A-Z Jargon Buster

These are the main terms that you might see or hear mentioned at orienteering events. There are also many geographical features and terms that refer to techniques used in the sport. These are best explained by experienced orienteers – so join a club and/or enrol on a training course!

Terms are listed alphabetically. You can download a copy as a PDF by clicking here.

Age groupAge groups exist so that everyone can compete against others of similar age. For adults, from age 35, age groups go in 5 year bands, and there is one each for men (M) and women (W). Thus a man aged 50 would normally run as M50, and a woman aged 39 would normally run as W35. The open age categories for adults are known as M21 and W21. Age groups for juniors are in 2 year bands from 10 to 20, though in most events juniors can choose the standard at which they wish to compete.
AreaTerm used specifically to cover the (usually fairly small) area covered by the map for a particular event. Also used to indicate a group of clubs in a geographical region, eg. West Area.
BadgeBadges are awarded for achievement of particular standards. These are usually known as Regional events or National events. Badges can be obtained from British Orienteering or via your club. You can also get SOA badges when you achieve a particular standard in colour coded courses.
BearingMany experienced orienteers use a compass to take a bearing so they know which direction to go. But you can start orienteering without being an expert with a compass.
BlBlue course, see colour-coded.
BO or BOFBritish Orienteering Federation - the British governing body for the sport.
BOCBritish Orienteering Championships
BrBrown course, see colour-coded.
Brikke(pronounced "brick") - the electronic gizmo carried by participants in an event using Emit. The funny spelling is because the word originated in Scandinavia.
ChampionshipTop level competition, often for a particular set of people, eg. Schools Championships, North Area Championships, Scottish Championships. You don't have to be a top-notch orienteer to take part though!
CheckpointAlso known as a control.
Check stationA special box of electronics at the start, in which you check that your dibber is OK. Applies only to events using SI.
CircleEach control site is marked on the map with a circle, usually 7mm across. When you are close to the control, you might say you are "in the circle". But you still might not see the control immediately!
ClassicThe standard, long-ish distance event, held in countryside of some sort.
Clear stationA special box of electronics which clears previous data stored on your dibber. The clear station is usually placed prominently on the route to the start. Hold your dibber in it until it bleeps 2 or 3 times. Applies only to events using SI.
Closed eventAn event or competition which may be entered only by particular people; eg. an event just for schools.
Closing dateThe last date for acceptance of entries. This applies only to those events that you have to enter in advance.
Code numberSee control code.
Colour-codedColour coded courses us a particular colour to indicate length and difficulty, and these should be consistent from one event to another. The usual courses are:
White: easy and short; all on paths or tracks.
Yellow: slightly less easy, and a little longer.
Orange: not all on paths, and longer again.
Light green: navigation skills needed; longer again.
Green: the shortest technically difficult course.
Blue: technically difficult, medium length.
Brown: technically difficult and long.
Black: even more so (only found infrequently).
Some events link a specific colour to particular age classes.
CompetitionUsually just another word for an event, though sometimes a competition comprises a series of events.
Contour intervalThe distance between heights shown by contour lines - usually 5m, but check on your map.
Contour onlySome events offer a special map which shows only the contours of the lad (not the vegetation, paths, streams etc.). This makes navigating more difficult, but is excellent practice.
ControlEach point marked with a circle on the map, which a competitor is required to visit. Controls are usually marked by a flag or kite, and have a means of proving that you've been there - usually an electronic unit.
Control cardBefore the days of electronic punching, participants would mark a card with the pin-punch at each control. Now rarely used.
Control codeThe unique code that identifies a control; usually 2 or 3 numbers. Sometimes referred to as the number on the control, but of course this is different from the control number. The control code will be clearly visible on the control, and you should always check the code of each control to make sure it really is the one you are looking for.
Control descriptionThe description of the feature where the control is placed.
Control description sheetThe list of controls that comprise your course.
Control markerSee flag.
Control numberThe sequence number of a control on a course - 1, 2, 3 etc.. Not to be confused with the control code. At most events you must visit controls in number order.
ControllerThe person who has ultimate responsibility for the fairness and safety of an event.
CourseWhen you take part in an orienteering event, you usually do one course. A course comprises several controls, plus a start and finish. Usually you must visit the controls in the correct order. Courses usually share the same start point and finish point, and might share some of the controls.
Crossing pointTo 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.
DibberThe electronic gizmo carried by participants in an event using SI.
DNF"Did not finish" - if you don't complete your course, the results will show DNF by your name. The term has become a verb, so you might say that you DNF'd at your last event - but of course we don't recommend this. If you decide to abandon your course (ie. to DNF), you must report to the finish or Download, otherwise a lot of time and effort could be spent looking for you.
