Orienteering maps are special maps that require unique mapping skills to meet the requirements of orienteers.

If you are interested in making orienteering maps please contact the club. There are opportunities to start on small simple maps such as school grounds and local parks or to tackle more complex forested areas out of town. 

Sample map

For details of the OCAD mapping software got to: http://www.ocad.com/


Maps for Orienteering

by Terry Cooke, February 1995

(Paper presented at the Australian Map Circle Conference, University of New England, 1995)

Terry Cooke


Orienteering is the sport of cross country navigation where a competitor must visit a series of checkpoints, on foot, using only a map and compass. Prior to commencing a course an orienteer is supplied with a map on which the location of all the control points have been marked, a control card and a clue sheet which accurately describes these control points. 

Orienteering events offer courses for all levels of ability. They range from easy courses which follow distinct linear features (known as handrails) such as fences, roads and watercourses through to difficult navigation requiring the location of point features (e.g. small boulder, termite mound, small erosion gully) in complex terrain. Course completion times range from half an hour to two or three hours. 

Detailed maps are important for orienteers since courses are set so as to test a person's ability to map read, make a route choice and then navigate to the control point. Experienced orienteers navigate using the features shown on the map and make little use of compass bearings and pacing when locating a control point. 

New orienteering maps are continually being produced for major competitions. New maps are necessary in order that no competitor has an advantage due to his or her local knowledge of an area. 


Orienteering originated in Scandinavia with the word 'Orienteering' first being used in 1886 by the Military Academy in Stockholm, Sweden. By the 1920's the sport had become well established in Scandinavia but it took another fifty years for it to establish itself as an international sport. 

The event that led to the sport becoming officially established in Australia was held on 23rd August, 1969 at Upper Beaconsfield, east of Melbourne. Early orienteering events used black-and-white maps which lacked detail and were often inaccurate. 

Coloured orienteering maps first appeared in Australia in 1973 following a visit to Australia by Swedish orienteer, Roland Offrell, who instructed local orienteers in field survey techniques and the drawing of orienteering maps. 

Australian orienteering maps are now amongst the best in the world and have been used for events such as the World Orienteering Championships and the World Veterans Orienteering Championships. 


Orienteering Clubs put a considerable amount of time and money into producing special maps for orienteering. The obvious question is 'Why not use existing government topographic maps?' 

Special maps are needed for orienteering so that the element of luck in competition is minimised. The International Specifications for Orienteering Maps states that 'No competitor should gain an advantage or suffer a disadvantage because of faults on the map'. 

Orienteering maps show sufficient detail to permit an orienteer to choose the optimum route between control points. They show both the features that hinder progress, such as water, thick vegetation and cliffs, and also features like track networks and open land which allow for fast movement and easy navigation across the terrain. 

Existing government 1:25 000 topographic maps do not show this level of detail so are not suitable for orienteering. These maps are, however, used for the related sport of rogaining. Rogaining can be described as long distance orienteering with events requiring either 12 or 24 hours to complete. A 24 hour rogaine may require a competitor to travel some 40 to 50 kilometres over an area in excess of 100 square kilometres. It is not practical to produce special maps over such large areas so existing topographic maps, with some minor additions and corrections, are used. One of the skills of rogaining is the ability to judge when information on a map is either missing or incorrect. 


Types of Maps

A wide variety of types of maps are used for orienteering. While maps used for major competitions are highly detailed colour topographic maps there are also maps produced of school grounds, local parks and other small areas which are accessible and within easy reach. These maps are used for teaching orienteering, technique training and minor club events. They range from small, simple, black-and-white maps with no contours through to detailed, six colour maps. 

International Specifications for Orienteering Maps

In 1967 the International Orienteering Federation (IOF) approved international specifications for orienteering maps. These specifications provide comprehensive information on how orienteering maps are to be drawn and include instructions on accuracy, tolerances, symbols to be used, symbol sizes, line ?idths, map scales, contour intervals, colours, screens and course overprinting. 

The acceptance of these specifications by orienteering clubs around the world means that orienteers can compete internationally and not have to contend with maps drawn to different specifications in each country. 


