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Introduction to Orienteering Events in Australia


How to find an event
Event Arrival and Registration
Course Basics
Event Formats
Course Options
The Controls
Checking Systems
Control Description List
Start procedures
The Course
Relax and Celebrate

How to find an event

Orienteering events are conducted by orienteering clubs all year round, right across Australia. Each state of Australia has an event calendar which is made up of National events, State based events and local club events. The event time as well as location will be listed.

Local orienteering club websites may also include listings of coming events in the area near you. All clubs are listed on the relevant state websites including contact details.

Newcomers are welcome at all events. There are always courses offered that are suitable for orienteers of all standards including beginners.

Personal contact can also be made to the local club contact person listed on the website, this way we can welcome you to the event.

Eventor is a central hub listing most orienteering events Australia wide. Eventor is used by ACT, NSW, QLD, SA, TAS, VIC and WA. Some events require you to enter via eventor, whereas other events you can enter-on-the-day (EOD).

To view the state specific websites, see here: State Orienteering Organisations


Equipment that you might bring along to an orienteering event is summarised below:

For Beginners
For Regulars
Optional Extras
  • Comfortable clothes for walking, running or cycling
  • Covered shoes with good grip
  • Watch
  • Plastic whistle
  • Sunscreen
  • Water
  • Money for the entry fee
  • Hat
  • Headband
  • Compass
  • Change of clothes, socks and shoes for afterwards
  • Food
  • SportIdent stick
  • Orienteering compass
  • Control description holder
  • An orienteering top that will be cool, not absorb water and not tear easily
  • Long orienteering pants or tights
  • Orienteering socks
  • Gaiters
  • Orienteering shoes
  • Insulation tape (for stopping shoe laces from coming undone)
Additional gear for mountain bike orienteering
  • Bike in good working order
  • Australian Standards approved helmet
See the mountain bike orienteering section for additional mountain biking equipment.

Before you arrive make sure that you have had a good meal and are well hydrated and ready to get some exercise.

Event Arrival and Registration

Arrive at least half an hour before you plan to start to allow time to register. Many events will have a start window of a few hours. This is for your convenience, you are able to start any time within the advertised start times. At some events, everyone will start together in one mass start.

Once you register you will need to collect your course map and information, familiarise yourself with course requirements, organise your gear and warm up. The process is explained below.

The steps needed to get you out and on your course are:

Sport Registration (once per year)
To orienteer in Australia you need to either be a member of an orienteering club or register as a casual orienteer (state dependent, could be yearly or per event). You will need to complete your details and pay any joining fees that may be due.
Course Selection (you need to do this for every event)
If there is only one course on offer it is because it is appropriate for beginners
(experienced orienteers will just be able to go faster or choose more challenging options within the course).
If multiple courses are offered, they will vary by both difficulty and distance. An outline of course standards is included below.
Event Entry (required at all events)
Complete your details on the event registration card and pay your entry fee.
(If online entry is offered you may be able to do this in advance).
If electronic timing is being used, you will also need to either hire a SportIdent timing stick
or advise organisers of the number of your own stick.
Please note you will need to acknowledge a risk statement and sign a disclaimer form including that there is no personal injury insurance that covers your participation in orienteering events.
Collect event equipment
The organiser will supply you with a map which in most cases will already have the course marked on it. You will also be given ‘control descriptions’ (explained below) as well as either a ‘control card’ and pencil or SportIdent stick if hired (both are also explained below).
Proceed to the start area

Course Basics

The course will generally already be printed on the map. The essential features of a course are the Start, Finish and the location of each control/checkpoint.


A purple or red triangle represents the start location.


The location of each control is shown by a purple or red circle.


A double circle marks the finish point.

Event Formats

Central to all orienteering events is the need to navigate your way around a course that will be marked on your map. The most common park and street orienteering formats are Line Courses, Scatter Courses and Score Courses.


Line Course

Line Courses
The traditional form of orienteering. The controls will be numbered consecutively and you must visit the controls in order. The fastest person to do this in each age group / category is the winner. This is the format at major events.


Scatter Course

Scatter Courses
At these events you must visit all controls but can plan your own route to collect them in any order. The fastest person to get all controls in each age group / category is the winner. At most events, organisers will also offer shorter options so that you do not need to visit every control. For example you might need to visit any 20 of the 30 controls that are set out.


