Frequently Asked Questions

Though orienteering began over a hundred years ago, it’s still a largely unfamiliar sport in the United States, so we get a lot of questions. Here are the more common ones we've heard…

The Basics
1. What do I do in orienteering?
Orienteering is the sport of navigation. Using a map that we provide and your powers of observation, you'll navigate through a course of pre-set checkpoints. Your goal is to find the checkpoints in order, but it's up to you to determine the best way to get there. Once you finish, you can compare your time and route with other finishers.

2. What types of orienteering are there?
We focus primarily on orienteering on foot, but we have also organized events for bikes and canoes/kayaks. Our events take place during the day, but a few each year are held at night. Our events can be short courses held in city parks, urban scavenger hunts on city streets, or long courses in the Cascades.

3. When and where are your events?
Check out our event calendar. Most of our events are on Saturdays and have a start window of 10am to 12pm, which means that you can show up and start at any time within that window. We host events year-round throughout the region, and you can check out our list of event venues here.

4. Do I need to belong to the orienteering club to participate?
Nope. Anyone can show up on event day and attend. Belonging to the Cascade Orienteering Club provides a few benefits to club members, such as saving a few dollars at each event.

5. I'm not a runner. Can I still participate?
Sure! Our events cater to outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and abilities, and you can be as recreational or as competitive as you like. Some of the very best orienteers started out walking.

6. Can I do this together with my children/family/friends/dog?
Sure, the more the merrier! No matter if your focus is competing individually or enjoying a nice day with friends and family, you can participate solo or in groups, even at our most popular league events. Orienteering can be an inexpensive family activity. You’ll see a few families walking with strollers and participants doing courses with their dogs. If you bring a dog, we ask only that you use a leash and clean up any mess that other participants could potentially step in!

7. How much does it cost to participate?
For a local event, pre-registration entry fees range from $6 (any child 18 and under) to $9 (adult non-members). Day-of-event registration is $2 more per entry. Adult club members receive a $3 discount.

Most events require the use an electronic scorecard, aka “e-punch”, which are available to rent for an additional $2. Each entry is good for one map and one “start”, which can be for a solo competitor or a team. (Therefore, a family of four participating together would cost the same as individual competing solo.) If you’d like to try a second course, an additional $3 gets you another map and “start”. 

8. What equipment do I need?
For your first event, all you really need is clothing and footwear suitable for the weather and your desired level of exertion. A good suggestion would be to dress as if you're going on a hike or trail run. If your course takes you off-trail, long pants are recommended. Everything else is available at the event. Maps are provided and are yours to keep, compasses are available to borrow, safety whistles are available to purchase for $1, and electronic scorecards "e-punches" are available to rent for $2, if required.

9. Do you run meets in any type of weather?
Yes! In fact, while we have events year-round, our most popular series of events is our Winter Orienteering Series, which is when our region is the coldest and rainiest! You’ll find that orienteers are active, go-getter outdoor types who love parks and can enjoy them in any season. Just dress for any type of weather, bring a change of clothes and warm beverage! (However, we have cancelled a few meets due to severe weather for safety reasons, such as icy road conditions in December 2008 and gale-force winds in 2006.)

What To Know Before You Go
1. How do I get started at my first event?
Check out our quick 10-step guide to your first meet, which covers things like how to register, what to wear, and what course to choose.

2. How difficult is it to learn orienteering?
All of our events offer free instruction to beginners and have courses designed specifically for beginners. These courses are simple enough to complete with just a few minutes of training. Just like any learning, you’ll get better by experience or by discussing your routes and decisions with others. You can also visit our training page, or try out a permanent orienteering course before your next event,

3. How difficult is it to learn to read the map?
Maps are commonplace in our everyday lives, but the maps we use are specifically made for orienteering events. There’s a lot of specific information on them, but the beginner courses primarily use obvious features such as roads, trails, buildings, so learning to read the map isn’t too hard. Once you’ve mastered the beginner courses, you can start to learn about other mapped features, like vegetation types, contour lines, and rock details. The most important lesson to learn is to constantly turn your map—orient it—to match your surroundings. This means that if you are heading south, you should be holding your map “upside-down”. When your map is properly oriented, everything on the map lines up with your surroundings.

