IOF Control Description Symbols

compassmap Control descriptions help you gain additional clues to find the control feature you are looking for. These descriptions are printed on the map, but can also be printed separately so they can be placed in a special description holder carried by the orienteer on their arm for quick reference.

On beginner and novice courses, the control descriptions are normally written in plain language. However, as you advance in course difficulty it will definitely become time to learn how to read the IOF symbols.

At first glance, these description sheets can look confusing. No worries, you can quickly crack the code! Orienteering is an international sport with participants who speak many different languages. So, using an accepted set of symbols developed by the International Orienteering Federation (IOF) makes it easy to describe the exact location of the control for anyone regardless of language.


How to Read Control Descriptions

Looking at the example below, the first three lines of the control description box, describe the event name, the age classes (if used), and the third line describes the course number (ie. Course 5), the length (ie. 7.6 km) and the amount of climb (i.e. 210 m).  Climb refers to the amount of uphill distance an orienteer may expect on the course.

In addition, each column represents a particular piece of information, as follows:

A.         Control number
B.         Control Code (what number is on the flag)
C.         Which of any similar features nearby
D.         Feature
E.         Appearance (or another relevant feature nearby)
F.         Dimensions
G.         Location of Control Flag in relation to the feature
H.         Additional Info (water station, first aid etc)


As noted by the example, columns C, E, F, G and H only have information if it is needed. However, the three most vital pieces of information A – the control number, B – control code and D – the feature will always be listed.  Now, the next stage is learning to decipher what the many symbols mean. This takes a bit of practice, but you will quickly learn the ones that are most commonly used. 


IOF Control Descriptions Reference Sheets

One of the best resources for IOF Control Description Symbols has been produced by MapRunner in the UK. These symbols are updated periodically, and this is the 2018 version.

This handy reference sheet can be printed off for quick reference via the link below:


IOF Control Description Reference Sheet  

Do you know all your symbols?

Practice your skill at recognizing map symbols and IOF control description symbols using this fun quiz produced by MapRunner UK:

IOF Control Description Quiz

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