Score Course

Score Courses
At Score events participants have a time limit in which to visit as many controls as possible, in any order. You don’t need to get all of the controls but do need to be back within the time limit. Controls are usually worth a variety of points and you start losing points if you exceed the time limit. Skill is needed to plan your own route to optimise your time. The person with the highest net point score wins.

Course Options

Courses will vary depending upon the style of event that you are attending.

If line courses have been set, there will usually be a variety of courses to choose from. The courses will vary by both distance and difficulty. You will need to visit the controls in the order that they are numbered. Courses are generally set to the following standards:

  • Very Easy Navigation
    The best course for beginners and young children. Usually about 1.5-2km in length and entrants can follow features such as tracks and fences to complete their course. In major events, the 10 and under age group compete on this standard course.
  • Easy Navigation
    Most of the course will be Very Easy but some off-track route choices will be possible. There might be a benefit for cutting a corner through the bush for example. Control points may also be slightly off the track at features such as a boulder. Courses are usually 2-3km and this is the standard level course for 11 and 12-year-olds at major events.
  • Moderate Navigation
    These courses combine linear features with more considerable off-track route choices and controls. The jump from Easy to Moderate courses is significant. Familiarising yourself with the use of a compass will be beneficial. At major events, this level of course is set for experienced13 and 14-year-old orienteers. It is best to gain some experience before attempting these courses in a Bush event.
  • Hard Navigation
    The most technically difficult navigation is incorporated into these courses. Distances vary to suit ages and fitness levels as well as the type of terrain. In open terrain where it is possible to run fast, the longest course may be up to 15km in length, while the shortest hard course may be only 2-3km. This standard of difficulty should only be attempted after recording consistent results comfortably within the time limit on Moderate level courses. Top junior orienteers typically graduate to this level of navigational difficulty in the year they turn 15 however it is not until their late teens that they would typically have the strength and endurance to compete on the longest course option.

At all events, beginners may choose to enter the Very Easy, Easy or Moderate level courses. Adults familiar with map reading can usually go straight to an Easy or Moderate level course in an urban environment. Younger children are best starting out on a Very Easy course.

There are often courses of different lengths offered at both the Moderate and Hard levels so that competitors may choose both the distance and difficulty that is best suited to them.

Please note that the quoted ‘course length’ at foot orienteering events refers to the straight-line distance between controls. In reality, the actual distance needed to walk or run the course is often 20% or more greater. This should be taken into account when deciding which course to complete.

At mountain bike events where line courses are offered, a variety of distances and difficulties will also be available. Please see the Mountain Bike section for more details.

At Sprint events, one or more courses may be offered. The courses will all be relatively easy to navigate around however the challenge for the competitive types is to do it as efficiently and quickly as possible. Please see the Sprint event section for more details.

The Controls

At each control site, the setter may place a marker to highlight that you are at the correct location. This will typically be an orienteering flag or kite, pot or plate.

Orienteering flag control [PIC]

Each marker will have a number on it and this is how you check that it is actually the right one (there might be extra controls out for other courses and you need to visit the right ones for your course!).

At some Street events, rather than placing out controls, the course setter will instead refer competitors to a particular feature. This might be a light or power pole, sign, fence or other permanent and easily identifiable object.

Checking Systems

At all events, the organisers will use a system to confirm that you have actually visited the correct controls and completed the course. The most common systems used are:


This is an electronic timing system. You will need to use a stick that is attached to your finger (usually your index finger). At the start, each control and also at the finish there will be an electronic box that you will need to use to register that your stick has been there. The stick is inserted in the hole in the box which then emits a beep and a red light flashes. This process generally takes less than a second. The stick will ‘remember’ your course and details will be downloaded from the stick after you finish.


Each competitor is given a ‘control card’ which has a series of marked boxes that correspond to each control. A punch or clip that works similarly to a stapler is located at every control and when the clip is squeezed it punches a unique pin pattern into the control card. Participants collect the punch patterns on their card for every control that they visit.


A code (usually two letters) will be at the control site. You will need to take a pencil and write this code in the box on the control card that corresponds with the control number.

