5/5/2023 | By Kari Smith

Imagine wandering in the woods, with a map and compass to guide you, navigating your way from point to point. No, you’re not lost. You’re orienteering! You’re engaging your mind and your body – and you might even be engaging with other people. Low-stress, stimulating, and enjoyable, orienteering makes a fulfilling hobby for seniors.

In orienteering, participants use a map and compass to navigate between outdoor checkpoints, often in the woods or other natural settings. Participants find their way through a series of these checkpoints, determining where the next checkpoint is and the best route to get there. The sport of orienteering can be competitive – individually or with teams – or noncompetitive.

Participants must simply be physically able to navigate the course, engaging mental skills to figure out points on a map and how to use a compass – no GPS allowed!

Orienteering began as a military exercise in the 1880s in Sweden. The exercise turned into a competitive sport in 1893 when Swedish officers began to compete in a yearly competition. Four years later, in 1897, the first civilian competition followed. Over a century later, orienteering has made its way around the world and is an attainable sport for most anyone.

Orienteering is great exercise for both the body and mind, so it’s the perfect activity for active seniors looking for something new to do outdoors. They can complete courses alone, with friends, and even with children or grandchildren.

Related: 6 outdoor activities for seniors to boost health

The perks of orienteering for seniors

Orienteering is a physically and mentally engaging activity. Although the sport can be done competitively, many courses can simply be done at your own pace – yet still providing physical exercise and the benefits of being outdoors.

In addition, the mental engagement and memory aspect of the sport can help fight cognitive decline. The parts of the brain used for navigation are often overlooked these days, as GPS services have replaced the art of reading a map. Adding the mental exercise of orienteering can be a great addition to a physical workout, especially over an extended period of time.

Recommended equipment

topographical map and compass for orienteering. Image by Terrance Emerson. Orienteering makes a fulfilling hobby for seniors. It provides physical and mental exercise and chances to engage with others and be outdoors.

The basic equipment needed for the sport of orienteering includes:

  • A compass
  • A topographic course map
  • A cue sheet
  • Comfortable shoes. If you’ll be walking especially in wet areas, choose comfortable, waterproof boots. If you are running a timed, competitive course, choose trail-appropriate running shoes.
  • Clothing appropriate for the weather and terrain

It could be wise to carry a comfortable backpack with additional equipment such as hydration and snacks. It is also wise to carry a whistle, a lightweight emergency blanket, flashlight, and a mobile phone for emergencies or other special needs.

Course maps and cue sheets are provided by the orienteering course. The topographic map shows elevation, scale, symbols, and a legend indicating the start and finish of the course. It also shows magnetic north lines and numbers showing the control points that you’ll look for. It also shows the start and finish points of the course. The cue sheet gives more information about the control points, including number / letter sequences and a description of where the control point is located.

Where to go orienteering

Courses are made up of multiple control points and may wind through woods or trail systems, sometimes incorporating ravines, wetlands, or streams.

Permanent courses are often found in parks and forested areas. Sometimes they’re set up as temporary, especially in the case of competitions or events.

If you are looking into orienteering as an experiment or first-time experience, check with your local and state parks departments. Not only might they have permanent courses, they may also offer training sessions.

Orienteering clubs throughout the country can connect you with experienced orienteers, who are typically welcoming of newcomers and willing to provide guidance. A national organization, Orienteering USA, offers information and listings of local clubs. Clubs will sometimes allow you to rent a compass, so that newbies can try the sport without making an initial investment.

You can also look to outdoor sports stores for more information, as they will carry equipment and provide resources for orienteering clubs in your area. Look for stores like REI, Cabela’s, Sierra Trading Post, etc.

So go ahead! Get out and get engaged with orienteering for seniors!

Kari Smith

Kari Smith is a frequent contributor to Seniors Guide, helping to keep those in the senior industry informed and up-to-date. She's a Virginia native whose love of writing began as a songwriter recording her own music. In addition to teaching music and performing in the Richmond area, Kari also enjoys riding horses and farming.

Kari Smith