Types of orienteering events

There are several types of orienteering event in the UK. A few of the more common ones are described below:

Introductory Events

Sometimes called Come and Try It events, these are very low key and are put on regularly by clubs. This type of event tends to have just a few courses and there are usually experienced orienteers on hand to give out information and help.

District Events

These are low-key local events perfect for beginners where anyone can just turn up and run on the day. They were formerly known as colour-coded events, refering to the ranking of the course length and difficulty with a colour scheme as shown in the table below. White is the shortest and easiest and Brown the hardest and longest. Most people start with a yellow or orange course just to get the hang of using the map.

Regional Events

The next step up from a district event, regional events usually have to be entered in advance. For these events, the clubs will publish the details and the entry deadline - check on the various orienteering websites for events in your area. They differ from the district events in that you must run in your age class, and tend to be more competitive. Your age class can be worked out using the calculator below. For adult courses you specify L or S for a long or short course, respectively and in some larger events a novice (N) or very short (V) course may be offered for adult beginners. Many regional events also have some entry on the day (EOD) colour-coded courses (usually from white up to light green).

Shortly before the event a set of Final Details will appear on the website of the organising club. This information will include your start time, and everything you might need to know about the day itself such as the type of terrain you will be running through and what facilities will be available. There will normally be a copy of these details available for you to read on the minibus going to the event. Control descriptions for all the courses may be included. Descriptions for adult courses are most likely to be given using International Orienteering Federation symbols which club members will be able to explain to you until you get the hang of them.

Regional events used to be known as 'badge events'. This was because you can gain badges for attending these events. In the results you will find times which you must have beaten to gain Bronze, Silver or Gold standard. If you achieve a given standard at three events within two years (in the same age class) you can, for a small fee, obtain a badge from the British Orienteering. Together with National Events results from these events are used to compile the BO rankings.

National Events

These events are similar to regional events but are held on top quality areas. The technical difficulty of the courses must satisfy guidelines specified by the British Orienteering Federation, and the competition is usually very high. Along with the Jan Kjellström and British Championships, national events allow you to gain the Championship Badge standard. This is usually 125% of the winner's time. As with the other badges you must achieve three such standards to gain an award but this time they must be within one calendar year.

British Championships

The British Championships are held annually to decide the British Champion in each age class. They must be pre-entered like regional events but there is still no restriction on who may enter. There is a separate British Elite Championship for those at the top of the M/W20 and M/W21 classes. There is usually an individual event on a Saturday with a relay event on the Sunday.

Multi-Day Events

The British Championships is one example of a multi-day event. Many others exist, usually run over the course of a weekend. The most popular is the Jan Kjellström, held on the Easter Bank Holiday weekend. This consists of a sprint event on Good Friday, individual events on the Saturday and Sunday, and a relay on the Monday. Another large multi-day event is the Scottish Six Day - held in August every other year - where four out of the six days count towards your final score, allowing you to have a day off and still have one bad run!


Relay teams consist of 3 or more people. The first leg runner in each team is given their map rolled up or sealed in a paper bag and then they all start together. The courses they follow will have some common controls but will also differ slightly. The second leg runner waits in a changeover pen for the first runner to hand over on returning from their course. By the time the last leg runner crosses the finish line each team will have covered the same distance so the first team back is the winner. The Harvester Relay, held every year in May, has seven legs starting in the middle of the night so that the first legs are run in the dark!

Sprint Events

Sprint orienteering is the newest variety of the sport. Often (but not always) held in urban locations, the courses tend to be a lot shorter than for "traditional" orienteering, with winning times of around 12-15 minutes. Though the navigation is genearlly easier, the high speed means that every small mistake and hesitation will affect your time, making it an intense racing experience.

Score Events

In score events the idea is not to complete a course. Instead, you are a given a map showing a large number of controls. Each control will have a score associated with it. The idea is to score as many points as possible but returning within the allotted time. For every minute your are late a severe penalty will be deducted from you score.

Street Events

Usually run as fun evening events, these involve orienteering around the local streets armed with a map with street names omitted plus a pen and paper to note down the details of control sites (SOC use telegraph poles / lamp posts etc.)

Night Events

The concept is simple: orienteering but in the dark. The technique takes a lot of practice! The serious night orienteers have huge halogen lamps fastened to their foreheads but a simple torch will do for the beginner. This is to allow you to see both the map and where you are going. There are numerous night leagues around the country so look out for details of your nearest.


Originally designed for wheelchair-bound people this form of orienteering is equally challenging for anyone. The course follows a set path. For each control marked on the map there will be a viewing point from where it is possible to see several control kites. The competitor has to select which of the controls is the one marked on their map.

Mountain Bike Orienteering

Orienteering can also be carried out on bike. Click here for more information.


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