Orienteering Maps

Orienteering maps are incredibly detailed maps representing the terrain. Have a look a the sample below, for what types of information is normally located on an orienteering map.


Map Scale

Orienteering maps are created from the perspective of a person walking or running and therefore are usually large scale maps. This means the map details are large as compared to topographic maps, which are typically 1:25,000 or 1:50,000. Scale refers to size of the real world and how it is represented on the map. For example on a 1:7500 map, one unit on the map represented 7500 units in actual size. (i.e. 1 cm on a map is equal to 7500 cm in real life). To ensure visibility of map symbols of point feature, such as rocks, pits etc, these symbols may be exaggerated in size to make them more easily legible.

Typically, orienteering maps are usually 1:7500 or 1:10,000 when used for forest orienteering. A scale of 1:15,000 may be used for long championship events. When used for urban sprint races, a map scale of 1:2500 to 1:5000 is used to show fine details around buildings. Even larger scale maps may be used (i.e. 1:500 or 1:1,000) when working with small children.


Orienteering Map Colours

Orienteering maps make generous of colour to denote different types of terrain. These colours will help the orienteer choose which type of terrain they can cross with the fastest speed.

  • Black
  • Blue
  • White
  • Green
  • Yellow
  • Grey
  • Brown
  • Olive Green


Orienteering Map Symbols

Map symbols help you visualize what the map represents. Most orienteering maps will have a legend that will help define the symbols used on the map. However, it may not be always present. One of the best resources for orienteering map symbols has been produced by MapRunner in the UK. There two main sets of orienteering map symbols. Those used for regular maps (ISOM Standard) and those used for large scale sprint maps (ISSOM Standard).

These handy reference sheets can be printed off for quick reference via the links below:

Normal Maps Sprint Maps
Download PDF Download PDF
Download JPG Download JPG


Control Descriptions

Control descriptions boxes are added to a map to provide information to help the orienteer identify the feature they must locate. In addition, the control description will also list the control codes, which are used to identify individual control flags. These codes typically consist of a two or three digit number (i.e. '41' or '121'). These control codes help the orienteer confirm that they have found the correct flag.

Beginner Courses Advanced Courses


Beginner or novice courses will normally have the control description displayed in plain English, so it is easy for those new to orienteering to get started. More advanced courses, however, will utilize International Orienteering Federation (IOF) Control Description Symbols. Once you gain more experience and are ready to move up in course difficulty, you will learn more about these IOF symbols. More on this will be presented in the Advanced Skills section.


Orienteering Map Summary

Now that you have learned about orienteering maps, here is quick summary of how all of the orienteering map components come together. This video was produced by Oskar Schuster. Enjoy!


Explore the next page to learn more about the orienteering compass.