Benefits of Orienteering
Orienteering offers many benefits, but its real attraction is that it is fun! It is a joy to walk and run through forests and fields. If you like competing, there are many age and skill-level groups to fulfill that wish. The ultimate quest for the orienteer is to find the balance between mental and physical exertion, to know how fast you can go and still be able to interpret the terrain around you and execute your route choice successfully.
Orienteering is a lifetime fitness sport that challenges the mind. It offers the obvious development of individual skills in navigating while problem solving to locate each control. Decision making is paramount: Should I go left or right? Should I climb that hill or go the long way around it? These decisions that constantly arise require thinking more than quick reactions or instinct; again, that is why orienteering is called the thinking sport. And remember, these decisions are being made under competitive stress and increasing fatigue, helping you to become mentally tougher in other stressful situations. Orienteers learn to be self-reliant since most orienteering is individual, and even in the team and mass-start versions, teammates usually practice individually to improve.
Orienteering builds self-esteem; it takes courage to forge ahead by oneself through unknown areas, particularly in the forests that are not familiar to those who live in cities. So many easily reachable, beautiful outdoor areas exist in the United States, Canada, and the rest of the world that feeling comfortable in the outdoors triples the pleasure of being there. Every time you locate a control or relocate yourself from being temporarily misdirected, your confidence grows. Spatial relationships become more meaningful as the orienteer has to plan how to get from one place to another and figure out whether the chosen route goes uphill or downhill and when and how far. Good orienteers learn to stay aware of their surroundings as they plan what they will see along the route to the control, a talent that is useful whether you are driving to your grandmother’s or trying to find your way back from a classroom on your first day of college. How can you plan what you will see? The map symbols and contours will describe it for your imagination. Orienteers learn to recognize and use new resources, whether they are the map and compass, the park or playground, or the more personal resources of fitness and mental agility.
Not only is it thoroughly enjoyable to get out into parks and forests and off the paths to experience nature while orienteering, but also being a trained and experienced navigator can be plainly useful or even lifesaving. On a simple level, you need never be lost again. A complete definition of lost has two parts. First, you do not know where you are located. Second, you do not know how to get to a known location. Even if they are temporarily mislocated, orienteers have the skills and techniques to relocate themselves and to continue on to their destination. Orienteers fully understand the L.L. Bean T-shirt that quotes its founder: “If you get lost, come straight back to camp.” Even if you do not know where you are, if you know how to get back to camp, then you are not lost. You can toss the word lost right out of your vocabulary, because as an orienteer you won’t ever need it again!
Another important outcome of orienteering is increased confidence. You may be timid but would like to build your confidence and become better at a sport than anyone around you, or perhaps you simply wish to be more comfortable in the outdoors. Gaining the skills and techniques to be able always to find your way out of the woods builds confidence in all aspects of your life.
Athletes who are tired of running circles on a track or slogging along paved roads find running cross country to be refreshing while at the same time good for building endurance and muscle. Outside of Florida and parts of Texas, most orienteering areas tend to be hilly, not flat. Undulations in the terrain provide the right environment for athletes and nonathletes alike to develop strong hearts, legs, and lungs.
Teachers have found that orienteering relates to every academic discipline, from math to history to environmental awareness to public policy, and it does so in new and interesting ways. Orienteering at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, brings American history right to your own footprints. Counting paces and measuring on maps teach the metric system through action without obviously doing so. Keeping personal records to improve while training implements data collection, logical thinking, and demonstrable self-improvement. Writing about your experiences improves word discipline and grammar while teaching audience focus. Playing by the rules imparts ethics training and standards of fairness.
Finally, people who enjoy orienteering become enthusiastic about environmental stewardship. Orienteers believe in the motto, “Take nothing away; leave nothing behind,” another way of saying that orienteers clean up their trash and don’t pick the flowers. Because orienteering is gentle on the environment, orienteers do not damage the areas they cross, nor do they cross over areas that are fragile. Orienteering mappers are careful to mark as off-limits areas that are inhabited by endangered plants and animals or that are private land on the maps they develop for competition and training. Event directors and coaches work closely with park rangers and wildlife managers to protect local environments and fragile habitats.
Places to Orienteer
You can orienteer anywhere you can make or obtain a map. Orienteers navigate in classrooms, schoolyards, city parks, urban areas, residential areas, streets, state and national parks, and wilderness areas. Even better, you can orienteer in your community, throughout the United States, and all over the world. Orienteering map symbols and appropriate colors are approved by the International Orienteering Federation (IOF) and are followed around the globe (for example, blue stands for water). Therefore, if you pick up an orienteering map in China or Russia, you do not have to read Chinese or Russian to understand the map well enough to orienteer on that map. Symbols are further discussed in chapter 3.