Skip to main content

Learn More About Orienteering

What is the history of Orienteering?

In terms of sports, orienteering is still relatively young. First occurring in Sweden during the 19th century, orienteering requires using a compass and a detailed topographical map to travel to multiple locations, known as control points, in a specific order before crossing the finish line. It traditionally takes place in natural settings, such as a forest, but has begun taking place in urban cities as well. 

The Swedish Military Academy Karlberg first started orienteering in 1886 as a form of land navigation training. Military officers then started creating competitions amongst themselves, which then eventually led to citizens taking part in the activity as well. The first official orienteering competition that was open to the public was held near Oslo, Norway in 1897.

The sport began to rapidly grow in popularity during the 1930’s with the invention of inexpensive, but reliable, compasses. This allowed everyone to be able to get involved, and soon it spread to countries across Europe.

Orienteering’s popularity then took another big jump following World War II as people from Asia, North America, and Australia began to take up the sport. An international orienteering conference was held for the first time in 1959 where 12 participating countries were present. And then the International Orienteering Federation (IOF) was formed two years later in 1961.

The national world championships began following the creation of the IOF and were held every other year until 2003, and are now an annual event. 

Types of Orienteering

The traditional foot orienteering continues to be the most popular where one combines hiking or running with navigation. Trail orienteering is similar to foot, but it often takes place on trails, and competitors are often asked to pick out the controls from decoys placed throughout the competition area. Ski orienteering keeps the competition going in the winter as it combines cross country skiing with navigation. Mountain bike orienteering is where competitors compete on a bike and have to navigate their way through multiple trails shown on their map.

There are also other variations in the sport that affect the competition. To start, competitors can compete as an individual, or in relay events. Also, the distance can vary between long, this is the classic style where the course is often cross-country styled where the winning time is usually between 75 and 90 minutes; middle, which is similar to long, but the winning time is usually around 30 minutes; sprint, this is usually held in an urban setting and the winning time typically comes in around 15 minutes.

Competitors have also started events at night where they must use headlamps to navigate in the dark.

Orienteering at the Olympics

Orienteering became a recognized Olympic sport in 1977. Efforts to get a version of the competition into both the summer and winter Olympic games have been taking place since 1996, but the sport has yet to be included.

Visit Orienteering USA to learn more

Sports in this article


Tags in this article

New to Sports SportsEngine