Orienting the Map

compassmap The most important skill in orienteering is to orient your map to the terrain so it is in correct alignment with your surroundings. Essentially, you want to hold your map so that north on the map will correspond with north in the terrain.

Once you have grasped this skill, locating features on the map and being able to match them to the terrain becomes much easier. After all, knowing where you are on the map is vitally important in helping you decide where you want to go!



Orienting your map (also called setting the map) can be done in two ways:

orient your map to the ground - this is done without using the compass and requires you to look at large features ahead, beside and around you to use to align your map. On easier courses, where you are mostly on trails or open land, this skill comes fairly easily.

orient your map by compass - if there is any doubt about how you are orienting your map, say you are in thick terrain and there are no obvious features to reference, then using your compass is important. Your compass will provide you the accurate alignment you need so that you can confidently choose the direction you wish to head.

Orienting your Map to the Ground

This skill needs to be practiced and is a foundation skill for all orienteering. This short video by Sport Scotland (Glenmore Lodge) will quickly demonstrate how to orient your orienteering map using large features.


Orienting your Map with the Compass

To orient a map by compass takes a bit of practice. When first starting out, it is recommended that you follow this simple three step process, illustrated below.

   Step 1 - turn the compass dial so that the  compass is set to    North (0 degrees) at the index pointer on the compass.

    Step 2 – place the compass on the map so that the edge of the    compass is in line with the blue North Lines on the map. Make sure    north on your compass is pointed in same direction of north on the    map as illustrated on the left,    

    Step 3 – rotate your body with the map and the compass until the    magnetic needle points to north on the map and is in alignment    with the North-South lines on the map. Your map is now set to    north.


Once you get the hang of doing this, you will start doing this more automatically as soon as you need to orient your map. Practice this skill often until it comes naturally every time you change direction. Here is another quick video from Sport Scotland (Glenmore Lodge) to see how this looks in an orienteering situation.


Once you grasp this concept, you can speed things up by just using the compass needle vice having to also align the base plate to the North lines on the map. Check out this short video produced by South London Orienteers (SLOW), which demonstrates how to set your map by using the available features. Later in the video, the orienteer will use her baseplate compass to do this using this speedier method of just using the compass needle without also aligning the baseplate as well. Watch carefully.



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