So last week I introduced you to geocaching by telling you why you should give it a try. This week I’m going to continue my introduction of this activity by letting you know about the different kinds of geocaches that are out there, the variety of geocache containers you could find, and some general rules that you should be aware of before heading out. Let’s hope your interest was peaked last week and you are curious enough to want to get out and find one.
You need to have at least 4 things to begin your search:
- Access to the internet. You will start by going to www.geocaching.com. There you will need to create an account. Don’t worry – a basic membership is free. Once you give it a try, if you fall in love with it, you can pay for a premium membership (~$30/yr). It took me about a week to decide to go premium, but you can definitely play without paying. You just won’t have access to every cache. You will create a geocaching name to play under and this site is where you will record the caches you’ve found/not found. Believe me, after awhile you may not remember without seeing where the smiley faces are on the map (the ones you’ve found).
- A GPS system. The first time we played, we used our automobile portable gps units. The disadvantages to these are that you may not be able to put in the longitude/latitude of the cache location. We soon became frustrated with walking back and forth across the cemetery trying to get the numbers to line up. But this may be your best option. Many smart phones have gps built into them. Geocaching.com has an app that you can install. I use my phone when I decide to do some geocaching on a whim. The trouble I’ve found is that for some reason my phone isn’t very accurate. Once, when we had a good idea where the cache was, our phone told us it was 100′ away. However, I can’t beat my phone for convenience. You can also purchase a dedicated handheld gps device. We have an Garmin Oregon 450. It is small enough to hang around our neck on a lanyard. The disadvantage is that you have to plan ahead and download the geocaches from the site into the gps. We usually do this because of the accuracy of our Garmin, but sometimes we suddenly decide to look for a geocache while waiting for an appointment and may not have thought about it in advance. Each system has its advantages and disadvantages. My suggestion is to use what you have on hand initially and then branch out if you enjoy the game.
- Transportation to the geocache location. You may be able to walk to your first cache or two, but eventually you’ll probably need a car …or even a spaceship (refer to my last post) to find them!
- A pen. Once you find a geocache, you will discover at least one thing in the container – a slip of paper. You will need to have a pen to sign the date and your geocaching name to prove you found the container. Some geocaches are large enough to contain a writing utensil, but you can’t count on it. It’s very frustrating to spend awhile looking, finally find it, and then discover you don’t have a pen.
Most people I tell about geocaching want to know what the containers look like. The sky is the limit! I’ve seen containers so small that a capsule pill would barely fit inside. The largest container I’ve found was a big Rubbermaid storage bin that a child could have hidden in. The geocaching site will usually tell you the size of the container, although sometimes the owners will call it “other” because it may be a more unique container. A general rule is the more urban the setting, the smaller the container or the more camouflaged it will be. My suggestion is to try starting with a larger container (maybe a regular) because it will likely be easier to find. Part of the fun of the game is finding unusual containers. We have a favorite hider who makes his own containers and they are always interesting.
Although this is not an exhaustive list, here are 4 common geocache types and a quick description of each:
- Traditional caches – These are the most basic type consisting of a container, logbook, and specific coordinates.
- Multi-caches – These geocaches have multiple stages (steps) to do. You start with the posted coordinates and once you reach that spot, you receive the coordinates for the next step. I’ve seen as few as 2 stages and as many as 5 stages to get to the final spot with the container.
- Mystery/Puzzle caches – The coordinates given for these are typically not the real location. You will need to solve the puzzle in order to replace the dummy location with the real one. Sometimes these cache pages include a checker to let you know if you’ve solved it correctly.
- Earth caches – These are typically educational geocaches. You will go to the coordinate location and collect information (maybe about the terrain) and then send a note to the owner showing that you’ve learned the answers to questions he or she has given you. You will then be awarded a find without actually locating a container.
Some general rules before heading out:
- Try not to call attention to what you are doing. There are a couple reasons for doing this. Most people don’t know about geocaching and it generally takes a lot of time to discuss the game to “muggles” (those who don’t know about it). They may even remove the container if you point it out. Others nearby may be looking for the same container you are and you’ll spoil their fun if they see where you’ve found it.
- Most geocaches are found outside. A couple of the 1000+ caches I’ve found have been inside a building, but almost always they are outside. They are also not supposed to be actually buried in the ground, although they can be under something (like a rock).
- Put the container back where you found it for the next person. You may see a spot you think would be a better hiding place, but unless you KNOW from the description that it is moved from where it should be, put it back where you found it.
- If you take something, leave something of similar value. Some of the larger geocaches have swag (trading gifts) inside. You can take something, provided you have something to leave for the next finders. The exception to this rule follows in rule #5.
- Some geocaches contain objects called travelbugs or geocoins. These are items with a number attached (usually either embedded into the object or on a dog tag hanging from it. Travel bugs and geocoins belong to another geocacher. The purpose of these items is for other geocachers to move them to another geocache location. The owner can then see where they’ve traveled – sometimes around the country and sometimes around the world! Sadly, I’ve had about a dozen of these that have gone missing (presumably stolen by people who just take them home). If you can’t guarantee you’ll be able to put it in into another cache within a few weeks, don’t take it!
- Sign the log book and then record your find online. Every geocache is supposed to have some kind of paper inside to sign. It is a special honor to be the first person to sign a new geocache (FTF) and occasionally the owner provides a first-to-find prize. Make sure you also record your success online, either immediately from your smartphone or later from your home computer. What if you don’t find it? Officially you are supposed to go online and record it as a did not find (DNF). I know people who never record DNF’s, but they really should be listed too. Why? As an owner of geocaches, I am notified whenever someone makes an online record of my cache – found or not. If enough people say that they can’t find it, this alerts me to go check it out and make sure it is still in place. Some owners will even send you a hint if they notice you’re having difficulty. When you record your log, please do not give any spoilers (big hints or pictures of where the cache is). This can ruin it for other geocachers who may want a challenge. At the very least record TFTC (thanks for the cache), although owners and other geocachers may appreciate a more creative response.
Why not find a buddy and give this game a try? You may discover it to be just the thing to appreciate life’s hidden gems. If you do try your hand at geocaching, I’d love to know about your experience. Just send out a comment and let me know if you found what you were looking for and if you enjoyed the journey to the find.