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Orienteering is Hot!

By Chuck Fitzgerald

Orienteering is one of the most thrilling activities available for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages, and here's the good news: It's inexpensive. If you enjoy spending time out of doors and you are looking to break out of your regular routine, orienteering may be the challenge you've been hoping for.

Thousands of men, women and children around the country are addicted to the mental and physical rush of orienteering. Let's find out why.

Chart your course
First off, what is orienteering? Orienteering is an outdoor sport where you use a map and a compass to find your way through a cross-country-style course, either leisurely or competitively. Here's basically how it works: By using only a compass and a map, participants move from one control point to another until reaching the end of the course. Each participant — an orienteer — uses a special device to mark his scorecard (a unique one is located at each control point), thus proving he actually visited the required control points. The orienteer who reaches the finish line first, with all control points visited, is the winner.

Sounds easy doesn't it? So what's the catch?

Finding the way
There are two main challenges to the sport. First, the route is not marked. Therefore, the orienteer must personally navigate from control point to control point using only a compass and a map. To successfully do this, he will always need to know how far he has traveled and in what direction. His map, provided at the event, gives detailed information on the terrain such as hills, landmarks, bodies of water and other obstacles.

Secondly, to be successful in orienteering, the orienteer needs excellent map-reading skills, the ability to focus mentally and the ability to make decisions. If the event is competitive, all of this is done as fast as possible.

Foot orienteering
The most popular type of orienteering is foot orienteering — abbreviated as foot-O – which is an Olympic sport. World-class foot-O athletes typically have endurance and strength characteristics similar to those of marathon runners.

Other orienteering types include mountain bike, skiing, trail and night orienteering.

To find out more information on orienteering in your city, contact the United States Orienteering Federation.

Competitive orienteering has been called the "thinking sport" and has been likened to "running while playing chess." With orienteering, you'll improve your problem-solving skills and your decision-making skills and you will push yourself to new levels of accomplishment — all while having a great time.

While leisure orienteering is not nearly as fast-paced or as pressure-packed as competitive orienteering, you'll still get an adrenaline rush when you've successfully found your way through the course – and that's why orienteering is hot.

© Chuck Fitzgerald

Chuck Fitzgerald is the president of Arizona-based BackCountry Toys, an online store providing backcountry specialty gear and educational information for outdoor enthusiasts. Visit BackCountry Toys to receive the free e-newsletter "FreshAir," or call (800) 316-9055.

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