Orienteering With Disabilities
In July 2020, Sam and Tyler (Calvert Trust Exmoor activity instructors), walked around Exmoor National Park looking for 26 markers spread out across the remote moors. It took them 5 days and almost 200km of walking to complete their Trig Trek.
Orienteering played a big part in their adventure, as the pair had to understand where to find the markers, how to navigate the terrain and which routes to take across the moor.
Without knowledge of orienteering plus a map and compass, finding the markers simply wouldn’t have been possible.
But what exactly is orienteering and how can anyone have a go, including those with disabilities?
This news piece takes a general look at how orienteering is more than simply hiking over remote places, but can be an exciting activity for all.
What is orienteering?
Orienteering is the term used for finding specific locations or points using a map and compass.
The aim is to travel between checkpoints marked on an orienteering map, working out the best routes to take.
As orienteering usually takes place over open ground (such as moors) or through wooded areas, there is no set route, so getting from A to B however you decide is a fun challenge that takes concentration, practice and skill.
Orienteering can also be a competitive sport, with runners racing to find the markers first. The marker in competitive orienteering is a square with white and orange/red triangles.
People who have experience in orienteering can use a standard map and compass to plan their routes and find their markers, like Sam and Tyler did with their trek across Exmoor.
But competitive orienteerers or orienteering groups will use a special map highlighting where the set markers are. Orienteering maps are also very good for beginners, as they include colour co-ordinated information about the terrain with different symbols to guide you.
The benefits of orienteering for people with disabilities
Orienteering can be an activity enjoyed alongside friends or family, at a leisurely pace.
It involves travelling over longer distances, either by foot or with a suitable wheelchair or scooter, and can be enjoyed by all abilities – as long as individuals are able to travel over uneven ground and rough terrains such as pebbles, rocks, grass, mud or water.
Benefits naturally include being outside and exercising. It is well known that there is a positive relationship between outdoor exercise and the improvement of physical and mental wellbeing.
For people with physical disabilities, travelling over rough terrain helps improve fitness, co-ordination and stamina. The task of map reading also takes the mind off exercising, providing a set goal to focus on.
Map reading and using a compass to find markers also takes a lot of mental concentration. Which may benefit anyone with behavioural or learning disabilities.
We wouldn’t recommend individuals orienteer by themselves for safety reasons, instead see it as a fun group activity. Benefits include social interactions and working together as a team to find the markers.
People with disabilities can be involved in any number of ways, such as: recognising map colours and remembering what they mean, helping to hold the compass and find north, watching the surroundings and looking out for buildings or land features, or shouting out the numbers on markers.
How orienteering is adapted for people with disabilities – TrailO
TrailO – or Trail Orienteering – a competitive form of accessible orienteering where all levels of physical ability can compete on equal terms. TrailO is designed to reduce the physical elements of orienteering, with more focus on puzzle-solving.
Unlike normal orienteering, there is a set route to follow, as shown on a map. The challenge is to find the right markers, among many.
Participants use map reading and navigational skills to complete the course and find the correct markers as they go along. Several markers can be found at a site but only one will exactly match the required description and position.
In TrailO competitions, individuals have to find markers and decide which to record on their own, with no help in the decision processes. But they are allowed as much physical help as they require to move around.
5 top tips from our instructor
We asked Sam to provide his top 5 tips for orienteering so that others can enjoy walking through the great outdoors – including people with disabilities.
1. Use your tools, the map and compass!
“Figure out where on the map you are before going anywhere. Often the starting point is identified on an orienteering map, but if not you can do this by looking around you.
Roads or paths marked on the map that lead north are a great way to identify your location, perhaps things like a split in the path with one route going north. Check your compass to make sure.
I like to orientate the map so the path I am currently on is in line with where I am going, this might mean turning the map so the path points in the same direction of travel. Make sure to keep north in mind and to turn the map northwards are regular intervals.”
2. Plan your route!
“Pick the first point you have been tasked to find and before moving off, plan where you are going. It is a good idea to visualise where you will be going at all times. I find identifying a shape useful. For example, if you know the overall route is a rough circle then most of the turnings will bear in the same direction.
Say to yourself and the other people in your group things like ‘OK so we take this path, then a left and after some distance we should see a gate’ as you go along.”
3. Keep locating yourself on the map!
“A control point or marker is great for confirming your location. Once you have found and confirmed it you will be able to say with certainty where you are on the map. You can then use your compass to orientate yourself in the direction of the next control point and plan the next leg accordingly.
However, it’s very important to check that the point you have found is the correct one. It’s easy to see a marker on the way to another and to then assume your position, which could cause navigation errors or to lose your place on the map.
Relocation – finding your position on the map if lost – is not simple and can seem scary. Often there is no single way to relocate your position on the map straight away, so continue onwards until you can find features which you can relate to on the map.”
4. Use your surroundings to your advantage!
“Landmarks; buildings, roads, hills, lakes are obvious features both on the map and when looking around that can help guide you in the right direction.
‘Line’ features (paths or fences) visible on the map can be followed or used to orientate yourself in a direction
This is useful in relocating yourself if you have gone wrong and are lost.
Again communicate with each other and ensure you have shared goals as you travel: ‘We need to keep this hill on our left-hand side as we cross this field’ -‘the next marker should be on the other side of that stream’ and so on.”
5. Figure out distances, and don’t rush!
“It is very easy to overshoot and miss a set point or marker, especially early on when excitement and energy levels are high.
If you know the next point is say, 100m along the path, then keep this in mind and if you feel you have gone farther then you might well have missed it and gone too far. Time to turn around and relocate!”
“Orienteering is a great sport. It is accessible to everyone who can read a map, and even those who can’t still enjoy the journey and finding points of interest. It’s a great way to make a simple walk more engaging for kids and adults alike!”
How to get started with orienteering
For complete beginners or those wishing to do orienteering for fun, the first step is to find a course or club near you. They will provide maps, compasses and details of the markers.
We recommend starting with the British Orienteering website, which has lots more information on orienteering, including updates on clubs and events around the UK.
By attending events and doing courses, it gets easier to read maps and gain confidence. Competitive orienteering is then an option for those who feel they have advanced enough and wish to give it a go.
Orienteering at Calvert Trust Exmoor
Alternatively, give basic orienteering a go during a stay at Calvert Trust Exmoor during an accessibility break in North Devon!
We have Disney and cartoon character markers around the sight for guests to find. Guests will partake in a range of activities and orienteering may be one of them depending on the type of group and the disabilities included.
Learning to navigate and read maps on our trails around the centre is a great way to develop teamwork while learning new life-skills, such as problem solving and self-confidence.
Guests are also welcome to ask reception staff or instructors to do orienteering in their own time.
Or perhaps young children can bring their own compasses, with walks around the reservoir to learn about directions.
Discover the full Calvert Experience to learn more about what our disability breaks include.