How do I start 'O'

Orienteering is an outdoor adventure activity, which involves finding your way through unfamiliar terrain using a specially prepared map and your own common sense. It can be compared to a car rally - but on foot ! In Orienteering, you are the navigator, driver and the vehicle. You learn to read the map, measure distances, use a compass and find your way in cross-country surroundings. Courses vary in length from 2kms to over 10kms, but there are normally five course levels to choose from at each "colour-coded" event.
Orienteering is a thinking activity, requiring both skill and physical ability. Participants leave the starting point at regular intervals and must find their way to various checkpoints (called CONTROLS), set-out at various features in the area and return to the finish, after visiting each control and "punching" a CONTROL CARD or using a "smart card" (called EMIT) to register your visit at each control. The competitor with the shortest elapsed time is declared the winner.
The EMIT electronic "punching" system has become more frequently used - where the competitor carries a small "smart card", which is used to electronically record check-in times at each control and at the start and finish. An electronic device receptacle is found at each control point. This discards the Control Card and makes for more accurate timing and the advantage of being able to see a competitor's "split" times on each leg of the course.
Detailed maps of the area are supplied by the organisers at each event.  The courses may be pre-printed onto the map or you may need to copy the course onto your map from a Master Map using a pen provided at the Start.

How to Choose Your Course

Other type of events, normally comprising two courses of between 2 and 4 kilometres, are offered in the Gauteng  Short Course Series. A series of 10 events through the year, and held in park type areas, such as Emmarentia Dam and Delta Park. These events are ideally suited for beginners, children and family groups - as they require very basic navigational skill and are in very easy-going terrain. The experienced Orienteers also take part in these events - and treat them as sprint contests.
When choosing a course to compete on, please consider ALL the following items :
  • Read the Planners comments on the various courses he has offered - he is the only person who knows how tough or easy they are.
  • The terrain - look around you when you arrive - how well do you normally cope with this type of terrain ?
  • How well do you know the area ? When last did you run here, if at all ?
  • Weather conditions - is it conducive to easy running ?
  • How well or fit are you on the day ?
  • Is there sufficient time for you to easily complete the course before they close ?
  • How good actually are your orienteering skills ?
  • Take into account both the length and climb of the courses
  • Do not move up a course, unless you are easily completing the colour course you normally enter AND you are positive about all of the above
  • If you are in any doubt, ask for advice - the Planner and Controller are normally not far away from registration.

How to Progress

Different courses available
Orienteering is not only meant for the very fit and fast runner. The idea is to open the past-time to as many people, with varying degrees of physical ability, from as many walks of life, as possible. To facilitate this, Orienteering events normally have several different courses, which range in suitability, catering for everybody. The courses are standardised and colour-coded for convenience :

YELLOW - elementary course, with very simple route-following skills necessary. The route can be navigated by following "line features" (eg. paths, fences) and very prominent land-marks. Distance is between 1,5 and 3km and is suitable for children over the age of 8, families and groups of beginners. The total amount of climb is limited to below 40 metres. There are normally between 7 and 10 control points on this course. No compass skills are necessary.

ORANGE - very similar to the Yellow course, with slightly more distance (2 - 4km) and a few control points that may be a bit further off a line feature. Suitable for groups, families and newcomer individuals, that are prepared for the extended distance. Expect around 10 to 12 control points.

RED - sometimes included specifically for runners, requiring the distance, but with limited navigational skills. This course would be between 5 and 8 km long with control features similar to those on the Yellow and Orange courses.

LIGHT GREEN - is a "bridging" course, intended to introduce the not-so-newcomer to a slightly more technical level. Some control features become more demanding - navigation away from line features may be included on some of the legs. Distance could be anything from 3 to 5 km, with total climb normally limited to around 70 metres. Expect around 10 - 12 control points. Compass reading skills are not compulsory, however, this is where learning the skill begins.

GREEN - courses are the step up to more technical Orienteering. Compass skills are generally required, as the control points are situated away from line and very prominent features. Expect distances of about 3,5 to 4,5 km, with total climb sometimes reaching 100 metres

BLUE - here the course is both technically and physically demanding. Compass skills are very necessary. Course lengths will vary between 6 and 8 km with anything up to 250 metres of total climb.

BROWN - is the course for experienced, fit orienteers. Compass skills and route planning are very necessary. Distances range from 7 to 10 km, with climb extending to 400 metres sometimes.

When to move up a course
Starting out in orienteering, you will be advised to compete at either the YELLOW or ORANGE course level (depending on the age and fitness level of the competitor). Once you have mastered the process, of locating yourself on the map, correlating where you are on the ground, navigating your way round the course and finding all the controls, punching your control card - all without too much confusion, then you are ready to move up to the next grade of course.

Before moving up to Light Green or Green, attend one of the compass reading courses, held every now and then by the RACO club - or get a competent member to simply show you how !.

Further promotion up the grades will depend upon your physical abilities and your progress with navigation on the lower courses.


