Master the Great Outdoors: 5 Essential Skills for Orienteering Like a Pro

Before you begin orienteering, you must be able to read a compass and map.  

That’s a given.

But that’s only the beginning of a successful orienteering adventure. Becoming good at it requires you to dig deeper, discover what you’re made of and learn these 5 skills every pro orienteer must conquer.

1. Self-sufficiency

Orienteering can be a team or solo sport. Whichever you choose, all involved need to have a sense of self-sufficiency.

Many people who come into the sport already naturally have this skill. Others join the sport because they want to develop this skill. Personal growth is incredible.

Either way, there’s nothing like being lost in the middle of the woods as the sun’s setting to teach you some self-reliance. The better you apply this skill, the less likely that is to happen.

2. Knowing When You’ve Passed the Checkpoint

In orienteering, a catching feature is a landmark that tells you you’ve gone too far in one direction. But it won’t always be obvious to most people.

In a natural setting, your map will display a variety of clues like elevation changes, treelines, streams, trails, fields, roads, dirt piles, corn fields, or a fence. To home in on the destination, identify what’s on each side of your target point.

If you hit a catching feature, you know you need to turn around. But don’t see this as a setback. Each feature you can identify from your map gets you closer.

And they can tell you when you’re completely leaving the course.

3. Following Natural Guideposts

A stream, fence, or trail may not take you to your destination. But it can get you in the general area and help you establish where you are.

Be on the lookout for these types of features. As you enhance your skills, more subtle guideposts light your way.

4. Aiming Off to Hit the Mark

You’re trying to reach a small point on the map. These points are often in massive fields or expanses intentionally, so you can’t see them from a distance.

You have to know when you’re close and narrow down the search. Often, the best strategy is to find catching features on the map in person. These can help you triangulate to the mark.

Alternatively, you could comb a small area for hours and not find the target. Of course, someone could get lucky. But as a general rule, it’s always faster to take time and get your bearings in this sport.

5. Always Observing Your Surroundings

It goes without saying that you have to use all your senses to find your way. You can listen for a stream. Smell a wildflower field or diesel from a nearby highway.

Since elevation is often on the map, you may feel that change. If you’re not looking closely, you could miss an overgrown trail or deer path on the map. Yes, deer create distinct paths. But not everyone can see them.

Orienteering Skills

With these skills, you can conquer your next orienteering adventure. You learn these things by doing. And what’s more, you can apply these skills in life to become more self-reliant. So get out there and discover who you are by orienteering.