Feature 1Orienteer

Teach Yourself Orienteering

Orienteer is designed to make it easy to learn orienteering! The quick version is - download the app and find a beginners course close to you, flip on "Learn Mode", and go run around! If you like figuring stuff out on your own, go for it - the rest of this article is a few tips on what to practice, what to pay attention to, and what to think about.

What is learn mode?

"Learn mode" (as opposed to "Race Mode") gives you access to the phone's GPS location. You tap the "Me" button on the map, and the map will snap to your current location being in the middle of the crosshairs. While you're running, we don't show the usual "blue dot" because we don't want to cover up where you are. This is a common feature in orienteering maps, it's why checkpoints are represented by circles - so you can see the map exactly at the place where the checkpoint is.

Your First Time

Find a beginner course! Beginner courses always have a prescribed order - at any given place, you know where the next checkpoint you're trying to get to is. Aim the phone at the checkpoint, zooming in and out as necessary to see it in the window. Try to "plot out" a route from where you are to the checkpoint. For example, there might be a trail to a junction, then another trail to the checkpoint. It's a bit like the maze games I loved when I was a kid - connect the two dots with a line, and then walk the line. Once you "check in" and the phone beeps, do the same thing to the next checkpoint.

Use the "Me" feature liberally - every time you look at the map, center on where you are. Before you push the button, though, take a guess at where it'll be - and see how close you were. Walking down a trail, for example, you should start to get an intuitive and intellectual sense of where you are, even before you hit the button to re-center the map.

Your Second Course

Let yourself get a little lost! Don't use the "me" feature every time, drag the map so that the crosshairs line up with where you think you are, instead of using the "Me" button to move it. As you go, you may nail it, or you may not - you may think you're somewhere you're not. If you're totally confused, then use the "Me" button to figure out where you are - but don't forget, getting confused and frustrated means you're about to learn something! This is great! Make friends with that feeling - you'll use it as a guide later.


Once you're pretty familiar with the basics of the maps, moving around, etc - instead of pressing the "Me" button in Learn mode, start the run in "Race" mode (you can always switch to Learn mode from the Tools tab). Now, instead of tapping a button to answer the question of where you are, you need to "reattack", which in orienteering means to start at a known place. The last place where you were sure you knew where you were, go there, and try again. If you just do the exact same thing, you'll want to find a different place near the checkpoint where you can be sure you know where you are (trail junctions, hilltops, a specific oxbow in a river... anything that's pretty unique and recognize in the field and on the map). This is the real thing, now! If you find yourself getting frustrated in a "bad" way, flip it back into "Learn" mode, and see if you can figure out what went wrong, and try to integrate that lesson into subsequent runs.

Don't waste a good learning opportunity by giving up early! The habit of "figuring it out" is really powerful, and sets really great patterns both on-course and off.

As always, if you have questions, reach out! I love talking about this stuff, so don't hesitate!