Glossary of Orienteering Terms
We provide this list of words and phrases commonly used in orienteering
for anyone who wants to know the language of the sport.
An event conforming to the highest United States Orienteering
Federation standards. Performance in "A" meets counts
in determining national rankings of competitive orienteers.
An event which conforms to most, but not all, USOF standards
Some "B" meets are counted in the rankings.
Bike-O or Bike Orienteering
A Bike-O is a variation of a normal Orienteering event. Instead
of walking or running, you ride a bicycle. Instead of through the
woods, you travel on the streets. As with regular orienteering the
objective to visit each one of the controls (locations) in the prescribed
order, punch or mark a card to verify that you visited that control
and when the route is complete, check in at the finish. The Bike-O
can be a competitive event or it can be a leisurely afternoon for
a family. What makes the Bike-O interesting is that you are given
a map that has none of the names of the streets on it. Expert navigation
skills are not required, but being able to count how many blocks
you should go before you turn right or left really helps.
A free standing rock, large enough to be distinguished from its
surroundings. It is mapped as a black dot.
A local event which does not count in the rankings.
A vertical or nearly vertical feature. Ordinarily a cliff less than
two meters high isn't mapped. A mapped cliff is shown on the map
by a black bar with teethit looks like a comb.
The amount of uphill climbing (ignoring downhill travel) that
must be done to complete a course. Some routes may minimize climb,
but be quite long. Others may be short, but have a lot of climb.
The course description usually states the amount of climb along
an optimum route which balances climb and distance.
A list of controls to be visited, in the order in which they are
to be visited. For each control, the clue sheet specifies the control
code, and describes the feature. On beginner and intermediate
courses, the descriptions are in words; an international set of
symbols is used for advanced courses.
A brown line on the map that is at constant altitude. When you
cross a contour line on the map, you are going up or down hillyou
must use other evidence to determine which (for example, if you
are going toward water, you are usually going down). On some maps,
a small tick in the downhill direction tells you. The map always
specifies the "contour interval", which is the difference
in height from one contour line to the next. If contour lines are
close together, the terrain is steep.
A nylon marker hung at each feature on the course. It has three
sides, divided diagonally between white and red (or orange) halves.
A punch for marking your control card is attached to the control,
or located nearby on a post. Sometimes a control is called a "bag."
A card that you carry with you to punch at each control Since each
punch has a unique pattern, the control card is evidence that you
have visited all of the controls.
Letters or numbers that uniquely identify each control on a course.
The control code appears on the clue sheet and the control. Before
punching yourcontrol card at the control, make sure that the same
code appears on the control and the clue sheet
for the feature.
A control setting in which the orienteer is likely to use the
same route leaving a control as approaching it. A dog-leg is a flaw
in course design because it may give an approaching orienteer an
unfair advantage if, by chance, he/she meets someone leaving the
An area shown on the map in dark green which is very difficult
to get through. Bramble patches and forest areas with low branches
or closely spaced trees are examples. Fight usually should be avoided,
but because mappers treat fight differently, it is always wise to
look at the conditions before deciding to avoid fight. Lighter green
indicates "slow run."
A brown dashed line on the map which indicates a visible ridge
or mound which is not high enough to be shown with the map's contour
A small hill. It should only designate features one contour
or less in height, but the term is sometimes casually used to describe
larger features. Depending on its size, it is shown on the map as
a contour line loop or a brown dot.
The part of an orienteering course between two controls,
or between the start and the first control, or the last control
and the finish.
Orienteering performed in the dark. The standard controls
are used but a reflector is usually added. Participants need
a flashlight or headlamp. A whistle is also recommended since
it is a little easier to get lost in the dark.
In orienteering, always magnetic north. In the Chicago area,
magnetic and geographic north nearly coincide. In other parts of
the country and the world, they may differ dramatically (20°
or more). Orienteering maps always show magnetic north, either by
being drawn with magnetic north at the top of the map, or by showing
magnetic north meridian lines across the map.
Navigation through rough terrain using only a map and a compass.
A map is essential; a compass very helpful. You can find your way
without a compass, paying careful attention to the terrain and the
map. Orienteers can run, or walk, or bothit is a sport of
navigation, not necessarily navigation on the run.
