GPS Orienteering How to...

Important Safety Precautions: You are responsible for assessing risks and managing your safety. Ensure that you are properly trained and aware of the risks before embarking on any unsupervised orienteering activity. Always carry a whistle, a communication device, go with a "buddy", and obey all government and local regulations.

Note that maps may be out-of-date and may not have been recently field-checked. New hazards may exist that are not shown on the map. If you have any concerns about the safety of an area, please let us know and do not go out on the course or map.

Pinch and drag to zoom in on the map (from our North Glenmore Advanced course)
Create courses with the paid version (~$6) (from our North Glenmore Intermediate)
Show your GPS Track with Speed like QuickRoute (paid version)
Compare Routes with Simulated Mass Start Reruns like RouteGadget (paid version)

How do I do GPS orienteering?

GPS orienteering is similar to running a regular foot orienteering course, except that there are no physical controls or flags set out on the course. You navigate to each control in order just like on a regular map, except that your phone will use your GPS location to let you know when you have successfully arrived at the control. You won't see any actual flags or need to punch any controls (except on your phone).

GPS orienteering is great for training, because you can do the course on your own without having to put out control flags. You can either print out the map, or use the map in the phone (which those of us with bad eyesight prefer because you can zoom in on the digital map).

GPS orienteering will challenge your navigation skills (especially in forest or dense brush), because you won't be able to see any control flags from a distance. But it's super fun when you make it to the right place your phone rewards you with a loud beep.

In GPS orienteering, you download the app, a map, and a course that we have created to your smartphone. You then go to the start location on the course and the app will tell you when it detects you are within about 10m of the start location. Once you start, the software keeps track of your time and GPS track and will let you know when you arrive at the next control location. Normally, the GPS will automatically "punch" the control on your phone. Sometimes GPS can't calculate your position properly, but you can always manually "punch" the control on your phone if you are sure you are at the correct location. We have found that the GPS is usually accurate within 10-15m and that most of our manual punches were due to actually being in the wrong location when we looked at our GPS track at the end of the course. Or that we were near a wall or under thick trees and needed to wait a few more seconds or move around a little bit for the GPS to record the control.

You don't need to have cellular data/wifi enabled, but you do need to have GPS/location services turned on.

We've tested several GPS orienteering apps, but the only ones we found that we currently recommend are "MapRun6" or "GPS Orienteering Run" (this is the free version for using maps created with the paid GPS Orienteering app from Ulf Arlig/, which costs ~$6/family). Courses created for one GPS app don't work in other apps. Most of our recent courses use the MapRun app only.

Installing and Using the MapRun App

Note: courses created for the GPSO Run app don't work in MapRun or vice versa.

  1. Optional but highly recommended to improve your GPS tracking accuracy and speed if using an Android phone:
    i) Install and Open the free small Android app GPS Status & Toolbox by EclipSim from Google Play Store.
    ii) Accept the terms and conditions, and click "Allow" when asked to give permission to access this device's location.
    iii) If the GPS is working correctly, you should soon see numbered dots representing the GPS satellites.
    iv) You don't need to go into this app, it will run in the background and download a small file with satellite locations once per day, which will help your phone locate itself using GPS more quickly.

The following instructions are adapted from the Greater Vancouver Orienteering Club:


  1. Download and install MAPRUNF MapRun6 from the App store of your phone. This must be the app with the "6" in the name , not Maprun, MapRunF or Maprunners.
    Note: Ensure you allow the app to use location, storage and battery (do NOT have "save battery" ON for this app).

  2. Open the app

  3. On the Main Screen:

a. Click on the Name and enter the required details. Although all fields are required it isn’t necessary to use valid data. The App was setup to use the data as follows: First and Last Name will show in the results list. Club, Birthyear and gender are only required for sorting results. At this time we won’t be emailing result lists so any email address will do. Phone number is only required if we decide to do a forest event and need to contact you if you don’t return. Postal Code is used for statistics gathering.

b. Click “Accept” at the bottom of the page

DOWNLOAD A MAPRUN GPS COURSE (see note at end of this step if you have a "Checksites" code):

4. On the Main Screen :

a. Click on Select Event

b. Scroll through the list of countries to find Canada > Alberta > Calgary

c. Click on the selected event and it will download to your phone.

d. Important: verify the course was downloaded correctly by pressing "Go to Start". If a PIN code is required, enter the code provided from our MapRun course list or event page on our members-only site. Bring this PIN code with you to the course, it will be required anytime you start the course.

e. If everything is working, you will see the start triangle in the correct position. You can pan and zoom using your fingers to determine where the start triangle is located. Note: many users will find the control numbering in MapRun to small to use while running, bringing a printed or downloaded PDF course map with you to navigate is highly recommended when using MapRun.

f. Click the house picture in the upper left corner of MapRun and select "Exit" to return to the Main Screen.

g. repeat Step 4 to download additional courses if desired.

