Orienteering Merit Badge

Orienteering Merit Badge Guide

Orienteering Merit Badge – Since ancient times, rough maps of the Earth and simple compasses have guided explorers, warriors, and pioneers like Lewis and Clark, Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, and Amelia Earhart.

Often, their skills with map and compass were all that kept these men and women from disaster. What has been a vital skill for humans for thousands of years is now a sport orienteering.

By definition, orienteering is a cross-country race in which participants use a highly detailed map and a compass to navigate their way between checkpoints along an unfamiliar course.

Let’s discuss together about orienteering merit badge.

Orienteering Merit Badge Requirements

  1. Show that you know first aid for the types of injuries that could occur while orienteering, including cuts, scratches, blisters, snakebite, insect stings, tick bites, heat and cold reactions (sunburn, heatstroke, heat exhaustion, hypothermia), and dehydration. Explain to your counselor why you should be able to identify poisonous plants and poisonous animals that are found in your area.
  2. Explain what orienteering is.
  3. Do the following:
    • Explain how a compass works. Describe the features of an orienteering compass.
    • In the field, show how to take a compass bearing and follow it.
  4. Do the following:
    • Explain how a topographic map shows terrain features. Point out and name five terrain features on a map and in the field.
    • Point out and name 10 symbols on a topographic map.
    • Explain the meaning of declination. Tell why you must consider declination when using a map and compass together.
    • Show a topographic map with magnetic north-south lines.
    • Show how to measure distances on a map using an orienteering compass.
    • Show how to orient a map using a compass.
  5. Set up a 100-meter pace course. Determine your walking and running pace for 100 meters. Tell why it is important to pace-count.
  6. Do the following:
    • Identify 20 international control description symbols. Tell the meaning of each symbol.
    • Show a control description sheet and explain the information provided.
    • Explain the following terms and tell when you would use them: attack point, collecting feature, catching feature, aiming off, contouring, reading ahead, handrail, relocation, rough versus fine orienteering.
  7. Do the following:
    • Take part in three orienteering events. One of these must be a cross-country course.
    • After each event, write a report with (1) a copy of the master map and control description sheet, (2) a copy of the route you took on the course, (3) a discussion of how you could improve your time between control points, and (4) a list of your major weaknesses on this course. Describe what you could do to improve.
  8. Do ONE of the following:
    • Set up a cross-country course that is at least 2,000 meters long with at least five control markers. Prepare the master map and control description sheet.
    • Set up a score orienteering course with at least 12 control points and a time limit of at least 60 minutes. Setpoint values for each control. Prepare the master map and control description sheet.
  9. Act as an official during an orienteering event. This may be during the running of the course you set up for requirement 8.
  10. Teach orienteering techniques to your patrol, troop, or crew.

Orienteering First Aid

Orienteering is a physically demanding activity that takes place over several kilometers of very mixed and often rugged terrain.

Hot weather may result in sunburn, heatstroke, heat exhaustion, and dehydration, while cold weather can lead to hypothermia and dehydration.

In the hurry to be first, you might stumble onto dangerous animals or poisonous plants.

1. Physical Conditioning

The best thing you can do to prevent injury is to be well-rested, well-fed, and physically fit before going out on an orienteering course.

A normal night’s sleep and healthy meals will help you endure the rigors of the course and decrease the possibility of a physical or mental slip that could result in injury.

Regular exercise such as hiking, running, bicycling, skiing, and snowshoeing will raise your fitness levels so that any orienteering course is an exhilarating challenge, not a desperate struggle.

2. Dehydration

Dehydration is caused by lack of water in the body. Your body must have water for digestion, respiration, brain activity, and regulation of body temperature.

A person who gives off more water than consumed can become dehydrated in hot or cold weather. Athletes can lose up to 14 pounds of fluid in a day.

To keep up with this loss, drink 1 to 2 cups of liquid 15 to 20 minutes or so after starting the course and every 15 minutes while on the course. Do not wait to drink until you feel thirsty.

3. Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is one result of dehydration. The body becomes overheated because its cooling methods fail. Watch for these signs:

  • Elevated body temperature (between 98.6 and 102 degrees)
  • Skin pale and clammy even cool to the touch
  • Heavy sweating
  • Nausea, dizziness, and fainting
  • Pronounced weakness and tiredness
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps.

