With more than a century of history, the modern sport of orienteering has a language all its own. Here are a few key terms one might encounter while preparing a route or competing on a course:

Attack point: An obvious feature near the control point from which the control can be located by navigating carefully with map and compass.

Bearing: The direction of travel as indicated by the compass.

Control: A checkpoint on an orienteering course that a competitor must visit to complete the course.

Control marker: A three-sided marker (usually orange and white) placed at features on an orienteering course. It usually has a punch or other marking device attached to mark a control card as proof you visited the control.

Control feature: A natural or man-made feature on, or next to, that from which the control is hung.

Course: A sequence of control points marked on the map that are to be visited by the orienteer.

E-punch: A finger-stick worn while orienteering as part of an electronic timing system (as opposed to manual timing).

Fine orienteering: Precision navigation in detailed terrain usually demanding careful use of map, compass and pace counting, and usually involving short course legs.

Goat event: A long-distance endurance event similar to a cross-country orienteering course. It usually has a mass start and often includes special rules, such as permission to skip a control.


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Handrail: A linear feature that closely parallels your route and acts as a handrail to the next control.

Leg: A section of a course between two control points.

Master map: A map displayed near the start from which competitors copy their courses onto their blank map; in bigger events, courses are pre-printed on the maps.

Orienting the map: Matching the orientation of the map to the features on the ground. This is one of the fundamental skills in orienteering and leads to successful navigation. The map can be oriented either by comparing the map directly with the terrain or by using a compass to orient to north.

Pace counting/pacing: A system of counting double-paces (every time the left or right foot hits the ground) to measure distance covered. An orienteer would measure the distance between two points using the scale on the compass and then count his/her paces until the distance was covered. Pacing allows orienteers to know when they have gone too far and missed the feature they were looking for.

Point feature: A feature in the terrain that only occupies a small area. Frequently mapped examples are boulders, pits and mounds, stumps, and root mounds. Point features are not suitable as control sites for novice courses unless they are on a handrail.

Punching: The act of marking the control card with the punch; in the case of electronic timing, inserting the e-punch into the slot in the control station or "e-box."

Rogaine: An extended score event, with time limits of 3, 6, 8, 12 or 24 hours, generally using large-area maps.

Safety bearing: A compass bearing that will bring a lost orienteer to a road or other major, recognizable feature. It may be added to the control description list as a safety measure.

Safety whistle: A whistle that can be used if a participant is injured or lost.

Thumbing: A technique for holding the map, using your thumb to indicate your present location. To do this properly, it is often necessary to fold the map, preferably along the line of travel.

Source: Orienteering USA