The history of orienteering begins in the late 19th century in Sweden, where it originated as military training. The actual term "orienteering" was first used in 1886 at the Swedish Military Academy Karlberg and meant the crossing of unknown land with the aid of a map and a compass. The competitive sport began when the first competition was held for Swedish military officers in 1893 at the yearly games of the Stockholm garrison, and the first civilian competition, in Norway in 1897, held near Oslo. With the invention of inexpensive yet reliable compasses, the sport gained popularity during the 1930s.
By 1934, orienteering had spread to Finland, Switzerland, the Soviet Union, and Hungary. Following World War II, orienteering spread throughout Europe and to Asia, North America and Oceania. The nations of Finland, Norway and Sweden all established national championships. The Swedish national orienteering society, Svenska Orienteringsförbundet, the first national orienteering society, was founded in 1936. The International Orienteering Federation (IOF) was established in 1961 and the first World Championships were held in 1966.