One for the Finns: A Mamus’ (foreigners) Guide to Orienteering

Here in Finland, orienteering season is in full swing, and Jukola, the world’s most important orienteering event, is just two days away! Don’t think you are ready for the challenge of one of Finland’s favorite sports (yes, it’s a sport)? Never fear! Below is a 7-step process to help you on your journey to orienteering madness.

Step 1: Choose an Outfit


decisions, decisions…

Choosing the right outfit can be hard. Choosing the right outfit for orienteering can be damn near impossible. Try to pick something ridiculous, yet sporty. Be sure it contains at least 70% spandex. If you end up wearing tights (and you most likely should) be sure to not wear shorts over top of them (this includes you too, boys).

Step 2: Your Compass


Like every good Scout, you will want to be prepared when you go into the woods: go ahead and get yourself a compass. Be sure it is bulky, oversize, heavy, and does not have metric units of measurement on any of its scales, so that way you can test how accurately you can envision what a centimeter looks like.

Step 3: Your Shoes

Fancy orienteering shoes? Psssht, no way! Hop on in that forest with any old athletic shoes you find. Never mind that it just rained and you have a lot of muddy hills, technical kangas, and downed trees to run over. Spikes are only good for the track. Better to invest your money in more sweatbands instead of proper footwear.

Step 4: Your Map

Which way is north?

Which way is north?

Your map is going to be your closest and only partner once you start your run. Think of it as an arranged marriage; do your best not to spoil the fun by trying to learn things about your map ahead of time, things like scales, boundaries, map legends, or any of that other non-sense. Not sure what that ambiguous brown rectangle is? Don’t worry about it, you will find out soon enough! It is better to leave the learning for the journey itself.

Step 5: Electronic Timers

Be sure spend some extra money and rent one of these “finger sticks”. This will allow you to clock in at each checkpoint and see your result online. That is, unless you don’t know which website to look on (you won’t be told), and even if you do know this, best of luck navigating it in Finnish.

Step 6: The Run

When making strategies on how to get from one control to the other, always keep in mind the old saying “Finland is flat”. No need to pay attention to those pesky contour lines, just go ahead and follow the direct route. Never mind those lakes, slippery hillsides, or mosquito-infested swamps that might be in your way; you have your tennis shoes on, you’ll be fine! Also, try to find as many control points as you can, even if they are not on your course. Tag into these ones, too, so you can brag about how good of a control point spotter you are.

What do you mean this control isn't on my map?!

What do you mean this control isn’t on my map?!

Step 7: Getting Lost

At some point, you will come to the realization that you have no idea where you are supposed to go. Never fear, that is what everyone else is for! My recommendation is to follow anyone who looks “faster” than you. The other option is just to follow the cutest butt around. Either way, things are looking up! Whoever you choose to follow, be sure not to make your following obvious. Stop and look at your map frequently, or adjust your compass so you seem like you know what you’re doing. Be careful not to get too close and overtake them, or fall too far behind and lose them. If you can maintain the proper positioning between you and your leader, you will be out of the woods and on your way to sauna faster than you can say, “suunnistus!”

Follow the leader, just like everyone else

Following the leader, just like everyone else.

One thought on “One for the Finns: A Mamus’ (foreigners) Guide to Orienteering

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