by Peter Amram
Originally appeared in the NEOC Times, Volume 35, No. 2, Feb/Mar, 2005
Hold the map properly. If you hold the map properly, it will show you where to go.
Hold the map with your "weak" hand, that is, with your left hand if you are right-handed, and with your right hand if you are left-handed. That way your "strong" hand is free for other duties, like punching in at controls and reaching for cookies.
Always keep your map parallel to the ground (horizontal) and never up in front of your face (vertical). Features on the map should be seen as they actually are on the ground all around you.
Always hold the map so that the features on the map are in the same directions around you as they are on the ground.
Keep your "weak" thumb on your present position on the map at all times. That way you always know where you are!
The colors on the map. The meanings of blue, yellow, and green are easy. But, white and black are not so simple!
White means forest you can move through easily. It does not mean open, empty land!
Black can be either rock or cliff, or a man-made feature like a trail, road or building. Use common sense: rocks aren't long and thin (trails are), and humans don't leave little dots of buildings out in the woods (but rocks are shown that way). And remember that if blue has a black line around it or if there is a patch of dark green, that means NO GO for ANYONE: it's just too hard.
Those brown squiggly lines. They are called contour lines, and they are actually the most important thing on the map. Experienced orienteers rely greatly on contour lines, because they show the actual shape of the land.
To start with, learn that a closed circle is the top of a hill, so everything around it is downhill.
Lines close together show a steep hillside. Lines far apart show much flatter land. Also, it is helpful to remember the little tabs on the cliff symbol on the map always point downhill. After you have more practice with uphill and downhill, you will be ready to learn more about contour lines.
Be independent and self-reliant. It is better for you to find the control by yourself at any speed than for somebody else to find it faster with help. The whole point of orienteering is to help you learn to make your own decisions.