The History of Orienteering: From Military Training to Modern Races

1 min read – Orienteering is a sport that involves navigating through unfamiliar terrain using only a map and compass. It originated as a military training exercise in the late 19th century but has since evolved into a popular recreational and competitive activity. In this article, we will explore the rich history of orienteering, from its early beginnings to modern-day races.

The Evolution of Orienteering: From Military Training to Modern Races

The Evolution of Orienteering: From Military Training to Modern Races

The Origins of Orienteering

Orienteering is an outdoor sport that requires navigational skills using a map and compass to navigate from point to point in diverse and usually unfamiliar terrain. The sport originated in Sweden during the late 19th century when military officers started using orienteering as a training exercise to improve their soldiers’ map reading and navigation skills. The first recorded orienteering competition took place in Norway in 1897, and it quickly spread throughout Scandinavia and other parts of Europe.

Orienteering During World War I and II

Orienteering gained popularity during World War I and II as a military training exercise, especially in Scandinavia, where it was used to train soldiers to navigate unfamiliar terrain. In fact, the Swedish military used orienteering as part of their officer training program until the 1950s. During the war, orienteering also became a popular civilian sport in Europe, and the first international orienteering event was held in Norway in 1948.

The Emergence of Modern Orienteering

After World War II, orienteering became increasingly popular as a civilian sport in Europe, and it began to evolve into the modern sport we know today. The first World Orienteering Championships were held in Switzerland in 1962, and the International Orienteering Federation (IOF) was established in 1961 to govern the sport worldwide. Orienteering was also added to the list of sports in the World Games in 1981 and was included in the Olympic Games as a demonstration sport in 1972 and 1992.

Orienteering Today

Today, orienteering is a popular sport around the world, with competitions held at local, national, and international levels. The sport has also evolved to include different types of events, such as sprint orienteering, middle-distance orienteering, and long-distance orienteering. Orienteering has also become more accessible to the general public with the introduction of electronic punching systems, which allow competitors to record their progress electronically, making the sport more competitive and engaging.


Orienteering has come a long way since its military origins, and it has evolved into a modern sport that requires both physical and mental skills. The sport has also become more accessible to the general public, with events held worldwide and electronic punching systems making it easier for competitors to participate. Orienteering is a unique and challenging sport that continues to grow in popularity, and its rich history is a testament to its enduring appeal.