This is a March
1995 letter sent to BSA by the United States Orienteering Federation
in regard to the 1993 version of the Merit Badge pamphlet. A courteous
response, was received at the time, and in 2004 the merit badge
book and requirements were revised after over two years of additional
effort by Ralph Courtney of the North Texas Orienteering Association.
The Boy Scout Orienteering Merit Badge pamphlet and requirements
are now closely aligned with the USOF standards.
Merit Badge update proposals
Cover: good change from the 1974 photo, but the focus of
orienteering is on the map not the compass, your picture is literally
Page 2 Requirement 6a Replace "descriptive clue"
with "control description". It is not a clue it
is a fact. Although many still use the word "clue"
it is incorrect. This reoccurs throughout the text. It should be
changed in every case.
Page 5 (1) Reference to "topographical maps" should
be changed to read " USGS topographical maps".
Real orienteering map distance scales are only in meters. This information
should be inserted into the paragraph. (2) The imaginary course
appears to start at number 1. Real courses start at "start"
which is marked by an equilateral triangle which is 6 mm on a side.
The first control is then marked as number 1 not number 2 as in
your course. (3) the graphic needs replaced. (see below)
Page 6 (1) The picture is not appropriate. The circles are
supposed to be centered on the mapped feature which is being used
as the control site. Except for number 2, these circles have nothing
inside, therefore are not suitable control sites. (See pg 35 of
the same pamphlet) The circles are supposed to be 6 mm in diameter,
these are two. A USGS map is usually not suitable for orienteering
because of lack of details. I realize most troops have used USGS
for years, but the vast majority of boys are now within the range
of a USOF club that has real orienteering maps. They are much better
and usually not more expensive than USGS products. The entire graphic
needs to be replaced with one from an orienteering map or a USGS
map with greater detail. Parts of pages 5 through 11 would need
to be rewritten to reflect the information on the new graphic on
page 6, but the type of information would remain the same with the
exception of the changes noted here. (2) The time chart is a walking
time. Anyone taking 45 seconds for 100 meters isn't running. (3)
15 seconds for a compass check is too long for an orienteer. 5 to
10 seconds should be plenty even for a beginner, bearings on the
run are typical for someone experienced.
Page 7 References to bearings by degrees should be deleted.
We take bearings by direction and follow the directional arrow,
but no one pays the least attention to what number shows up on the
housing. The thumb compass, which is used by most experienced runners,
has no numbers on the housing. (2) The graphic would need to be
from the new map on page 6. (3) Your requirement 5a asks the scout
to use the scale on an orienteering compass, but your text shows
him how to use the kilometer scale on the map. Orienteering compass
and map scales are 1:15000 and 1:10000. The real concept of scale
is overlooked in the booklet and should be incorporated into a revised
section on "The Map Scale" Also the map scale should not
be cut from paper. It should be drawn on adhesive tape and stuck
to the edge of the compass, unless the compass already is equipped
with the correct scale. Make marks on the tape at 25 meter intervals
to a total of 400 or 500 meters for 1:15000 maps and another one
for the other edge of the compass base plate at 10 meter intervals
(1 mm) for 1:10000 maps. Adhesive tape is water resistant and doesn't
get lost in the woods as easily as a scrap of paper, especially
if it is attached to a compass.
Page 8 (1) Use the scales that were made on page 7 from
adhesive tape. Change graphics to ones from the more appropriate
map and show the scout using the edge of his compass with scale
attached. (2) Why use meters for horizontal distance then go back
to feet for vertical. Orienteering maps have a contour interval
expressed in meters. Typical contour intervals are 3 and 5 meters.
Page 9 Replace graphics, edit text to refer to compass edge
and show how to read each segment of a planned route and add the
segments together to find a total distance.
Page 10 Questions should be changed to reflect a suitable
course and map. I realize the only way to check if they can take
a bearing is to ask for the bearing in degrees, but the real way
to test is to be in the woods and ask them to point to the control
rather than give you a number. If they know which way to go they
understand the concept.
Page 11 (1) The comment on never using only features to
judge distance applies to USGS maps. Depending on the terrain, orienteering
maps have enough details to know your position within 5 to 10 meters
at all times. Only in particularly bland areas, or when you are
particularly tired or disoriented, does serious pace counting become
necessary. (2) Somewhere in the last two paragraphs it should be
indicated that the millimeter scale is the one to use on 1:10000
maps with 1mm on the map = 10 meters on the ground. (they should
have seen this before on page 7 under map scale expressed as 1mm
on the map = 10000 mm on the ground on a 1:10000 map) (3) There
are other suppliers of compasses with equivalent products.
Page 13 Ok as far as it goes, but the topographical maps
used for orienteering are more detailed than the USGS described
and the symbols more complex. The paragraph should continue to reflect
this additional data.
