If orienteering is something you've never heard of, or if you've never had a chance to try it for yourself, fret not! Despite being a wildly popular sport in many parts of the world, orienteering is relatively unknown in the US. It's not part of our public education system, and we don't see huge events with dozens of sponsors careening through our local parks.

So there's no need to worry if compass bearings, route choice, and aiming-off seem like foreign terms. Orienteering, at it's core, is about deciding how to get from one place to another. We do this everyday, whether it's going to work, walking to school, or trying to avoid traffic. 


Common Terms

Route Choice

The path we decide to take to get from one place to the next. Often times there are multiple possible ways to get from one checkpoint to another. Each of these options counts as its own possible route choice.

Compass Bearing

Using the compass to measure a specific direction. This can be done several ways, but tradiationally it is done by turning a dial on the compass to find an angle relative to north. This is most useful when navigating off-trail through complex terrain.


Intentionally travelling to the right or the left of a target landmark. By aiming-off, an orienteer will know for certain which direction they must turn once their reach their landmark. For example, when trying to find a trail junction after travelling through the forest, an orienteer might intentionally aim to the right of where they believe the trail junction to be. By doing this, they know for certain they must turn left after arriving at a trail in order to find the junction.


Determining where you are in terrain after becoming lost. There are many ways to relocate depending on one's skill level. The most basic way is to retrace your steps to the last place you were certain of your location. One can also relocate by observing their surroundings and matching them up with the map.

Important Skills

Map Orientation

Map orientation is the most basic and fundamental skill in orienteering. Almost all other skills depend on understanding how to orient the map to the surrounding terrain. The general idea is that the map is a scaled-down image of a location, so everything marked on the map exists in the same place in real life. To orient the map, the participant must hold their map so that all of the features depicted on the map match up with their surroundings. Orienteering maps are all drawn with magnetic north lines running across the length of the paper. The map can be oriented by matching up these north lines with a compass, or by turning the map until the surrounding features are aligned. When a map is oriented properly, it means that a building in front of you in real life is also in front of your position on the map. It also means a river to the left of your location on the map will also be to your left side in real life.