Course lengths and difficulty

Last updated: Sun 23 Jul 2023

Courses at orienteering events combine physical activity with navigational challenge. To cater for all ages and abilities can be quite difficult or confusing. Guidance is therefore provided to try and give consistency enabling competitors to identify the correct course when entering.

The most common way is to use the nationally defined ‘colour-coded’ courses which provide a range of different lengths (for different fitness levels) and different ‘technical difficulty’ (for skill levels). The general criteria are shown below but you will find some variations including such courses as ‘Red’, ‘Short Blue’ or ‘Short Brown’ at events with a large number of courses or where the area is restricted.

Examples of how ‘technical difficulty’ is determined is shown below. It is not always easy to meet all the criteria.

The table below gives an idea of the relative difficulty of the colours. Precise guidelines can be found in British Orienteering Rules. Although the age of children has been used as a guide for some of the easier courses even the adult beginners would benefit from going round an easier course first just to get the idea of map scale, symbols etc.

The table below describes the courses used in forest orienteering. Urban Orienteering has a different structure that is based more on the length of a course.

ColourTechnical difficultyPhysical difficultyRemarks
White11All on paths, direction of next control always indicated by flag. Suitable for young children of 7 to 8 who should be accompanied.
Yellow22Routes along obvious line features e.g. earth banks, fences as well as paths. Decision points introduced
Orange33Controls on features a little way off paths or on line features. Route choice introduced. Adult beginners shouldn't attempt anything harder.
Red33 to 4Not often provided. Basically a long Orange.
Light Green43Transitional course for improving skills. Navigation skills required, interpretation of contours
Green53For those with good navigational skills but with limited energy or running speed
Blue54Longer than Green and shorter than Brown!
Brown/ Black55For very fit and competent navigators who are usually 16 plus.