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Frequently Asked Questions

What is orienteering?

Orienteering is a fun and challenging outdoor activity in which participants navigate their way on foot, using only map and compass, along trails (beginners), or cross-country (expert), or a combination of both (intermediate).  Orienteering events are held in woodlands, deserts, grasslands, city parks, or almost anywhere outdoors, and each event is divided into several levels of difficulty: from a fun, non-competitive family outing, to a challenging competitive sport.  Events are also attended by serious outdoorsmen and women who want to practice map and compass skills in a safe, controlled setting.

How much time is involved in attending an event?

Aside from driving time, which varies, you should plan for two to four hours at most events.


Image by Stephanie Ross

What is it like to participate in an orienteering event?

Each participant is given a map marked with a series of checkpoints to be visited.  In order to complete the course, the participant must navigate to each of these checkpoints and back to the starting point.  The object is to use navigational ability to take the best route to each checkpoint.

Here are some videos which give a nice overview of orienteering:

Yellow Course in the Tucson Desert

Yellow Course at Hamilton Island

Advanced Courses - Running Wild

Do I need to have a certain navigational skill?

At each event, there are several courses offered which are rated in length and difficulty, from beginner to expert.  Beginner courses are typically along trails and other easy-to-follow routes. Intermediate courses are partially on trails and partially cross-country.  Expert courses are on difficult-to-follow cross-country routes.

Youth Team Sign In Table

Image by L. Hill

What equipment do I need?

A beginning orienteer should be fit enough to walk at a leisurely pace for about one mile, in an hour, over easy terrain.  Expert orienteers are trained endurance athletes, walking or running for many hours over rugged terrain. Wear comfortable clothes appropriate to the season, long pants, a hat, and walking shoes or hiking boots.  Many racers wear trail runners or specialized orienteering shoes for cross-country terrain. The only specialized equipment you will need is a compass and whistle.  If you forget these items, compasses and whistles are available at the event for a small fee.

What type of map will I use?

Orienteering maps are specially prepared topographic maps showing in detail the terrain encountered in the forest, desert, or urban area.

Punching at the Checkpoint

Image by L. Hill

Is it safe to go off the trails?

If navigating in the outdoors sounds a little scary, then an orienteering event is the place to be.  The beginner courses are in carefully selected areas, safely contained within recognizable boundaries so it is almost impossible to get truly lost.  In addition, each participant's start and finish time is monitored so that anyone who is overdue will be rounded up by skilled orienteers.

What is Tucson Orienteering Club?

The Tucson Orienteering Club (TOC) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose volunteers are devoted to promoting recreational and competitive orienteering in southeast Arizona.  TOC is a member of Orienteering USA, which has about 70 member clubs promoting the sport of orienteering in the U.S.  We regularly host monthly orienteering events throughout the year and offer orienteering courses for all skill and experience levels.  A free beginner's clinic is offered at most of our events.

How can I learn how to orienteer?

At almost every meet there is a free orienteering clinic in which beginners learn the basic navigation techniques and rules of the game, before participating on the course.  Intermediate clinics are also offered.  

To see if we are offering any special classes on Orienteering, visit our Calendar.


Image by Stephanie Ross

What types of courses are offered?

At many events we offer separate courses for each skill level, as follows:

The White course follows mostly trails, is ideal for youngsters and anyone who isn’t comfortable with reading a road map yet, and is typically 1-2 km long.


The Yellow course takes you off of the trails but follows helpful linear features, is a good course for the beginning adult, and is typically 2-4 km long.


The Orange course takes you out “into the forest,” is for the orienteer who is very comfortable with off-trail travel on topographic maps and has intermediate orienteering skills, and is typically 4-5 km long.


The Green/Red courses take you into difficult, complex, and ambiguous terrain, are only for orienteers with advanced skills, and are typically 4-6 km (Green) and 5-8 km long (Red).


At other events we offer a Score-O course in which there are a variety of checkpoints, usually ranging from beginner to advanced, and you get to pick the checkpoints you wish to visit.

Descriptions for other types of courses offered at TOC local meets such as sprints, rogaines, mini-rogaines, goats, and others can be found in the event announcement for each event.

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