We love to write about our best tips for getting started with all sorts of sports here on the site, but when it comes to orienteering, it’s particularly pertinent. That’s all because this is one activity where there’s a noticeable divide between amateurs and professionals. Indeed, while we don’t want to put anyone off trying the sport, the best piece of advice would be to be prepared. This is an activity where if you participate alone, without the right instruction and in poor conditions, it can even be dangerous. These 10 tips alone won’t make you a professional, but they’ll get you well on the way towards preparing yourself for what can quickly become one of the most exciting, satisfying activities you could hope to undertake.
1. Take Advice From Experts
As noted, this is one sport where it pays to pay attention to what those that have been there and done that previously have to say. Indeed, this is a sport where we’d dare say that experience trumps skill – there isn’t a particular skillset to orienteering that cannot be overcome with knowledge and experience, and that’s part of what makes the activity so accessible.
If you’re fortunate, you may be able to get your hands on specialist coaching from a seasoned veteran of the activity, and there are many clubs and organisations out there around the world that can make this happen. If no such one-to-one assistance is available, you can instead pick up books and guides to give you an idea of what to expect. In many cases, the surprising elements of the activity are what require the most preparation, as you only need a modest level of fitness and basic equipment to get started.
2. Make Time for a Training Day
Even if there are no groups nearby, you should make a point to go out of your way and find other like-minded individuals as early in your orienteering journey as you possibly can. Nothing beats real-world experience here and, from what we’ve seen for ourselves, those that are knowledgeable in the subject are often more than happy to share their wisdom and ease the passage of newbies and beginners to take on more significant challenges.
3. Brush Up on Your Skills Away from the Course
We noted that orienteering is not necessarily as reliant on sheer skill as some other sports and activities, but there’s always a learning opportunity involved. One of the best things about taking up this hobby is that there’s plenty you can do to improve your form without needing to head out and about. Work on your map and compass reading, stay on top of relevant blogs and social groups and practice doing things that will aid you out on the course until you master them.
4. Stick To Your Own Path
Those that have never tried orienteering overlook the competitive aspect, but it can be a competitive sport just like any other. Otherwise, it’s just a problematic stroll! However, while this will become important as you improve, it’s best not to give too much thought to the competition when just starting out. Don’t worry about finishing last and, above all else, don’t be tempted to follow everyone else. Doing so will get you to where you want to be, but it does nothing to improve your skills.
5. Focus On Your Relocation Skills
One of the primary skills you’ll need going forward is relocation, or the ability to work out where you are when you have no idea. If you undertake a course that allows technological aids, then this is simple. However, if you want to remain faithful to the spirit of the sport, you should brush up on map reading, the identification of landmarks and natural signals such as the position of the sun at the time of day until it becomes second nature.
6. Work on the Physical Side
You don’t need to become a top-tier athlete to succeed in orienteering. Indeed, average fitness will serve you well and improve as you do the activity. This sport is as much about cunning and experience as it is about physical prowess. However, the fitter you are, the better equipped you’ll be to tackle anything a course can throw at you. If you don’t currently do anything out of the ordinary in terms of exercise, now might be a good time to implement a new regime.
7. Don’t Forget Hydration
We must have spoken of the importance of hydration dozens of times up to this point here at 10 Tips, but so many things you can do well rely on it that it warrants further mention. Drink plenty before the race and clue yourself in on when and where you can grab refreshments along the way. Most courses allow you to bring supplies, too, so don’t pass up that opportunity.
8. Plan Ahead
The nature of the sport means you don’t know what you’ll need to do and when until the race begins. However, it isn’t cheating to familiarise yourself with the local area. As a beginner, this is less about gaining an edge over the competition and more about ensuring that you stay safe and enter each race prepared. If possible, walk the course and surrounding areas. At the very least, take a look at Google Maps and note down any critical areas.
9. Pace Yourself
We may have understated the physical implications of orienteering so far, and they do matter. When the race begins, don’t get carried away early on and expend all your energy on being the first to a checkpoint. Instead, figure out what you can do and when, and try to leave enough in the tank for a consistent race or a final push.
10. Enjoy It
There is such a thing as competitive orienteering. However, if you’re just starting out, it’s something to work towards but remains quite a way off. For now, focus on improving yourself and the benefits of doing each race, such as making friends and exploring new locations. If it’s not fun, you won’t keep going and it would be a shame to get off to a strong start before tailing off.