Newcomer Information

Come orienteering with Backwoods Orienteering Klub


BOK has some events for everyone and some just for advanced runners. See our Frequently asked questions (FAQs) below to find out more.


What is orienteering

Orienteering is an international sport that uses map and compass skills for navigation. It is a timed event in which participants use a specially created, highly detailed map to select routes and navigate through diverse and often unfamiliar terrain to visit control points in sequence.

The control points have orange and white markers at the locations shown on your map. You visit each control in sequence using your imagination and skills to help you choose the best route. Verify that you were there by inserting your “finger stick” into the control station.   After visiting all the controls on your course you proceed to the finish and check in.

Orienteering can be an individual sport, or shared with your friends or family.  You set your own pace. It can either be a casual hike through the woods with the added fun of using an excellent map to find the controls, or a competitive race of navigational skill, quick decisions and physical speed. Competitive events (meets) have courses for people ranging in age from under 10, to over 85, so no need to worry about being too old or too young to begin orienteering. We have many groups such as scouts, Y Guides, and JROTC cadets as well as people who only began orienteering in their 60’s.

How do I find event information?

Our schedule page includes our list of planned events. Event details are usually posted in an announcement on our home page 7-10 days in advance of the event. All of our events require advance registration. The event posting includes the registration link and registration deadline. Registration is frequently delayed until final approval of the courses, so if you cannot find registration information for an event, keep checking back on our home page.

Is there a beginner class?

We welcome beginners at our “open” events and have a class to teach you the basics. Check our schedule to make sure that the event you want to attend is “open“. We introduce you to orienteering maps and the use of a compass. We also explain how the event works. Classes usually begin at 12:30 for events that begin at noon and last about half an hour. You should arrive by 12:15 so you can pick up your map and finger stick before class. If the event does not start at noon, the event announcement will tell you what time the class starts.

What do I need?

You should bring water and wear clothes appropriate for a walk in the woods. In warmer weather ticks abound in our area, so use appropriate insect repellent. We have found that treating your clothes with a product containing Permethrin (Sawyer treatment for clothing and gear) works very well. If you are going off trail, consider long pants and long sleeves.

Everyone needs a map. We supply one map with your entry. If you are going out with another person you should select and extra map for each person. Without a map, the other largely just along for the ride and won’t get the full benefit of learning orienteering.

Each person should have a compass. We have a number of loaner compasses for beginners. If you bring your own compass, please bring a compass with a clear base plate. The best compass for orienteering is a “Thumb Compass“. They range in price from $15 – $90 depending mostly on how quickly the needle settles. A military style sighting compass is generally not useful for orienteering.

You will need an electronic “finger stick” to record the time you get to each control. If you are going out with another person you only need one finger stick. You can rent one from us at the same time as you register.

What are the different course levels?

We set out easy as well as expert courses so that beginners can succeed and experts will be challenged.  Easy courses mostly follow trails and creeks.

There seven different course levels denoted by color names. They are also classified by difficulty.

NameDifficultyControl DescriptionsLengthDescription
WhiteBeginnerText1.6-2kmEasy navigation mostly on trails. Controls are easy to find and mostly at decision points along the route.
YellowIntermediateText 2.5-3kmSlightly harder navigation along trails and other linear features (handrails) such as streams, erosion gullies, ditches, power line clearings and re-entrants. Prominent control features.
OrangeAdvancedSymbols 3.3-3.5kmModerately difficult off-trail navigation with some route choice. Controls are harder to find but still fairly prominent
BrownExpertSymbols3.6-3.8kmMore difficult off-trail navigation with route choice. Controls are usually not on prominent features or near easy attack points.
Red 6.4 – 7km

Which course should I choose?

Beginner and intermediate – white and yellow

Beginners should start with a white course. We often have some extra maps available, so if you finish white and still have at least an hour before the meet ends you can try yellow. If you are already quite familiar with map and compass use, you might try yellow first, but white gives you the initial experience of dealing with map, compass, route and controls.

Only events listed as “open” will have white and yellow courses and a beginner class.

Advanced – orange

Once you are comfortable with yellow, you can move up to orange. If you are in the military and looking for land nav experience, this is also a good place to start. Control descriptions now use international symbols and routes are off-trail, so this is quite a jump from yellow. We run one or two yellow to orange training classes each year, where we teach the techniques that you need to improve your orienteering skills. Watch our home page for announcements. Check out our resources under “Learn Orienteering Skills” on the right hand side of our home page. The ” Map and control symbols ” link has online quizzes to help you learn the control symbols.

