Creating Orienteering Maps

Orienteering maps are among the most detailed of any map types . . . and require a lot of time and skill to create. And, until recently, an expensive orienteering-only program called OCAD was also a requirement. But with the advent of the broad-market ArcGIS (also expensive) database program and the open source (and free!) Open Orienteering Mapper, it is now easier for you to begin this journey.

This page is about Open Orienteering Mapper (OOM), providing a base level of guidance about the use of this new mapping tool. It's a little daunting at first, but the second time thorugh it's a lot easier. There are three main steps:

  • STEP 1: Figuring out the scope and scale of the map, getting background images (like aerial photos) in the right spot and to the right scale.
  • STEP 2: Acquiring topography data and getting that on the map in the right place and right scale
  • STEP 3: Drawing. This is the most fun part of mapping!

Preliminary video training resources are available.

Scope and Scale

For Step 1, how big is the area you want to map? What size paper do you want to print it on? What scale do you want to use? Try to stick to standard paper sizes (8.5 x 11) so that it's easy to print. You can pick whatever scale you want, but the standard scales for orienteering maps are 1:10000 and 1:15000 for regular maps and 1:4000 and 1:5000 for "sprint" maps. Since it looks like you'd be mapping a school, that's pretty small, so 1:4000 is probably your best bet. You could also make a case for a non-standard scale like 1:2000 if the area is really small. 

Once you pick a scale, then get a screenshot of the aerial view of the area. You can stitch a few screenshots together if the area is larger. When you load those into OOM as a background layer, it'll ask for a scale of the image (pixels per meter). It's not obvious what this ratio would be, so you may have to go use an online distance-measuring tool like gmap-pedometer to get an exact distance, and use that with the pixel dimensions of your image. (You could also load a "geo-referenced" image and save this annoying step, but you'd have to actually find a geo-referenced photo from the city or county or whatever.) The manual approach usually works fine.

Topography Data

Step 2 may require some help from someone with GIS (geographical information system) experience who can create contours for you which you can load. There are digital elevation models (DEM) out there for the whole country, and better yet, in the Puget Sound, there are many areas with LIDAR data, which can give you really detailed contours. In any case, creating the contours usually requires some GIS software, some monkeying around, and then something you can load into OOM. The standard contour intervals for orienteering maps are either 5m or 2.5m. For a school area, 2.5m is probably better. 

Or, if the school area is mostly flat, you could just skip the contours altogether. That's what I did for the first few maps I made, one of which was a school. I'm just starting to get into the GIS-derived contour stuff myself, so I could potentially help you, but there are other very experienced people in CascadeOC that know how to do this.


Once you have all of the baselayers in there, it gets a lot easier for Step 3, because it's basically just drawing things on top of the baselayers. One thing you should familiarize yourself with are the standards for orienteering maps. There are two: one is for regular orienteering maps (ISOM: international standard for orienteering maps) and one is for "sprint" maps (ISSOM: international standard for sprint orienteering maps). For a school, I'd recommend going with ISSOM, which is used primarily for 1:5000 and 1:4000 maps. Most of CascadeOC's maps are ISOM because the areas are either larger in size (and on 1:10000) or are smaller in size but originally created before "sprint" maps became common (only in the last 10 years or so). CascadeOC will be making some ISSOM maps in the coming years.

The beauty about orienteering mapping software is that all of the map symbols are already in there and to spec, so you either select ISOM or ISSOM from the beginning, and all of the symbols you would need show up in the toolbar! 

It's probably good to read up on the documents on the specs. Reading the specs is the best way to see all of the symbols and what they mean, and how they should be used.

When drawing, what I really like about OOM is that once you select a symbol (eg: a trail), at the bottom of the screen it tells you what all you can do with it: click, drag, shift+click, control+click, etc. It'll definitely take some time to play around with the tools to know how all of it works, but I love that OOM just tells you what options are available down there, instead of OCAD, which just assumes you know all of this stuff. 

So that's all about making the map. Once you make the map, I'd suggest using a different software tool (Purple Pen) altogether for designing courses. Purple Pen will just import whatever map you want as a background image, and then you design your courses, start, finish, description sheets, etc, on top of that.

Patrick Nuss

Video Resources (from Orienteering Kansas):

Other Video Resources: