Beginner Basics: Folding, Thumbing, and Orienting

Three skills taught in beginner’s clinics are the simplest and most important elements to “staying found”. They are folding, thumbing, and orienting your map. With these techniques you will know where you are, where you’re going, and which direction that is.

FOLDING YOUR MAP helps you keep track of where you’re going. Now, I realize that a well-drawn orienteering map can seem like a work of art and you hate to mess it up. But you’re not on a trip to a museum. Think about trying to use a large sheet size road map in your car. You probably fold it up so that only the area you actually need is showing. That way it actually fits inside your car while you drive. Although an orienteering map is smaller, it still helps to fold it so that only the section you need is showing. Other areas of the map won’t distract you and you can more quickly find the areas of interest. You should refold your map at each control so that it clearly focuses on the path to the next control.

THUMBING YOUR MAP helps you keep track of where you are. Now that your map is folded nice and small it’s very simple to “let your thumb do the walking”. Plant your thumb on the start triangle when you start your course. As you move along, check the map periodically and update the position of your thumb with your current position on the map. Don’t let go when you look away from the map. When you do take another look, your thumb will tell you exactly where you were and help you focus on where you might be now.

ORIENTING YOUR MAP helps you see which direction to move in. Many of us have been pre-conditioned to think that North should always be at the top of the map. But what if you are traveling south? Do you really want to have to mentally rotate the map around in your head? It’s much easier to hold the map so that it matches up with the terrain and trails around you. There are two primary methods for doing this - using features or using your compass.

Orienting by features – Only useful if you know where you are on the map. Look around you and match the features on the map to those on the ground. Then turn the map so the trails, buildings and vegetation around you line up.

Orienting by compass – To be more accurate you can use your compass. This method is also useful when you’re not sure exactly where you are. You can orient the map first and then look at the features around you to determine your location. Put the compass down on the map so that the needle is close to one of the magnetic north lines. Now rotate the map and compass together until the red needle is pointing in the same direction as the north lines. Your map is now oriented!

At your next event practice folding, thumbing and keeping your map oriented. You should have no trouble racing around the white course. These techniques are used by orienteers of all levels to keep track of where they are on the map and successfully make it through the course without feeling lost.

-Clare Durand

Next month: O-map symbols and what they mean

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