Course Setter's Notes

These guidelines are adapted from a similar document which is a part of the USOF Competition Documents packet for A meet organizers and also included in the USOF Club Binder. The editorial changes introduced here are to clarify and simplify the document, but are not intended to change the USOF rules of competition.

Orienteering courses should provide a physical and mental challenge to the participants. The physical challenges are met by following the guidelines for length and climb. The course setter's job is to provide a mental challenge that is appropriate for the participants that are expected to be on that course.
Start & Finish Area:
Keep both near the trail network for the White and Yellow courses. Keep finish close to parking, especially in cold weather. Start can be more remote. Consider a higher elevation start to reduce climb during the course.
Skill not Luck:
Be sure all sites chosen for controls are distinct points and that no map problems exist, especially in the immediate area of the control, or around likely attack points. Also a distinct point in an otherwise bland or overgrown area may introduce a lot of luck and should be avoided. Be sure the competitor has access to enough information to "map read" to the control.
Areas to Avoid:
Look over your map for areas marked as private or out of bounds. Check with the Club Scheduler or Secretary for any additional out of bounds areas on the map you are using. A data base is being developed on each map and should be in place for the 1996 schedule. If your park has responded, a copy will be included in your event director data packet. Avoid dangerous areas such as cliffs, or pits with poor visibility, large areas of poison ivy, swift or deep water, etc.
The most logical exit route from a control should not be the same as the most logical way in. Avoiding doglegs in the design phase reduces the advantage gained by a second runner seeing a competitor leave a site. When checking your design for dog legs be sure to visualize the route the runner will likely take, not the purple connecting lines on the printed copy. Dog-legs on beginners courses are sometimes necessary to insure safety or clarity.
Similar Features:
Controls on similar features should be no closer than 100 meters to each other (USOF rule 23.7) and all controls should be at least 50 meters apart. (USOF first recommends 75 meters for all controls, then a page later says 60, but has no rule addressing controls that are not on similar features.)
Total Course Length:
The length of a course is determined by measuring the shortest possible route from control to control, taking into consideration factors such as uncrossable fences, lakes, compulsory marked routes, and out of bounds areas.
Total Course Climb:
Climb is measured along the route that is considered by the course setter to be the fastest overall route for the course. Trace this route and multiply the contour lines crossed while going uphill by the contour interval. This total should be less than 4% of the total course length. In most DVOA terrain, typical course climb is around 2%.
Control Placement:
Controls are not to be hidden. They are hung beside or over the mapped object which is described in the control description. They can and should be placed behind the mapped feature, but should not be behind large trees, logs, bushes etc. that are not marked on the map and thus randomly punish those that choose the wrong approach. Generally flags should be hung between knee and chest high. Consider the visibility around the site when determining how high to hang the flag. On white, remember that many of the competitors are somewhat shorter than the course setters. Always hang the punch near the flag and at a level that is easy to reach. Do not hang it from the flag itself and be sure that the punch can not be dropped inside the flag.
USOF guidelines call for 8 oz. per person every 2.5 km along the course. Water every 2.5 K is about right, but the amount can be about 4 oz per person, or even less in cool weather. Water on White and Yellow is optional, but appreciated, especially in hot weather.
Field Check Each Site:
No matter how well you know a map or an area, every site should be visited prior to the day the flags are to be hung. Check to be sure everything about the area is suitable for a control site. Hang a temporary marker exactly where you envision the control to be hung. It is a good idea to put an identification number on the marker and a date. Many of us pull down old streamers while in the woods, so if yours is dated it may be saved. Write the control description.
Be sure to double check all your work. The control codes, the control desdcriptions, the printed maps (or maps you submit to the person doing the printing) all should be double checked before the event. Take time while hanging the controls to check each code against a master list to be sure every one is in the correct spot and has the correct code.
White Course
  • 3 Kilometers or less
  • Winning time 25-30 min.

The White course is designed for people who have no orienteering experience and have had perhaps a maximum of 15 minutes of instruction before starting out. At the same time it is the championship level course for children ages 12 and under, so it must be set to uniform standards.

The course should be set in a section of the map that has a sequence of linear features which can be used to connect the start and finish. Ideally there will be a variety of features along that route to use as control sites. Try to introduce the White orienteer to a mix of features to add variety and interest and to help prepare him for moving on to other more difficult courses.

  1. Start Easy. The first controls should be quite easy to give the beginner confidence, and to help him get familiar with the map. The first control can be visible from the start if necessary to get them going in the right direction.
  2. Linear Features. Every leg should follow something like a trail, stream bank, power line field edge, stone wall, etc.
  3. Short Legs. The legs on White should be less than 400 meters each and number about 6 to 10 on the course. Kids like to punch, so give them plenty of controls, but be careful your printed course doesn't obscure too much of the map.
  4. Route Choice. Although route choice on White is not required, it is nice to introduce some simple choices. It is really good to design some where both choices are equal so they don't make a poor choice. Often the real problem on a route choice leg is indecision, so building confidence now is good training for later.
  5. Large Features for Control Sites. The exact sites selected for controls should be the larger features encountered on the loop and should also offer as wide a variety of features as possible. All controls should be visible from the trail or linear feature being followed.
  6. Suitable Terrain. Remember who is on this course when doing the design. It is generally a mix of first time orienteers, seniors, families with small children, and kids out perhaps for the first time alone on a course. Use the most friendly terrain available on the map.
  7. Similar Features. Be sure there are no confusing features along the way. It is best if the white runner sees no flags from other courses.
  8. Marked Routes. If the map offers no loop of a suitable length or difficulty, it is possible to include a leg through the woods which is marked by streamers. It is recommended that a control on a mapped feature be at each end of this route so the runner has a defined release point.
  9. NO COMPASS. This course should be designed so that a compass is not necessary.
  10. Same Start. Use the same start for White as all other courses. Everyone being able to participate together is important to the development of younger runners and the sport itself.
Yellow Course
  • 3 to 5 kilometers
  • Winning time 35-40 min.

