Hiking is one of the most popular outdoor activities in the country. But if you left the marked trail, could you find your way home? The sports of orienteering is designed to teach and test outdoor navigation skills in a way that adds another element to enjoying the outdoors. Call it hiking with a purpose.
Orienteering is a relatively unknown but rapidly growing sport that uses navigation skills with a map and compass to lead the competitor from one point to the next through terrain with varying challenges and difficulties.
The sport originated as a training exercise for military officers to learn land navigation, but as interest grew, it has taken on many faces. The types of orienteering are diverse, with additional modes of transportation added in contests like Bike-O, Canoe-O, and Ski-O. There's even a local event known as Bubba Goat, which is the southern interpretation of “goat-orienteering,” generally long, mass-start race. Orienteering is an official badge that can be earned in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and is popular among other various outdoor groups because it allows the competitors to become proficient with a compass and map. The difficulty ranges from easy to hard-core challenge, and is appropriate for all ages.
At permanent courses such as Oak Mountain State Park’s Orienteering Courses, there are plenty of opportunities to play at orienteering independently without waiting for a specific event. The courses are free to use for a self-guided run any time. You could also consider joining Birmingham’s own Vulcan Orienteering Club where you can attend monthly meetings, stay up to date with local events, and mingle with both novice and medal-winning orienteering competitors.
Twelve Vulcan Orienteering Club members were among teams from across the country competing at the Georgia Navigating Cup in January. The result was VOC bringing home eight medals, five of which were gold. In the M12 class (males ages 12-13), the youngest member of the group earned a gold, and the oldest member of the competition earned a bronze in the M75+ class. Orienteering is also an official sport in the World Games, which will be coming to the Magic City in 2021.
Besides competing, Vulcan Orienteering Club members enjoy other activities that help bring Birmingham residents outdoors. They often lead map hikes on the permanent orienteering courses at Oak Mountain State Park, a course that they both designed and currently maintain. VOC also takes responsibility at organizing the annual Northview MCJROTC orienteering camp as well as organizing the annual NJROTC Area 8 Championship.
Alina Tuganova, a founding member of the Vulcan Orienteering Club, has loved orienteering for years. “It’s a nice thing to do after a long day at work,” he says. “It’s fun and the outdoors is refreshing, both mentally and physically.”
One great thing about the sport of orienteering is that there’s no real expense involved, and you don’t have to have a specific skill level to enjoy the courses. Go to Vulcan Orienteering Club’s website to print out a couple of maps, grab a compass, load up the family and head to the closest course. You’ll love the adventure of seeking out the next point on the map, and the kids will love the treasure-map-like adventure of navigating trails with a compass.