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I am a complete beginner interested in orienteering, what should I do? 


Attend an SDO event of course!


All SDO events include beginner-friendly courses and are a great way to get into the sport. To maximize enjoyment and learning, we recommend a three-step approach: 


  1. Research - Study this website, especially this FAQ, the epunching guide, and the intro videos

  2. Clinic - All SDO events offer a brief beginners clinic, usually a few minutes before the first start time. 

  3. Questions - We have many experienced navigators in our club available for questions before or after your course. 


Can scout or ROTC groups learn navigation at your events? 


Absolutely, but it will be in the context of the sport of orienteering.


While competitive orienteering, military "land navigation" and scout badge skills share many components, there are differences that should be considered. For example, hyper-detailed orienteering maps mean that orienteers can depend much more heavily on vegetation and topography instead of relying on an simple compass bearings, which is often the only option in other contexts. Also, the time sensitivity of the sport means that accuracy and confidence must often be counterbalanced by speed, a trade off that would be inappropriate on a week-long hiking trip. 

For larger groups, we recommend that at least one leader attend an SDO event beforehand to learn the basics of the sport and event logistics. This will ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience for the group on their next visit.


Do you offer education or outreach events?


Unfortunately, we are a small club with limited resources which we deploy exclusively to host events for the broader orienteering community. While we are passionate about helping develop new navigators, this precludes us from offering custom or one-off education events of any kind outside of our scheduled competitions. There are a number of professionals who offer such services for-hire, but they are outside of San Diego. Email us for intros.

I signed up for an adventure race but can't navigate. Help! 


Well, that was silly. Seriously, assuming you have a few months to prep you easily can learn the basics. Come out to our next event and explain your predicament. We have a few adventure racers in the club who can help send you in the right direction. 


Is this competitive? Do I need to run? 


Yes and no. At the highest levels, the sport of orienteering is a hyper-competitive endeavor with world class athletes approaching Olympic running performances all while reading a detailed map and jumping between rocks at full speed. Even at our local events, the top competitors could likely hold their own at a traditional 10k road race. 


However, the individualistic nature and technical complexity of the sport mean that every participant can challenge themselves on their own terms. Beginners are encouraged to walk the course to ensure success and competitive runners often have the greatest challenge at first due to their ability to get lost very quickly. Similarly, orienteering is renowned as a sport for all ages, and shorter, technical courses continue to challenge aging athletes into their 80s and 90s. 

Is GPS allowed? 


Technically, no, but it doesn’t matter and isn’t enforced. The paper map that you received is not geo-referenced in any form, so GPS coordinates cannot easily be used to determine your location. 


Assuming you have internet access or download offline maps beforehand, you could use a phone to figure out your rough location relative to large landmarks. This is a reasonable safety strategy for beginners insecure about getting lost, but would take far too much time to allow for a competitive advantage and is insufficiently detailed to actually bring you to the control in most cases. 

Feel free to bring your phone with you for selfies. 


Can I compete as a team? 


With some exceptions, orienteering is intended as an individual sport and we encourage competitors to participate on their own to maximize their experience. However, groups are fun and we allow them for non-competitive participants. You have two group options: 


  1. Register all participants separately and come to the starting line together. This is preferred as each person will have their own map, epunch, and results, ensuring maximum learnings and the freedom to separate on the course if desired.

  2. Register one participant and bring a friend or two. Everyone will share a map, a punch, and results. You can register using a team name. This is an easy and cost-effective approach, but will devolve quickly into everyone blindly following the navigator and skipping much of the experience and learnings. To avoid overcrowding our venues, we ask that you limit non-registrants to two people per registrant


Critically, anyone not registered is not connected to the event in any way, so any safety, educational, or other resources are not available. 


Can I accompany my child on the course? 


Yes, it is common to “shadow” children who are able to orienteer, but may need some assistance on the course. Simply register under their name and come to the start with them. This option is only appropriate for the Beginner course. If they require extensive help, yet still manage a top placing please give us a heads up so that we can add an asterisk to the results. 



What do all those course colors mean?

In the US, orienteering usually uses a standard system of color-coded courses as follows:

  • White - suitable for absolute beginners. Course is on trails and/or fields and is typically 2-3km long.

  • Yellow - for slightly more advanced beginners. Course is mostly on trails and fields with control points a short distance into the woods. There may be opportunities for those who feel able to take short cuts through the woods. Length is typically 2-3.5km.

  • Orange - intermediate difficulty. Mix of on- trail and off-trail, generally relying on the more obvious mapped features. Length typically 3.5 - 4.5km.

  • Brown - short advanced course. Off trail and reliant on the subtler features of the terrain. Length typically 3.5-4.5km with large/steep climbs deemphasized if the terrain allows.