Orienteering maps are detailed topographic maps which enable a person, on foot, to navigate using the features shown on the map and to make reasoned decisions about the best route across the terrain. 

In practical terms this means that features typically found in Australian forests such as termite mounds, boulders, bare rock, erosion gullies, car wrecks, ruins, and blackberry bushes are mapped in addition to the normal topographic features - contours, roads, buildings, fences, hydrography and vegetation. 

In addition to the topographic detail, orienteering maps show magnetic north lines and not grid north. 


With regard to accuracy the International Specifications for Orienteering Maps states: 'The general rule should be that competitors shall not perceive any inaccuracies in the map'. 

Relativity between nearby features, relative height differences and the shape of the terrain are far more important to an orienteer than absolute accuracy in position and height. An error of 50 metres between two features one kilometre apart would not be noticed by an orienteer but confusion would be created if several features within a 50 metre radius were not shown in the correct relationship to each other. 

Generalisation and Legibility

In complex terrain such as granite country, old alluvial gold diggings and sand dunes, there is often a conflict between producing a legible map and the showing of all the features that the orienteer observes on the ground. 

As with many other types of maps, generalisation is used in order to produce a legible map while at the same time providing the orienteer with an accurate picture of the terrain. Learning to generalise is possibly one of the most difficult tasks that a mapper has to master. 


Choosing an Area

An area which is suitable for competitive orienteering should meet the following criteria. 
(a) Be legally accessible. 
(b) Have road access in all weather, preferably from different sides. 
(c) Have good forest cover but with vegetation that is not too thick. 
(d) Not be excessively steep. 
(e) Not contain dangerous features such as sheer drops, mine shafts etc. 
(f) Cover an area of between 4 km2 and 12 km2. 
(g) Be rich in features such as boulders, termite mounds, gullies and knolls. 
(h) Have linear features (tracks, fences, watercourses) suitable for novice courses. 

There are a several reasons why an area is chosen to be mapped for orienteering. Ideally it would be nice if all the above criteria were met but in practice compromises are made. Convenient access and short travel time to a forested area make it likely that such an area will be mapped for orienteering even if some of the above criteria are not met. While these maps may not be suitable for major ?rienteering competitions, they are useful for local club events and training exercises. 

Areas used for major championship events, however, are carefully selected for their ability to provide challenging navigation and variety in route choice. Terrain rich in features, such as granite country, sand dunes and old alluvial gold diggings, is frequently used. These areas are often several hours travel from major population centres. 

Permission to use an area for orienteering is an important consideration when deciding to make a new orienteering map. Forests controlled by government bodies such as Forestry and National Parks are generally the easiest to get permission to use and access to these forests is likely to be possible for many years. At the other end of the scale is private property. While many private land holders are willing to allow orienteers to use their property for orienteering, it is always difficult to ensure long term access. Changes in ownership can result in the permission to use land being withdrawn and leave a club with an unusable map. 

Base Map

Before field survey commences a base map is prepared which shows all the map detail that is currently available for the area to be surveyed. The base map scale is twice the final map scale, normally 1:7500. 

Base maps can be derived from several sources, with the amount of money available often dictating the quality of the base map. 

The best, and most expensive, base maps are those created using photogrammetry from low level photography. These maps show, in detail, all the topographic information that is visible on the aerial photographs and make the task of field working an area easy and fast. Maps for major events often have their own aerial photography flown and the base maps are drawn by photogrammetrists who understand the special requirements of orienteers. 

Base maps can also be created from old, out-of-date orienteering maps and other available maps such as the 1:4000 orthophoto series. 

The cheapest, and least accurate, base maps are enlargements of 1:25000 topographic maps. These maps are often the only ones available of an area. The lack of detail and poor accuracy (when enlarged) of these base maps means that more time needs to be spent on the field survey - an expensive option if a club is paying a professional mapper to do the survey. 

Field Survey

No base map, not even one produced photogrammetrically from low level photography, can show all the features on the ground as they are seen by an orienteer. It is essential that an experienced orienteering mapper take the base map into the field and modify it so that it shows, to a person moving through the forest on foot, an accurate picture of the terrain. 

