Orienteering Lingo


Like all sports, orienteering is filled with special terms that make absolutely no sense outside the O world (like, what does "O world" mean??). Here's an attempt to make the sport more understandable to newcomers. The lingo is grouped not alphabetically, but by topic - I hope it is not too hard to find things.

General lingo

O ("oh")

The letter "O" is often used as a short-cut for saying or writing all twelve letters in the word "orienteering".


Orienteering done on foot - the most common type of orienteering.


Mountain bike orienteering. One of the four official disciplines in the orienteering world (according to the IOF). All controls must be on trails, and orienteers must stay on mapped trails.


Orienteering done on cross country skis. All controls must be on trails, though it is sometimes allowed to ski off the trails.


Trail orienteering is an orienteering discipline centered around map reading in natural terrain. The discipline has been developed to offer everyone, including people with limited mobility, a chance to participate in a meaningful orienteering competition.


International Orienteering Federation. Home page: www.orienteering.org

Racing lingo

Sprint Distance Race

Winning time of 12-15 minutes. Tests navigation and decision making at high speed. Course setting emphasizes high speed travel and high levels of concentration. Sprints are often held in urban environments (such as university campus) or open forest.

Middle Distance Race

Winning times of 30-35 minutes. Tests technical ability. Course setting emphasizes detailed navigation in complex terrain, high concentration, and many speed shifts (for example, with legs through different types of terrain).

Long Distance Race

Winning times of 70-90 minutes. Tests endurance. Course setting emphasizes route choice and navigation in rough demanding terrain.

Control / Checkpoint / Flag / Bag / etc

One of the points that you must visit during the race. Marked on the map with a circle and in the terrain with a white and orange marker. The control must be on a unique feature in the terrain (such as a boulder or a path junction or a small knoll).


A device at the control that you use to prove you were there. Often a pin-punch. In bigger races it will be an electronic device.

Control description

Lists the code you will find on the punch (so you can check you are at the correct one) and a detailed description of exactly where on the feature you will find the punch. For example, on the south side of the boulder (which implies that you might not see the punch if you are on the north side of the boulder). Usually printed on the maps, and often available on a small bit of paper that you can attach to your body for quick reference. For advanced courses this information is provided with special international control symbols.

Point to Point

The "normal" type of race, in which controls must be visited in the specified order.


A variation of the game in which controls can be visited in any order within a specified time. Particularly good for beginners and intermediate orienteers.

Start time

Sometimes used to refer to the time of the first start of an event (eg: 11:00am). More often used to refer to the time an individual is scheduled to start his/her race (eg: "my start time is 11:28").

Mass Start

An event in which all competitors start at the same time. This is unusual, since it is more common to have staggered starts, often with assigned start times, to reduce following.


Time taken between two controls on the course. It is common to compare splits with other runners. If an event uses electronic timing then these split times are often posted on websites such as WinSplits, which allows fancy comparisons and analysis. 

WOC ("Wok")

World Orienteering Championships. Held every year. Entry is limited, and teams are selected by the national federation.

JWOC ("Jay-Wok")

Junior World Orienteering Championships. Held every year. For age 20 and under. Entry is limited, and teams are selected by the national federation.


World Masters Orienteering Championships. Held every year. For ages 35 and over. Entry is open to any competitor.

WRE / World Ranking Event

High quality race in which the elite racers score points toward their World Ranking. Website is currently: http://www.6prog.org/iof/wre_home~.htm

Timing lingo


An electronic timing system in common use in Scandinavia. It is the major competitor to SportIdent. Runners carry a credit-card sized 'brick' that they touch to an Emit 'punch' unit at each control site. It provides a silent punch and an automatic backup if either the punch or the brick should fail.

SportIdent / SI

An electronic timing system in common use in Europe and North America. Runners carry a small finger-stick that they insert into an SI 'punch' unit at each control site. It provides an audible confirmation and an LED flash when the punch is registered. There is no automatic backup, so for championship events there will be an old-fashioned pin-punch to use should the SI unit fail.

SI Punch / SI Unit

The box that is at each control site.

SI Stick / Finger Stick / Dibber / ...

The small device runners carry, usually strapped to their finger.

Map lingo


International Standards for Orienteering Maps. Defines all the symbols used on Foot-O maps. Well worth looking at. Click here to view.

ISSOM / Sprint Standard

International Standards for Sprint Orienteering Maps. Similar to ISOM but has modifications for the special nature of sprint orienteering. For example to allow for sprint events often taking place in more urban areas, and for sprint maps being made at a different scale. Click here to view. All serious competitors should understand the differences between ISOM and ISSOM.

Terrain lingo


Perhaps the most confusing of all orienteering lingo. A re-entrant is what most people would call a small gully. They are represented on a map by a u-shaped bend in a contour line. They can be very shallow in the terrain or very, very deep. They are a very commonly used as locations for controls.

Open forest

Open forest has trees far apart and very little under-brush. Running is fast and easy and fun. Marked on the map with white background.

Un-crossable feature (stream / fence / marsh )

These are features that you are not allowed to cross, even though you might think you could cross them. They are marked on the map as un-crossable using special symbols. It is important to know the symbols, and to be aware that the symbols are different in ISSOM and ISOM (!). Features are marked as un-crossable usually for safety reasons, but also often as specified by the landowner.