Note: If you were provided a 6-digit "Checksites Code" to download the course, you will not find it in the folders of regular courses as described above. Instead, this is a temporary course that you can download by selecting the "Checksites" menu item in the menu in the MapRun app that is in the lower right hand side of the main screen. Enter the Checksites code when prompted and wait a few moments for the course to download.


5. On the Main Screen

a. Click on “Go to Start”

b. Find the start on your map and listen for the phone notification to indicate that you are in the correct location. Sometimes you need to wander around a bit to get it to register. Now the timer has started so enjoy the course. The phone should sound a notification at each control location and when you pass the finish the timer will stop. If you pass by other controls they may also give a notification, so remember which control you are supposed to visit next.

Note: GPS accuracy varies depending on the smartphone used, different times of day, how close you are to walls or tree canopies, etc. You may have to wait a few seconds or scout around the correct feature to get the app to "see" the control.


6. When you are connected to the Internet, view your results and upload them in the app if they aren't uploaded automatically.

Note: If your results show as a Mispunch but you know you visited all the controls you can modify your results by using the menu option on the Results page to “Review Results (HITMO). This will display a list of all the controls showing the ones that you visited and the ones which did not record. By selecting controls that did not record and adding them into your result you should see the Result change from Mispunch to OK. Then use the “Submit a Revised Result” button on the bottom left to upload the changed results. This takes a few moments to complete.

Installing the Alternative GPS Orienteering (GPSO) App

Note: courses created for the MapRun app don't work in the GPSO Run app or vice versa.

  1. Optional but highly recommended to improve your GPS tracking accuracy and speed if using an Android phone:
    i) Install and Open the free small Android app GPS Status & Toolbox by EclipSim from Google Play Store.
    ii) Accept the terms and conditions, and click "Allow" when asked to give permission to access this device's location.
    iii) If the GPS is working correctly, you should soon see numbered dots representing the GPS satellites.
    iv) You don't need to go into this app, it will run in the background and download a small file with satellite locations once per day, which will help your phone locate itself using GPS more quickly.

  2. Install the free small app GPS Orienteering Run by HippsomApp/Ulf Arlig from Google Play Store or Apple App Store. Or purchase the full paid Android version (about $6 per family) if you want to create your own courses, export courses for printing, or display your GPS track and splits using a Quickroute-style colour coded track showing your relative speed or RouteGadget-style mass start rerun comparisons.

  3. Open GPS Orienteering and enter your First Name and Last Initial (e.g. Tim M) so that other participants can compare their results with you.

  4. Select "Settings" from the menu in the upper right corner and enter our recommended settings below or try out different settings.

  5. Set "Log interval" to 5 seconds. Using a smaller number might cause lags in recording a punch.

  6. Set punching distance to 10m to record punches automatically if GPS detects you are within 10m. You can try higher and lower values, but we have found that GPS accuracy might not be good enough most times for a number lower than 10m.

  7. Select the checkboxes for "Keep display on", and "Vibrate".

  8. Go back to the main screen.

Downloading a GPSO Course

Note: Internet access is only required to download the course and map to your phone.

  1. Open the GPS Orienteering Run app (or the paid version).

  2. Select the Courses tab and press the + button to download a course.

  3. Enter the 8 character course code from our GPS Course List. You will not be able to enter upper case characters, so use all lower-case letters or numbers (e.g. 0 is a zero, not a letter 'o').

  4. After downloading a course, if you don't see it in the courses tab, close and restart the GPS orienteering app.

  5. Tap on the course to open it and select "Yes" if prompted to download the map.

  6. Optional: if you don't see the course map, select "Download map" from the menu in the upper right corner and enter the map code after clicking the "GPS Maps tab" on the GPS Course List.

