What is Orienteering

About Orienteering

A Sport with Both Physical and Mental Challenges

Orienteering is an international sport combining both physical and mental elements. The very basic idea in orienteering is to visit a number of control points in a predetermined order with the only help of map and compass. Orienteers could decide their own route choice of each leg (the course between two individual control points), by looking at different features of the terrain. The one who completes the whole course with the fastest time is the winner. The uniqueness of orienteering is that a orienteer has to navigate, make quick decisions and maintain a high speed simultaneously.

Disciplines and Formats of Orienteering

Foot, Mountain Bike, Ski and Trail Orienteering

Originally practiced in the military, the sport of orienteering now features a wide range of formats and disciplines. There are 4 official disciplines under International Orienteering Federation, foot, mountain bike, ski and trail orienteering. Among the 4 disciplines, foot orienteering might be the most popular and well-known discipline in Hong Kong. Therefore, orienteering in this website is generally refereed to orienteering on foot. Formats of orienteering ranges from the classic long distance forest race to the recently developed sprint race in the urban area. Most official orienteering races is individual, while there are some other competitions involve team cooperation, including relay and team score event.

By Length

This is a classic form of orienteering race adopting cross-country course. Having an estimated winning time of 75 to 90 minutes, this format demands orienteers’ endurance, wise route choice selection and navigation in the forest.

Middle is a shorter cross-country race than classic, with an estimated winning time of around 30 minutes. Course is designed in a way to challenge orienteers’ navigation technique and less emphasis is put on route choice selection.

Sprint is a short cross country race with an estimated winning time of 12 to 15 minutes. It is usually taken place at the urban area or park. Map with a larger scale (1:4000 or 1:5000) is used and small terrain features can be used as control point sites. Speed and navigation under stress are the keys to sprint race.

By Headcount

Most of the orienteering competitions are individual races which require orienteers’ independent route choice decision and navigation. Technical assistance to orienteers is forbidden.

There are few orienteering events which require team participation, e.g. RogaineMr. Paddy Birney Memorial Score Event. A team of 2 to 4 members read map, navigate and run together in the terrain.

A relay race is run by a team of orienteers each running a course individually. Result is based on team’s total time used. Each competing team must run every leg (between each pair of 2 controls), while not necessarily in the same sequence. This reduces the chance competitors following each other.   

By Control Sequence

Orienteers have to visit all controls in order. The one with the shortest time to finish the course is the champion. Interval start is usually adopted for cross country orienteering. This is the mostly seen format of orienteering.

Each control carries a score (same or different for each control, depending on the course), while orienteers can choose to visit which controls. The one with the highest score within time limit is the winner. Mass start is usually adopted for this orienteering format.

Participating in Orienteering Events

Orienteering events can be searched and enrolled in the following places: 
1) OAHK Fixture、2)Orienteering Fever Facebook Group、3)Website of Affiliated Clubs

These promotion events are open to all people with no orienteering experience. Examples include World Orienteering Day (organised by affiliated clubs) and Roving Fun Day (organised by LSCD). Events mostly take place in urban area or parks.

There are 7 courses which are designed with different technical requirement (from easy to difficult: whiteyelloworangered – greenbluebrown). Participants with no or limited orienteering experience can join the white or yellow course. Most color code events are held in countryside.

Mostly events organised by affiliated clubs are open for public registration, such as Sprint Duet by MetOC。

Ranking league requires a higher level of orienteering technique and it is only open to OAHK members for registration (becoming a member of OAHK).

Ranking league lasts for a year, divided into Men and Women group (M/W), and subdivided into more than twenty classes.

M/W 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, M60 are age classes where orienteers have to meet the age requirement for registration (e.g. W16 is only open to women aging 16 or below; M40 is only open to men aging 40 or above)
M/W 21 are open classes where orienteers of all ages can join.
M/W E are elite classes in which only eligible competitors can participate.

Ranking league is split into sprint (mostly held in urban) and middle/long distance (mostly take place in countryside) event. The result of these two formats is counted individually.

Usually held in late December, AOC is a championship consisting of sprint, middle and long distance races and requiring a high level of orienteering technique.

Orienteering charity race is mostly team event raising fund for charity organisation, such as MSF Orienteering Competition.

Orienteering Equipment

A Low-Cost Sport Suitable for All People

Orienteering equipment is simple: a compass, a control card, map (to be provided by the organiser), sports suit and shoes (which depend on the competition terrain). Getting a basic compass, bringing an electronic control card and wearing casual sports suit are more than enough for you to participate in an orienteering competition. No tent, sleeping bag, stove or food is required for joining an orienteering activity, which is predominantly one-day event lasting for no more than 3 hours. 


(Thumb / Base plate) Compass – Show direction and set map


Show control points and terrain information

Control Card

A record of orienteers visiting control points


Full leg cover (Forest race)
Shorts (Urban race)


Shoes preferably with studs or nonskid soles (Forest race)
Running shoes (Urban race)

Compass - Show direction and set map
Map - Shown control points and terrain information
Control card - A record of orienteers visiting control points
Clothing - Full leg cover (in forest race)
Clothing - Shorts (in urban race)
Shoes - Preferably with studs or nonskid soles (forest race)

Orienteering Map

A Specialized Map Readable Worldwide

As an international sports, orienteering map is standardized in a way that orienteers can read and understand the map drawn in other countries or even continents: a Norwegian orienteer could read the map and participate in an orienteering competition held in Japan without any difficulties. This is largely attributed to the International Specifications of Orienteering Maps which specify the cartographic detail. 

Orienteering map is in several ways different from ordinary countryside or topographic map. Orienteering map …

  • is in a larger scale (ranging from 1:4000 to 1:15000, while the scale of ordinary countryside map is usually smaller than 1:25000). Contour interval can reach 5 meters or even smaller.
  • is able to show a greater detail about the landforms and terrain features, e.g. indistinct paths, streams and individual boulders, which might be crucial to orienteers’ navigation and course design.
  • is designed to show the runnability of the terrain or vegetation, since orienteers might navigate off-road and run inside the forest.
  • shows very few words. For instance, name of the places and value of contour are not shown on the orienteering map.
7 Colours

Different colour represents different terrain features in orienteering map. There are primarily 7 colours in an orienteering map.


Landforms. The shape of the terrain is shown by means of contours.


Rock and Boulders. A special category of landforms giving information of danger, runnability and features for navigation and control points.
Man-made Features. Roads and path showing the track network, obstacles to orienteers like buildings and walls are in black as well.


Water and Marsh. Indicating open water and vegetation type resulted from the presence of water, e.g. marsh.


Typical Open Forest. A type of forest vegetation which supports very high runnability.


Open Land Divided into Several Categories. A type of vegetation mainly with ground cover (grass, moss or scattered trees) which offers a highly runnable terrain.


Forest with Different Density. The darker the green, the denser the forest and the undergrowth, and the lower the runnability.


Overprinting Symbols. Course symbols (including start, control point, control line, and finish), out-of-bound area and refreshment point are some of the examples.

Orienteering Course

Individual Running Navigation


An orienteering course is defined by the start, the controls, and the finish. Between these points, which are located precisely in the terrain and correspondingly on the map, are the course legs over which the competitor must orienteer.


Each control point contains a certain point. Competitors can choose to visit which control points. Competitor having the highest points within time limit wins.


Triangle. Maps would be distributed just before start or at start. A start marker would be located in the terrain.

Control Point

Circle with number. Orienteers have to visit the point in correct order. Markers would be given precise location in the terrain.

Control Line

Straight line. Orienteers could decide their own route choice and navigate on their own from one point to another.


Double circle. Crossing the finish represents the end of competition.