start orienteering? Here’s five ways to get started:

1. Get a map and compass

That’s pretty easy: just get a paper map from travel agencies or bookstores. Buy a compass from an outdoor supplies shop (or the local stationery store if they have one).

Align the north needle of the compass with the north of the map (usually the top of the map).

2. Use Google Maps to get to places

Sounds interesting, right? In fact you can use your Google Maps app to experience orienteering. Locate yourself, try to align the map with the surroundings, decide on a destination, find the fastest route, and off you go. (Word of note: no transport allowed in orienteering competitions).

3. Search for a local orienteering map

So you’ve got the basics of orienteering, now try reading an orienteering map: we have specific standards for colours and symbols so that orienteers from all over the world can read the map in the same way. Just google for an orienteering map around where you live — for the symbols, search for “ISOM” (for forest maps) or “ISSOM” (for city maps).

4. Join a local orienteering club

Find a local orienteering club and get to know the other orienteers! They can encourage you to get started and improve as you go on. Often they will have courses and training to help.

5. Enter a competition

Orienteering is a sport and of course the best way to participate and improve is to enter a competition! Your local club may have these once in a while. If you live in a major city (like Hong Kong where we live), there will probably be competitions almost every week. Start with the easier classes (look for the “CATI” — Come And Try It) and progress with the harder classes; with good effort you’ll get to the Elite class and even the local/national squad and team!