Orienteering is navigation across terrain using a map and, when needed, a compass. Orienteering skills are useful to outdoor enthusiasts. In deserts and mountains, these skills can and often do save lives, as well as making outdoor adventures less stressful and more enjoyable.
Safety in the natural environment is an important goal of orienteering training. Essential skills taught and developed through organized orienteering events, that apply also to many other outdoor activities, include the following:
- Know how to read a map. Look at the legend and read the text around the margins. Know what the different colors, patterns, and symbols mean.
- Know how to orient the map to the terrain and relate features on the map to features visible in the terrain. This can be as simple as knowing which way is north, and to rotate the map so that north on the map is north.
- Find your safety bearing. Look at the map, note the locations of roads and populated places, and decide in advance which way to go in the event of serious trouble (you are lost, someone is sick or injured, etc). Often, this decision is as simple as "go downhill" or "go uphill" or "go south". It is important to make this decision in advance, and to make a habit of making this decision, because in an emergency many people's ability to make decisions becomes limited.
- Know the local terrain hazards, and how to avoid them. Some examples are cliffs or steep slopes or loose rocks; poisonous snakes or sharp rocks or thorns; open pit mines or standing dead trees that may fall in windy weather; risk of lightning strikes on exposed ridges and flash floods in canyon bottoms.
- Know out of bound areas. Stay out of private property, posted no trespass government property, shooting ranges, areas closed to public use due to specific dangers (forest fire, severe weather, unexploded ordinance, toxic waste spills, etc.) or to protect resources (municipal water supplies, archaeological sites, endangered species).
- Don't lose your keys. If you want to orienteer unencumbered, lock your stuff in your car and leave your keys at the registration table. The person handling registrations should have a communal box for safekeeping of keys.
- Ask questions. Do you know about attack points, aiming off, collecting features, catching features, and handrails? If not, ask for someone to give you some personal coaching before you head out on a course.