To treat heat exhaustion, have the victim lie down in a shady, cool spot with the feet raised. Loosen the clothing. Apply cool, damp cloths to the skin or use a fan. Have the victim sip water.

4. Heatstroke

Heatstroke (sunstroke) is far more serious but less common than heat exhaustion.

It is life-threatening because the body’s heat control system has been overworked and overwhelmed, resulting in its failure and skyrocketing body temperature.

Watch for these signs:

  • Body temperature above 102 degrees (often above 105 degrees)
  • Red, hot, and dry skin
  • No sweating
  • Extremely rapid pulse
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Fainting or unconsciousness
  • Convulsions.

The victim must be cooled immediately. Place the victim in a cool, shaded spot face-up with head and shoulders raised.

Remove outer clothing, sponge the bare skin with cold water, and soak underclothing with cool water.

Apply cold packs, use a fan, or place the victim in a tub of cold water. Dry the skin after the body temperature drops to 101 degrees. Obtain medical help immediately.

5. Sunburn

Sunburn is a common but potentially serious result of exposure to sun. Long-term exposure can result in skin damage and skin cancer.

The physical effort of orienteering can lure a person into removing clothing to help keep cool, exposing skin to the sun.

You can prevent sunburn best by wearing loose-fitting clothing that completely covers the arms and legs and a broad-brimmed hat to shade the neck and face.

Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 to exposed skin. Reapply sunscreen often and as needed.

6. Hypothermia

Hypo means “a lack of”; thermia means “heat.” Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature drops so low that it is no longer possible to keep warm.

Hypothermia can happen in relatively mild weather, and the victim may not be aware that there is a problem.

Cool, windy, and rainy weather are particularly dangerous. The key to preventing hypothermia is to keep warm and stay dry, and eat plenty of energy foods (nuts, dried fruits, peanut butter).

Don’t push yourself to a dangerous point of fatigue. A person in the early stages of hypothermia may be shivering. As the victim becomes even colder, the shivering will stop.

Other symptoms may include irritability, disorientation, sleepiness, incoherence, and the inability to think clearly or make rational decisions.

In growing confusion, the victim might have no idea that there is any danger and may aggressively reject suggestions to stop and get warm.

Rewarm the victim and prevent further heat loss by moving the victim to a shelter, removing damp clothing, and warming the person with blankets until body temperature returns to normal.

Cover the head with a warm hat or other covering, and offer hot drinks.

7. Cuts, Abrasions, and Scratches

Running through brush, trees, swampy areas, and uneven terrain on orienteering courses can easily lead to minor injuries.

These types of injuries can easily be prevented by dressing appropriately for the activity (jeans, shoes, socks, long sleeves).

Cuts, abrasions, and scratches usually require little attention other than to clean them with soap and water and disinfectant. Leave them to heal in the air, or cover them lightly with a dry, sterile dressing.

Unless a cut is serious, bleeding probably will stop on its own or with slight pressure on the wound. Clean and disinfect the wound, then cover with a sterile dressing or bandage.

More severe wounds may not stop bleeding readily. Apply direct and firm pressure to such wounds with a sterile dressing or compress. It may help to raise the injured limb (if no bones are broken) above heart-level.

Apply pressure to the local artery. If the bleeding is prolonged, treat for shock and seek medical attention immediately.

Puncture wounds, caused by something piercing the skin, often do not bleed very much and are difficult to clean. Encourage bleeding to help remove anything that might have been forced inside the wound.

Use sterile tweezers or a sterile needle to pull out any foreign matter that you can see. Clean the wound as thoroughly as possible with soap and water, rinse well with clear water, and apply disinfectant.

Allow the wound to air dry, then cover it with a clean, dry bandage.

8. Blisters

Blisters on the feet are common injuries among outdoor enthusiasts, and they can certainly make life miserable. A “hot spot” is a warning that a blister is forming. It is a pinkish area caused by the rubbing of a shoe or boot.

Stop as soon as you notice the discomfort of a hot spot, and treat the area. Cut several pieces of moleskin (every orienteering first-aid kit should have this item) slightly larger than the hot spot.

Cut out the center of each piece of moleskin so that it is like a small doughnut, and stack the pieces over the sore area with the holes arranged directly over the most painful part.