  • Green - an advanced course a bit longer than brown. Length typically 4.5-5.5km.

  • Red - a longer advanced course. Length typically 6-8km.

  • Blue - the longest advanced course, not always offered in smaller parks. Length typically 8-10km.


Distances are as the crow would fly between control points. The distance you travel may be much greater depending on topography and route choice. 

For some of our event, SDO will combine and simplify these courses into four options: 

  • Beginner - A mix of White and Yellow (see above) suitable for beginners. All off-trail sections will use clear linear features, be marked with flagging, or take advantage of our desert terrain so you can see the next trail at all times. 

  • Intermediate - A traditional Orange course (see above).

  • Advanced - Advanced control placement, but with a distance around 4km. Somewhere between Brown and Green.

  • Expert - Advanced control placement, but with a distance around 8km. Somewhere between Red and Blue.

These time estimates are for off-trail forest orienteering. Events with lots of trails may have longer distances to reflect the relative ease of travel and navigation.


Which course should I go on?

We recommend that first time orienteers go out on a white course; however, if you're confident of your ability with maps in general and in the outdoors, a yellow course might be appropriate for your first time orienteering. If in doubt, discuss it with the meet director, course setter or other available volunteers and/or take a look at the white and yellow course maps before deciding. If only a "Beginner" course is offered, we strongly suggest you start there.


If you feel as though both the white/yellow/Beginner courses are too short, a simple solution is to show up at the meet early enough to start at or near the beginning of the start window. Then, if the first course you try turns out to be a breeze and you finish in less than an hour wanting more, you may time to grab another map and head out on the next course up in difficulty before the start window closes. This second course is free of charge, but is dependent on map availability and may not be included in the official results. 

Larger events, including our annual Anza-Borrego Festival, will feature age and gender categories assigned automatically for competitive participants that correspond to one of the color levels described above. 

Can I cancel and get a refund? 


SDO offers a full refund via Paypal for participants who request a cancellation at least 30 days before the event by emailing


Unfortunately, we are not able to offer refunds to those who cancel within 30 days of the competition. However, we are able to transfer entries to a different person at no cost if the request is received before we close registration. Please note, this includes registration being closed due to maximum entry limit being reached so may occur earlier than the published close date.


What if the event is canceled? 


Orienteering events are never canceled due to inclement weather. 


If the event is canceled due to natural disasters (fire, flooding) or due to changes to permit status by land managers, a full refund will be offered via Paypal. 


Why do you require pre-registration? 


Having everyone's information beforehand allows us to prepare the orienteering software and streamline the day-of event logistics. In addition, some parks frown on financial transactions occurring on site. Finally, truth-be-told, people tend to show up more after they have made a small financial commitment.


Can you make an exception and allow me to register at the last minute?


Unfortunately, due to the computer logistics required, we are not able to add anyone to the event after the registration deadline. Since we do allow people to unofficially accompany registered competitors, you could ask around on Slack or at the event for someone willing to take you with them.  



I need a compass, right?


Yep, but you can borrow one of ours if you want. 

Any cheapo compass will suffice, but you may notice advanced orienteers using a thumb compass, which allows for quick and streamlined navigation. 

How do you know that I have visited a control? 


You carry a little plastic thing on your finger called an "estick" or "electronic punch". This is really the only orienteering-specific gear required for the sport, so we encourage all participants to acquire one. The club has a limited supply of esticks for beginners to rent at our events. 

Check out our guide to using electronic punching

What clothes should I wear? 


Most competitors will dress for a hike or run, depending on their expected exertion. Closed toe shoes and leg coverings are highly recommended, especially for our forest events. 


Experienced orienteers will wear special nylon mesh jerseys and pants designed specifically for the sport. These resist tearing, allow airflow, and are usually adorned with club logos. The club will sporadically make a group order for SDO-branded items. 


Special orienteering gaiters are also common, designed specifically to protect shins without overheating. A few North American vendors sell orienteering gear, but we have had better luck with the UK based


What shoes should I wear? 


Running shoes with basic tread are usually sufficient for San Diego’s dry ground. The more support, tread, and protection the better, especially if it’s wet. 


Special purpose orienteering shoes are available, but are expensive and difficult to find. Some eccentrics swear by soccer cleats for challenging terrain, but they can become uncomfortable quickly, especially with synthetic uppers. 


Do I need to bring water or food? 

There is no water available on the course, so we recommend competitors think carefully about their hydration needs. It is common for people to bring water bottles or hydration bladders, especially during the summer or at our longer event. 

Most competitors will complete their course in under 90 minutes, so it's much rarer to bring food. However, elite orienteers will often bring energy gels for longer races and those planning to approach the course more leisurely can sometimes be spotted with backpacks full of snacks!  

Gear FAQ
Oureach FAQ
Registation FAQ
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