Offbeat Adventures: Explore The World Through Orienteering


Orienteering map

If the thought of racing through unfamiliar swamps, woods and rocky peaks in a foreign country gets you fired up, then you’ll love orienteering.

Using a map and compass, you navigate to a series of checkpoints (called controls) while racing other participants to the finish line. The route between the controls is unspecified and it’s up to you to plan your routes, which makes the experience all the more thrilling.

Now before you think of taking the easy way out by trailing after other participants, most races use staggered starts to ensure that you can navigate on your own without any help or distraction. It’s a mental challenge, which is why orienteering is often called the “thinking sport” as it involves map reading, quick decision-making and physical stamina.


Marianne Andersen at World Orienteering Championships 2010 in Trondheim, Norway. Photo courtesy of Torben Utzon via Wikimedia Commons.

Orienteering races normally take place in large parks with plenty of trees, hills and other natural features. It’s often completed on foot, but it can sometimes be on skis, snowshoes, or mountain bikes to add a quirk factor. The race can be as extreme, or as leisurely, as you like. Ultimately, it’s a fun way to exercise your body and mind as you explore the outdoors.

History Of Orienteering

Developed in the late 19th century, orienteering was a military training exercise in Sweden. While it has become a worldwide participative sport today, Finland, Switzerland, Norway and Sweden remain the dominant nations for orienteering.


Orienteering in Italy. Photo courtesy of Federazione Italiana Sport Orientamento
via flickr.

Incorporating Orienteering Into Your Travels

The best part about orienteering is it welcomes participants of all ages from children under ten years old all the way up to senior citizens. Whether you need help in reading a compass or need pointers in navigation, you can easily get started through an orienteering club near you. For instance, the Hudson Valley Club host orienteering events throughout southern New York, northern New Jersey and New York City.

Once you have mastered the sport, you can transfer your knowledge and experience to an orienteering race abroad. This gives you the chance to combine your race with a dose of tourism and adventure. Multi-day races are the perfect opportunities to check out the local sights, experience the culture or connect with other participants.


Ski orienteering. Photo courtesy of Adriano900 via Wikimedia.

If you’re new to orienteering, the annual O-Ringen race is worth a try. This multi-day attraction has long drawn 15,000 to 25,000 participants and offers many races that vary in difficulties and length. In 2015, the race will be held in Borås – Sweden’s major textile district surrounded by lush forests and lakes.

If you’re looking to increase your endurance and stamina, don’t miss the World Ski Orienteering Championships. The 2015 race will be held in the beautiful cities of Hamar and Løten, Norway, where rolling agricultural terrain and pine forest abound.
For a list of worldwide multi-day events around the world, find out here.

Winter O’ Series #1, Mercer Island, 2011 from Rebecca Jensen on Vimeo.

The above video can give you a better idea of this unique sport. Rebecca Jensen of Seattle gives one a sense of the thought process one goes through while running a course.  This particular meet was “trails only” — the park doesn’t want people going off the trails.


About The Author

Suhana Sol writes at SuhanaSol, a website focused on travel and social good. In 2013, she left Singapore and a job in marketing to pursue a new life in Canada.

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