Tape the stack in place. This will help keep pressure off the hot spot and, with luck, no blister will appear.

If a blister does appear, apply a gel pad from the first-aid kit directly over the blister before adding the doughnut bandage. This will help reduce friction and speed healing.

9. Stings and Bites

A wasp, hornet, or bee sting can cause severe allergic reactions in some people. Those people should take a field treatment kit with them on all outings, and their companions should be familiar with its use.

If a sting reaction on an arm or leg is particularly severe, isolate its effect by tying a constricting band between the sting and the heart.

The band must be loose enough for a finger to slide under it. Cool the wound with water (or ice, if available). Monitor the victim’s breathing and do rescue breathing if necessary. Seek medical help.

Fire ant stings can be extremely painful. You can spot fire ants by their distinctive loose mounds of dirt. When disturbed, these aggressive ants will swarm and attack as a group and sting repeatedly.

Their stings from tiny blisters; take care not to break the blisters. Wash the injured area well with antiseptic or soap and water, then cover with a sterile bandage.

Ticks feed on blood by embedding their head into the skin. They can carry diseases such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Remove a tick as soon as it is discovered by grasping its head as close to the skin as possible with tweezers or gloved fingertips; gently tease the critter from the wound.

Don’t squeeze, twist, or jerk the tick; that could break off the mouth parts, which would remain in the skin.

Wash the wound area carefully with soap and water or an alcohol swab, and apply antiseptic. After handling a tick, wash your hands thoroughly.

10. Snakebite

If you are bitten by a snake, assume that it is poisonous unless it can be absolutely identified.

The ability to recognize poisonous varieties allows a person to take evasive action when necessary and speeds proper treatment when a bite has occurred.

Two types of poisonous snakes are present in the United States. Pit vipers (rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths) have triangular-shaped heads with pits on each side in front of the eyes.

Coral snakes have black snouts and bands of red and yellow separated by bands of black. Coral snakes inject a powerful venom that works on the nervous system of the victim; pit viper venom affects the circulatory system.

A pit viper bite is likely if there are puncture marks, pain and swelling (possibly evere), skin discoloration, nausea and vomiting, shallow breathing, blurred vision, and shock.

A coral snakebite is marked by a slowing of physical and mental reactions, sleepiness, nausea, shortness of breath, convulsions, shock, and coma.

Treatment for either type of poisonous snakebite is best done under medical supervision.

Obtain medical help for the victim as quickly as possible. While doing this it is important to limit the spread of the venom and to maintain vital signs.

Keep the victim still and the wound below the level of the heart, and tie a broad constricting band an inch or more wide between the bite and the victim’s heart (2 to 4 inches above the bite).

Do not use constriction bands on fingers, toes, the head, the neck, or the trunk. Swelling may cause watchbands, rings, clothing, and shoes to restrict circulation.

Remove these items in the area of the bite. Treat for shock. Do not apply ice or give alcohol, sedatives, or aspirin.

11. Poisonous and Pesky Plants

You can prevent most problems with poisonous plants by being able to identify them and by being careful. Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are the three most common troublemakers; learn how to identify these plants and avoid them.

If you have touched or even just brushed against one of these plants, immediately wash the skin thoroughly with soap and water to help prevent the rash from developing; the sap must be on your skin for 10 to 20 minutes before it causes problems.

Further cleanse the area with rubbing alcohol. If a rash develops, apply hydrocortisone cream (0.5 percent strength) if you have it, to help relieve the itching.

Scratching the affected area will cause irritation to spread. Unless the rash becomes severe, further medical attention is not necessary.

The following information can help you in answering the requirements of the 3 of orienteering merit badge.

Using a Compass

Earth is a giant magnet with two ends, a north magnetic pole and a south magnetic pole. The poles are areas where the lines of magnetic force come together and are strongest.

Even at distances of thousands of miles, the poles exert a pull on magnetized minerals.

The Chinese were probably the first to discover this between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago when they noticed that lodestone or magnetite if allowed to swing freely, would always point in a north-south direction.

By carving a small pointer of this mineral and then floating it on a liquid, they invented the first compass. Once they added a compass card, showing the major directions, they could follow those directions relative to the Earth’s magnetic field.

Today’s compass has not changed much from those early models. Basic compasses combine a compass card showing 16 or 32 points of the compass or 360 degrees of a circle and a magnetized metal needle that is colored on the north end.

