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What happens at an orienteering meet?

One of the first things that prospective orienteers wonder about before going to their first meet is what exactly happens at an orienteering meet.  Too often people who end up loving orienteering are cautious about trying it because they don't have a good idea about what's going to be expected of them if they go to a meet.  Well if you are on the fence about whether or not to give it a try, you've come to the right place!  This page will explain exactly how orienteering meets proceed and what to do and avoid doing at them.

First of all, understand that ICO orienteering meets are very casual affairs.  We get some orienteers who are extremely good athletes and great navigators but also a lot of people who just want to go out for a nice walk in the woods and have a little added fun trying to find controls (these are orange and white flags, also known as checkpoints, but the correct orienteering term is control) with a map and compass while they're out there.  You don't need to belong to ICO or any other club to come out to a meet, nor do you need to register ahead of time.  Just show up and we'll be ready for you!

The first thing you'll need to do is pick a meet to come to from our Schedule Page. If the meet is coming up soon, click on it and there will be more information on the page that comes up.  You'll notice that most standard meets have a "window" of start times which is usually a two hour period.  There will also be a time that registration begins, which is usually an hour before the start time and most meets will even have a beginner clinic half an hour before the start time.  The beginner clinic is a great opportunity to get a little free orienteering instruction from an experienced orienteer before you attempt a course yourself, but it's not necessary to attend especially if you plan on doing a beginner course which will have very easy navigation.  So now that you've chosen a meet to attend, you have to decide when to show up.  This is actually very flexible.  If you plan on just doing one course, then all you have to remember is that you have to leave the start area by the end of the start window.  So if the start window is 10:00 AM to noon, then you have to go out on the course by noon.  You can take as long as you want to complete it once you're out though.  Generally it takes about half an hour to register and copy your map (more on this in a minute) so you'll want to show up by 11:30 at the latest.  If registration starts at 9:00, then you can show up any time between 9:00 and 11:30.

Note that not all meets have a start window.  Score-O type meets have a mass start where all orienteers start at the same time.  See the FAQ Page for more info on these.

Read the meet information page

This is what you'll be looking for!
carefully as some meet locations have multiple parking lots and the meet information page will tell you where exactly to go.  We also put out orange and white signs on the property that say ICO which point the correct way to go when we think it might be confusing.  Once you get to the right spot, you will see several tables set up with maps and papers.  You want to find the registration table which will be manned by a volunteer.  Head over to that table and tell them you need to register.  They'll give you a waiver to sign and a form to fill out some information, then you'll have to pay.  Then they'll give you a map of the property which won't have any controls marked on it.  Now you'll have to decide which course to do.  There will be several options of varying difficulties, usually at least one beginner, intermediate, and advanced course.  See descriptions of the course colors here.  Since you're new, you'll probably want to start with a beginner course, for example a white course, which is the easiest course.  So you'll take your blank map over to the table that has the master maps on it and find the master map for the white course.  Then you'll have to copy the controls onto your map from the master map.  You'll als o find a clue sheet on this table which will give you extra information about where to look for each control (for example, "trail junction" or "distinct tree").

Now that you have your map copied, if you like you can plot out a route on your map, or you can just go ahead and start and plot your route as you walk.  When you're ready to start, you'll need to notify the volunteers at the registration table, and they will write down your start time and give you a punch card, which you'll take with you on the course to prove you visited the controls.  Each control has a unique hole punch at it, and you'll use that to punch the correct box on your punch card, which proves that you were at the right spot.  So from the start, you'll use your map to figure out which direction to go toward control #1.  Since you're on a white course, all travel will be on roads or trails or fields.  The navigation will be simple and you'll just have to make sure you turn the right direction at trail intersections, etc.  When you get close to the control, you'll be looking for an orange and white flag which indicates you're in the right place.  Since there are a lot of controls in the woods for an orienteering meet, you can determine if you're at the right one by checking the number attached to the flag.  You'll have to match it up with the number on your clue sheet to verify it's the correct point.  Once you do that, you can punch your card with the hole punch you'll find attached to the flag.  Then you'll head to #2 (you do have to go in order) and so on until you get them all.  If you can't find one, that's ok.  Just skip it and go on to the next one.  Even the best orienteers sometimes have bad days and have to skip controls.  Once you get them all, head back to the start/finish area and hand in your punch card to the volunteers.  They'll record your finish time and you're all done!  They can tell you your time and how you did compared to others if you like, and it will be posted on the web site when the results are tallied up.  If you still have time and energy, you can now decide to go back out again on a different course.

Your punch card might look like this after you complete a course.