Events needing at least this skill level will be listed as “advanced” on our schedule. There will be no white or yellow courses and no beginner class.

Expert – brown, green, red and blue

When you have mastered orange and are ready for more challenge, you can try the expert courses. The differ in length rather than difficulty.

Events needing at least this skill level will be listed as “expert” on our schedule. There will be no white, yellow or orange courses and no beginner class.

Do I walk or run?

Whether you want a pleasant walk with a map through places you haven’t been before, or a challenging race through the forest, we hope you’ll join us at our next orienteering event. About half the people at each event walk to enjoy the woods, and about half are racing for the best time on their course. The choice is yours.

When should I arrive?

First, you must usually register at the BOK store by 5:00 PM on the Friday before the event unless otherwise noted in the event announcement.

You should plan to arrive no later than about 2 hours before the course closes. You need some time to pick up your map and get on the course. Frequently there are hour or half hour arrival time slots to avoid crowding. If you choose the half hour time slot 10:30, you should arrive between 10:30 and 11:00.

Beginner classes will frequently have a particular time slot.

If there is a yellow to orange class you will need to register for it and arrive by the designated starting time. Watch our home page for announcement of these occasional classes. These courses often start before our regular starting time.

How long does it take and when must I finish?

You must return to the finish by the course closing time. That’s when we start picking up the controls.

Your skill and whether you walk or run makes a big difference to your time on the course. The following are some rough guidelines.

White and yellow courses can be completed in as little as 20 minutes or can take up to a couple of hours. If you take our beginner class, you should still have time to complete one of these. If you finish white and still have at least an hour before the course closes you are welcome to try yellow.

Orange, advanced courses typically take something between 45 minutes and an hour and a half.

Expert courses (brown, green, red and blue) usually take at least an hour and can take up to the whole three hours.

You should not start any course later than one hour before course closing time. You must return to the finish by the course closing time whether you have finished or not.

How much does it cost?

Orienteering with BOK is extremely affordable.

Our entry fee is $7 per event which includes one map.

Additional maps are $2 each. If you are going out with another person as a team we strongly advise each person to have their own map. You can purchase EXTRA maps for the people going with you. Remember one map comes with your entry. Please keep teams to 3 persons or less.

Finger stick rental is $5. If you are going out with someone else you need just one finger stick.

A whistle is $1 and it is your to keep. Buy one or bring your own. In an emergency blow sets of 3 whistles.

There is no charge for loaner compasses.

So one person will typically pay $7 entry plus $5 finger stick rental for a total of $12. Two people going out together with one needing a whistle will pay $7 entry plus $5 finger stick rental plus $2 for one extra map plus $1 whistle for a total of $15.

If you plan to do more orienteering, we also sell finger sticks and annual passes.

A finger stick (SI-Card 8) costs $37 and we will personalize it with your name. You will need to order one from our store in advance of the event. We don’t ship products, so you can pick it up at your next event. (If it isn’t ready at the event you can use a rental finger stick without charge.)

Annual passes cost $45 for an individual and $65 for a family of two adults and their minor children. Passes allow you to attend any of our local events for which you have sufficient skill. If you are able or ready for orange you can do advanced events and if able or ready for brown or above you can do expert events. See Annual Pass Information for more details on fees.

How do I sign up for an event?

Go to the BOK Store where you can register for events and purchase annual passes, and finger sticks. You must register by 5:00 PM on the Friday before the event unless otherwise noted in the event announcement.

First select the event for which you are registering and then:

  • Choose your course
  • Enter your name
  • If you have an annual pass, check the appropriate box for the discount.
  • Check additional maps if you are going out with another person. We recommend groups of no more than three persons. One map comes with the entry.
  • Add on a finger stick if you need to rent one
  • If the event is a radio (ARDF) event check if you need to rent a receiver. These are only used on ARDF events.
  • Add on whistles if you don’t have your own
  • Enter you cell phone information so we can contact you on course if necessary
  • Enter your vehicle information. If you fail to return to the finish for any reason we will look to see if your vehicle is still in the car park before we send out a search party.
  • Type your signature to accept the Waiver of Responsibility. The waiver text is shown on the form.
  • Press the “Add to bag” button. If you want to register another team or another member of your family or another team for your group, enter the details and press the “Add more” button. When done press the “Go to checkout” button
  • If you want to purchase finger sticks or passes you can choose the “Continue shopping link below the list of your purchases.
  • Choose PayPal purchase method and complete the payment part of your transaction on PayPal. You can either sign in to pay with PayPal or scroll down below the sign in area to pay with a credit card.
  • After your payment is complete you will be returned to the BOK store for some additional information before your order is complete.

