Which Orienteering course and league is right for me?

Chris, our club development officer explains your options

So you’ve just arrived at your first event. Excellent! You, or maybe the whole the family is in a cheerful mood and excited to try a new experience. You bounce up to the registration table, start to fill in the entry form, but then reach the box that says ‘which course you would like to enter’?

You stop in your tracks and look confused. Maybe you feel like you have entered unwittingly into some kind of test… Maybe you try and give the entry slip to the next member in your group. So what does it mean, what are the options?!

If you find yourself in this situation, there will always be a friendly DVO club member ready to help you out. Please ask for help!

We understand that even the simple choice of courses is enough to confuse. Each area is different and therefore we can help you to choose the best course based on your fitness, experience and who is in your group.

Courses offered are usually of two types:

  • Line Courses – these are courses where you need to navigate to the controls in the order shown on the map. Most line courses are colour-coded as outlined below. Line courses are usually timed – with the course winner being the person who finishes the course in the quickest time. Most orienteering events people do at the weekend are like this. The control circles are joined by lines.
  • Score Courses – these are courses where there is no set order (so no lines joining the control circles) – and you choose how many of the controls to visit and in which order. If you’ve done MapRuns, they are often of this type, but can be linear too. The winner is the person with the most points, and if there’s a tie, it’s then decided by time. There are fewer weekend events offering score courses, most are linear…

Dive in at the deep end

Maybe your first orienteering event is a regional competition. There is no reason why you shouldn’t join us at one of our larger competitions. These tend to have more competitors and are usually planned on more technical terrain. However, the eight or so courses on offer are certainly going to send your head into a spin (explanation below).

Now the regional competition may be part of the East Midlands league which adds an extra layer of complexity. The main thing to remember is to ask for help! Established members know how confusing it can be for beginners, but it will not be long before you are studying the results and following your peers. DVO have had plenty of class leaders over the years and recent successes are celebrated below.

Colour coded courses

To simplify your choices, linear courses are graded by colour, indicating the increase in technical and physical difficulty. As a beginner you should start by checking out the White, Yellow and Orange courses which are up to 2.5K in length and where checkpoints are found on paths or visible from the path.

If you are heading out as a family, choose a distance that is within your means, as it is always more enjoyable to get round a course with everyone coming back as friends. At some events there will be time to start another before courses close.

Green, Blue, Brown, and Black courses get harder and longer and are only recommended if you have some experience and can use a compass. The controls will be more technical and can be further from paths and linear features.

Some events use the equally beginner-friendly ‘score’ format, here you choose which checkpoints or controls to visit in the time limit.

In our recent Derby Parks series (Summer 23) we used terms such as Easy (1.3km) and Improvers (2.7km) for the beginner courses and Medium Technical (3.2km) and Long Technical (5.4km) for more experienced orienteers. We hope these descriptions were helpful!!

Most line courses are “colour-coded”, where the colour represents the length and navigational difficulty. White, Yellow and Orange courses are normally recommended for newcomers, or Light Green if you’re confident. The course length is the straight-line distance between the controls and you will run/walk quite a bit further than this, depending on the route you choose between the controls. Our friends at Bristol Orienteering Klubb have summarized it this way:

The table below shows typical courses, who they are aimed at and the typical lengths:

And What about the Leagues?

East Midlands League (EML)

All our colour-coded events are part of the East Midlands League and anyone can take part. You gain points towards your league position from each event you compete in, with your best results counting towards your total score. The league runs annually from January to December. However, you need to be a member of an East Midlands club to score and must enter the same colour course at least twice to be ranked.

Events including 2023 league tables can be found here: http://www.emoa.org.uk/league/index.php

East Midlands Urban League (EMUL)

East Midlands Urban League is to further develop urban orienteering events in the region by bringing together 6 or more suitable events under its umbrella each year. There are six age-grouped classes, so if you are unsure which to enter, please ask for help! Events are again open to anyone, but you need to be a member of British Orienteering to score.

Further details including 2023 class leaders can be found here: https://eastmidlandsurbanleague.wordpress.com/

DVO has had much recent success in both leagues… The main photo for this article gives a fairly recent example with three DVO members.

EMUL prize-giving for the 2018 urban league on New Year’s Day 2019

I hope this gives some helpful guidance for the years ahead. Do, let me know any questions via the Contact Us if you’d like to be pointed in the right direction!

Chris Millard, Club Development Officer

Future events

Sunday 14 July 2024

Saturday 24 August 2024
Bradford Dale

Sunday 25 August 2024

Recent results

Saturday 22 June 2024
Allestree Park

Wednesday 12 June 2024

Sunday 19 May 2024
Hardwick Park

Routegadget (view routes)

MapRun Results

Join DVO

Derwent Valley Orienteers are a friendly, active club with members throughout Derbyshire.

We welcome new members whatever your experience and can help you learn orienteering and how to improve, either informally or through coaching.

Learn more


You can subscribe to receive information about future events suitable for novices.


We’re supported by the Orienteering Foundation

In 2023, thanks to a grant from the Orienteering Foundation, our Club is focusing on offering training courses for newcomers and help at local events in the Derby Area and beyond, but open to people from across Derbyshire.