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Clin Exp Optom. 2008 Nov;91(6):515-23. doi: 10.1111/j.1444-0938.2008.00294.x. Epub 2008 Jul 10.

Orienteers with poor colour vision require more than cunning running.

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  • 1School of Optometry and Vision Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.



Highly detailed colour coded maps are used in the sport of orienteering to enable competitors to navigate from one check point to another and to provide guidance on the nature of the terrain to be traversed. The colours are defined by the International Orienteering Foundation (IOF) and are said to have been chosen so they will not be confused by competitors who have abnormal colour vision. However, there are anecdotal reports that individuals with colour vision defects do have problems with the colour coding.


A Minolta Spectrophotometer CM-503i was used to measure the CIE x,y chromaticity co-ordinates and the reflectances of the standard colours recommended by the IOF for the colour coding of orienteering maps, as well as the colours on two maps used in orienteering events.


Four pairs of IOF standard colours are likely to be confused by protan observers and four pairs by deutan observers. There were three pairs of colours likely to be confused by both deutan and protan observers on one of the competition maps and one pair likely to be confused by protan observers on the other map. Some of the colours on the actual competition maps differed noticeably from the standard IOF colours.


Orienteers with more severe forms of abnormal colour vision are likely to be disadvantaged by their inability to differentiate some colours used on orienteering maps. The IOF should choose different colours that are less likely to be confused or should employ a redundant code (such as a pattern or texture). There is need for better quality control of the colours of competition maps to ensure they do conform to the IOF standard colours.

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