Control Description List

The event organiser will also provide you with a list which gives a precise description of where each control is located within its red control circle on the map. This list compliments your map and will help you to locate the control marker. This listing is sometimes referred to as a clue sheet.

As a beginner, the descriptions of the control location will be given to you in English. Experienced orienteers are often given the descriptions written using symbols. The symbols allow for standard descriptions all around the world in a language that all orienteers can understand. The symbols aren’t hard to learn as they are often similar to the map legend.
Some examples of common Control Description symbols. [PIC]
Sometimes you will be given a piece of paper with the control descriptions on it, at other times they will be printed directly on the map in a spare space.

If you are given a separate piece of paper with the descriptions on it, keep it handy so that you can refer to it on your course. Some people like to insert it into a ‘control description
holder’ that they can keep on their arm. Others prefer to pin it directly to their shirt, place it in a resealable bag and pin it to their shirt or tape it to the back of their control card or map.

The control descriptions tell you the information that you need about each control point in order to complete the course.

Using the example below- in the first column there is the control number 1-9, the second column lists a control code for each check point eg; Control number 1 has a code of 101, this number will be on the control stand and should be checked before punching the control. The rest of the information provides details of the control feature which is located on the map in the middle of the control circle, such things as which feature (if more than one), what the feature is eg: boulder, how big it is, what side of the feature the flag is on and any other important information.

Start procedures

The start may be a mass start (everyone starts together) or a staggered start (the starter gives you a start time and your start and finish times are recorded to calculate your actual run time). At events with a staggered start there is usually a start window of a few hours to allow for all competitors to start. At these events you will be allocated a start time and there will generally be a gap of at least one minute between starters on each course.

Often you will be given your map and allowed time to look at it before starting. Use this time to familiarise yourself with the map and to plan your course.

At other events, you will not see the map before you actually start. If this is the case,
it is important to stop and look at your map before running off. Orientate it correctly and ensure that you are heading off in the correct direction.

Occasionally the starter may have some special instructions for you. If so, listen up as they are important and may relate to matters such as changes to the map since printing, personal safety, a reminder on out of bounds areas, what time you must finish before and the like.

If SportIdent is being used, prior to starting you will need to ‘clear’ and then ‘check’ your stick to ensure that previous courses are deleted from the stick’s memory. There will be ‘clear’ and ‘check’ units to insert your stick in adjacent to the start area.

The Course

No matter what form of orienteering you are participating in, you will need to find ‘controls’. Each one is its own challenge. If you find one, then it’s a personal victory. If you find 10, 20 or 30 then that’s great too.

There’s further information on the most common forms of orienteering courses included in the Specialist section of this guide. Also included in the Skills section is an outline of some of the skills that will help you find those first few controls and get your orienteering adventure underway.


You must record an actual finish time. If electronic or SportIdent timing is being used there will be a SportIdent unit at the finish to place you stick in to record your finish time. If manual timing is being used then the finish official will record your time for you.

Your actual run time or points scored will be calculated and then either you or the organisers will put your result up on the results board.

Relax and Celebrate

Get a well earned drink and chat to other finishers about their route choices. Meet up with club members or friends and talk to them about the sites you have seen as well as what you or they did or could have done. Which route was quicker? Where were the best views to be had? Comparing notes from the day is both an enjoyable way to share your experiences and a valuable way to learn and pick up some tips for next time!


You are ultimately responsible for your own personal safety and there are a variety of ways that you can manage risks in orienteering. In particular, you should:

Be conservative with regard to the course you choose and progress steadily onto more difficult courses.

Always report to the finish. Regardless of whether you complete your course, all orienteers must ALWAYS report back to the finish. If you don’t report in, the organisers will look for you to ensure that you are okay.

Take up coaching opportunities through your club.

Club coaches and experienced orienteers can offer a tremendous amount of help. Before your course, take the opportunity to chat to them about what you might expect and seek some tips. Some of the best lessons can also

be gained by reviewing your course and decisions with someone afterwards. Clubs also offer regular formal and informal coaching sessions so ask what’s available.

