Trail orienteering introduction

Trail orienteering (TrailO) is one of the four orienteering disciplines accredited by International Orienteering Federation (the other three are foot orienteering (FootO), ski orienteering (SkiO), mountain bike orienteering (MTBO)). Different from the other three disciplines, the characteristic of trail orienteering is the ability for able-bodied and disabled people to compete together, because the speed of movement is not tested in trail orienteering.

Trail orienteering was called wheelchair orienteering initially, developed in the 80s for people needing wheelchair to participate. In the 90s, this sport was opened to the able-bodied people, and renamed to trail orienteering, because athletes can only move along trails, leaving trails is not permitted.

Hong Kong has organised Hong Kong Trail Orienteering Championships every year since 2012, which is the highest-level trail orienteering competition in Hong Kong, and the classes are elite (restricted to qualifying competitors in qualification competitions), advanced and beginners. Apart from that, there are a few qualifying competitions in Hong Kong for athletes to get elite qualification. The championship and qualification competitions are also the main criteria for selecting the Hong Kong team.

Internationally, World Trail Orienteering Championship has been held every year since 2004, which Hong Kong has sent team to participate in 2005, 2006 and every year since 2012. Hong Kong will organise the inaugural Asian Trail Orienteering Championships in 2019, and organise the 17th World Trail Orienteering Championships in 2020.

From 2018, trail orienteering will have a world ranking like the other three disciplines. The first trail orienteering world ranking event in history was Egypt International Trail Orienteering Championships, which took place in February 2018.

International Orienteering Federation has published a document to introduce trail orienteering to foot orienteers.

Precision orienteering (PreO)

The traditional form of trail orienteering is now called PreO, with the first world championships held in 2004. The course is similar to traditional orienteering, but participants need to observe the control points on the map on trails and choose a suitable flag as the correct control point, and cannot visit it physically like traditional orienteering.

Below is one of the competition maps in World Trail Orienteering Championships 2016 (PreO):
WTOC 2016

As seen above, there is no significant difference between a PreO map and a traditional orienteering map. Competitors have to answer sequentially from the start, and report to the finish within the time limit. The differences on the map from traditional orienteering are column B and column H in the control description, where column B (control code) is the number of flags, for example, A-B is displayed in the 1st control, which means there are two flags, at the decision point from left to right are A and B; A-E is displayed in the 2nd control, meaning five flags, at the decision point from left to right are A, B, C, D and E; A is displayed in the 8th control, meaning only one flag.

For example, there are six flags in the below picture, from left to right, regardless of the distance, are A, B, C, D, E and F respectively (the letters in the pictures are only for illustration, and do not appear on the ground).

control point

There is a decision point (DP) on the trail corresponding to each control. Decision points do not appear on the map, but are marked clearly on the ground. Athletes may move along the trail to aid answering, but all answers are determined by the order from left to right at the decision point (It is organiser’s fault for being not able to determine the order of the flags, which will lead to voiding of the control, e.g. at the 13th control on the first competition day of WTOC 2017, A-B is marked on the map, but three flags can be clearly seen at the decision point, therefore it is impossible to tell which flags are A and B, and the control is finally voided). If it is possible to observe the control from multiple locations, a direction is added to column H in the control description, for example in the above map, the 11th control has to be observed from the trail on the south-west to the north-east, to determine the order of the flags. The only purpose of the decision point is to determine which flags are A, B, C, etc, athletes need to observe at a good location to choose the correct answer. If no flag is placed at the control on the map, the answer is Z (Zero). After determining the answer, if using paper control card, the athlete need to use the punch near the decision point to make the record in the square of the chosen answer, if using electronic control card, the athlete need to put the control card on the unit of the chosen answer near the decision point to record.

The number of controls correctly answered by an athlete, deducted by the penalty of overtime (1 point deduction for every 5 minutes) is the final score for the athlete. Apart from the above course, athletes also have to complete timed controls (refer to the description of “TempO” below), to determine the ranking of athletes with the same score.