Field survey is undertaken, by a single person, using a mapping compass and pacing. Conventional surveying techniques of traversing, intersection and resection are used to locate features, which are recorded, using coloured pencils, on plastic drafting film overlaid on the base map. Identifiable features on the base map such as road intersections, fence corners and watercourse junctions are used as control or reference points for the field survey. 

Special skills are required to field survey?an orienteering map. Mappers need to be experienced orienteers in order that they understand how orienteers expect the terrain and its features to be represented on a map. In addition to having skills in surveying, an orienteering mapper must also be able to generalise using simplification, exaggeration and displacement in order to produce a clear and legible map. Typically a mapper must be able to adjust and exaggerate contour lines in order to show clearly the terrain shape, be able to simplify complex rock or gully formations and use displacement to show multiple features within a restricted area. 

The field survey for many local club orienteering maps is carried out by volunteer mappers, often experienced orienteers who enjoy mapping in their spare time. However, the field survey for maps used for major competitions is paid for by orienteering clubs and is undertaken by professional orienteering mappers . 

Field survey is a very labour intensive task with an average competition map requiring about 40 days fieldwork although this time can vary considerably. Field survey of simple, spur-gully terrain with a few scattered termite mounds, using a detailed base map would be relatively quick and easy. On the other hand the field survey time would be more than doubled when mapping granite terrain from a poor quality base map. Frequently the extra money spent on preparing a good base map is more than made up for by the savings in fieldwork time. 

As each section of the fieldwork is completed the information is transferred from the field copy, by the mapper, to a 'clean copy'. The clean copy is drawn on drafting film, using coloured pencils, according to the International Specifications for Orienteering Maps. When complete the clean copy is then traced or scanned to produce the final printed map. 



Orienteering maps are typically produced in five or six colours - the sixth colour being grey which is sometimes produced using a screened black. The six colours used are black, brown, yellow, blue, green and grey. Black is used for man-made objects, rocks and boulders, brown for land forms, blue for water and marsh, green for thicker vegetation, yellow for open country and grey for bare rock. In addition white on the map represents forest and purple is used to show orienteering courses on the map. 

Conventional Cartography

Many orienteering maps are still produced using conventional cartographic techniques. These maps are generally drawn, at twice the final map scale, using drafting pens and film, although scribing is sometimes used. Tracing directly off the clean copy supplied by the mapper, the cartographer draws a separate sheet (a separation) for each colour and screen being used. A typical orienteering map consists of nine or ten separations which are combined in the printing process to produce the final map. 

The cartography for orienteering maps is done both by professional cartographers and by orienteers who have had no formal cartographic training. Most professional mappers are self taught cartographers and will frequently do both the field survey and cartography when contracted by a club to produce a new map. While the cartography for major competition m?ps is mostly paid for by orienteering clubs, the drawing up of club maps is often done on a voluntary basis, by amateur cartographers, in their spare time. A relatively straightforward map covering 11 km2 requires some 100 hours of drawing time, which, when done in one's spare time, can take up to four months to complete. 

Using Computers

The first orienteering map drawn by computer in Australia (and possibly the world) was produced in 1981 by Bill Fisher, a Queensland orienteer and long-time computer professional. The equipment Bill used, a PDP minicomputer, A0 plotter and digitiser, was, at that time very expensive, and not readily available to orienteering clubs. 

The personal computer revolution of the 1980s has changed this. Today a powerful (relative to 10 years ago) personal computer, drawing software, colour printer and hand scanner can be purchased for about $5000 - quite within the reach of an orienteering club or private individual. 

Since personal computers have become widely available, many orienteering maps have been produced by computer. The biggest problem has been finding affordable, commercial drawing software that is suitable for drawing maps. All the common commercial packages such as Adobe Illustrator, Micrographix Designer, CorelDRAW! and Aldus Freehand have been used with varying degrees of success. Whilst maps can be successfully drawn using these programs, considerable time has to be spent generating the special symbols required by orienteering maps. 

OCAD, written by Hans Steinegger in Switzerland, overcomes this problem. Hans has written OCAD specifically to draw orienteering maps using the symbols and colours specified in the International Specifications for Orienteering Maps. Options are available to modify and create your own symbols when drawing a non standard map. OCAD is a Windows based program (there is no Mac version) and it is now the software most widely used for the drawing of orienteering maps. 

