Orienteering, a sport combining athleticism with old-fashioned navigation, originated as a training exercise in land navigation for military officers. Now orienteering races take place worldwide, with men and women of all ages and skill levels taking off into the wilderness or city streets accompanied by a map, a compass and the speed and endurance to race against the clock.
In honor of the World Masters Orienteering Championships, which took place July 1st-8th, we decided to take a closer look at some impressive examples of this unique sport.
Expert Test Match
This test match between Australia and New Zealand features some truly impressive, world-class athletes orienteering at the highest level. When you think about it, orienteering is like cross-country running crossed with hiking crossed with the highly intellectual activity of navigation. Two sports typically practiced on trails or courses with clearly defined boundaries are infused with a sense of adventure and the difficulty of making your own way according to a set of very strict, pre-described rules. It’s not just about getting to the top of the mountain – there is a very specific way for you to get to the top of that mountain, and if you take any other route, you might as well have not done it at all.
This orienteering race gives you a sense of the difficult balance between reading a map and trying to move as fast as you can through winding city streets. With your head buried in a piece of paper, you start navigating on a macro and not a micro level. Whereas your typical walk through a city is dedicated to avoiding the objects and people who cross your path, orienteering forces you to think of such maneuvering on a far greater scale and leave the smaller evasions to your automatic senses. Hopefully. Otherwise, you’ll run into a wall or send some poor civilian flying — slowing yourself down yourself in the process
One of the coolest things about the larger orienteering races, like this one, is how competitors start off like normal runners, coming out of the gate in one huge pack, and then everyone gradually unfurls their maps to start navigating. Using maps to get around on foot is a very uncommon experience for most of us these days. With the emergence of GPS technology that guides you from point to point, we’re used to being shepherded around maps rather than finding our own way. We also are used to knowing exactly where we are on maps, because of the geo-locating technology that’s an intrinsic part of a GPS system. But with a real map, much of the time, half the difficulty is figuring out where on the map you actually are. Welcome to orienteering.
Guinness World Record Attempt
And now for something totally different: a group of students trying to break the Guinness World Record for most students orienteering in multiple locations at one time. Orienteering has long had a special place in gym classes and education, because, in addition to being an athletic pursuit, it teaches kids the practical skill of navigation. It’s fun to watch these kids try their hands at the sport, and it also shows how, even at a lower level, orienteering can be a treacherous pursuit: one guy rolls his ankle, and the others discuss throughout the video how difficult and challenging orienteering is. After all, hasn’t your mother always told you to look where you’re going when you’re walking around?
Orienteering races often take place deep in the wilderness – on terrain filled with roots, rocks and uneven ground that will inherently slow you down. With speed being the only thing other than accuracy, that matters in an orienteering race, however – it’s not like the orienteerers can wander off course and find a smoother path, like you might if you went on a camping trip. If you make a wrong turn, that’s time off the clock you can’t afford to waste. Check out this video of an expert orienteer navigating some intense terrain while managing time with precision.