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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 OUSA standards.


Orienteering Merit Badge update proposals

Page by page comments on the BSA Orienteering Merit Badge Pamphlet, 1993 printing of the 1992 Revision

Cover: good change from the 1974 photo, but the focus of orienteering is on the map not the compass, your picture is literally the opposite.

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 OUSA 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) " 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 alone.

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 Course Length Difficulty
over 65 brown 3.5-4.5 km advanced
over 50 green 4.0-5.0 km advanced
over 35 red 5.0-7.0 km advanced
over 21 blue 7.0-12 km advanced
19 - 20 red 5.0-7.0 km advanced
17 - 18 green 4.0-5.0 km advanced
15 - 16 orange 4.0-5.0 km intermediate
13 - 14 yellow 4.0-5.0 km adv.beginner
equal or less than 12 white 1.5-3.0 km beginner

(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 housekeeping.

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
OUSA Scouting Development Chairman
March 21, 1995