Frequently Asked Questions

If you are new (or not so new) to orienteering and have questions, then you should find the most common answered here. If not then please contact us.

What is Orienteering?

Orienteering is a challenging outdoor adventure sport that exercises both the mind and the body. The aim of orienteering is to navigate between control points marked on a unique orienteering map choosing routes–on or off trail–that will help you find all the points and get to the finish in the shortest amount of time (assuming that you choose to be competitive). It doesn’t matter how young, old, fit or unfit you are as you can run, walk, jog and progress at your own pace. It’s an adventure sport for all!

Course lengths vary and at most orienteering events there will be a range of courses suitable for everyone – beginners and experienced orienteers. Except on beginner courses, an important element of orienteering is that the terrain presents a choice of route to reach each control point, thus presenting a mental as well as physical challenge. The route you take between controls is up to you. It is not enough to simply be able to move faster than other orienteers, you must out-think them as well. Because of this, orienteering is often called the "thinking sport" because it involves map reading and quick decision-making, in addition to athletic ability.

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Why Orienteer?  

Orienteering takes place in a variety of outdoor places, from towns and parks to forests and open mountain. You get out into the countryside, often to places you wouldn't otherwise visit. It is an easy and painless way of staying fit or getting into shape. Your physical effort often goes almost unnoticed as you read your map and follow your route. For the good athlete and navigator there is the unique challenge of finding your way over complex and rough terrain whilst running at speed. It really is an adventure sport for all ages and all abilities, from children under the age of ten to veterans of well over seventy! Orienteer with your friends and family and share your experiences afterwards.

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Where does it take place?

Orienteering generally takes place in forest and woodland areas or parkland. Although events also take place on open mountain and sand dunes. City street sprint orienteering is also becoming popular.

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How do I start orienteering?

The best way of getting started is simply to go along to an event. At most events, you just turn up on the morning. There will be lots of experienced orienteers to help and advise you. There will be courses for everyone and it won't cost a lot. Families and groups are welcome to try beginners' courses together.

You don't even need a compass or any special kit to start the sport - most events these days use electronic punching in place of the traditional pin punches - the electronic cards, or SI cards as they are commonly called, can be hired from registration for a nominal fee, sometimes free.

Another way to experience orienteering is to try a Permanent Orienteering course. Here the control points are markers fixed in the ground and you can try a course at any time. You can buy download the map and then find your way around the course, in your own time, by yourself or in a group.

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What should I wear?

You don't need special clothes to start with. Choose your clothes according to whether you expect to walk, jog or run. You should always wear full leg cover unless you know you will be orienteering on streets. Runners are suitable footwear, but don't wear anything too nice as they will probably suffer from undergrowth in the forest, as well as getting wet and muddy - this applies to clothes as well. Once you become a regular, you might consider buying some special orienteering kit, and some hard-wearing, grippy O-shoes.

Note also in poor weather or exposed areas a cagoule (lightweight waterproof raincoat) might be insisted upon.

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What should I bring?

The only piece of equipment you really need to go orienteering is your brain. However, the following items may also be useful: 

SI Card: 

If you have an SI card don't forget to bring it with you but don't worry if you don't as you can always hire them at the event if they are needed.


If you know how to use a compass bring it along. It isn't a requirement for most of the shorter courses but it can help you orient the map to North, and take directional bearings. 


A whistle is advisable, or even compulsory, in steep or exposed areas to call for help if you injure yourself and require help from another runner. 


It is advisable to take a change of clothes and shoes.


You might want to bring water for convenience to drink after the event. If it's a nice day it's fun to hang around afterward, eat a picnic lunch, and discuss your routes with other orienteers.

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What types of courses are there?

Most orienteering events provide courses for all levels of experience, physical ability and technical difficulty. Competitions for orienteering on foot are organised in various formats:

Cross Country:

The most common form of competition where competitors make their way from control to control in a set order, but selecting their own route as they go. The various ways in which courses are graded are listed below


Points values are allocated to each control site. Within a given time (typically 60 minutes) a competitor tries to accumulate as many points as possible by visiting controls in any order. Late return to the finish incurs penalty points deducted from the score


Teams (of typically 3 or sometimes 4 runners) compete against each other for the fastest team time, usually over cross country courses. The first runner of a team will complete a course and return to the finish/start to release the second runner to do a course and so on.

The following table shows 

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What does electronic punching mean?

Electronic punching is a system which is used for orienteering to electronically register the 'punching' of control points. It provides an electronic means of calculating the time it takes one to complete an orienteering course, and also checks that one has visited all of the proper controls in the correct order on the course. It is used in place of standard pin punching and paper punch cards. It consists of a small plastic instrument called a SI card on elastic which is strapped to the finger. This allows the orienteer to quickly punch into the hole in the top of the SI boxes to register their control point. The SI card contains a computer chip which picks up data from each control point that it is punched. This data can then be downloaded once finished to give accurate timing and split information.

The following describes how to use electronic punching on an orienteering course: 

At Registration 

Each individual or group going on a course needs to have an electronic punch also called an SI card, e-card, chip, dibber, etc. If you do not have your own, you will have to rent one at registration. When registering be sure your name, course, and SI number (the number of the side of the card) are entered so the organizers can determine who's on a given course (and check that everyone returns safely).

