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One of the best things about orienteering is that it is relatively inexpensive hobby. The main things you need is a map, compass and checkpoint recording device. Maps and checkpoint electronic punching devices are usually provided by event organizers. There is a wide variety in quality and price of orienteering equipment, which can be chosen depending on your needs and desirable performance level.
A compass is the main gadget (after map), that you need for orienteering. It's important for a correct navigation. Some people participate in orienteering events without a compass, but likelihood of going in the wrong direction is high, especially for the beginner, who does not have a good map reading skills.
There is a wide variety of compasses availabale, that differ in quality, size and price. Some orienteering events and courses offer a possibility to rent or borrow a compass, which might be a good option before buying one, as you can try and see what suits you best.
A thumb compass functions like a regular compass, but is easier to use in combination with a map, as it is strapped around the user’s thumb while holding the map in the same hand.
The thumb compass is designed to fit naturally your hand and thumb and keep the contact with the map.
Thumb compasses come in left-hand (for right-handed people) and right-hand versions (for left-handed people), with wide and narrow needles. They also feature different designs and functionality – faster/ slower needles, with rotating/ fixed capsule.
Majority of orienteering runners use left-hand version compass, but it might be the case that you feel more natural and comfortable using the right-hand version. So, it pays to think a bit about what would work for you.
Buying a compass, it is also important to get the one, which is balanced for your location’s magnetic zone. The compass, which works well in North America and Europe, won’t function properly in Brazil or Australia. But usually the local retailer will only sell compasses with proper magnetic zone blancing for your geographic location. Global orienteering shops like ALL4o.com - All For orienteering usually have a magnetic zone map in product description and provide an option to choose the necessary Magnetic Balance Zone for your compass.
During the past years the plate compass has lost its popularity and majority of runners have switched to thumb compasses, nevertheless there are people who find it more convenient.
The main functionality of the base plate compass is the same as thumb compass - it houses a needle, often with red and white markings (or similar), indicating north and south directions.
Depending on the event or race that you are participating, there might be different recording devices starting from simple punch card to different electronic devices. Control card is used to prove that you have visited all the control points in the right order. At each control point, there will be either an electronic device to record that you were there, or a manual punch device top mark your card. Usually event organizer provides a possibility to rent a device, but if you plant to participate in orienteering events on a regular basis, it might be worth buying one.
Classic needle punch / pin punch
Classic needle punch / pin punch can be used either for non-electronic punching or for back-up for electronic system devices. The punches have different needle patterns, and orienteering event participant is required in every control point to punch either on the map or paper punch card. So, there no additional equipment needed if the event is organized with Needle/pin punches.
SPORTident electronic punching cards
If you participate in the orienteering event equipped by SPORTident control stations, you will need SportIdent punching card. All SPORTident punching cards are compatible with all SPORTident control stations. SPORTident offers a number of punching cards ( pCard, SI-card8, SI-card9, SI-card10, SIAC ) , which differs in punching speed and memory size for data storage. The control point IDs and times are stored internally in the card until it is reset on a Sportident "CLEAR" control station.
The simplest punching cards (typically used for orienteering in schools or as rentals) has data storage capacity of 30-50 punches (e.g. Card8, Card9). They come in different colours which is possible to be customized. Punching speed for those are 115ms.
More advanced next generation punching cards have considerably higher recording speed, contactless punching feature and storage capacity of 128 punches. SPORTident ActiveCard - SIAC features the AIR+ functionality, which means that intermediate and finish times are recorder in a proximity range of several meters when passing the checkpoint with a maximum speed of 40 km/h, without need to punch in the station. This device can be used in both - punching mode and “air” mode.
Some organizers use Emit Electronic Receipt and Timing System for Orienteering to register punching on control units.
eCard registers the code of the control and running time. The eCard can store up to 50 split times. Required punching time varies from under 1/8-1/10 second. The times are stored internally in the eCard until it is reset on a start unit. The Ver.6 eCard is compatible with Touch-Free Pro units.
The emiTag is an active electronic timing chip which stores time and code for control units it detects. The Emits Touch-Free control unit sends a wireless signal detected by the emiTag at approximately 25 cm distance. The emiTag must be within this field for at least half a second for the code of the unit to be registered. The chip is not compatible with the eCard.
You can go in the forest with your regular running shoes or hiking boots. The latter might be too heavy if you want to move quickly down the course but might suit for those who plan to accomplish the distance by walking. Running or trail shoes with some protector might be a good solution for beginners.
If you want to feel more comfortable or start competing for a result, special orienteering shoes might be a good choice. Orienteering shoes are designed to face different terrains and whether conditions, including mud and bare rock. Minimal water pickup combined with high drainage ensures that the wet shoe’s weight is almost as low as when it’s dry. They are usually more durable, lighter in weight and with better grip than regular running or hiking shoes. They have special upper material which is more durable and provides greater cover especially for your toes which helps when running on rocky trails or woods with fallen trees and strains. If you seek for an extra grip in a difficult terrain, you can buy special studded shoes.
You should choose suitable outdoor clothing to wear when going orienteering. It has to be comfortable and suitable for the respective whether conditions. It is recommended to cover your legs (long pants, or capri pants with gaiters) even in warmer weather, as you may have to cross through long grass or dense vegetation. Lightweight, breathable fabrics are best suited if you are planning to run a course.
If you plan to participate in orienteering events more often, it might be a good idea to purchase special orienteering clothes – orienteering socks or gaiters which protect the ankles and lower legs from thorns, orienteering pants and shirt, which are made of special extra durable, water non-absorbing fabric to ensure good fit, endurance and comfort, while running in terrains.
There are several items which might improve your orienteering experience, e.g. description holders, special sports reading glasses, magnifying glasses for thumb compasses, headbands, safety straps.
Holder for control description sheet. Description sheet lists in the right order your control points which must be visited during the course. In addition to the control point number, there is also control descriptions where the respective control point is located (e.g. in depression, on the hill etc.).
Description holders are usually made of durable and lightweight material. They are weather resistant with transparent plastic cover with zipper for easy closure. Held on forearm with two adjustable velcro straps. Available in several lengths, e.g. Large (30 control points) and Medium (24 control points).
Specialized glasses for orienteering allow you to read maps and fine print while protecting your eyes from branches and UV light. Usually they are lightweight, made from impact-resistant polycarbonate material, with shatterproof lenses. Some glasses feature an adjustable, non-slip neoprene lace for a perfect, custom fit. Bifocal lens, with the top portion of the lens being neutral and used for distance vision and a magnification area at the bottom for close-range. You can read your map while running, hiking or cycling. Available in multiple magnification levels (+1.0 ,+1.5,+2.0,+2.5,+3.0)
Some manufacturers offer FogFree orienteering glasses - anti-fog sports glasses with ventilation holes to prevent glasses from fogging up, especially when it's raining or humid. They feature a lens with ventilation hole, with the top portion of the lens used for distance vision and a magnification area at the bottom for close-range. You can read your map while running, hiking or cycling. They are lightweight, made from impact-resistant polycarbonate material, with shatterproof lenses. Usually available in multiple magnification levels.