As with many other drawing programs, OCAD operates by reading in a scanned image of the map (the clean copy) which then appears on the screen as a template. The cartographer selects the required symbols from a menu (fence, contour, termite mound, road, boulder, open land etc), and, using the mouse, draws (traces) the symbol over the template image of the map. A grid is used to register the scanned template image with the computer drawn map. OCAD can also be used with a digitising tablet. 

Many orienteers who previously would not have attempted map drawing using conventional methods are now using OCAD to produce orienteering maps. 


Up until a few years ago, all colour orienteering maps were printed using conventional printing methods - generally offset litho. This situation is now changing as colour printers improve their resolution and speed, and become more affordable. Many smaller orienteering maps are now being printed directly using colour printers. Some maps are being printed using bureaus with large expensive colour printers, while others are printed on small, cheap (under $1300), bubble-jet printers. 

The advantage to orienteering clubs of using colour printers is the ability to print only the number of maps that a?e required for a particular event and, more importantly, the ability to keep the map up-to-date. Keeping maps up-to-date is a major problem with conventionally printed maps where a thousand or more maps are often printed at one time in order to achieve a reasonable cost per map. Clubs often end up, after two or three years, with several hundred maps which are out-of-date and of little use. Maps printed using a PC and colour printer are easily amended and reprinted before each orienteering event. 


There are many factors which influence the cost of producing an orienteering map so it is difficult to give precise figures. The production costs for a large area 'championship' map (say a print-run of 2000) for which a club pays for all stages of production - aerial photography, photogrammetry, field survey, cartography and printing - are likely to be in the vicinity of $10,000 to $20,000. While maps used for major competitions are likely to incur these costs, many other maps are produced much more cheaply. There are significant cost savings when orienteers volunteer to undertake the field survey and cartography free of charge and where there are existing base maps which do not require special aerial photographs and photogrammetry. 

Orienteering clubs pay for their map production through fees charged at events and through sponsorship. Major competitions, which are mostly run on new maps, have entry fees in the vicinity of $13 per day for seniors and $7 per day for juniors while local club events have entry fees of between $3 and $8 per person. A club running a major event, say over two days, using the same map on both days, with 400 competitors, is likely to gross about $8000, which, after other expenses have been allowed for, goes a considerable way towards paying for the production of the map. The full map production costs are recouped by running further events on the map over several years. 

THE FUTURE (in 1995!)

Technology is beginning to make a significant impact on how orienteering maps are being produced. Already conventional map drawing and printing methods are being replaced by affordable computer drawing programs and colour printers. A close watch is being kept on alternatives to using aerial photography to create a base map though current technologies such as SPOT satellite data and interferometric synthetic aperture radar do not provide adequate resolution. Electronic punching systems (which prevent the punching of controls in the wrong order) for competitors are now in limited use and, if they gain wider acceptance, will allow course setters to set longer courses in smaller areas. This could mean that maps in the future will cover a smaller area than today's maps. 

The Finnish orienteering club Korahdus was formed in 1993 specifically to explore new techniques and technologies in orienteering. Recently they produced an orienteering map where the field work was done using a GPS receiver to fix features. The GPS data was downloaded to a computer, differential corrections applied, transferred to the OCAD drawing program as a DXF file and the final map printed electronically on a high resolution colour laser printer. During the event run on this map one competitor was rigged with a GPS receiver which provided a record ?f the competitor's route. 

What Korahdus has done is probably a good indicator of how maps will be produced in the future. By then, I hope, I will have retired from orienteering and be telling anyone who will listen about the good old days when we used compass bearings, pacing, drawing pens, drafting film and big printing presses. 


 Harvey, Robin, 1981, Mapmaking for Orienteers, The British Orienteering Federation, Derbyshire. 

 International Orienteering Federation, 1990, International Specifications for Orienteering Maps. 

 Steinegger, Hans 1994, OCAD 5 Operating Instructions, Hans Steinegger Software, Chriesimatt 23, CH-6349 Baar/Switzerland. 

 The Orienteering Federation of Australia, The Australian Orienteer, various volumes.