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Orienteering Gear

Posted by on 7/30/2011 to Recreational

We know a lot of people like to bring only the bare essentials and what is absolutely necessary. Orienteering is usually a race to the finish, so many people will not want to pack more than they need to. While this is ok for shorter races, I have been on orienteering excursions that extend well beyond 10 kilometers. These are the races that you need to be prepared for. Below is a short list of essential survival tools and gear that we recommend and why.
  • Compact Backpack, Hydration Pack, or Waist Pack - You obviously need some type of pack to keep your gear, food, or water in, but each of these have some advantages. I recommend a Compact Hydration Pack, it is large enough to keep all my essentials, small enough to not weigh me down or become a burden, and holds plenty of water in a lightweight bag. If you prefer to keep a water bottle then get a special waist pack that has a bottle compartment. A reguler backpack is ok to but is up to personal preference whether a backpack or waist pack is easiest to run in.
  • Extra Map Compass - A compass is so light, it is worth bringing an extra one for long trips. Too many times I have dropped or seen people drop their compass, it is just a matter of time before one breaks in the middle of the race.
  • Signal Whistle - This is especially important if you are going in groups of 2 or more. You can easily become separated and despite what most people think, even a medium quality whistle will travel further than a normal human voice. Plus it is much easier on the vocals. Signal whistles are also useful when you are alone in case you ever get lost or injured.
  • Food and Water - Maybe some people can run around for hours and not get hungry or thirsty, but I can't. I eat and drink regularly and often. I use a compact hydration pack, so I have 2 liters of water which is usually enough, and I keep a baggy of dried fruit, mixed nuts, and chopped beef jerkey. I also have a 2400 calorie emergency food bar in case I am out longer than expected. This may seem over the top to some people for a simple orienteering trip, but I have on occasion packed germicidal water tablets in case it ever came down to drinking dirty creek or river water.
  • First-Aid Kit - A few first-aid items are pretty important. If you do not tolerate stings very well I recommend Sting-Eze or Sting Cream. Band-aids, antiseptics, alcohol swabs, and a little gauze are some items I recommend as well. It takes up little space and is super light. In areas known to have poisonous snakes, you should probably pack a snake-bite-kit.
  • Fire Starting Tools - I have never needed to make a fire while orienteering, but that doesn't stop me from packing a flint striker, some matches, and a little tinder. The tinder and matches fit inside the handle of my knife, and the flint striker is attached to my bag with a mini carabiner so it really does not take up valuable space or weight.
  • Knife - There are too many reasons to bring a knife, and I bring one that is often considered over sized... but I have multiple times gone on an excursion where I had to use my knife as a machete. I would recommend a machete but they will more often get in the way than help you out. I also use a hollow handle knife for storage purposes which most 'experts' frown upon due to poor quality construction, but I have never once had a problem with this knife. Inside the handle I carry fishing gear, matches, striking pad, tinder, a wire saw, and a bit of cash. It also has a compass and sharpening stone. Altogether weighs about one pound for a million uses.
  • Tissue or Toilet Paper - I don't like using leaves or grass... enough said.
  • Emergency Poncho - If you dress properly and know the weather, you shouldn't really need to use this too often, but for its size and weight and potential benefits, I always keep one in my pack. Plus you never know when one of your partners will show up unprepared.
  • Proper Attire - For real orienteering excursions, always wear long pants. Gaitors are especially helpful if you only wear loose fitting pants, they will help prevent your clothing from constantly getting snagged on thorns. Long sleeve shirt isn't always necessary but recommended, for me that depends on the temperature.
  • Bug Repellent - Everyone has different methods and preferences for repelling bugs... whatever way you decide is fine but simple traditional spray on the clothing is always an easy solution.
  • Bear Bell - If your area is known to have bears, I recommend a bear bell. Most people get attacked by bears because they startle them. A bear bell alerts the bear of your presence long before you approach it. This is especially important when you are running because that makes it much more likely to startle the bear. For an extra ounce and 3 dollars, a bear bell is well worth it... Just hope the jingling doesn't annoy you or your partners!

For more information about orienteering or for orienteering in Pennsylvania please visit

Blog Comments
Amy Date 1/31/2012 12:52:00 PM
Some of these you dont need to save weight. Fire starters are kinda questionable unless your doing one of the really long ones... food and water can wait too!!!
Dory Date 2/3/2012 1:16:00 PM
Good point about the bear bells, I ran in the mountains of North Carolina and saw a few... Scary Scary stuff!!!
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