No idea what orienteering is all about? Want to learn more about the sport and how you can take part, then this is the perfect place to start.

Firstly, the most important thing to remember is that we were all new to the sport once! It is only through the help and welcoming nature of clubs like the Potteries Orienteering Club that we all develop our skills and become successful at reading the map and getting from A to B as quickly as possible. That said, even the most experienced make mistakes and will "get lost" from times, so don't worry about that.

What is the Purpose of Orienteering?

Orienteering is a sport. Put simply it is all about navigating round a set course as quickly as possible. The course route will be planned out on a map which you will be given at the start of an event. The idea is to get to each control (the circles on the map) as quickly as possible. For the more competitive this will involve running to each control, however you are just as able to make the course into a challenging walk. 

What Equipment Do You Need?

If you want to come along at try the sport at one of our local events, then typically you just need to bring yourself. Ideally you should wear suitable footwear along with some long legged trousers and long sleeved top, however on the easy and moderate courses you will probably find that most of the controls that you are looking for are found on or just off footpaths. It is also mandatory that you now carry a whistle (for your safety), but don't worry if you haven't got one - the club has some which it can lend out.

Additional equipment that you may wish to acquire as you progress in the sport includes;

  • Compass
  • GPS Watch / Tracker (to record your routes and times)

How to take part?

It is really easy to get involved. Simply come along to any of the Events which are listed on our website. Just look for the POTOC tent where you complete a registration form and can choose the course that you wish to do. You will also be able to hire "a dibber" (an electronic punch which records your time when you reach each control) and speak to any member who will always be happy to assist on any questions that you may have.

When your ready you can take to the start and set off on your orienteering adventure. 

Different Courses?

At each local event you will find a range of different courses. Typically you will find the following options;

  • Short / Easy - sticks to main paths and around 1-2km long in length
  • Medium - mainly on obvious paths, but a few controls off these paths. Around 2.5km in length
  • Short Hard - a more challenging course and a shorter version of long hard. Around 3.5km in length
  • Long Hard - a challenging course which will typically be around 5km+ in length

At some events you will see colours used to describe the courses. The image below shows you what each of the colours means;

Orienteering Route Colours

Different Age Categories

As well as competing against everyone else, you will also be competing in your age category. This is like a mini sub league and for most people is the realistic target for them to try and perform well in.

When registering you will see a section asking for Age Category. This basically requires you to write down the code of the category that you fall into from the list below;

Your Age Your Age Class
10 and Under M/W 10
12 and Under M/W 12
14 and Under  M/W 14
16 and Under M/W 16
18 and Under  M/W 18
20 and Under   M/W 20
*Any Age M/W 21
35 and Over M/W 35
40 and Over M/W 40
45 and Over M/W 45
50 and Over   M/W 50
55 and Over M/W 55
60 and Over   M/W 60
65 and Over  M/W 65
70 and Over      M/W 70
75 and Over M/W 75
80 and Over M/W 80

M = Male and W = Female

What about the Map?

The map you will be given is an orienteering map. A first this may look a little different, however you can quickly work it out. It marks on the main features that you could come across in the area. These features are usually useful in helping you find the controls that you will be looking for. There is a key on the map so you can always refer to that if you are confused, however after a few events you will quickly learn some of the common symbols. 

Below is an example of an orienteering map from a previous POTOC event.

Example POTOC Map


The numbers are the order in which you must visit the controls. As you can see from the map above this event had 23 controls and they run in the order from 1 - 23. You may have also noticed the triangle? This is the start point and the double circle is the finish. 

Below you can see these easier from this close up view of the map.

Close Up

The lines to the controls are "as the crow flies" and do not assume you can always travel directly to the control. For example if you look closely at control 20 - you will notice the small green dot. This indicates that the control is next to a tree, however also notice the black line indicating a fence. So you have to go into the park, then turn right to reach the control that your looking for.

To assist with the location of controls you will have control descriptors. This is like a clue sheet that tells you exactly where to look. Below is an example of the symbols that you may typically see. Don't worry too much about these as many people just use the map to navigate to the control, however it can be quicker to find the control if you are able to work out its exact location using these.

Control Descriptors

Don't You Get Lost All The Time?

Everyone gets lost sometimes, but you work out where you are sooner or later. It can be disheartening, but as you become more experienced and your navigational skills increase, you'll spend less time making mistakes.

It’s very unusual for the top competitors to get lost for any significant length of time, and when every second can make the difference between winning a medal and not, they generally consider even a few seconds’ hesitation to be time wasted.

Doesn't Everyone Follow Each Other?

All the runners on the same course will start a minute or two apart to prevent everyone from following the person in front. Sometimes people catch each other up, but it’s never a good idea to blindly follow someone in case they make a mistake or they’re not looking for the same control as you.

How Do you Know When You Have Got The Right Place?

Each control is marked by a small orange and white marker, and has a unique code you can check to make sure you’ve found the right one.

Can't You Just Cheat and Say you Have Visited all the Controls?

Everyone carries an electronic chip that they register at each control to prove they’ve been there. When you finish, you get a printout of how long you took between each control, meaning you can compare with other people and see where you lost time.

Useful Downloads

You may find Reading the Beginners Guide (produced by David McCann) may also help in addition to the information included on this page.


Hopefully this answers most of your questions and has created the urge for you to give the sport a try. However, if you have any questions please do not hesitate to Contact POTOC us and a member of the club will only be too willing to assist. 

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