4. What are the differences in courses?
Each event has a range of courses, from short courses ideal for beginners through longer courses to challenge our advanced orienteers. Beginner courses require the least amount of navigation and follow guiding features, such as trails, for minimal opportunities for getting lost. Intermediate courses start to offer more navigation and route choices, but don’t punish you for making small mistakes. Advanced courses have significant navigational and route-choice components and often rely very little on guiding features or trails. In fact, some advanced courses may keep you off trails entirely!

5. Can we go running off the trails? What’s the impact on the environment?
The advanced courses at our events oftentimes take you off trails entirely. At the finish, you’ll see messy and muddy competitors, who have likely run a high-speed, off-trail, advanced course and enjoyed getting that way. At first glance, these individuals may not appear to be participating in an environmentally low-impact activity. However, orienteering consistently ranks among the lowest impact recreational uses of managed natural areas.

6. Do I have to find the checkpoints in order?
In most cases, yes. Our standard orienteering courses have checkpoints marked in a required order. But it's up to you to determine the best way to get there. However, we occasionally have events that follow a “score-o” format, where you are given a specific time limit (60 minutes, for example) to find as many checkpoints as possible, in any order you want.

7. How do I measure distance in kilometers?
Orienteering maps and courses are measured in metric for consistency with international standards. One mile is approximately 1.6 kilometers.

What To Know When You Get Back
1. Can I keep my map and e-punch when I'm done?
The map is yours to keep, so feel free to fold and crinkle it as much as needed. If you rented an e-punch, we’ll need it back afterward. If you participate frequently enough, you may consider purchasing your own, which will cost around $40.

2. Can I try another course? How long do the checkpoint flags stay out?
If you finished your first course and the start window is still open, you may try another course. Just ask let the event staff at the registration table know. After the event, usually 90 minutes after the last scheduled start, the flags will be retrieved and removed.

3. How do you know if everybody is back safely?
We compare the list of finishers against the list of starters. Anyone who starts but does not finish is assumed to be still out on the course. For this reason, it is essential that you report to the finish, whether or not you complete the course. If anyone has not finished when courses officially close, we will alert the checkpoint retrieval crew to be on the lookout, and contact proper authorities, if necessary.

4. Where are results from the meet posted?
Printouts of the event in progress are often displayed at the event, weather permitting, so you can compare your time with others. The results page lists results a few days after an event. For events with electronic scoring, the results also link to WinSplits, which shows split times for all competitors at all checkpoints. Here, you see where and when the leaders got ahead.

The Unexpected
1. What if I lose my compass?
Don’t freak out, because you can still complete your course without a compass. Pay closer attention to all the information the map can offer: trails, major roads, buildings, vegetation borders, streams, elevation changes, locations of previous controls, and memory of where you have been before. If you borrowed the compass, you’ll have to pay for it, but you’re only out about $10.

2. What if I lose my e-punch?
Your e-punch records your progress on a course and without it, there is no way to get this information back. If you lose your e-punch, you may continue your course, using the backup manual punch at each marker to punch the edge of your map. At the finish, inform the event staff that you have lost your e-punch. If someone later finds and turns in your e-punch, then your result will count. Otherwise, your result will be marked as Did Not Finish (DNF). If it’s a rental e-punch, the replacement cost is about $40.

3. What if I lose my map?
Without a map, you won't know where to go, how to get there, or what to avoid. Try to make it back to the start or finish areas. If necessary, ask another competitor for help in finding the start or finish areas. There may be another used map available so that you can finish your course, although this cannot be guaranteed. If you cannot complete your course, make sure that you still report to the event staff at the finish.

4. What if I get lost on the course?
Getting lost happens to everyone at some point, so the key is to develop good relocation skills that get you back to familiar territory. Try walking back to your last checkpoint or to a really noticeable landmark, and then find it on the map. If you still cannot determine your location, asking another participant to identify your location on the map is acceptable. (However, asking for help to find a checkpoint is frowned upon.)

5. What if I get injured on the course?
As with any athletic or outdoor endeavor, injuries do happen and occasionally require assistance. A core principle of orienteering is that we stop to help those in need, even if we have to sacrifice a competitive run to do it. This means that everyone on the course is a potential rescuer. Safety whistles are required for this purpose; use it to indicate that you need help.

6. What if we aren’t having any fun? Do we still need to return to the finish?
Yes, you need to let the event staff know that you are back safely. We don’t want to unnecessarily send out a search party while you're safely at home. We care about you.