Note: If you inadvertently add something that you want to remove from your shopping cart, there is an X next to the item but you may have to hover over it to see it. See the red circled X’s in the example below.

How do I register a group or multiple teams?

Follow the signup instructions above to start the process for your first entry or team. When you get to the “Add to bag” step DO NOT checkout immediately. To register another team or another member of your family or another team for your group, simply enter the new details and press the “Add more” button. When all are done press the “Go to checkout” button. Note that we are no longer using or accepting the former group pre-registration spreadsheets or individual entry forms.

How do I get to an event?

You will find event locations on the schedule page.  Directions will either be in the event announcement a week or so before the event or on our directions to our events page. When you arrive at an event venue look for our small orange and white signs guiding you to the starting location. 

Are thee other types of events?

Here are some of the different types of events that are offered as open, advanced, or expert events.  Be sure to check the type of event on the schedule, because you must have completed a course at or above that level to attend the event. You must register for open events at the BOK store by 5:00 PM on the Friday before the event unless otherwise noted in the event announcement. Check the event announcement for registration deadlines for other event types.

  • Classic Events: These are our premier “open” events where we offer all of the course difficulty levels and have beginner instruction.  Each course has an assigned route and the controls must be taken in order.  You must visit all the controls on your course and the shortest time wins.  Unless otherwise stated, courses open at noon and close at 3:00
  • Sprint Events: These are short courses at the advanced or expert level with lots of controls and direction changes.  Usually there are two courses and you can do both.  White or yellow level courses may also be available. Beginner instruction is usually not available.
  • Score Events: In Score events you may take the controls in any order and there is a strict time limit with penalties for returning overtime.  Controls have a point value depending on their difficulty, and the high score wins. The difficulty level will be specified in the schedule and the event announcement. There may be other rules as well. There is usually a mass start where everyone starts at the same time. There is a briefing on the rules for the event usually 15-30 minutes before the start. Check the event announcement for details a week or so before the event.
  • Night Events: Usually a score course with a mass start, where everyone starts at the same time.  the event starts after dark, so check the calendar for start times. Be sure to check the difficulty level on the schedule or the event announcement.
  • Relay Event: Similar to a Sprint with short complex courses. for teams of three or four people  There is a mass start with one person starting from each team.  When a team member finishes the next team member starts. These are usually at the advanced level. Check the schedule or the event announcement .  

What are Radio Orienteering (ARDF) events?

Radio Orienteering or Amateur Radio Direction Finding (ARDF) is the sport of finding radio transmitters on foot, using radio receiver, map, and compass in diverse, wooded terrain.  We have a limited amount of receivers to rent out so be sure to rent the receiver on the entry form when you register for the event. See more ARDF information

What happens at a meet?

You should dress for a walk through the woods. It is usually best to wear long pants in case you decide to take a shortcut off the trails. In the summer you should carry water.  

When you arrive, check in at the entry table where you can get your map and finger stick, compass and whistle that you are purchasing or renting. Be sure to return by the course closing time. We hope we don’t have to send out a search party, but we your contact information during registration to help us find you or check whether you have inadvertently left the park without checking in at the finish (please don’t do that!).

Your course is printed on your map along with a list of the controls you must find and descriptions of the feature where each control is located.  The course start is marked with a triangle, the controls are marked with circles, and the finish is two concentric circles.  (Usually the start and finish are at the same place.) There are lines marked between the controls. This course information is printed in magenta or red so it stands out from other information on the map. Controls are located at the center of a circle. Use the descriptions in conjunction with the locations (circles) marked on the map to find the controls. There is also a number on each control flag that matches the number in the control description so you know that you have found the right one. For example, your fourth control might be control #55 located on a boulder.

When you are ready to start, you go to the start table and put your finger stick into the “clear” box and pull it out as soon as it beeps to remove any old information on the finger stick.  The starter will check that you are “Out on the Course” from the store spreadsheet or ask you to “download” the cleared finger stick to register you into the computer.  It is usually a short walk to the Start control. Then you put your finger stick into the “start” box on the top of the control and your time has begun.

Now you go out on your course and find all the controls on your map in order.   As you reach each control be sure that the number on the control box matches the number in the second column of the control description on your map to make sure the control is on our course.

