Different Types of Orienteering

All types of orienteering blog post

The common definition of orienteering is simple – a group of sports, that requires navigational skills. It is divided into four main types and many other ones, which we will define in this blog post. 

The Beginning

For starters, let‘s discuss where orienteering has come from, and how has it turned into a sport. It was used in 19th century in Sweden for military training. The term itself was first used at the Swedish Academy of Karlberg and it meant crossing an unknown piece of land by using the compass and a map. It is also called “Land Navigation”. It was commonly used in both world wars to quietly destroy enemy strongholds. And military scouts are trained and tested with foot orienteering to this day. Though the first civilian orienteering competition was held in Norway, in the year of 1897, since back then Norway was a part of the Swedish union. Land navigation as a sport became very popular in 1930s, and is quite popular to this day.

4 Main Types of Orienteering:

Foot (traditional) Orienteering

Let’s start by describing traditional or foot orienteering first. This type is the most common one. Foot orienteering events are mostly organized in forests and private estates, where people are not restricted by the traffic laws. Participants receive a very detailed map of the area. The area is full of control points, where the participants have to mark themselves, that they visited the point. Every person participating has a choice to either jog through the whole area, or walk it. Most of them tend to choose walking, because the task requires a lot of energy already, or they just enjoy every moment of it. Of course, if the participants want to cross a more difficult, or uneven path, they must have lots of strength and stamina. Nowadays it is also very popular between children – mostly boy and girl scouts. It’s a great way to spend time by developing important life skills and a basic understanding of a map. This sport is also entering our culture – there’s an increasing number of families, that attend such events together, or even organize it as a big family activity for themselves. 

Mountain Bike Orienteering (MTBO) and Multi-Terrain Bike Orienteering (MTBO)

When talking about mountain bike orienteering, a lot of participants find it more extreme and complex than the earlier mentioned type. It’s divided into two categories, based on scoring: Mountain Bike Orienteering (MBO) and Multi-Terrain Bike Orienteering (MTBO). In the MBO category, the cyclists have to create their own strategy to score as many points as possible in the given time, since there’s no set route for them to follow. MBO requires more logical thinking and strategy skills than MTBO. MTBO has a set course, and it’s more based on racing than creating a strategy of your own.

Ski Orienteering (SkiO)

SkiO is an endurance winter sport combining navigation and cross-country skiing. It’s one of the four orienteering disciplines recognized by the International Orienteering Federation. This type requires high endurance, strength and excellent technical skiing skills with the ability to navigate and make the best route choices while skiing at a high speed.

Trail Orienteering (TrailO)

Trail-O is the last main type we’re going to talk about. It isn’t speed based, so, anyone can participate. In this course, the number of control checkpoints is higher, but a lot of them are fake, so, the participants must choose the right checkpoint, if they want to waste less time, that could be used for earning a bigger score. After finishing the course, participants are evaluated by the score earned, not by time.

Other Types:

Night orienteering is very challenging due to the lack of visibility. Participants receive only a head-worn torch, which is just enough to see the map and the distance. There is not enough visibility to rely on some objects, that are presented on the map, so it is very easy to get lost. 

Urban orienteering takes basic principles from the traditional one, but there are other additions. Traffic laws limit the participant’s movement speed and sometimes even behavior.

Rogaining is long distance cross-country navigation. The championships are of 24 hours duration but there are some shorter variants involving both route planning and navigation between checkpoints using a variety of map types. Teams of 2–5 people choose which checkpoints to visit within a time limit and the intent is to maximize score.

Adventure racing – orienteering combined with multi-disciplinary sports over an unmarked wilderness course with races extending anywhere from two hours up to two weeks in length. Teams comprise 4 members and must contain at least 1 male and 1 female. All the time they have to stick together – no more than 100 meters apart. 

We can definitely confirm, that orienteering is a various sport. This sport is for everyone, because you can pick the type you like, based on difficulty, seasons and other preferences. 



International Orienteering Federation

Orienteering NZ

International Rogaining Federation

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