An Orientation on Orienteering

An Orientation on Orienteering

Navigation via GPS, smart phone apps and embedded programs, like Google® maps, has made owning a paper map and compass virtually irrelevant. But relying on modern technology like GPS only works if your batteries and GPS technology are operational. When your smart phone or GPS unit fails, a map and a compass may be your only option to help guide you from point-A to point-B. That’s why the survivalist and other well-prepared people need to learn good old-fashioned orienteering.

Learning proper navigation techniques using a compass and map is an important skill in a survival scenario. Not only is orienteering fun, it’s also educational, family friendly and full of fitness opportunities (it’s also fun to say and makes you sound smart!).

Far more than can be described in a blog post, there are great resources online for learning the basics of using a topo map and compass. REI has a great online tutorial here.

A Brief History of Orienteering

Orienteering dates back to the late 19th century. It originated in Sweden as a military training exercise. The term, “orienteering”, was first used in 1886 to describe crossing unfamiliar terrain using only a map and a compass. Several years later, Swedish military officers began holding orienteering competitions.

Orienteering spread beyond the military, gaining popularity with the general public across Europe and Russia in the 1930s. In the early 1940s, orienteering made its way to the United States, but failed to reach popularity levels seen in Europe. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that it re-emerged and became a staple of training nationwide within the U.S. Marine Corps.

Modern Orienteering

The basic premise in orienteering is to navigate a course from start to finish, using only a map and a compass. The course contains control points that must be visited in a pre-determined order. The winner is the individual or team who completes the course in the fastest time.

Beyond a military training exercise, orienteering has grown to be a popular hobby for amateurs, with clubs throughout the U.S., as well as a recognized international sport, with competitions held throughout the world. Over 100 international competitions are organized by the International Orienteering Federation (IOF), with the Orienteering World Cup and the World Masters Orienteering Championships being two premier events.

The IOF has four recognized categories of orienteering – foot, mountain bike, ski and trail.  Mountain bike and trail orienteering are the newest forms, emerging in popularity over the past two decades.

To learn more, navigate to the IOF website ( or Orienteering USA (, the web site of the United States Orienteering Federation.

Whether as a hobby or as an organized sport, orienteering offers a great way to learn basic, yet important survival techniques. Get involved. Get your kids and family interested in it, and keep practicing to hone this essential preparedness skill.

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