If you should become disorientated or lost then STOP and think. You will most probably know approximately where you are but to work out precisely you have a number of options. Where did you last know exactly where you were? How far have you travelled since then? Is your map correctly orientated? Look at your surrounds, how would they be represented on the map? Where could you be? If you know your way back to the last control, you could return and try again. If there is a significant feature on the map, can you navigate to it? If you can see

a control, check if it is on your course. If it is, relocate from there. If the control is not on your course, and you cannot relocate by any other means wait by it
for another competitor to pass through and ask for assistance.
If all else fails, follow the safety bearing (see below).

If in the bush, use the safety bearing if you cannot relocate. For bush events, the organisers will publish a ‘safety bearing’. This is to help you should you become disorientated. If you follow the safety bearing it will take you to a linear feature such as a road or fence from which you will be able to return easily to the finish.

Use your whistle. It is best to always wear a plastic whistle when orienteering. If you are badly injured or need assistance in the bush then use the whistle to signal for help. The international distress signal is six short blasts at ten second intervals then a minute pause before repeating. Upon hearing a whistle, all orienteers are obliged to abandon their course and offer assistance.

Observe the course closure time. This is when the course officially closes. You must be back at the finish by this time.

Whilst learning and within coverage, take a mobile telephone. At most events, if you are feeling nervous, the organiser will not mind if you take a mobile telephone with you. Program in the organiser’s number and call them in need. Many bush events however do not have reliable mobile telephone coverage so it is best to check with the organiser first.

Seek help if badly injured. Should you be injured whilst orienteering, return to the finish if possible. If you cannot, then ask another competitor for assistance. In need, blow your whistle as it is likely that there will be someone not
far away. If necessary, the organisers will be able to arrange to transport you back to the finish. Whilst first aid will be available at the start/finish area, it is always useful to be self- sufficient when it comes to minor scrapes and bumps so a personal first aid kit is worth packing with your orienteering gear.

Do not disturb animals. Adverse incidences with animals are extremely rare. However in bush events particularly it is possible that you will see a variety of native wildlife and farm animals. Please do not disturb the animals and stay clear of them.

Take care on roads. In urban events particularly, the crossing of roads may be required. Always slow down and take great care with road crossings. Children may need an adult an adult to accompany them.


To help maintain a fair event and ensure that all participants as well as other park users enjoy their day too, all orienteers are asked to observe a few simple conventions.

Whistle – please do not blow the whistle unless assistance is really needed.

Silent forest – orienteering is conducted on the principle ofthe‘silentforest’.Thismeansthatyoushouldnottalkto or give advice to other competitors during or after an event. This is so that you don’t distract other competitors and to ensure fairness for all. One consequence of this ’silence’ rule is that orienteering may strike newcomers, while out on the course, as unfriendly. Nothing could be further from the truth. Orienteering is a very social sport and you should feel free to review and analyse your course with others after you have each finished.

Out of Bounds – please take note of any out of bounds areas that are noted on the map or advised by the organisers and do not enter these areas.

No following – you are not supposed to follow other orienteers as it is unfair and a distraction for the other runner. Run your own course and refine your skills. Besides, other competitors might be on a different course – or going the wrong way.

Helping injured or distressed runners – the nearest participant to someone who is injured / distressed / incapacitated must go to their aid. If you hear a whistle, please check that your fellow competitor is okay and, in need, assist before progressing.

Dogs – no pets are permitted at any event.

Smoking – is banned at all events.

Finishing your course – if for some reason you do not wish to complete your course, we ask that you head straight back to the finish rather than simply abandon the course and head home. Otherwise, the organiser will assume you are badly injured (or lost) somewhere and will send out search parties. Course closure is usually 90-120 minutes after your start time. Please be aware of course closure time and ensure that you return to the finish by this time.

Respect for the bush – please leave the bush as you find it. No rubbish should ever be left in the bush.

Respect for other park users – please do not call out loudly or disturb other park users.

Respect for other competitors – never move or tamper with the controls and do not disrupt their concentration if possible.

Respect for landholders – orienteering relies on the generosity of landholders and land managers to conduct events. The fact that you get to keep the map after an event does not automatically give you permission to enter that land in the days or weeks afterwards. If in doubt, you should always get permission to go back onto that property. During an event, you are not allowed to enter / cross any obvious private property. If you are on a farm, please ensure that you leave all gates as you find them.