Scouting magazine

Tips for navigating the Orienteering merit badge

Orienteering is a high-energy sport in which the map is more important than the compass and your brain is more valuable than your brawn. It’s also the subject of one of Scouting’s more popular merit badges (ranked 36th of 136 merit badges in 2015).

To learn more about the badge, Scouting caught up with John Vierow, a merit badge counselor from Herndon, Va. An orienteering enthusiast since his college days, Vierow offered five tips for teaching the badge.

Connect With Clubs

The best way to complete requirement 7 (take part in three orienteering events) is to connect with a local orienteering group. Vierow’s club, the Quantico Orienteering Club, typically hosts a couple dozen meets per year, and all are open to beginners.

“Every meet has a beginners’ course; there’s always instruction available,” he says. You may even be able to borrow compasses at club meets. (To find a club near you, visit the Orienteering USA website at us.orienteering.org)

Mix and Match

Scouts don’t need to complete requirements in order, so Vierow recommends mixing book learning with fieldwork. The best time to learn to read a map (requirement 4) is when you’re standing on the terrain the map represents; the best time to understand orienteering clue sheets and techniques (requirement 5) is when you’re participating in a meet.

Vierow also likes to take advantage of travel time on the way to and from meets. “There are a few requirements and even beginner’s instruction that can be done in the car: familiarity with map symbols, things like that,” he says.

Save a Buck

Vierow says a Scout doesn’t need an expensive compass to complete the badge, although he does need a baseplate model like the Silva Polaris.

“Some people show up with different kinds of weird compasses,” he says. “If I see anything else, I just give them a baseplate compass.”

You can also save money on supplies for the orienteering courses Scouts must set up for requirement 8.

A set of 10 control markers, along with the punches that prove someone found them in the field, could set you back $250. But you can accomplish the same thing with a roll of flagging tape and a felt-tip marker. The Scout setting up the course simply writes code words on pieces of tape and hangs them at control points.

Buyer Beware

Many city and state parks offer permanent orienteering courses, but Vierow says not all courses are created equally.

“You go there and it’s really a compass course or they have a really bad photocopied map,” he says. “I think as a counselor it’s important to vet whatever event you want to take Scouts to.”

Read the Book

This tip might be obvious, but Vierow thinks counselors and Scouts alike should study the merit badge pamphlet. “The merit badge pamphlet is good,” he says. “It’s consistent with what I, as someone who’s been doing orienteering for 30 years, would expect.”