Beginners Guide

You have read or heard about the sport of orienteering and are interested in giving it a go. So hear is some useful information to help you get started and know what to expect. 

Your First Event

So, you're ready for your first orienteering event. You've found an event near you. Now what?

Finding the Event Location

Directions to the event location will be provided with the event information. Watch out for the orienteering signs on the approach roads to the venue these will help guide you to parking and registration.


The first thing to do at the event is report to registration. At registration information will be available on the various courses on offer, typically their length and the number of controls. Select the course you would like to undertake. If it is your first event let the organisers know your level of experience and they will recommend a course to suit your ability. It is advisable for beginners or those new to the sport to select the shorter less technical courses to begin with until you become familiar with map reading and feel comfortable with the procedures and the navigational requirements of the short course.

Each individual or group going on the course needs to pay the entry fee and register their details with the organisers. You will be asked to provide your name, course, club (if applicable) and SI number. Sometimes the organisers will give you an entry slip to complete or alternatively they will ask you for these details. This is to ensure that the organizers know who's on a given course (and check that everyone returns safely).

If electronic punching is in use at the event you will be asked for your SI card number. If you don’t have your own SI card you will be able to hire one for a nominal fee. Alternatively if manual punching is in use you will be given a control card once registration is complete.

The control description sheet, often referred to as "clue" sheet, does not contain clues at all, but precise descriptions of the control feature you will be looking for. Control descriptions use internationally recognized symbols that are usually accompanied in English for beginners. These sheets are printed on the map but can also be handed out following registration or sometimes at the start area.

Once registered, you may proceed directly to the start area as this is where you will receive your map and start time.

At the Start Area

Request a start time from the Start official. Staggered start times are assigned to minimize following, which is not allowed. The starting official will assign a start time if needed that will be entered on your control card if manual punching is in use. Generally ten seconds before your official start time the official will hand your map and will permit you to start when your start time is reached.

If electronic punching is in operation while at the start you will be asked to CLEAR your SI card by punching the CLEAR unit. This deletes any old date from the SI card. You may also be asked to punch the CHECK unit which confirms that the SI card is has cleared correctly and is ready to be used. The start official will then hand you the map and ask you to punch the START unit when it is appropriate for you to start your course. This writes your start time to your SI card.

If this is your first event be sure to let the start official know and they will explain the basics of the map to you and orientate you in the correct direction for the first control.

Ready, set, go!

Once started, you will begin navigation to control number one. Sometimes the start (marked by a triangle on the map) will be at a point beyond the actual start. Your description sheet will give specifics for the start triangle and each control including the code number, the kind of feature, which, if more than one in the circle, what part of the feature the control is located and other descriptive information.

Visit each control in the proper order (if it's a point-to-point course). Each control point will have an orange and white flag at the precise point described. The flag will have a code number, corresponding to the number on your description sheet. When manual punching is in use there will be a needle punch attached to the flag. Use this to punch the appropriate box on your control card.

When electronic punching is in use an SI unit with a unique number will be at the control site. Be sure to check that the control code on the unit matches the control code on your course. Insert your SI card at each control unit, and wait until you hear a beep and see a flash on the unit. If there is no beep or flash, the unit may be malfunctioning; if so, punch the edge of your map with the pin punch attached to the control flag to prove that you visited the control.

Continue from control to control around the course. If you punch a wrong control by mistake, or punch controls out of order, it does not matter as long as you eventually punch all of the controls in the proper order. Thus, for example, if you find and punch control #4 before control #3, it is okay as long as you then find #3 and punch it, and then revisit #4 and re-punch it before continuing on to #5. When electronic punching is in use, it does not cause any problems if you happen to punch a control that is not on your course.

The finish line is usually not far from the final control. For manual punching your finish time will be recorded at the finish where you will turn in your control card. There is usually no control marker or punch at the finish line for manual punching. The finish official will record your finish time and take your control card and calculate your overall time. When electronic punching is employed you must punch the FINISH unit at the Finish line. This writes the finish time on your SI card.

After the Finish

For evens were electronic punching is utilised proceed to the download area. Download your results by placing your SI card in the download unit until it beeps. You will be told if you completed the course correctly and what your time was. Sometimes you will receive a printout of your splits. You may keep your map and the splits printout. If you rented your SI card ensure you hand it back following download.

After the event

The event results will be uploaded to the Irish Orienteering website results page usually not long after the event. Your name will be listed in the results. If you miss a control, you will be listed as DNF, and not receive a time. But don't worry -- anyone can have an off day! For events which used electronic punching the individual splits will also be available online and you can compare your performance to other competitors.

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Helpful Tips for Beginners

Below are five basic skills that you need to practice to help you progress with orienteering.

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Standard Orienteering Rules and Etiquette

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