At the Start Area 

Request a start time from the Start official. Then, while you're waiting for your start time, be sure to clear and check your SI card before going out on your course. The CLEAR unit deletes any old data on the card that may cause confusing results, and the CHECK unit confirms that the card has been cleared and is ready to be used. 

When you are told to start, or when your start time has arrived, be sure to punch the START unit before heading out on your course. This writes your start time to your SI card.

On the Course 

Visit each control in the correct sequence (if it's a point-to-point course). 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. It usually takes about a second. 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.

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. Also, it does not cause any problems if you happen to punch a control that is not on your course.

At the Finish 

Punch the FINISH unit at the Finish line. This writes the finish time on your SI card.

After the Finish 

Proceed directly to the download area and download your results. To do that, place 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. You may also receive a printout of your splits. You may keep your map and the splits printout.

Keep In Mind 

Be sure to check in at the download area whether or not you finish your course, or if you decide not to go out on a course after you have entered. If you do not check in, you will be listed as a missing competitor, and we will have to initiate a search for you.

Also, please be aware of course closing time, at which time the control flags will start being removed. It is discourteous to the organizers not to return to finish by course closing, because we start to worry whether you are lost or injured, and have to keep a group of orienteers around to do a search party if you do not return.

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How do I know where to go on my course? 

On your first few events you will probably be doing fairly simple courses where the controls will be on paths, line features and other reasonably obvious features. In these cases the triangle on the map which signifies the Start often seems to point, not only at the first control, but also directly up the path you are facing as you start. Do not be fooled by this. Later, when you become more experienced and the courses become more complex you will find that the triangle doesn't always point straight up the path you're facing at the Start. It will always point directly at the first control though.

Each of the controls you need to visit is marked on the map with a purple circle. These circles are joined by straight lines (as the crow flies) which are NOT always the fastest route as they can go through rough undergrowth, even through rivers and ponds. Always check your map and plan your route between controls. Try to look for features past your control on the map (called catching features) that you can use to stop yourself if you run past your control. Use your compass to check your direction, the map has lines with arrows going across it which show which way is North.

If using electronic punching system then at each control you punch the SI box and wait for the beep. If there is no beep, then punch your map with the pin punch. If using control cards then the pin punch is used to punch the control card to prove that the orienteer has visited each control. Controls must be visited in the correct order otherwise it is considered a 'mispunch' and you are disqualified. However, if you punch control number 3 before control number 2, for example, you can punch control 2 and go back to control 3 and continue without being disqualified.

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What if I get lost or make a mistake?

If you get lost, try to work out your position by studying your map. You could look around and find a very obvious feature on the ground and then find the same feature on the map. You should then be able to continue on your way. Alternatively, if you can go straight back to the last control you visited and take it again from there.

Failing that, ask someone who looks like they know where they are and who looks like they're not too worried about their finish time. It will probably take a few seconds to explain where you are, so try to be careful who you ask, most people will be happy to explain. Failing that, try to orient yourself towards the finish and retire.

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What are all the gadgets people have strapped to themselves? 

Many people wear lycra, or other thin trousers and tops that don't have pockets, therefore, anything they want to carry needs to be attached to them so they don't drop them. 

Many people have compasses that you can attach to your thumb with elastic; there is the SI card which straps to your finger also with elastic. 

It can be compulsory to carry a whistle. 

Some competitors use a clear plastic control description holder for the wrist so they can keep it visible and dry easily. This means that the only thing you have to keep a hold of is your map. 

However, none of these gadgets are essential to buy except possibly a compass. If you are taking part in a reasonable number of events it may be worthwhile investing in a SI card.

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Do I need to be a member of the club?

The majority of our event are open to all so it is not necessary to have club membership to take part. If you have entered several event and wish to continue the sport, you should consider joining the club. There are lots of member benefits!

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How do I find out what events are on?

You can visit the Fixtures page on this website to see what events Cork Orienteering club are staging. Alternatively visit the Irish Orienteering Association website to see a list of nationwide orienteering events.

If you would like to try events on your own and at a time that suits you, there are also some permanent orienteering course.

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What if it rains?

Orienteering events are held regardless of the weather! It is very rare for an event to be cancelled on the day of the event. Generally, that happens only because of extreme conditions.

If an event does happen to be cancelled, it will be noted on the event web page as soon as possible and posted to the news group


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What do the abbreviations found in results mean?

When an orienteer does not complete a course, one of the following abbreviations will appear in the finish-time column of the results:

DNF: Did Not Finish

The orienteer did not complete the course. They may have gotten lost, tired, or injured, or they may not have found one or more of the controls. If the orienteer doesn't mention the missing control(s) when they report to the Finish, when the competitor downloads the computer will note the missing control(s) or the results crew will notice the missing punch(es) on the (paper) control card.

MP: Mispunch

The orienteer punched at an incorrect control. This happens when someone punches at a control without checking the control code, and it's the wrong control for their course.

DSQ, DQ: Disqualified

Occasionally used instead of MP, but it usually means that the competitor violated an orienteering rule, such as taking controls out of order, running through an out-of-bounds area, getting help from others, or using an illegal navigational aid.

DNS: Did Not Start

Indicates that a registered orienteer did not show up to run their course. Mainly used at A-meets and other national ranking events.

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