A group of features on a map that are to be visited, usually
in a specified order (compare Score-O and
Rogaine). A circle on the map identifies
each feature, with the feature in the exact center of the circle.
A feature must be on the map to be used on the course. The start
is shown by a triangle, and the finish by a double circle. In a
standard course in which features must be visited in order, straight
lines are drawn to connect each feature to the next one to be visited.
Counting the number of paces you take to estimate the distance
you travel. Paces usually are counted one for every left/right combination.
You need to determine your standard pace for various conditions
(at least one for walking and one for running) on a fixed course
of known length. Because the map is flat, it takes more paces to
cover the same map distance going up or down hill than on flat terrain.
A system of ranking all competitive orienteers who are members
of USOF. The system attempts to give credit for performance on the
basis of comparisons of the competitor's finishing time for each
day of competition with the finishing time of the fastest competitors.
The system has recently been revised, but is still complicated.
Rankings do not affect recreational orienteers.
A small valley, where the contour lines "re-enter"
the hill. If you are standing at the bottom facing into a reentrant,
the land slopes up in front of you and on both sides, and slopes
down behind you. In a shallow reentrant, the slopes on both sides
and ahead may be very gentle, sometimes difficult to see in wooded
areas. A reentrant must appear on the map if it is used as a control.
It appears as loop or hump in the contour lines.
A long score-O, usually held in a very large
area. Often the map is a USGS map, rather than a standard orienteering
map, although many recent rogaines have used maps which are similar
to standard O maps. Rogaines must be run in teams, usually of two
people, and often last up to 24 hours. The word ROGAINE is said
to be an acronym for Rugged Outdoor Group Activity Involving Navigation
and Endurance. The word may also be a consolidation of the supposed
Australian inventors of the idea, something like Rob, Gail and Ned.
It has nothing to do with hair.
The root base of a fallen tree. Because most woods have many
fallen trees, only very large rootstocks generally are mapped. Mappers
have different standards. On CAOC maps, a rootstock is mapped only
if the mass of roots is as high as Rich Gaylord's shoulders (about
The remains of a manmade structure, often little more than a
stone foundation. Ruins usually are made of stone or concrete. Some
ruins are more substantial portions of abandoned structures such
as dams and other drainage devices or farm outbuildings. Ruins can
be hard to find if they are overgrown.
The size of the map compared to the area which it represents.
The usual orienteering map scale is 1:15,000, which means that one
millimeter of map corresponds to 15,000 mm (15 meters) of terrain.
Most compasses have a scale for measuring distances on the map.
Other scales can be used: as the numbers get smaller, the distance
on the map for each unit gets larger. A 1:7,500 map shows half as
much terrain as a 1:15,000 map.
A Score-O is an orienteering event in which the controls may
be visited in any order, but time is limited. Controls may have
different point values; greater points are assigned to controls
that are more difficult to locate or that are greater distance from
the start. The orienteer must decide how many controls can be visited
within the set time limit. Penalty points are applied to those out
for longer than the set time. Longer Score-Os are called Rogaines.
An orienteering event in which competitors navigate courses
largely on cross country skis.
Sprint and Chase
The "Sprint-0 and Chase" is intended for advanced
runners (Red, Green, and strong Orange levels). Orienteers
choosing the Sprint-0 and Chase will first complete a 3 to 5 km
sprint-length course. After all competitors have complete
the Sprint-O, the Chase will begin. The fastest orienteer
in the Sprint-O will start the Chase first. A runner who was
2 minutes, 45 seconds slower on the Sprint-O will start the Chase
exactly 2 minutes, 45 seconds after the first runner. An orienteer
who was 14 minutes slower on the Sprint-O will start the Chase exactly
14 minutes after the first orienteer. The Chase is also between
3 and 5 km in length so the total distance is approximately 7 km.
As runners finish the Chase, they will immediately know their placing.
The first to finish will have the fastest time of the day.
A ridge or point of land projecting out into the lower terrain below.
Standing at the tip of a spur, the land drops in front of you and
on both sides, but is relatively flat behind you. On the map, reentrants
and spurs can be difficult to distinguish.
String orienteering is a form of orienteering designed to be
easier than usual for young children. A continuous "string"
(actually surveying tape) marks the route to each control.
Participants can follow the String through the entire course and
thus will not get lost. A simplified map is used; the route
of the String and the location of the controls are marked on the