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Orienteering, the Lost Art

An Orienteering Compass
The Lost Art of Orienteering

Guest Post by R. W. - January 19th 2018.

Orienteering is not only a fun and rewarding hobby, it’s also a crucial survival skill that could one day save your life.

But orienteering is different from other ‘survival skills’ in that it is something that can be beneficial to almost all of us in practical situations. Let’s be honest, many survival skills are things that we are unlikely to ever need. A lot of survival enthusiasts operate on a ‘what if’ basis. What if I got stranded on an island? What if there was a zombie apocalypse?

But getting lost without GPS is something that still happens to most of us from time to time. And being completely helpful in these situations makes us feel just that: helpless.

So, learn orienteering and be a little less dependent on your phone. Not only could it get you out of a pickle, but it will also hone and train valuable skills.

How Orienteering Works

Orienteering is more than just navigation, it is actual practiced as a sport. It is possible to find ‘orienteering events’ which include courses for beginners and experts. To start, you will pick a special map with a course of your choice printed in red. You’ll see a start point (a triangle) and an end point (a large double circle) and you’ll be required to visit a number of specific points along the way, known as ‘control sites’. When you reach the control sites, you’ll see a stake with a triangular red and white nylon flag. There will be an electronic timing device here, which is used to record your time and to prevent cheating. You’ll also carry a small block called a ‘dibber’ which will record your time and download to a computer when you’re finished.

This sport is great for testing your skills with a compass, honing your natural sense of direction and also getting some fresh air and exercise (not to be underrated!).

Engineering Compass

Whether you’re taking part in an event or just trying to improve your navigational abilities, you’ll need to be able to use a map and a compass. Orienteering is all about reading and understanding maps drawn at large scale. These will often be 1:10,000 scale.

One tip for this is to keep the map set to match the view. This means you’ll need to constantly turn the map as you go, in order to know what sites you’re looking for. Of course you also need to know which direction you should be heading in, and this is where using a compass helps. That said, the best navigator or orienteer will be able to use the sun, stars and even vegetation to help learn the direction they need to head in.

Another skill that needs to be developed is the ability to judge distance. Interestingly, most people will walk at a rather even length pace and if you can count how many paces it takes you to cover 100m, then this can be used to ascertain how far you’ve walked in a given direction.

But to really master the art of orienteering, you need practice. Over time, you’ll find that you learn to intuitively estimate distance, direction and more much more easily. You’ll become better at looking out for useful landmarks and orienting your map.

Once you manage this, you’ll find you become inherently more aware of your surroundings in daily life. You’ll be more mindful and engaged with the world around you, with more of an idea of which way you came and where you need to go. And so if you ever do get lost, you should be able to quickly and efficiently correct your course!

See Also

The Barkley Marathon, a marathon for people who are into orienteering / survivalism.

Ship's Compass

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