Help topics & resources

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Types of orienteering & navigation sports

Sprint: Sprint orienteering doesn't necessarily mean you have to go fast, as all orienteering is concerned with accuracy and not speed. But sprint  terrain is often easier to run.  Sprints are often in an urban or park-like setting, and can be in local streets. Orienteering events are often planned in forest terrain or rough open rural hillsides, as orienteers are always looking for more challenging navigation. Therefore, sprint, urban and park events are great for beginners before moving into more technical forest terrain. 

String orienteering course: String orienteering is a way of marking the route on easy courses. Controls are placed along a string or tape that leads the participant to a control. A marked string or taped course has a dashed line marked on an orienteering map between control points. Sometimes the string or tape will mark a particularly tricky section on an easy course or the whole course can be marked as an introduction to orienteering course. It is ideal to set up a string course for the very young, such as pre-schoolers and primary grade children as their first introductory course. 

Relay orienteering: Each team member of a team completes a short course and tags the next team member. 

Permanent orienteering courses:  You can do a course at any time - solo or with friends - no need to wait for an event. You will need to get a copy of the permanent course map, each location may have a different way to obtain the map. Read more:

MTBO: To test your navigation in different terrain, you can try Mountain Bike Orienteering (MTBO). PAPO has several MTBO events throughout the year, so check the events calendar.

SkiO: New Zealand's once a year Ski Orienteering event is usually on the middle weekend of the winter school holidays. It is a relaxed, but fun event with scope for those who just want to try another navigation terrain by snowshoe  or for those who really want to blast around on skis. An annual Ski O is run by Remarkables Orienteering Club (ROC), and other event organisations run ski rogaines in winter .

What's the difference between orienteering and rogaining? .  In orienteering checkpoints have to be visited in a specified order, and the fastest competitor to visit all checkpoints in the right order and return to the finish wins. Orienteering events typically last for 1 to 3 hours but can last for longer.  Rogaining is a team sport, (although we often allow teams, couples or families for orienteering when it is not a competitive high performance event) for with 2-5 people per team. There is no given order to the checkpoints; instead, every checkpoint gives a number of points. The task is to get as many points as possible within a given time limit. 
To read more about the differences, this article is good here

Where is the start?

One of the biggest reality checks is when someone cannot find the start of their course, or even their way to an event. Yes, this can happen, despite all our good communications, intentions and planning. Do ask questions if you are unsure, send us an email or ask around on the day, there should be someone  in a PAPO shirt that can  help you. For bigger events read the bulletin or notes that come out before each event and plan in some time to walk to get to the start.
Starts can sometime be a walk from the registration area and this is where you pick up your map, often at a certain time, as timed start allow for distancing between each competitor. Then, there is often a distance between when you pick up the map and the actual start of your course. From the start run to the first flag to begin your mapped course.  You will find is marked is marked with a triangle on your map and it is usually the first control you see, that will have no number on it. Here is where your map navigation begins and the fun starts. 

What am I looking for out on a course?

The centre of each circle on the map indicates the position of a checkpoint or control. What you actually see when you get to a checkpoint or control is a white and orange flag on a freestanding pole less than a metre high or it can be attached to a tree / building in other events. It will have a number on it that you can check with your control description sheet to make sure you have the right control on your course. On permanent courses there will be a sign with a number on a permanent post. The checkpoints/controls are visited in numerical order unless it is a score or rogaine-style event.

Learning about the map legend & symbols

Become familiar with the legend before you start. Learning what the general colours mean along with a few key symbols. You don't need to learn everything right away, learn the major features for the area you are in. 

It is a good idea to note the colour legend on an orienteering map. The colours on an orienteering map denote the speed you can travel through vegetation and on different terrain. So white on an orienteering map is considered easy, fast terrain to move through, but it still will have vegetation as it is 'open forest'. Grass and open fields are mapped as yellow. Different shades of yellow will represent rough or easier open land . 

As well as special colours, orienteering maps have special symbols on the orienteering legend. The same orienteering symbols are used all over the world, so you can orienteer in any country and read a map without understanding the language if you know the symbols. 

Improving navigation - training for every stage

Basic orienteering skills

  • Folding the map.
  • Thumbing the map.
  • Orientating the map to north (with ground or compass)
  • Reading features on the map.
  • Taking a compass bearing.
  • Following a compass bearing.
  • Pacing
  • Judging distance

From beginner, very easy white level, to red advanced, Orienteering New Zealand have a set of guidelines and examples for your level.


Orienteer of the year, OY series and OY points

Each year , PAPO has an Orienteer of the Year (OY) competition across all the grades and levels. This is not just for the elite orienteers, they are for all orienteers and the points accumulate over the year for different events. Some are not interested in the OY points and but others watch their rankings after each event. The events encourage people to test their navigation in a variety of events.
See the OY points page for details.

Encouraging map observation by drawing a map 

Creating your own maps and map legends - try drawing one of a local school or a local park:  Great example of an activity for beginners here

School resources

This American webpage has a diagram of suggested development stages under 'school resources':
An exercise on reading a topographical map:


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