The Yellow course is designed for children 13 to 14 years old, advanced beginners looking for a bit more adventure and other more experienced orienteers, who for a variety of reasons prefer the challenge offered by a Yellow course. All the fundamental orienteering skills including map reading, compass, route choice, and pacing should be involved in running a Yellow course.

  1. Easy Start. As with White, the first control or two should be relatively easy to allow the runner to become familiar with the map.
  2. Leg Length. Legs can be longer than White, but not over 600 meters. Most Yellow legs are 200 to 400 meters.
  3. Route Choice. The Yellow course should begin to get the orienteer off the trails. This is accomplished by offering legs that have a faster off-trail option. The off-trail options should still have a good linear feature as a handrail, and a good catching feature near each control. Short legs (50 to 200 meters) through open woods between linear features are fine if a good catching feature exists on the other side. A longer "safe" route should exist when the woods route has no handrail. An ideal Yellow leg would have a longer trial option leading almost to the control site, a series of trails and other linear features requiring more attention to the map detail, but cutting the distance down significantly, and a "through the woods" option which hits an unmistakable catching feature 50 meters or less before the control.
  4. Control Features. Large or easily recognized features should be used as control sites.
  5. No Compass. Although some legs may be done faster if a compass is used, the entire course should be designed so that a compass is not required for a successful run.
  6. Terrain. The Yellow course, again because of the mix of people that utilize it, should avoid the more rugged areas of the map. The cuts through the woods should never be in anything but open woods.
Orange Course
  • 4.5 to 7 kilometers
  • Winning time 50-55 minutes

The Orange course is the competitive course for the 15 to 16 year old, and the comfortable course choice for many adults. This is where off-trail navigation becomes necessary for the successful completion of a course.

  1. Intermediate Level Navigation. The controls and best routes to them should invite the orienteer to leave the strong linear features and navigate through the woods. The penalty for somewhat inaccurate navigation should not be extreme. Distinct attack points should exist near the controls, and the controls themselves should be on distinct features. Strong catching features should back up every control so the runner has a reference point if a navigational error is made.
  2. Route Choice. Orange route choices are similar to those of Yellow except that much more time should be lost by using the trails. The legs through the woods can be much longer, (500 meters is fine if a solid catching feature exists) and the use of less open woods is acceptable.
  3. Control Features. The controls can be further from linear features, or on more subtle features than are used for Yellow. Orange runners should begin to recognize contour features in the terrain like hilltops, reentrants, spurs, saddles etc. Large contour features make excellent Orange control sites.
  4. Variety. Orange spans the gap between Yellow and the advanced courses. The legs on an Orange course can approach both these levels. On those more advanced legs of an Orange course, be sure at least one good attack point is nearby, and be sure good catching features are available for relocation within a hundred meters or so of the control. Orange can also be introduced to the "long leg", a leg on a course that, for Orange, can be up to 1000 meters long, and offer two or three widely divergent route choices.
  5. Compass. One or two legs at the most, may require the use of pace and compass technique for the less experienced map readers.
Brown Course
  • 3 - 5 kilometers
  • Winning time 45-50 min.
Green Course
  • 4.5 - 7 kilometers
  • Winning time 50-55 min.
Red Course
  • 6 - 10 kilometers
  • Winning time 60-65 min.
Blue Course
  • 8 - 14 kilometers
  • Winning time 75-80 min.

These are the advanced courses and thus should be set so that the very experienced orienteer is well challenged. The challenges should be navigational and mental. The element of luck should be reduced as much as possible. All four courses are of the same level, only the lengths change. The single exception to this is Brown, where the climb should as low as is possible in the terrain, and any parts of the maps that are so full of detail as to be difficult to read should be avoided. If Brown is not offered, the Green should be modified somewhat to serve these purposes.

  1. Start. Start should always be with the other courses. Starting at a higher elevations will help reduce climb on the course.
  2. Feature Size. Large obvious features are not challenging enough for advanced courses. Smaller features such as boulders, small cliffs, reentrants, spurs, and knolls are more suitable.
  3. Collecting Features. Do not place an advanced control in the first 200 meters beyond a strong collecting feature. That allows the runner to simply run to that feature, then start to orienteer. Instead, place the control 200 meters before the collecting point, thus those that miss the control are penalized double the distance to the collecting feature.
  4. Make Every Leg Count. Keep the trail time to a minimum. A good general rule is to have a purpose in mind for every control and leg on the course. Try to keep the non-thinking parts of the course to a bare minimum. Try to design courses that cut across linear features rather than along them unless there are so many similar ones that they can become confusing and thus require careful map contact be maintained.
  5. Long Legs. Each course should have a variety of leg lengths, at least one of which should qualify as a "long leg", a leg of 800 to 1000 meters on Brown and Green and up to1500 or more meters on Red or Blue, that offers a lot of route choices. It is good if some of the major the route choice decisions must be made very early in the leg and are "irreversible". When designing these legs it is important to visualize all the possible choices and making sure the map is equally accurate for all of them. It is unfair for some to encounter a severe map problem, while others do not.
  6. Control Placement. Controls should be hung between knee and chest high and the punches close to, but not inside the bag. The advanced courses should have more difficult features, but are not to be made more difficult merely by hiding the flag.