Planning Your First Event

Planning your first orienteering event will seem less formidable if you think of it in three separate stages: course planning, event planning and publicity planning.

Tip: See our Event Organizers Local Meet section for more guidance and resources!

Course Planning

Your first option in course planning is what type of course. Cross-country orienteering courses are the most popular form. Cross-country orienteering is a series of checkpoints to be visited by the orienteer in a designated sequence. These points are marked both on the participant's topographic map (by a red circle) and at the actual location (by a control marker). Route choice between points is left to individual decision. Cross-country orienteering can be either competitive or non-competitive. It can be done individually, in pairs or in small groups.

Some general guidelines to course planning:
  1. Always design courses appropriate in length and difficulty for those you hope will attend you event.
  2. Design no more than three courses and refer to them as beginner, intermediate and advanced (color designation is too confusing for newcomers).
  3. Maximum course lengths should be 2km, 3-4km and 5-6km respectively. Make them even shorter if your area has thick vegetation or steep climbs.
  4. Always choose features for control markers that are distinct both on the map and on the ground.
  5. You map must be accurate in the vicinity of the control marker and along the most obvious route between control markers. If not, move the marker.
Your easiest course can never be too easy. It should be designed to build confidence and thereby enthusiasm. Use trails and other easy access areas and very obvious features. Avoid thick areas, steep climbs, and stream crossing where there is no bridge. Kids especially need the reward of finding many control markers at close intervals to hold their attention.

Courses beyond the easiest get both longer and more difficult. Overall length is longer and distance from control to control is generally longer. Less-obvious features are used as control points. More route choice exists between most points.

After you have designed your courses on paper, always walk thru them with the map. Hang pieces of survey tape at each control point location to ease setting out the markers on the actual event day. Check again for map errors.

Event Planning

At a recent Orienteering USA convention workshop on meet administration, 100+ participants, mostly local club leaders, were given a list of factors influencing the success of a local orienteering event and asked to rank them by importance within groups. Here are the results:

Very Important

  •     A suitable site
  •     Landowner permission
  •     Accurate courses and clue descriptions
  •     Courses suitable to participant skill level
  •     Accurate and timely advance publicity in the club newsletter
  •     Beginner instruction
  •     Directional signs leading to the meet site


  •     Fast results posting
  •     Type of event suitable for the season
  •     An accurate map
  •     Minimal cost
  •     Fast check-in

Less Important

  •     Meet announcements at previous meets
  •     Meet flyers at previous meets
  •     Accurate and timely advance publicity in newspapers
  •     Fast publication of results in the club newsletter or local paper
  •     Water stops
  •     First aid
  •     Impressive awards
Special note: Participants also added that such esoteric factors as the weather, natural beauty of the site, convenient location and hospitality play important roles in the success of any event. They stressed that every situation is different.

A checklist of equipment will help at the event planning stage. When you consider both the equipment itself and the role in your meet it will play, you can begin to imagine the logistics of you event.

Necessary equipment

  • Directional signs: to lead everyone effortlessly to your site
  • Maps: plan on one blank map per participant or group
  • Pre-printed maps OR master maps: the orienteers copy from the master maps when they transfer the red circles which represent control point locations onto their own maps. You will need 1-3 master maps per course mounted on a solid surface and weatherproofed with plastic.
  • Control descriptions (sometimes called "clues"): these give a physical description of the actual control point location and usually also a control number (or letter/s) which will be found on the marker itself. You may wish to hand out pre-printed clue sheets to each participant before they start.
  • Score/Punch cards: card with numbered boxes that the participant punches or marks at each control point to prove he/she has found it. Punch cards can be printed along the edge of the map, or on detached sheets
  • Waterproof pens: red or purple to use at the master map area if participants are drawing their own courses from a master map
  • Registration forms/Waivers: Name, course and legal fine print. Be sure to get address and phone number for future contact with these new orienteers.
  • Control markers*: Special three-sided orange and white markers about 1 foot on a side.
  • Punches*: Special paper punches that leave a different design each time to verify that each control point was visited. Different color crayons or pens will also work.
  • Cord: to tie up the markers and to attach the punches
  • Miscellaneous stationery supplies (tape, scissors, and push pins are all useful)
  • First aid kit: just in case
  • Trash bags: for post-event cleanup of the area
  • Club information sheets and membership forms: don't leave these potential new club members uninformed in regards to who to contact and where to find future events
  • Planned pre-meet announcements
  • Planned pre-meet instructions

* For some areas and/or events, simple flagging tape may suffice to mark control locations (bright surveyors' tape is available at home improvement stores).  A trivia orienteering course doesn't even require markers or punches; simply circle an obvious feature on the map and ask a trivia question about it (this is a good way to use maps of cities or city parks).

Recommended additional equipment:

  • Tables and chairs
  • Loaner compasses
  • Timing clock or watch
  • Calculator
  • Results posting system
  • Map cases (baggies)
  • Stapler
  • Starting cash
  • Water jugs and paper cups
  • Awards
  • Clipboards
  • Friends to help

Publicity planning

By now you realize that putting on an orienteering event is no simple task. Don't let all your good efforts be for naught by skimping on publicity planning. Someone may as well enjoy all this! Media approaches that work for one club may or may not work for you and your area. Here are a few ideas:
  • Work in conjunction with a sports/outdoor shop. Many do periodic mailouts to their customers and will add your event announcement free.
  • Work in conjunction with your parks department. There is a chance of free mailout publicity here too.
  • Place articles in local media (newspapers, radio) for free. Don't overlook smaller local newspapers.
  • Contact existing groups which may do orienteering-related activities.
  • Place posters in likely shops.
  • Place posters in places where people exercise or play.
  • Consider mailouts to potential orienteers.
All publicity should include a brief description of what orienteering is, the date, time, place, and cost of you event; a contact name and address and phone number for further information; directions or map to the event area; general considerations such as gear and the availability of compasses, etc. Orienteering is an unfamiliar and somewhat non-descriptive word. Many clubs have experienced marked success at attracting newcomers with advertising their introductory events as clinics, map hikes, or by some similarly appealing and descriptive term.

The big day

Your planning has been so excellent, that you should be able to breeze through the big day. Just for confidence here's one final checklist:

1. The night before:
  • Assemble equipment.
  • Make master maps and mount and weatherproof them.
  • Make a master punch card to check participants' cards.

2. Early A.M.:
  • Post directional signs.
  • Hang the control markers and punches.
  • Set up master map area, start area and finish area.

3. As people arrive:
  • Conduct registration and collect fees.
  • Make any pre-meet announcements.
  • Give pre-meet instruction.

4. The start:
  • Start each person or group at 1 -2 min. intervals.
  • Make sure they visit the master map area first if they will be drawing their own courses.

5. The finish:
  • Time the participants if applicable.
  • Calculate net course times.
  • Rank and give awards if applicable.
  • Post results.
  • Be available for post-meet questions and information.

6. Post-meet:
  • Retrieve markers and punches and master maps and any other equipment in the area.
  • Leave the area at least as clean as when you arrived, if not cleaner.
  • Thank the land owner/manager for allowing use.
  • Publish the results as applicable.

Presuming you have survived all of this and are still interested in orienteering, we have two parting hints:
  1. Do it all again soon! Once people get enthusiastic about orienteering, they want a second opportunity.
  2. Get these enthusiastic people involved in all aspects of your new club's activities as soon as possible. Orienteering events are a good deal of work and the club's ultimate survival depends upon being able to spread out the workload.
last updated 13 February 2011