TempO is a newer form of trail orienteering, officially included in the world championship from 2013. TempO is a competition with only timed controls, competitors have to answer while sitting at a fixed location, and timed by officials.

A TempO competition have multiple timed stations, and each timed station have multiple timed controls to be answered consecutively, only after answering them all will the timer be stopped.

Athletes do not bring the map when starting, and need to follow instruction to a stop sign (STOP) and queue, and brought to the timed station by an official. When entering the timed station, the official covers the view of the athlete to make the athlete unable to see the configuration of the station.

According to the rule of the world championship, the athlete need to first sit down upon entering the timed station, hand in the answer sheet, and choose to use bounded or loose maps, and to point or speak the answer. The official then hands out the chosen map, but the athlete is not allowed to open it.

Then, the official removes the cover, to let the participant clearly see the flags in front (5 or 6 flags), and read the introduction out in the following form, pointing to the location of the flags in the process:

“There are six flags: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot. Time starts now.”

At this time the athlete open the first map and make the answer, if pointing the answer the athlete need to point at the letter on the answer board clearly, if speaking the answer the athlete need to speak out Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot or Zero (no zero answer in PreO timed stations) clearly. After making the answer of each control the athlete need to cover the map, turn to the next one and continue answering without referencing the other maps, until all has been answered. The time limit of a time stations is 30 seconds per control, counted as a whole for the station. If all the answer was not made when the time limit ends, the controls not answered are marked as wrong. The official responds back the answer after making each answer and records on the answer sheet, and stops the timer at the moment the last answer is made and records it. The athlete returns the map, takes back the answer sheet and leaves the timed station, goes the next timed station or finish according to the instruction.

The final result of TempO is the sum of the total time used in all stations and add 30 seconds penalty for each wrong answer. The result of PreO timed control is the sum of the total time used in all stations and add 60 seconds penalty for each wrong answer.

This video shows the procedure for a time station.


The relay is officially included in the world championship since 2016, replacing the team competition in the past. The relay is done by teams of 3, every member need to complete a PreO part first, then a TempO part. The format has been used since 2011 in Sweden, replacing the earlier format below.

The PreO part of a relay has a number of controls in the multiple of 3, everyone need to complete one third of it. There are no fixed order of the controls, the first leg chooses any one third of the course in any order to answer, after transition the second leg chooses any one third of the remaining to answer, the last leg answers the remaining one third. Athletes make the transition in the specified relay zone, only a team sheet, denoting which controls are answered (but without the answer), and a watch for timing may be passed, but no communication is allowed. Every athlete uses a new map to compete. The time limit of PreO is shared among the team.

The first and second leg do their timed stations immediately after the transition, and the third leg has to enter quarantine after finish and wait for a preliminary result, then complete the final timed station (normally a spectator station) in reverse ranking order (the team with most time used first). The timed station are run using TempO rules, with zero answers.

The total time used in timed stations of each team, adding 30 seconds penalty for each wrong answer in timed stations, further adding 60 seconds for each wrong answer or overtime point deduction in PreO, is the final result.

Earlier format

The original relay format, still used in the European Championships, is different from the World Championships nowadays. Rather than choosing the controls freely, it is more similar to the relay of traditional foot orienteering.

In this format, in the PreO part, each leg visits the same control sites but the solutions between the legs may be different, however, the combined course (set of solutions) is the same for all team, which is the same as the forking mechanism in FootO. Using 3-people relay as example, there are 3 questions with different solutions for each control site, and distributed to 3 team members randomly.

In the TempO part, the same set of time stations may be used for all team members (with different solutions for each leg), for example, 3 sets of questions are provided at each station and distributed to 3 team members randomly; or alternatively, like in the World Championships, there are 3 stations in total which 2 of them are randomly distributed to the first two legs, and the last one is used for the final.

The score is calculated in the same way as in the World Championships.