Orienteering Jargon

The world of ‘O’ can be a strange and mysterious one to the uninitiated. Regulars at times slip into an incomprehensible language filled with jargon and slang: ‘I DNF’d on the brown at the last Gallopen after my dibber fell off.’
Oli Johnson

If you are new to the world of orienteering, then you might find some of the terminology a little bit confusing. Once you understand some of the most common orienteering jargon, then you will find it much easier to understand what is going on in the sport.


A bearing (or compass bearing ) is the direction that you are pointing or heading in as shown by the points of a compass. To find your bearing you must use a compass to find North, and then use the compass mechanism to ascertain your direction. Even if you find compass bearings difficult at first, it is likely that you will pick up this skill very quickly! Practicing regularly will help you to find your bearing very quickly.


A control (or a checkpoint) is a point marked as a circle on the map that you must visit as you move around the course. They usually consist of an orange and white kite attached to a stake.

Control Codes

Each control will have a unique code that identifies a control; usually 2 or 3 numbers, sometimes 2 letters. This is the number displayed on the physical control, but of course this is different from the control number. The control code will be clearly visible on the control.
You should always double check to make sure that you are at the right one. If the code does not match the code that you are looking for, then you are probably at the wrong control!

Control description

A description of the where the control is placed within the circle on the map.
Follow the link below for a guide to control descriptions.
Control descriptions guide
If you would like to test your knowledge, you can take a control description quiz here.
Thanks to Simon Errington for Maprunner.

Control description sheet

The sheet of paper that contains the control descriptions.

Control marker

See flag.

Control number

The sequence number of a control on a course - 1, 2, 3 etc. Not to be confused with the control code . You must visit controls in the correct number order.


The person who has ultimate responsibility for the fairness and correctness of an event.


Courses are made up of a number of controls that you must visit in order.

Crossing point

To avoid damage to walls and fences, you sometimes have to cross these obstacles only at specific points. These will be shown on your map, and your control description sheet will say "use crossing point". Your control description sheet will say if the crossing point is compulsory. If it is, you can be disqualified for crossing the obstacle anywhere else.


A dibber or SI-card (Sport Ident Card) is an electronic device which is used to record your visits to each of the controls.
It is a small device which sits on your finger and which can be tapped into the control as you visit it.
The dibber will feed back to the event’s main system and create split times for your event.
You will be able to get an electronic read out of your split times and other relevant information from download at the end of your race.


A white-and-orange fabric marker that is hung at each control. Also referred to as a kite.

Night Orienteering

This is simply orienteering at night. Most night orienteering takes place in areas where there is very little light pollution, so you will need to make sure that you have a good torch if you want to see where you are going. The darkness means that you will need high levels of technical skill if you want to finish the course quickly.


The Organiser has overall responsibility for the event, and looks after all of the administrative and logistic work required to make it happen.


The Planner is responsible for designing the courses to be set out for the event. They also put out the controls and make sure the map accurately reflects the terrain, vegetation and so on.


Before dibbers, participants would have to punch a hole on their control card to prove that they had been to all of the right controls. They would do this by using a clipper punch with different patterns of spikes. Each control had a unique punch. Everyone still uses the term "pucnhing", even if they are using a dibber in their event.


Some orienteering courses can be run in relay. One participant runs the first part and then hands over to the next. Relay teams usually involve 3 to 25 people, depending on the event. The team time is a combination of all of the legs of the race.

Sprint Orienteering

Sprint orienteering is the newest variety of the sport. Often (but not always) held in urban locations such as university campuses.
Sprint orienteering maps use a larger scale than traditional orienteering maps; either 1:5000 or 1:4000 and they also use slightly different map symbols. Winning times for sprint races are around 12-15 minutes.
Sprint Courses are technically easy but route choice is difficult requiring high concentration. The "high speed" nature of sprints means that every small mistake and hesitation wil affect your time, making them an intense racing expirience.

String Course

String courses are sometimes created for young children to help them to get into orienteering. Pieces of string are put between controls so that the children do not get lost.


TD stands for technical difficulty.
TD 1 is the easiest level and TD 5 is the hardest level of difficulty. Adult beginners should normally start on a TD 2 or TD 3 course. Almost all younger teenagers should be able to complete a TD1 course without adult supervision. Courses may also be colour coordinated to show their length or difficulty. Choosing the right difficulty will help to increase your enjoyment of the event.