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Introduction
Choosing a Meet
Equipment
The Basics
Meet Procedures
Map Reading Skills
Additional Resources

BEGINNER MAP READING SKILLS 

Orienteering maps may seem a bit bewildering to folks who have never used a topographical map. Take heart. In this section, and in the beginner instruction offered at our local meets, we talk you though the basic map reading skills: 

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5 colors

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Scale

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Legend

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Contours

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Orienteering Course

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Orienting the Map

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Thumbing

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Compass

Five Colors

Orienteering maps use five standard colors. Click on the map image to see samples.

Blue - water features like lakes, ponds and streams.

Black - man-made objects or rock features like roads, trails, buildings, cliffs, boulders.

White - open woods you could run through

Green - thick vegetation (light green) or fight (dark green) that you might want to avoid

Yellow - open land, semi-open land, where you can look up and see the sky like fields or power lines.

Brown - land features like earth banks or contours   

Orienteering Map

click on image

Scale

Scale refers to the relationship between the size of the map and the actual size of area that is mapped, or relative distance. On a 1:10,000 scale, one of any unit on the ground equals 10,000 of the same unit on the ground. Orienteering typically uses "meters" to measure distance. 

When you first start Orienteering, one way to simplify scale is to use your thumb to measure the distance between two easy to find points, like the start and end of a parking lot. Then walk that distance and count how many times your left foot hits the ground -- 1 thumb's width equal 80 paces. This gives you an easy way to "eyeball" the relative distance on your map. 

GAOC maps use a common scale of either 1:15,000 or 1:10,000.  The scale is marked on the map along with a ruler that measures 100 meter increments. 

Legend

Orienteering maps use the International Orienteering Federation's standard mapping symbols to describe the details on the map. This information can be found in the map's legend, as in the sample to the right.

 

legend

click on image

Contours

Contour lines and the brown squiggly lines you see on the map. They represent elevation in the landscape. As a beginner, you only need to know that the closer the lines are together the steeper the landscape.  

Orienteering Course

You already learned that the Orienteering course is marked with circles (see Orienteering map), but there are a few more symbols used to mark the Orienteering course:

bulletTriangle marks the location of the start
bulletDouble circle marks the location of the finish
Orienting the Map

When you use a traditional road map, you keep it turned so that the writing is face up, like a newspaper. But with an Orienteering map, you orient the map so that the features on the map are lined up with the same features on the ground. 

For example, if you were at control number 4 and going to control number 5 you would hold your map:

map like this

map

like this not like this
Thumbing

The best way to keep track of where you've been and where you're going is with your thumb. Just fold your map so most of it is out of the way, except for the control your at and the control your going to. Hold your map so your thumb is on top, at your current location. Then move your thumb to your current location as your travel your route to your next control. 

In other words...Say you were going from Control 4 to Control 5 in the map above. Since your a beginner, you'll use large land forms to keep track of where you're at. You'll walk along the shore line till you come to an indistinct trail. Move your thumb there on the map.  Next you'll go to a stream, a distinct trail and another stream. As you arrive at each of these points, you'll move your thumb to the points on the map.

Compass

The compass is used primarily to orient your map to North.  Otherwise, put your compass away and navigate using the map.  You don't need to take headings until you get to the Orange course.  

Georgia Orienteering Club - www.gaorienteering.org