If you enjoy trail running or hiking, you may want to give the sport of orienteering a try. It is challenging and fun, and enables you to explore many parks throughout your area. Most states have one or two orienteering clubs that offer courses with varying levels of difficulty, so there is something for everyone.

What exactly is orienteering, though?

History

Orienteering is a sport that combines racing and navigation. Carrying a custom-made topographic map and a compass, a participant races a course and searches for control points. The best time wins on each course.

Orienteering originated in the Swedish military as a way to practice land navigation skills. It became a sport when officers added it to the annual Garrison Games in 1893. Participants move across varied terrain locating points in sequence as quickly as possible. It requires topographic map reading skills, knowledge of geography, and compass skills. The Boy and Girl Scouts have orienteering merit badges and usually run with the local clubs as a group.

How It Works

Clubs in the USA and around the world have turned this challenging activity into a fun sport the entire family can enjoy. Typically, the courses vary from novice to experienced with easier courses following along trails, and more difficult courses trekking off-trail.

Most clubs offer beginner instruction and guidance for your first trek. As you get better, clubs offer more advanced training sessions to sharpen your orienteering skills. There are often as many as eight different levels to run or hike so everyone can find a course at their level. Groups can run courses together, which is another great way to learn.

Getting Started

Each participant sets off on the course with competitors starting one or two minutes apart. There is a map for each level, from beginner through advanced. A good starting point is a course which is entirely on trails because it will not require detailed compass skills. Just make sure to wear lightweight, tough, long pants to keep scratches and insects off your legs. Trail running shoes, bug spray and a light windbreaker for inclement weather are good ideas too.

Getting Out There

Orienteering is a great way to develop your navigation skills in a world that is heavily reliant on GPS systems. If you are ever lost in the woods without phone service, knowing how to read a map could save your life.

But most importantly, it is a great way to get out in nature, have fun, and possibly even forget that you are working out. Give orienteering a try, and you may really enjoy the challenge of exploring the natural world in a whole new way.