Traditionally, Orienteering is a sport combining navigation with map and compass with cross-country running. Participants are given a map, usually of an area with which they are unfamiliar, and a compass. They attempt to visit, in sequence, checkpoints (or control points) that are indicated on the map. Competitive orienteering is a race to visit all controls in order shown on the map as fast as possible.
The sport originated in Northern Europe.
Maps used for orienteering are usually more detailed, and more accurate, than general-purpose topographic maps. The detail is focussed towards what needs to be perceived at eye level, at a run; it must also convey any obstacles clearly. They are typically produced at a scale of about 10,000 to 1. Excerpts of some sample maps are available at " class="external">http://mnoc.org. Controls are usually based around a visible feature, and explained on the map. They are marked on the course by orange (or red) and white flags. A competitor marks their visit in some way; traditionally this was by using a punch placed at the flag, but events in the last few years have moved to an electronic chip carried by the competitor, which uses a device at the flag to record the visit time.
Endless variations on the sport are possible by using different forms of travel and by limiting or removing the race aspect of the sport.
Another common type of orienteering competition is a score event in which competitors aim to visit as many controls as possible within a time limit, often approximately one hour. Controls may have different points value depending on difficulty and there is a points penalty for every minute late. The competitor with the highest points value is the winner.
A form of the sport for disabled competitors has been developed whereby the object is accuracy in interpreting the position on a map of a control viewed from a set point 30-40 metres away. There is no timing in this form of orienteering which has been termed "Trail-O".
High levels of fitness and foot speed are usually required to compete successfully in elite-level foot orienteering, but success is also heavily dependent on choosing the fastest route between controls (while controls are always the same for the competitors in a particular category, the route they choose to reach the points may be very different). Competitors are often required to cross rough undeveloped terrain; accurate map- and compass-reading can make the difference for good race results.
World championships are held anually (bi-anually until 2002), and orienteering is a sport in the World Games.