Get Out: Orienteering

Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine
Jan/Feb 2017

orienteering-luigi-mengato-flickrOrienteering is a popular sport in state parks. Learn how to use a compass and topographic map and get competitive outside! Photo by Luigi Mengato


One of the fastest ways to ruin a good wilderness experience is to get lost. GPS devices are helpful, but it’s also fun and challenging to learn how to navigate with a compass and map.

Orienteering was first developed in Sweden to train military officers in over-land navigation. The first organized orienteering events in the United States started in 1941, gaining traction with West Point cadets and Boy Scouts. Today, orienteering skills have evolved into an Olympic Class C sport with local amateur clubs forming across the country.


The basics

At the site of race (called an orienteering course or O-course), white-and-orange control flags are set out across the terrain. The orienteer, equipped only with a compass and map to navigate, gets a control card with clues to the site locations. Racing through the course, the orienteers traverse the quickest route to the next flag, where they punch their card, verifying their visit. When they reach the last flag and cross the finish line, the person with the lowest overall time wins. The sport tests the participant’s route choice, navigation over rough terrain, fitness and ingenuity.



  • In a real wilderness situation, orienteering helps hikers get home or share an approximate location with search and rescue teams.
  • Being prepared lessens the feeling of worry in uncertain situations.
  • Orienteering exercises the body and mind.
  • Variations like mountain bike/canoe orienteering keep the sport new and interesting.
  • Trail orienteering, another variation, lets those with limited mobility participate more easily.



Topographic map with features





Train at a permanent orienteering course

Three state parks have permanent O-courses, meaning the markers are out all year long. Train here when there’s not an organized event happening. Course maps can be obtained at the main gate or online.

Tyler State Park

Stephen F. Austin State Park

Brazos Bend State Park

Also: Bob Woodruff Park in Plano


Texas Orienteering Clubs Orienteering is also a part of the Boy Scouts and JROTC training program. Take a stab at group variation events like relays, mass-start endurance and Score-O events.

North Texas Orienteering Association

Austin Orienteering Club

Houston Orienteering Club

ALTOS (Arkansas Louisiana Texas Orienteering Society)


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