Courses and classes - cutting through the confusion.


Orienteering courses come in all sorts of flavours. At a typical club event there will be a number of courses on offer to suit all ages and abilities from the green beginner to the hardened experienced orienteer. WightO organise 'colour coded events' where the courses are given colour codes to indicate the level of technical and physical difficulty. Generally the darker the colour the harder the course. Colour coding systems vary from country to country but in the UK the following colour codes are generally used:

UK Colour Coded Courses
Course White Yellow Orange Red Green Blue Brown/Black
Intended for Novices Novices Inexperienced
progressing from
novice level
who want a
longer course
Technical Level Very Easy,
No compass required
No compass required
No compass required but might be helpful
No compass required but might be helpful
Compass Required
Length 1.0-1.5km 1.5-2.0km 2.5-3.5km 4.5-6.0km 3.5-4.5km 5.5-7.0km 7.0km+
Typical Time 15-40mins 25-45mins 35-55mins 50-80mins 35-55mins 50-75mins 60-85mins
Control Sites Clear line features: Path bends and junctions, fences, streams and other easy to distinguish features As for White/Yellow plus raised point features near to line features. Controls may be off paths but relatively easy to find. As for Orange - Red courses are of Orange difficulty but longer. Technically hard: Point features, small line features, relatively indistinct features
Planning Plenty of controls, virtually no route choice Plenty of control, but some simple route choice, e.g. follow stream or go by paths. Plenty of route choice over physically demanding terrain. Varied lengths of legs demanding good navigation skills.

There may be variations on this basic theme, such as Purple (a very long course of Orange standard), and Light Green, a shorter course (3.0-3.5km) of Green standard.

At colour coded events all ages run the same courses and the results are given for the course with the class (which indicates the age of the competitor) shown for comparison.

At Badge (regional) and National standard events the courses are organised by class. A number of courses, typically ten or more, are used to cover all the classes. Competitors in a class will all run the same course and their times will be directly comparable. Here's a course table from a recent mainland (i.e. not WightO) badge event, at which I competed in M35S:

Millersford and Godshill Badge Event, January 1998 organised by Wimborne Orienteers.
Course Classes Length (km) Climb (m) Controls
1 M21L 12.0 300 25
2 M35L, M20L 10.3 200 2
3 M40L 9.5 215 121
4 M45L, M18A, W21L 8.4 210 16
5 M50L, M21S 8.0 160 18
6 M55L, M35S, M20S, W35L,W20L, M16A, M18B 7.1 200 15
7 M60L, M40S, W40L 6.3 150 16
8 M65L, M45S, W45L, W18A, W21S 5.7 125 14
9 M70L, M50S, M55S, W50L, W55L, W35S, W20S, W16A, W18B, M14A, M16B 5.1 125 15
10 M75L, M60S, W60L, W65L, W40S 4.1 110 11
11 M65S, M70S, W70L, W75L, W45S, W50S, W55S, W14A, W16B 3.7 115 10
12 M75S, W60S, W65S, W70S, W75S 2.7 60 9
13 M12A, M14B, W12A, W14B 3.1 50 12
14 M10A, M12B, W10A, W12B 2.5 45 10
15 M10B, W10B 1.7 40 10


Classes are organised by gender and age. Orienteers all get older at the same time. That's to say we change from one class to another at the start of the year (which is inconveniently in the middle of the orienteering season in the UK) regardless of our actual birthday. For example a man will become a M21 at the beginning of the year of his 21st birthday. Ages are grouped into band of various lengths. I am in M35, and last year I had the upsetting experience of aging 14 orienteering years at once - I went from M21 to M35. What is worse is that I am officially an orienteering veteran. The full range of age groups are:

    Juniors: 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20

    Seniors: 21

    Veterans: 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, 65, 70, 75.

Men's classes are prefixed by M, e.g. M14, M35, and women's by W, e.g. W45, W70. Note the age range, from 10 to 75 and older, all competing at the same event!

Generally two courses for each class are provided at badge and national standard events, long (L) and short (S). So I am a 36 year old man - class M35 - competing in the shorter courses, that's why I run course M35S at badge and national events, simple isn't it? Well, ok so its not, but that's just the way it is!

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This website and all photographs and maps are © Wight Orienteers 1997