The symbols used in orienteering maps are defined in the IOF orienteering map specifications:

AcronymSpecificationCurrent versionLast updateDisciplines
ISOMInternational Specification for Orienteering Maps2017-2, revision 5September 2022Foot-O,
ISSprOMInternational Specification for Sprint Orienteering Maps2019-2, revision 5September 2022Foot-O,
ISMTBOMInternational Specification for Mountain Bike Orienteering Maps2022 revision 2February 2023MTB-O
ISSkiOMInternational Specification for Ski Orienteering Maps2019November 2019Ski-O

It is important to understand the difference between the symbols on the maps (the ones described here) with the control descriptions, although there is a correspondence between many of the symbols used on the map and those used on the control descriptions.

Symbol categories

The map symbols are classified into seven categories:


The shape of the terrain is represented in brown by detailed contour lines and some special symbols to represent small knolls, depressions, etc. This is complemented in black with symbols for rocks and cliffs.

Rock and boulders (black and gray)

Rock is a special category of landform. The inclusion of rock gives useful information about danger and runnability as well as providing features for map reading and control points. Rock is shown in black to distinguish it from other landform features.

Water and marsh (blue)

This category includes both open water and special types of vegetation caused by the presence of water (marsh). The classification is important because it indicates runnability and provides features for map reading and control points.

A black line around a water feature indicates that it is uncrossable. The features listed in this category may only contain water in some seasons. Marsh symbols are combined with area symbols for openness (yellow) and runnability (green and yellow).

Vegetation (green, white and yellow)

The representation of vegetation is important to the competitor because it affects runnability and visibility and it also provides features for map reading.

The runnability depends on the nature of the vegetation (density of trees / scrub and undergrowth: bracken, brambles, nettles, etc.), but runnability is also affected by marshes, stony ground, etc. which are shown by separate symbols.

Man-made features (black)

The road and track network provides important information for the competitor and the classification must be clearly recognisable on the map. Of particular importance to the competitor is the classification of smaller paths. Account must be taken not only of the width but also of how obvious the path is to the competitor. Some man-made features constitute obstacles or barriers to the competitor and must be easily identifiable on the map. Important examples are fences, walls, buildings and forbidden areas. Other man-made features are important both for map reading and for control points.

Technical symbols (black and blue)

North lines, registration marks and spot height symbols.

Course planning symbols (magenta)

Set of symbols used to represent the courses on the map. Includes symbols for start, finish, controls, etc.

Content adapted from “ISOM – International Specification for Orienteering Maps”