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Learn orienteering

– tips from the world champion

We asked the world’s best orienteer, Tove Alexandersson, to share her top tips. It’s not easy to learn orienteering. But once you have, it’s one of the most fun things you can do. We asked the world’s best orienteer Tove Alexandersson to share her top tips.

Many fitness sports peaked in the 80s, including orienteering. After a weak period, however, the sport is making a comeback. Around Sweden, adults are taking beginner courses to learn to read maps and use a compass, and the exercise competitions in orienteering are doing better than they have for a long time.

World’s best orienteer Tove Alexandersson shares her top tips.

“I believe there is renewed interest in the sport now. Extreme races, Tjurruset and other such events have been popular for a while, and they are actually very similar to orienteering in many ways. But I realise that the orienteering phase may be a bit daunting if you’re new to it,” says Tove Alexandersson, member of the Swedish national team and multiple world champion.

Many of us got a little basic training in orienteering in primary school, but for those who haven’t kept up with the map world, it’s easy to get lost in the forest. And it can take time to become comfortable with maps.

“It takes time, and you shouldn’t rush through it,” says Tove. “A good start is to take a map with you out into the forest and walk or even stand still with it. Then you get an understanding of and learn what the details on the map look like in real life.” Tove also recommends studying as many maps as you can. She saves all her competition maps, which has led to an extensive collection over the years. Tove also says that most of us actually have maps closer than we think.

“The orienteering clubs have access to maps, but many people who train have GPS watches, for example, and then they can log the session and go in and check the route afterwards and compare it with the maps. The more maps you read the more you understand.” If you want to learn orienteering you need patience. This also means that adults who try an exercise competition have to be prepared to run the same course as ten-year-olds.

“You cannot go straight to the most difficult courses, you have to start with easy ones so you get a feel for it,” says Tove. “It’s the same for all orienteers, everyone started running with maps where the checkpoints were at the trail junctions and then continued with maps where the checkpoints were max 20 metres from the trail. You have to start with the easy ones and work your way up.”

There are many ways to learn orienteering, but basically you have to decide if you are going to learn it on your own or get help from others. Sweden is full of associations where the members are happy to teach the basics of orienteering – and today many associations also run organised beginner courses. If you prefer to learn on your own, you can, for example, study orienteering literature from Sisu. Another option is to try Hittaut or Naturpasset, two services that place lots of checkpoints in the forests that you can find in your own time.

If you want to, you can also try running in a competition. Most orienteering competitions have open exercise classes for beginners to try the sport, and there is also exercise orienteering, a kind of training competition aimed primarily at beginners. “I have always competed a lot, and I really think that competition is the best training,” says Tove Alexandersson. “It’s also a good way of learning orienteering. It’s fun to try and run in the same forest as the professionals. In Sweden, there are also orienteering competitions just about every weekend, so you just have to keep working at it until it sticks.”


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