The bearing index and direction-of-travel arrow are located on the baseplate. Degrees on a rotating 360-degree bezel are read against the index line.

The direction-of-travel arrow, found at the far end of the index line, indicates which way to go after you have taken a bearing.

Map scales, such as the 1:15,000 scale commonly found on orienteering maps or the 1:24,000 and 1:62,500 scales found in the U.S.

Geological Survey topographic maps, may be marked along the edges of the compass’s baseplate. Inch and millimeter scales may appear as well. These scales simplify measuring distance on a map.

An orienting arrow is embossed on the transparent base of the circular compass housing. You use the orienting arrow by aligning it with the needle so that you can take a bearing or establish your direction of travel when a bearing is known.

When used along with a map, it allows you to orient the map and take a bearing from the map. North-south or orienting lines lie parallel to the orienting arrow on the base of the compass housing.

You use these lines when taking a bearing from a map and when identifying landmarks using a compass and a map.

Using a Topographic Map

A map is a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional space. It strives to reproduce on a sheet of paper, by using symbols, all the features of a piece of land or water.

If you walk all the way around the base of a mountain and always stay at the exact same elevation, you are contouring around it. The line you follow is called a contour line. Now do it again, only walk a line 20 feet higher in elevation.

You have walked a second contour line. The contour interval between the two lines is 20 feet. The contour interval varies from map to map.

The contour interval for most USGS maps is 20 or 40 feet, while for most orienteering maps it is 3 or 5 meters. The amount of the interval is usually shown on the map.

You also can figure out the contour interval. Here’s how. Determine the number of contour lines between the two adjacent index contours; add 1 to this figure, then divide by the elevation difference.

Usually, an index contour occurs every fifth line. It is a bolder brown than the other contour lines, and on most maps you will find a number on it that tells its elevation above sea level.

For symbols, you can read the recommended articles in the following link.

On orienteering maps, the index contour line does not have an elevation number, but is thicker than the others and is used as a guide for the eye.

For other information, you can read directly from the pamphlet that I have shared. Following is an explanation to answer the 10th requirement of an orienteering merit badge.

Orienteering Techniques

Orienteers use a number of techniques to choose their routes along a course.

1. Handrails

Handrails are linear features along the leg of a course that leads you in the direction you want to go and provide easier travel, continuous direction, and a more accurate position.

Orienteers’ handrails can be either natural or artificial features such as streams, trails, roads, fences, and power lines. More obscure handrails might be ridgelines, valleys, tree lines, forest fire burns, or avalanche scars.

Beginners’ courses rely heavily on handrails to help the novice get to each control. The route for the easiest courses may actually go right down a trail or road the handrail.

As the orienteer’s skills develop and the courses become more difficult, handrails become less obvious, but the terrain will have usable handrails if the map reader is skilled enough to pick them out from the details.


In this illustration, the orienteer follows the pipeline handrail almost directly to the control location.

2. Collecting, Check-Off, and Catching Features

Always look around and take note of the features you pass as you move toward the next control. There may be some obvious features along the route, such as a large pond or small lake, that will help send you in the right direction.

These are collecting features, which lie between you and the control. Equally important but less obvious are check-off features, which you will see along the way.

You can constantly verify your position by making a mental note as you pass the features and moving your thumb along with the map as you go. A catching feature lies beyond the control.

This term makes sense if you think of a catching feature as a landmark that warns you that you have actually passed the control. The feature catches you!

3. Attack Point

An attack point is a large, easily recognized feature that is near the control. The attack point helps you determine your exact location and reach the control.

From the attack point, you can use precise navigation, such as an accurate bearing and pace counting, to carefully zero in on the control.

The route from the attack point to the control may be so obvious or so restricted, that you might not even have to take a compass bearing. Generally, orienteering relies more heavily on the map than the compass.

4. Aiming Off or Offset Technique

If a control or attack point is on a linear feature, such as a road, it can be more efficient and safer to deliberately aim off to one side of the straight line that heads to the feature.

If you arrive at the linear feature and do not see the control, you will then know which way to turn to find it.

offset technique

In this map, it would be easy to reach the road and not be sure what direction the control lies.to prevent this, you can deliberately aim a few meters south of the control so you know to turn north when you get to the road.