  • Control points shall be visited in sequence - no random control visits are allowed without pain of disqualification
  • The control card shall contain all the markings from all the punches on the course - these shall be within the square block provided for each point (Spare blocks are provided for re-punching if a mistake is made. These are marked "R")
  • If EMIT is being used, the electronic card will be checked at the end by computer.  There is also a paper, "bach-up" card attached - just in case modern technology fails us !
  • Don't follow other competitors (they may be more lost than you are!)
  • Don't ask for directions (unless you are really in trouble and need to find your way back to the finish)
  • Don't stray into areas marked "out of bounds"
  • Competitors must follow marked routes when provided by the organisers
  • Don't traverse "uncrossable fences or cliffs" (besides being disallowed, may be dangerous)
  • Only compass and maps are allowed to be used (no GPS !)
  • Respect the environment - leave only foot-prints !


What to do when finding an injured competitor ?

Always stop and assist a fellow Orienteer clearly in distress. If the person is able to move (eg. minor cut or sprain) - assist them to the finish area.

In more serious cases (eg. broken limb), call out for assistance from other competitors in the area. Once one or more competitors are on the scene, carefully mark the spot on your map and have one competitor return to the finish to alert the officials and first-aider. Apart from elementary aid (eg. keeping the injured still and shaded) do not apply first aid if not trained to do so.

Orienteers have seen them. Orienteers have scared them (or is that the other way round ?) !. And thankfully, we have never had to attend to anyone being bitten by one. But it is a reality of our sport - sharing the wild terrain with reptiles, animals and insects - and we need to take heed. Not meant to scare - but really to promote some understanding …

What to do when retiring from competition ?
Always report to the Finish Point and register that you are "home" - even if you are retiring off the course. This will prevent the Organisers having to mobilise a search and rescue operation !


Control card string
One way of not losing your Control Card, is to attach it, with a piece of string to your arm. Make sure the string is long enough for you to get the Card into the punch at any Control

Writing codes & learning symbols
You will notice that Description Sheets while containing all the necessary information, also have a section where only symbols are shown. These are the Internationally accepted symbols for all the features found on an Orienteering map. The club has a "directory" of these codes and you need to obtain one and start learning the codes. It makes life easier when Orienteering at speed - especially when the codes are written into the blocks on the Control Card.Attach the Description Sheet to your map, or pin it to your shirt or even wrap around your wrist. Don't lose this important piece of paper with vital information.

The start
Study the map as much as possible before the start; copy your course as accurately as you can; take time to make sure you know exactly where you are; plan your route between controls by considering the alternatives (ie. Paths vs cross-country, amount of climb, easy target and attack features, catching features).

FAQ's :

Who may take part ?
Anyone !. The activity can be enjoyed by men, women and children - old and young - fit or unfit. As you set your own pace, it is ideal recreation for individuals or groups.

How long are the courses ?
The length of an Orienteering course varies from 1,5km with six to ten controls for beginners, up to about 10 km for the more adventurous. The challenge is yours!.

What equipment will I need ?
You do not require expensive equipment nor special gear. Wear old clothes (shorts and t-shirt are fine) and comfortable shoes - running shoes or hiking boots. An Orienteering compass is useful for the more advanced courses. Hats and sunscreen are essentials for outdoor protection. Drinking water is normally provided along the route, however, a small water-bottle will not go unused. All the other material (map and control card) is supplied by the event organisers.

How much does it cost ?
Single-event entry fees are normally around R25~R40 for individuals and R50 for Groups (of maximum 3 people). A reasonable compass (not needed until you progress to the more challenging courses) will cost in the region of R70 - R150.

What about maps ?
All Orienteering maps are specially drawn - based on topographical surveys, retaining basic symbols for contours, buildings, streams etc, but much finer detail, such as depressions, ditches and vegetation changes are added. Maps are reproduced in scales of between 1:5000 to 1:15000, and are in colour, with a full legend explaining the various features. Maps are provided as part of your event entry fee.

What does "climb" mean ?
From each countour (line on a map joining equal elevation or height) a route crosses in the positive direction (ie. Going up-hill), the climb is calculated. Maps normally show 5 metre contours, hence crossing 10 of these lines in total (only on upward slopes), will equal a total climb of 50 metres.

Do I need to join a club ?
Not necessarily. You may compete as an individual, however, joining RACO has the benefits of giving you cheaper entry rates and you get sent the latest information (electronically or via postal delivery) regarding events, results etc. With membership you are also eligible to take part in Championship events.

What must I do at my first event ?
When you arrive, you will need to Register, after choosing a suitable course from the several that will be on offer for the day. On registering (and paying your entry fee) you will receive a MAP, CONTROL CARD (for "punching" at each control point) and DESCRIPTION SHEET (list of control numbers, codes and feature descriptions). You will also have to select a START TIME (always give yourself about a half an hour to get organised !). Write your name/s legibly on the spaces provided on your Control Card. TIP: Use first name and surname - NOT initials. Make your way to the start at least ten minutes before your official start time and hand in the Control Card Stub (tear off) to the Start Official. Await to be called to start. On the "Go" you will need to copy onto your map, the course as laid out on a master map (provided after you start). Then off you go - navigating your way round the course.

Can someone teach me ?
Sure !. Just give one of the Club Contacts a call to arrange a free lesson. Ask for either Tania or  Paul at any event. They will be only too pleased to help you.