How To

Geocaching: Getting Started on Your Own Real Life Treasure Hunt

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Geocaching is your chance to go on a real life treasure hunt: given only GPS coordinates and a few hints, you set forth on a mission for hidden treasure right in your own neighborhood.

If you want to try your hand at geocaching, here is what you need to know to get started.

What is a “cache”?

A cache can be anything from a small tube with a slip of paper to a box with various items inside of it. What a cache contains depends on what the creator of that particular cache decided to place there, and what others have left behind. There are many different types of caches, and most caches tell you which type they are in their descriptions. The most common form of cache is the “traditional cache,”  which comes in three varieties:

  • Standard: These caches usually contain a container and a logbook or sheet for writing down your name and the date.
  • Micro: These caches are generally small containers with a sheet of paper inside of them to sign your name and date. They are typically smaller than a thumb.
  • Nano: These are caches that are even smaller than micros. These caches can are typically as small as an aspirin, and contain a slip of paper for your name and date the same as a micro.

What Supplies do I need?

You will need a GPS device–or a GPS-enabled smartphone–and a membership on a site like Geocaching.com or NaviCache. If you are using a smartphone, you will need at minimum a GPS locating app, with the option of the Geocaching.com official app if you use their site. Here are some basic GPS location apps and the official Geocaching.com app for iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone:

Choosing a Cache Listing Provider

There are several different providers for geocache listings on the internet for you to make use of. Here are some of the most well known:

  • Geocaching.com: The most widely used site for geocaching, Geocaching.com provides cache listings, user responses to caches, smartphone apps, blogs, personal profiles, and many other tools for geocachers.
  • TerraCaching: TerraCaching.com is a community of cachers and a listing of TerraCaches hidden all over the world. To become a member and make use of the site, you will have to get sponsored by two existing members. TerraCaching focuses on listing the highest quality caches, and also makes use of the TerraCaching Point System to add a competitive element to geocaching.
  • Open Caching: Not to be confused with the Open Caching Network, Open Caching is a listing site owned by Garmin. It features forums, smartphone apps, and a searchable cache database for users. The site is open to anyone, and the database and improvements to the site are largely determined by its users.
  • Open Caching Network (US): Opencaching.us is designed to be an effective non-profit alternative to existing geocaching sites. The site was created entirely by volunteers working together for free to provide a resource for geocachers and to further the sport.
  • NaviCache: NaviCache is another free listing site which provides caches, forums, and general geocaching information for its users. The Site also provides a photo gallery and personal profiles for members.

Getting Started:

After you have chosen a cache listing provider, you will want to log in to the site and begin looking for caches. Most sites allow you to search by location for caches in your area.

When you are searching for your first cache you should look for something with a lower difficulty rating. Most sites will provide cache types, difficulty, size, and even terrain difficulty. You will want to look for a standard cache, and normal size (not a micro or nano).

Once you have found a local cache that you wish to try out, you will want to write down the address, coordinates, and any hints or additional information given. If you want extra help, or if you are having trouble finding the cache, you can look at comments on the cache at the bottom of the page – sometimes they offer additional hints or help. If you have a smartphone with web access you can access the site from the cache location, but you will still want to write down the information in case you cannot get cell phone reception in the area.

Heading Out

After you have chosen a cache, you will want to either look up driving directions to the cache and either write them down or print them out. Before setting out make sure to dress appropriately for the weather and location you are heading to. Make sure you have a pencil or pen for leaving your name and the date behind, and something to leave behind if you plan on taking an item from a standard cache.

Finding the cache

Once you have arrived at the cache location you will begin by taking out your GPS device and heading to the coordinates of the cache.

Once you have reached the coordinates for the cache the hunt truly begins. The cache will almost never be directly on top of the coordinates; the cache will usually be found within a 20-foot radius. The cache could be farther away though, depending on how accurate the cache’s creator’s GPS was, or how accurate yours is.

NOTE: Make sure that when you are searching for the cache that you do not draw too much attention from other people in the area. You do not want ‘muggles’ (the geocaching term for people who are don’t play) to take the cache after you find it and keep it or dispose of it, not knowing what it is.

Here are a few hints for locating the cache:

  • Look for hiding places, not the container: If you cannot find it easily, stop looking for a container or box, look instead for potential hiding places. Most of the time the cache will be hidden, and it will be easier to check potential hiding places than to catch a glimpse of the container while searching normally.
  • Don’t give up: Sometimes it takes a while to find a cache, and even veteran geocachers have difficulty finding caches sometimes.
  • Look from different angles: Walk all the way around the area to see it from all angles. Something hidden from one angle may be visible from another. If you can do so safely, climb a tree or hill and get a view from above.
  • Stay Calm: Geocaching is ultimately a game, and games are meant to be enjoyed. If you find yourself getting too frustrated, move on to another cache. You can always come back and try another time.

After you have found the cache, you should write your name and the date down on the logbook or paper. If there are items inside of the container, you can take one as a souvenir; if you take an item, however, make sure to leave one behind in its place.

If you like, you can leave the same item behind at every cache as a sort of “signature” that you were there (beyond your signature on the log). It can be fun to find several different caches with the same item at each of them, knowing that someone else has found all of the same caches as you.

If you want to spend a little extra money, you can purchase Geocoins to leave behind. These special coins have a unique tracking ID which can be used to track it online via its own personal web page. People who find the coin can enter where they found it, where they dropped it off next, and even include stories and pictures with their entries. Anything people enter will be available to you on the coins personal web page, and the information does not expire.

No matter what you choose to leave behind, make sure to put the cache back exactly where you found it when you have finished–you don’t want to ruin the cache for the next person.

Featured image courtesy sylvar, second image courtesy EdwardGoodwin

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