A compass rests on top of an orienteering course map while a control flag hangs down from a tree trunk indicating the area as a course location.

Discover Orienteering: A Fun and Helpful Recreational Activity

Technology is great – when it works. Right now, most PA residents have an incredibly sophisticated and extremely portable device in their pockets that connects them to the internet, captures pictures and video, lets them send email, provides weather updates – and even makes phone calls! 

One of the most popular features that many smartphone users rely on is a global positioning system (GPS) app. Using their preferred GPS app, smartphone users can find detailed driving/walking/biking/public transit directions, avoid traffic jams, find faster routes and so much more. It really beats the old days of having to rely on paper maps to find the best course for any kind of trip.   

Unfortunately, this technology often does not work in more remote locations like local parks, trails, wooded areas and campgrounds. And since so many people have become reliant on technology to plot their various courses, they’re unfamiliar with tried-and-true navigation tools such as maps and compasses. 

The good news is that many folks realize their lack of navigational skills and are doing something about it. More and more PA residents are discovering the fun and practical art of orienteering.

Never heard of orienteering? That’s ok! Keep reading and you’ll learn all about this fun and helpful recreational activity. 

What is Orienteering? 

Some refer to orienteering as an art. Others consider it a sport. What we can tell you is that it’s a fun and extremely useful activity that improves your navigational skills. 

Originally designed as a military training exercise, orienteering involves the use of a detailed map and a compass to safely and successfully navigate an unfamiliar course or piece of terrain. Using the map, participants must travel from the starting line and make their way though the course visiting each assigned checkpoint as they go until they reach the finish line. 

As participants reach each checkpoint (which is identified by a location flag), they will punch a card they’ve been given with their map to indicate their progress.  When they reach the finish line, they will present an official with their card to verify that they have successfully completed the course. 

Orienteering activities can vary between fun family and group events to actual competitions where they reward participants. 

The Benefits of Orienteering 

As you can see, orienteering can be a great deal of fun for individuals, families and friends. In addition to its entertaining value, orienteering is also extremely helpful in many other ways. 

First, orienteering helps individuals build map- and compass-reading skills. By acquiring these skills, orienteering enthusiasts will be prepared for situations where their GPS app is unavailable. They’ll be able to efficiently and effectively walk/bike/backpack through parks and trails, navigate busy streets in an unfamiliar city, find their way around snowy terrain when skiing, and so much more. 

Orienteering also helps strengthen muscles and build brain power. Not only does it strengthen leg muscles and provide a well-rounded cardiovascular workout , it also lets participants challenge their brains and build better problem-solving and decision-making skills. 

It’s also incredibly beneficial for developing stronger self-reliance skills as well as team-building/collaboration skills, too. Many practice orienteering skills individually to improve their critical-thinking skills and ability to perform under pressure/stress in their personal and professional lives. Orienteering in a team improves communication, collaboration and gives everyone a common goal to achieve. 

Where to Start Orienteering 

Ready to discover the joys of orienteering but don’t know where to start? That’s ok. We have you covered. 

Many local parks offer a variety of orienteering courses and events. From beginner’s courses and non-competitive events to advanced courses and major competitions, PA parks host a wonderful array of orienteering opportunities throughout the year. 

For those who want to learn more about orienteering before they take their first step, many local PA parks and recreations services offer introductory programs to teach the basics of orienteering. 

If you love learning about your local parks and the many fun activities and programs they offer (like orienteering), be sure to sign up for the Good For PA newsletter! That way you’ll always know the latest news and events that are happening in your local parks!