Page 14, 15 and 16 These pages are fine for using USGS maps.
Another page for IOF symbols for Orienteering maps and a paragraph
of explanation should be added.
Page 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21 These pages are necessary and
ok, declination is only a problem on USGS maps, orienteering maps
are already aligned to magnetic north.
Page 22 Additional sentence under MAPS. An orienteering
club in your area may have orienteering maps available. Contact
them or the United States Orienteering Federation for information.
Page 25 &26 Score O (1) " ...an area of 1 to two
kilometers..." Area is expressed in square kilometers, linear
distances are in kilometers (2) The area is likely to be more than
2 square kilometers and the number of controls can easily be more
than 20. I would insert 'or more" for the square kilometers
and say 20 to 40 controls, especially if you are going to use the
team concept. To have 8 on a team and only 15 controls means only
2 controls per boy in 90 minutes. They should have more controls
because each one they find gives them the satisfaction of accomplishment
and pushes them to be more proficient. Also a common rule in team
competition is that a team can only receive credit for a particular
control once, thus if every team member goes to the same set of
points they only receive one score. Without this rule a team only
needs one orienteer to score, which isn't really the team concept.
The team components could be pairs for younger scouts like tenderfoot
through first class, then star, life and eagle ranks would go out
Page 26 &27 Cross Country O (1) I have been orienteering
since 1982 and never heard of "free orienteering". It
should be deleted from your title. (2) The second paragraph is misleading.
It implies that there are easy and hard controls on each course.
Actually there are four levels of technical difficulty on courses.
The highest technical level then has four different length variations.
The controls are all approximately the same level of difficulty
on a given course, but the difficulty increases through the four
levels. Each course is designed for a different age group and experience
level. The second paragraph needs to be replaced with accurate information,
and the chart which follows needs to reflect true data.
An accurate chart with the necessary information follows:
|Men's age groups
|19 - 20
|17 - 18
|15 - 16
|13 - 14
|equal or less than 12
(3) Replace "descriptive clues" with "Control
description". (4) The example is again poor. Description
language is standardized. 1 should be centered on the crossing point
if that is the description, not 100 yards away. For 2 the term is
"stream junction". For 3 The pine isn't on the map so
can't be used, neither is the rock at 4. Number 5 could be a "spur
/ road crossing" but is a poor site. Number 6 is ok, but should
be placed in the bottom of the ravine (reentrant), not in front
of it and 50 meters away. Number 7 is a terrible joke from the mid
1960s. A good map and suitable course is really necessary here,
otherwise the frustration of trying to find an unfindable object
turns every kid off to what could be a great experience in the woods.
Pages 27 and 28 Only comment is that I would prefer Relay
be listed before Line O since Relay is a form of recognized orienteering
competition, and the line and route orienteering are considered
practice or training drills. It's not a big deal, just some general
Page 29 I would add "Thumbing" to your list of
things to do. This is a technique of holding your map with your
thumb on the point where you were last confident of your position.
If you get confused you can return to that point to establish map
contact. It also allows you to find your position on the map quickly
and avoids "Parallel errors", those times when you are
somehow transported over the hill into a similar looking valley
because when you looked back at the map after running for 10 minutes
you forgot where you were.
Page 31 ..assembly area...In serious competition the competitors
can not study their maps until their start time is called. ....Master
map... in many events the courses are already marked on the maps
by the organizers.
Pages 32, 33 &34 are good
Page 35 (1) Notice paragraph 2. This is what I refer to
in my comments on the course descriptions on pages 26 and 27, and
the sample course from page 6. (2) Does not have to be "over"
the location. The description should include a direction or position
modifier such as north side of, base of, top of, foot of, etc. and
the control placed behind the object so the runner coming from the
previous control will need to recognize the feature before he sees
the control. The control placement on a site is determined by the
experience level of the competitors assigned to that course, so
not only is the macro placement of controls specific to ability,
so is the micro placement.
Page 38 Your bibliography is OLD. Disley is 1967, Kjellstrom
is 1955. There have been revisions, but not enough. The others listed
have not made it into the mainstream of orienteering literature.
There is a wealth of good materials for instruction. Orienteering
Skills and Strategies by Ron Lowry and Ken Sidney comes to mind
quickly, but there are many more.
(1) Control codes are not described. Every control has a code number
or letter attached. The code becomes part of the description and
helps the competitor verify his location. This is especially necessary
when courses of different levels are set in the same area and runners
on one course are likely to stumble on to controls from another
course. (2) Control punches are attached to every control and used
to mark the control card that the runner carries attached to his
map. They put a pattern of holes in the card and verify his visit
to the control site. Sending scouts into the woods with a pencil
to write down control letters is dangerous, and pencils at the controls
tend to break or get lost during the competition.
Edmund R. Scott
USOF Scouting Development Chairman
March 21, 1995