5. Reading Ahead

Keep a clear mental picture of the terrain that you will pass through. Read the map every few seconds, think beyond your location, and plan ahead.

The best way to practice reading ahead is to take time at the beginning of the course and after each control to make sure you understand what the map is telling you. Do not move until you are sure.

It is just as important to keep oriented every moment while you are traveling and to keep an eye on what lies ahead.

Keep your map out and refer to it often. Make sure that what you are seeing on the ground matches what the map tells you should be there.

If you find this is not the case, then either you are reading the map wrong or you have strayed from your intended course.

6. Contouring

Sometimes, the direct up-and-over or down-and-up route between controls is not the best. Take a few seconds to calculate the elevation where you are standing and the elevation at the next control.

Are they roughly the same? If they are, it may be best to follow a route that stays at the same elevation. That route is plainly marked on the map of the contour line!

You should consider contouring even if there is quite a difference in the length of the straight-line route versus the contour-line route. The route may look faster as the crow flies, but that may be deceptive.

In this example, a person who is contouring would follow a route that is level or downhill. The direct route would mean a climb of 10 to 15 meters (33 to 50 feet). Although the distance to contour is greater, the effort expended is less.

7. Relocation

When a person is lost or potentially lost, whether on a road in a city, deep in a complex cave, in the wilderness, or on an orienteering course, the best thing to do is stop.

The worst thing to do is to keep moving, because the problem will not correct itself; it will get worse. And time lost in correcting the problem will skyrocket.

If you don’t know where you are, stop and relocate. Find a definite feature that you can correctly locate.

This should be relatively easy to do if you took the time before the start to compare the map with the terrain and make a mental note of relocation features such as lakes and ponds, where two streams intersect, or perhaps a bridge where a stream goes under a road.

Almost anything will work, but it must be prominent enough so that you do not confuse it with other features. If you mix up relocation sites, you will really be lost and might have to retrace part of the route to find a recognizable point.

8. Rough Versus Fine Orienteering

The search for the next control point in an orienteering problem often can be divided into two distinct phases: the rough orienteering phase and the fine orienteering phase.

In the rough phase, you are moving in broadly defined directions toward a collection point found on the map. This is the time for covering a lot of ground quickly.

You will not be in danger of missing the control during this phase because the control will not be close at hand yet.

Once you reach the chosen collection point, it is time to switch to fine orienteering. Locate yourself precisely, and determine where you are in relation to the control.

Form a plan that will accurately lead you to control. This may involve using handrails, attack points, and compass bearings.

Proceed to the control as quickly as possible, but remember that in this phase accuracy is the primary goal.

9. Route Choice

Orienteering allows competitors to choose their route around the course, introducing an element of skill that complements physical fitness.

When confronted with many possible routes, you should consider the following:

  • Terrain barriers or obstacles, vegetation.
  • Off-limit areas.
  • Artificial features and the presence of landmarks, handrails, collecting features, catching features, and attack points.
  • Your level of physical fitness.
  • The adequacy of your clothing for certain routes.

As the courses progress from the (novice) white level to the advanced beginner yellow, intermediate orange, and advanced brown, green, red, and blue courses, better route finding skills become desirable, and then essential.

The most advanced courses may have many options for reaching the control but only one or two really good ones.

Steps in Choosing a Route

Route choice will be simplified if each time you set out for a control you:

  1. Note the exact location of the control on the map and read its description from the description sheet.
  2. Choose an attack point (if the control is not placed in an obvious position) very close to a feature that you can easily recognize a bridge, a trail junction, power lines over a path, a corner of a forest.
  3. Look at the direct route from your present position to the attack point. See whether it will be easy to follow on a compass bearing.
  4. Look to the left and right of the direct route and see whether there is an easier and quicker route. An indirect route may require less hill climbing and push through dense woods.
  5. Take the fastest route to the attack point.
  6. Run as fast as possible to the attack point, using collecting features to find the way.
  7. Take an accurate compass bearing (if necessary) from the attack point to the control.
  8. Measure the exact distance on the map from the attack point to the control.
  9. Walk or jog accurately on a compass bearing, counting the paces until you find the control.

I might be a Mechanical Engineer on the paper, but I was an Eagle Scout enthusiast since childhood.