In orienteering you use a map and compass to find your way across
unfamiliar terrain. In a typical event, the organizer places orange and
white control markers at various land features found on your map. These
markers act as checkpoints along the course. The object of the sport is
to use the map and compass to locate the control markers and return to
the finish. Using your imagination and navigational skills, you try to
select the best route to each control. Once there, you punch a score
card which verifies that you found the control. There are many versions
of orienteering (on foot, bicycle, or skis; at night; in relays, and so
forth), but the idea is essentially the same: the use of a map and
compass to find your way across unfamiliar terrain.
(Text courtesy of NEOC Times.)
Furthermore, most orienteering events are in some way, shape or form a competition (for those inclined). A measure of success is commonly given by time taken to complete a given course or by the number of control flags found during a specific time allotment. A ranking of competitors (including a winner) usually follows. Competition can range from trying to do better than fellows from your club, to elite level where competitors are running and navigating faster than most people can run on a flat road. It's all up to you as to what you want from the sport.
The figure at the top of the page is one side of the three-sided orienteering flag.
The International Orienteering Federation has defined a pictorial format for Control Descriptions. Here is a graphical overview of the International Control Descriptions.
Last updated: 22 November 1994