When you have found all the flags, or it is nearly course closing time, usually 3:00 PM, it is time to return and check back in. You end your time by putting your “finger stick” into the “finish” box.  If you don’t check in at the finish we will think you are still out on the course.  We keep track of who is out in the woods, and will send a search party out for you if you are late. Be sure the event official has signed you back in when you are done.

Shortly after 3:00 PM (or announced closing time) we will retrieve the flags from the woods. If you want to go out again you can volunteer for control pickup. We divvy up the locations, and go out and bring back the flags. This is a great way to improve your orienteering skills.

After you put your finger stick into the “start” box you figure out the best way to get to the first control.

As you reach each control be sure that the number on the control box matches the number in the second column of the control description on your map to make sure the control is on our course. Insert your finger stick to “punch” the control. and register the fact that you were there. You should hear a beep and see a light flash.  See Electronic punching for more details on using finger sticks.

Next, you figure out how to get to the next control.  If you skip a control and punch the next one, and you don’t want to be disqualified, go back to the control you missed and then continue on your course from there. You need to then go back and punch the out of order control you already punched.  It doesn’t matter if you have punched extra controls as long as all the controls for your course have been punched are in order when the extra controls are ignored.  

At the beginner (white) level there will usually be a trail that you can use most or all of the way. Sometimes streamered legs will guide you where there are no trails.

At the intermediate (yellow) level you will have “handrails” which are linear features that guide you along the course. These include streams, erosion gullies, ditches, power line clearings and reentrants. Make sure that you can identify these on our map or ask an experienced orienteer or club official for help. Or come to our beginner class and stay to ask any questions you may have.

At the advanced (orange) level you will have to find your way without using trails all that much. Your controls will usually be on fairly prominent features. Catching features often help you know that you have gone too far. For example you control might be 100m before a road or trail so if you reach the road or trail you have gone too far. If you get lost there is usually a trail or other handrail that you can use to reposition yourself. Make sure to check the number of control you find against the number listed in column 2 of your control description.

At the expert (brown and above) level You will have more challenging courses. Controls are usually on smaller features that are harder to find. Route choice may be critical to a good time or even finding the control. Should you go around a deep gully or up to the top? Parallel errors are possible where you have a control on one feature and another similar feature is nearby. Some legs may be long where there is little to guide you along the way unless you read the terrain vary carefully.

Who is Backwoods Orienteering Klub (BOK)

The Backwoods Orienteering Klub (with a “K” to reflect our Swedish heritage) is your source for orienteering meets and local and regional information. We are a 501(c)3 organization affiliated with the Orienteering USA (OUSA), and the International Orienteering Federation (IOF).

We provide orienteering events and instruction in the triangle area of North Carolina.

Participation in events is open to all through either individual event registration (beginner and intermediate events) or an annual pass (all events).

Annual passes run from September through August.

To be a voting member of BOK you must either:

  • Be on the board
  • Be an event director for at least two events in the current or previous year
  • Work at four events in the current or previous year (registration, control pickup, teach, start/finish etc.)

To stay informed be sure to check the website regularly. You can also join our notice list which sends occasional notices but won’t flood your inbox.

What are orienteering maps

Our maps are five color International Orienteering Federation (IOF) standard maps which we produce just for orienteering. They are so detailed, that boulders and gullies which are only 1 meter (we use metric measurements) in size are indicated on the map. If you enjoy walking in the woods, or using topographic maps you will have fun orienteering. Once you are familiar with the maps you will be amazed at how easy it is to know exactly where you are when you are “out in the middle of nowhere”. If you are looking for a challenging walk through the woods, or a competitive sport where strength and speed alone is not enough and thinking is very important, then orienteering is your sport.

What is a Waiver of Responsibility?

You need to sign a waiver of responsibility approved by Orienteering USA (OUSA) in order to participate in our orienteering events. You do this by entering your name in the field for the waiver when you register on the BOK Store, The latest text is shown on the store page where you register for an event. A sample is shown below.

I, the undersigned, know that orienteering, as an outdoor action sport, carries significant risk of personal injury. I know that there are natural and man-made hazards, environmental conditions, and risks, which, in combination with my actions, can cause me serious, or possibly even fatal injury. I agree that I, as a participant, must take an active role in understanding and accepting these risks, conditions, and hazards. I also agree that I, and not the organizers and officials of this event, the US Orienteering Federation, Wake County, State of North Carolina, the land owners or managers, or any sponsors, am responsible for my safety while I participate in this event. I take full responsibility for myself and/or my child. The undersigned is granted an OUSA membership for the event date/s

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