What Is Orienteering? (And How It’s Different From Camping)

Your friends aren’t sure whether they want to go camping or orienteering. Maybe you aren’t sure what the difference is between the two and why you might want to choose one over the other.

Camping is recreational, whereas orienteering is competitive. Camping requires preparation but minimal mental and physical activity, whereas orienteering requires lots of speed, physical stamina, and mental energy but minimal preparation. Often, camping trips will last longer than orienteering.

To learn more about the differences between camping and orienteering, this guide will help you determine which activity is a better fit for you.    

What is the Difference Between Camping and Orienteering?

Camping and orienteering are quite different activities with varied objectives, required skill sets, and even different preparation and supplies.

While one is a way to escape from the busy world, the other is a fast-paced sport that gets your heart pumping.

Here are a few of the key differences between these two activities.

1. Competition

Perhaps the main difference between camping and orienteering is the element of competition.

Camping is generally viewed as a recreational activity where people can escape from the hustle and bustle of their busy life into nature for a few days.

In this sense, it is more like a vacation than any type of competition. Of course, you could turn it into a competition with yourself or other people in your camp.

For example, you could race to see who can set up the tent or trek to the campsite the fastest. On the other hand, orienteering is most notably a competition among various teams or individuals.

The goal is to move from one specified point on a map to the next in the shortest time possible. It requires excellent map reading and navigation skills. The team that can move the fastest wins.

Keep in mind that you can practice orienteering while camping. It can be a fun midday activity if you have time to set up a course.


2. Speed

For many people, getting outdoors is about slowing down and relishing a simpler way of life.

Camping often embodies this mindset, with many people spending their day lounging around the campfire, reading a good book, or relaxing in a hammock.

While you may go for a leisurely hike or play some sports, speed is usually not the primary goal.

When it comes to orienteering, speed is the name of the game. You are timed at each checkpoint you reach, and your goal is to move as fast as possible.

This often means working at a nice jog or even an all-out sprint.

Instead, it is all about who can get to the end the fastest, taking away from the more leisurely nature of camping.

3. Preparation

If you are heading to the campground or the wilderness, you must plan for everything you might need.

You have to pack the tent, groceries, sleeping bags, and more. You can check out my article on the 8 best sleeping bags for some worthy suggestions.

By the time you are finished, your car trunk is full of all your equipment. Preparation is key to having a successful outing.

Orienteering requires much less preparation because you’re not permitted to view the map until the race begins.

While you might want to pocket your favorite compass before you head out to your first competition, you won’t be allowed to study the map in advance.

This makes it much less work to show up for orienteering versus camping.

4. Mental Activity

If you’re hoping to unplug for a while, camping is a laidback activity that doesn’t require much.

You might use some mental capacity to read the directions when setting up your tent. However, you won’t have to exert much mental effort once the camp is set up.

Orienteering is all about mental activity, as it requires you to strategize how you’ll get to the next checkpoint in the fastest route possible.

You must constantly check your map, compass, and body to ensure you have what it takes to finish the race. It wouldn’t be a good sport if you were hoping for something more relaxing.

5. Physical Activity

As you might have already gathered, one of the main differences between these two activities is the amount of physical activity involved.

Surely, you might have a bit of physical activity when camping, hiking to the campsite and pitching a tent. My guide on choosing the perfect pitch spot will serve as a guide for you to find the ideal pitching spot for your tent.

If you want to avoid some of this physical work, you may have the option to choose a campground that allows you to drive up and park or by taking an RV instead of a tent.

Orienteering is all about pushing your physical limits. You only win if you are the fastest person or team to make it through all the checkpoints in order.

You’ll race as fast as possible, pushing your body to its limits to win.

6. Length of Time

Another major difference between camping and orienteering is the time involved. Many people head out to the campground for a long weekend. On occasion, they may even stay for an entire week or longer.

Camping is a relaxing activity that can be enjoyed for several days. Orienteering is typically completed within a single day.

This is not always the case; some more rigorous competitions may involve longer stays in the woods. Beginners to the sport should plan on spending just a few hours navigating through the course.

There is typically a limit to how much time you can spend working your way through the course. You won’t win if you can’t make it to the finish line in the allotted time.

If you don’t make it out by the time the course closes, the competition organizers usually send out a search party to locate and safely extract you from the woods.   

7. Teamwork

The good news is that camping and orienteering have one thing in common: teamwork.

While camping, you might go with a group of friends who can all pitch in to get a shelter set up and food cooking over the campfire.

However, you can also go alone if you prefer to get away from everything for a little while.

Orienteering also allows you to work either solo or as part of a small team. You can choose your preference before the competition begins.


Camping is Perfect for Relaxation While Orienteering Fuels Your Competitive Spirit…

Camping is a great activity if you want to escape your busy life for a while, but it won’t give you much adrenaline, competition, or mental and physical exertion.

On the other hand, orienteering is much more competitive, lasts for a shorter period of time, and allows you to get your heart pumping.

Whether you work as a team or as an individual, this sport will require a lot out of you. These differences should help you determine which activity is a better fit.

Shailen Vandeyar

A proud Indian origin Kiwi who loves to plant trees and play with his pet bunny when not out in the woods, exploring the infinite beauty of mother nature.

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