What do all those colors mean, anyway?

(A description of the color-coding used for orienteering courses.)

Not every meet will have every level of course. "A" (national-level) meets in the U.S. generally have white, yellow, orange, brown, green, red, and blue. Local meets generally offer fewer courses (brown and blue are rare, for instance) and may not adhere exactly to the typical lengths.

String - designed for children who are just learning the ropes.

The course is marked with a continuous string, following the route indicated on the map.

White (beginner) - for people who have never orienteered before

White courses are less than 3km in length and have short legs between controls. Controls will generally be found on large features or near linear features such as trails and fences. No compass use should be necessary and navigation between controls is primarily along trails or streams or through fields.

Pink (long beginner)

Pink is the same technical difficulty as white, but longer. Pink is a non-standard course and not present at many meets.

Yellow (novice) - for people who have had a little experience with orienteering

Yellow courses are 3.5 to 4.5km long. Legs between controls are longer than white - usually 200-400m, but up to 600m. Navigation should be primarily off-trail, but no compass is required and controls are on large features with handrails and catching features to aid location. (Handrails are linear features like trails, fences, and creeks that can be followed to the control; catching features are features just past a control that let you know if you've missed it.)

Orange (intermediate)

Orange courses are 4-5km long. The goal is to provide the orienteer with lots of route choice and to encourage the orienteer to use more subtle features for navigation, while not overly penalizing navigational errors. Compass and pace-counting skills come into use.

Brown (advanced) - the shortest advanced course

Controls are on small features, away from handrails and catching features. Legs between controls are longer, up to 800m. Brown courses are generally only found at large meets (at least in the US).

Green (advanced)

Green courses are 4-5km and are the same technical difficulty as brown, but longer.

Gray (advanced)

Gray is the same technical difficulty as green, but is longer. US meets don't have gray courses but may have two different red courses.

Red (advanced)

Red courses are 5-7km and the same technical difficulty as the other advanced courses.

Blue (advanced) - the longest advanced course.

Blue courses are 7-12km and the same technical difficulty as the other advanced courses.

Some Types of Orienteering Courses

  • Standard

    The orienteer is provided with a map indicating a number of controls to visit and the order in which they are to be visited. The orienteer's goal is to choose a route so as to complete the course as quickly as possible.

  • Score-O

    The orienteer is provided with a map indicating a number of controls and their point values. The orienteer's goal is to visit as many controls as possible in a fixed period of time so as to maximize the point total. The controls visited and the order in which they are to be visited is up to the orienteer.

  • Rogaine

    Essentially a long score-O, a rogaine is officially 12 hours or longer, but some argue that only 24-hour events are true rogaines.

  • Ski-O

    A type of orienteering similiar to standard orienteering, except that orienteers are on cross-country skis. All of the controls are on groomed tracks, so the goal becomes trying to quickly navigate and accurately navigate when there are many interconnected tracks.

  • Motala

    A standard-format course with two or more loops, where the orienteer returns to the start and gets a new map before each new loop.

  • Map Memory

    A course where the orienteer has no map, but must memorize little sections of map at each control to get from one control to the next.

  • Western Mass. Rules

    A combination of sorts of regular-O and score-O, where the object is to locate a fixed number of controls as fast as possible but the choice of which controls to visit and in which order is left up to the orienteer. Originated in western Massachusetts (USA).