DownloadAfter you finish an event that uses electronic punching, you must go to Download to register the fact that you are back safely and find out how long you've taken.
Electronic punchingAn electronic means of gaining evidence that you have been at a control. Two main electronic punching systems are in use: SI and Emit.
Electronic unitSI and Emit have different electronic units at the control. There may be a sample on display so you can find out what you have to do to punch at each control.
EmbargoAnyone who intends taking part in a major competition is not allowed to go into that specific mapped area for a period before the competition. We say the area is embargoed. The embargo period is determined by the competition rules, not by the level of the event.
EMITOne of the types of electronic punching.
EODEntry on Day - turn up at the event and enter there and then. Most events allow this, though there might be a surcharge for EOD at an event with pre-entry, and EOD might be limited to just a few places on particular courses.
EPSElectronic punching system.
EventA competition, at which there will be a number of courses, is usually referred to as an event. This stresses the fact that you can enjoy participating in orienteering without actually competing.
Event officialsSee Planner, Organiser, and Controller.
FeatureA distinct topographical object marked on the map, eg. a stream, boulder or hill.
FeesEntry fees for this event; usually one rate for adults (seniors) and one for juniors/students/unwaged. Some events also offer a special rate for families. There is usually a difference between the fees for members and those for non-members.
FinishThe point marked on your map with a double circle. Events using electronic punching might not have officials at the finish, just the electronic unit at which you should punch. Remember then to go to Download!
FixtureAnother term for an event.
Fixture listThe list of all events or fixtures currently registered and in the calendar. They usually extend up to a year ahead, sometimes more. See and if you're confused by the abbreviations in that, look at the Fixture List de-bunker.
FlagA white-and-orange fabric marker that is hung at each control. Also referred to as a kite.
Form lineA land shape might not be quite high enough to merit being shown with a contour line, but it is noticeable on the ground. It will probably be shown by a dashed contour line, known as a form line.
GreenOn maps, various shades of green indicate different density of vegetation.
See also colour coded.
GGreen course, see colour-coded
Grid refOrdnance Survey grid reference, often stated for the car park for an event. This might be a public car park, a field, or forest tracks.
Home InternationalCompetitions (comprising individual and relay events) between teams from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. They are held annually at Junior, Senior and Veterans levels.
IOFInternational Orienteering Federation - the worldwide governing body for the sport. See www.orienteering.org
IOF descriptionsStandard pictorial descriptions approved by the IOF and used throughout the world for events are many levels.
JKA 3-day international orienteering festival (open to all) held in the UK each Easter, named after Jan Kjellstrom.
JuniorAll participants under the age of 21.
JWOCJunior World Orienteering Championships
KiteSee flag.
LegApart from one of the limbs that propel you round the course, a leg is the section of a course from one control to the next.
LGLight green, see colour-coded.
Line featureFeatures such as a path, track or stream, which you can follow easily.
Ltd. EOD or Lim. EODLimited EOD - only a certain number of extra maps will be available, so only a limited number of people can enter on the day.
M21, M35 etc.Men's age group/class.
MapOrienteering maps are very detailed and are produced by specalist map-makers. They are usually at a scale of 1:10,000 (or sometimes 1:15,000) and might cover an irregularly-shaped area of between 1 and 10 sq km. Colours carry different meanings from Ordnance Survey maps. Most maps have a legend showing the meanings of symbols and colours, but sometimes this is available separately.
Map correctionsVery occasionally there might be some important changes to the terrain that have happened since the maps were printed. These corrections will be shown at the Start.
Mass startAt most events, competitors start at intervals of usually 1, 2 or 4 minutes. Sometimes all or some of the competitors start at the same time. This is called a mass start, and it is only used at events that are in some other way out of the ordinary.
MastersThe term for Veterans on the international scene.
Middle distance, or 'middle'As the name suggests, a shorter distance than most events, but not as short as a sprint. 
MTBOMountain Bike Orienteering.
Night orienteeringAs you'd guess, this is simply orienteering in the dark. A good headtorch is essential. This form of orienteering is widely considered one of the most technically challenging.
NOCNational Orienteering Centre. Located at Glenmore Lodge, near Aviemore, the NOC organises training and coaching sessions and courses and provides access to many excellent areas for individual or group practice. Check out the website: www.scottish-orienteering.org/natcen.
Orienteering. Or:
Orange. See colour coded in Jargon Buster. Or:
Other type of event (ie. not S, C or R).
OCOrienteering Club, as in ESOC, MAROC etc.
OLOrienteering League
OrganiserThe person who sorts out all the organisational, manpower and administrative bits to make an event happen.