  7. Pinch and drag to zoom in/out and figure out how you will get to the start triangle.

  8. Optional: if a link to a printable map is available in the GPS Course List, you can print out the course beforehand. You can also export course maps to .jpg files for printing using the paid version of GPS Orienteering app (about $6). We have not tried that yet.

Tip: you may want to limit yourself to courses with printed maps if you have trouble viewing your phone display at maximum brightness and it is sunny out. In our testing, we haven't had a problem and we like being able to zoom in on the digital map. But if you want to be able to navigate really fast at competition speeds, you will most likely want a printed map.

Tip: to delete a course you no longer want, tap and hold on the course and select "Yes".

Navigating a GPSO Course

  1. After completing the previous steps, bring your Smartphone, safety whistle, a friend, and an optional compass and printed map (if available) to the start triangle for the course you downloaded. Please remember to follow all health and safety precautions and regulations noted at the top of this page and on the Foothills Orienteering safety in orienteering pages.

Tip: to get the highest location accuracy, you should leave your Wifi and Bluetooth turned on and the GPS Mode set to High Accuracy in Android Settings. If you are in Nose Hill far from any Wifi or Bluetooth devices, you can turn these off and possibly save some battery life. We never run with our Cellular Data turned on, so we don't know how much the app uses (if any) if data is turned on.

  1. Once you are near the start triangle (but 20m or more away from it), select "Run the course" from the menu in the upper right corner of GPS Orienteering.

  2. Tap "Map" to display the map and pinch and drag to zoom in/out on the start triangle.

Tip: if you want to "cheat" and see where you are on the map and at any time, select "Orienteering support" from the menu in the upper right. Select the checkboxes and click ok. Turn this back off by unchecking "Use Orienteering support" from the menu.

  1. Start the course when you are ready. Once you are near the start triangle location, your phone will beep and/or vibrate and you should proceed to the next control location. Or if you have disabled auto-start in the settings, just click on the start control.

  2. Once your are in the correct location for the next control, your phone will beep and/or vibrate. Your notification on your phone will indicate the last control punched (e.g. "Last punch: 1" means you should be going to Control 2). The digital map will show an "X" through every control circle that you have punched (whether manually punched or automatically punched by GPS).

  3. If your GPS doesn't automatically punch a control when you think you are in the right location, this is because the GPS thinks you are not in the right location. Sometimes GPS can be inaccurate, so if you are sure you are in the right location but GPS is wrong, you can "manually punch" the control by clicking the orange and white control flag symbol in GPS Orienteering.

Tip: even with the free GPS Status & Toolbox app installed, GPS accuracy can be 5-15m (unless the map was poorly georeferenced or the GPS satellites are obstructed by nearby buildings or overhead trees. But a lot of the time when we decided to manual punch, it was because we had actually made a navigation error (such as parallel features) which was obvious from our GPS track which can be displayed at the end of the course. If you want to double-check your location before resorting to a manual punch, you can briefly turn on "Orienteering support" and show your GPS location using the instructions in the tip after Step 3 above.

  1. Once you are finished your course, please click on your results to view your splits and upload them when prompted so that we can assess the level of interest in our GPS courses. You can also download results from other participants and examine various tables for splits and other data. Some of the features such as viewing your track on the map using QuickRoute-style colour-coding to show your pace require the paid version the GPS Orienteering app. It is about $6 per family and adds some fun features including ability to create your own GPS orienteering courses. You can also compare uploaded results and splits by entering the Course Code in

Note: it is possible in GPS orienteering to record a punch even if you are not in the correct control location (e.g. on the other side of an uncrossable fence or while sitting in a cafe). To play fair, you should still go to the correct location even if a punch was recorded!

Creating a GPSO or MapRun Course

We use two different apps for GPS Orienteering. The one described above is simply called GPS Orienteering app (aka GPSO or GPS Orienteering Run) and another one is called MapRun (aka MapRunF/MapRun6, etc).

Instructions on uploading a course to GPSO are here.

Instructions on uploading a course to MapRun are here.

Georeferencing a Map using OOMapper

A georeferenced map is required for creating GPS courses. There are various ways of georeferencing a map outside and inside of the GPS apps -- we have instructions on georeferencing a map in OpenOrienteering Mapper here.