Intro to Orienteering Maps

Orienteering maps are topographical maps with more details but fewer (or no) word labels for places or road names. This level of detail allows the orienteer to more accurately judge their precise position and determine the best route from location to location. Compared to traditional topographic maps, orienteering maps show:

  • Magnetic North (instead of true north), because orienteers use a magnetic compass to orient their map and themselves to the surrounding landscape
  • Man-made features: trails, stonewalls, buildings, signs, fences, roads, power lines, parking lots, etc (usually shown in black/gray). The map’s legend shows what symbols are used for these features.
  • Vegetation including: forest with no undergrowth (white), thick/thin undergrowth (shades of green), open spaces/no trees (shades of yellow/orange), wetlands/marsh
  • Other information such as “Out of Bounds” or private property (red)

What are the Pink Lines and Circles? The other important aspect of an orienteering map is the course information, usually in bright pink or purple. Parts of the course are:

  • Start/Finish = a pink triangle inside a pink circle (at the main Trail Kiosk behind the school on our maps).
  • Control Locations = pink circles, with the specific natural or man-made feature to find in the exact center of the circle. In some cases, a portion of a feature is the destination, such as the SouthWest end of a stonewall, or the NorthEast edge of a clearing.
  • Sequence = pink numbers next to control location circles indicating the order in which to visit the controls.
  • Direct Route Line = pink line between control locations in sequence showing the most direct route “as the crow flies.” Note that this line is provided as an aid to quickly identifying the next control on the map, not the expected path of travel. Orienteers each choose their own route from one control to the next, based on map skills, compass skills, desired level of physical exertion, and current local ground and weather conditions.

Control Markers These are not on the map, but are the physical “sign” at each control location in the landscape. On our courses, they are orange & white 4” plastic squares, attached either to trees next to the feature or onto the back of tree ID signs. Each has a unique 3-digit number and a letter code.

Clue Sheet & Answer Boxes These are not part of the actual map but are included on our maps for convenience (rather than as separate items). If the course has 6 control locations, there will be 6 boxes. Each box has a sequence number (from 1-6 in this example), a 3-digit ID # matching the unique ID # on the physical control marker for that feature, and the feature description for that location (stonewall, trail JCT, boulder, etc). Each box also has space to write in the letter code found on each control marker, to be compared to an answer key when you complete the course. To make it a little more fun for those who enjoy puzzles, follow the instructions with the answer key for your chosen course to come up with a new word, solving the puzzle.

Instructions Because our maps are intended to be used by beginners downloading maps directly from this website, we’ve included the following Instructions right on each beginner map:

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