Pictorial descriptionsDescriptions of the controls, using symbols to describe the feature on which the control is placed. Standard international symbols are agreed by the IOF and can be found on their website and on the SOA's control description de-coder.
PlannerThe person who designs the courses and puts out the controls. He/she works closely with the Organiser and Controller.
Pre-entryMany events require pre-entry, usually via an online system.
Pre-printedAt almost all events, the course is already printed onto the map.
PrintoutAfter you finish, go do Download, you will be given a printout showing your total time and splits.
PunchOnce upon a time you proved you had been at a control by marking a card with a punch (or clipper) which had pins in a particular pattern.
PunchingThis refers to the process by which you gain evidence that you have been to a control. Although the process is now usually electronic, the term has stuck.
Punching startAt some events you punch the start unit to start your time.
QuestionsAnything that remains unanswered by this document. Don't be afraid to ask event officials - or indeed one of the seasoned competitors. They're all very friendly really.
Re-entrantA land shape somewhat like a small valley. On the map it usually shows as an indented contour line (or several).
RelayAn event in which a team (usually 3 people, but sometimes up to 11) run separate courses, one handing over to the other.  The team's total time is what counts.
ResultsInterim results are usually displayed at the event, with final results being available on the internet soon after the event.
RouteHow you went from control to control.  On all but the simplest courses there is usually a choice of routes.  A particular pleasure and learning experience comes from discussing your routes with others on your course after the event.
RouteGadgetA cunning bit of software which allows you to plot your precise route on the map - online - and to see where others went, and learn! If you wear a GPS watch you can upload your route from that.
ScaleThe scale of most orienteering maps is 1:10,000 or 1:15,000. Always check this when you get your map. A scale of 1:10,000 means that 1cm (about the width of the nail on your little finger) on your map shows 100m on the ground, ie. the length of a football pitch.
Score eventA less common type of event, in which you have to find as many controls as possible in a fixed time. The number of points scored for each control varies according to its distance and technical difficulty, you can choose which controls to go to, and there will be a penalty if you take longer than the time allowed.
SeniorAdults aged 21-35.
SIOne of the types of electronic punching.
SI cardAnother name for dibber.
Six Daysor Six Day Event: In alternate (odd-numbered) years, Scotland hosts a week-long event. There are 6 separate days of competition with a rest day mid-week. Have a look at the 6 Day Event website.
SOAScottish Orienteering Association, the governing body of the sport in Scotland, and the source of many fantastic initiatives. Clubs (see list) are affiliated to SOA, and SOA is affiliated to British Orienteering.
SOCScottish Orienteering Championships
SOLScottish Orienteering League
SoSOLSouth of Scotland Orienteering League
SplitsThe detail of the time you took to go from one control to the next. If you're serious about improving, you will soon want to compare splits with other participants on your course. At an event using electronic punching, your printout will show your splits. Results on the internet usually show them too, and they appear on RouteGadget too.
SportIdentThe full name for SI.
SprintShort distance orienteering event, often held in a town or park.
Start controlWhere the start triangle is shown on the map, a control kite is placed. In some events with electronic punching, you will punch at the start line, which might be separate from the start kite.
Start timeIn major events and some local ones, you are given a specific time at which you start. The time you take to complete the course will be calculated from this time, so make sure you aren't late!
Start unitThe electronics box at the start - if you are required to punch at the start.
String courseA short course for very young children, in which the route is marked by a continuous line of string, or by easily seen lengths of tape.
Taped routeThere is usually a taped route to the start for everyone, so you know where to go.
Also, some courses, particularly those for younger children, might have a section where it might be difficult for them to find the right way on the map, so they have to follow bits of plastic tape hung from trees etc..
A taped route on adults' courses might be necessary to guide you through an area that is otherwise out of bounds or dangerous.
TbaTo be announced
Technical difficulty (TD)Courses are graded from TD 1 (easiest) to TD 5 (hardest). Green, Blue and Brown courses should all be TD 5. Orange courses should be TD 3, and offer a good starting level for adult beginners. See colour coded.
TerrainAn area away from paths, tracks and roads.
Trail-OAlso known as Precision-O, this form of orienteering does not rely on speed and mobility, but challenges your ability to read the map accurately. Usually suitable for everyone, including people with impaired mobility
UnitAs in SI unit or Emit unit - the box of electronics at a control.
UrbanEvent held in a built-up area; usually also a sprint.
VeteranAll participants aged 35 and above.
WWhite course, see colour-coded
W21, W35 etc.Women's age group/class.
WMOCWorld Masters' Orienteering Championships - open to all aged 35 and above.
WOCWorld Orienteering Championships.
WODWorld Orienteering Day
YYellow course, see colour-coded