Geocaching 101

I’m going to start by saying that I’m in no way an expert at geocaching. I’m not sure if there actually are experts, but if there are, I’m not one of them.  I don’t know everything there is to know about the hobby,  but since Jon and I started doing it, I’ve had a lot of friends ask about it. A couple people said it sounded interesting but they weren’t sure where to start, so I thought I’d put together this little informational post for anyone who’s curious about doing it or just wants to know what I’m talking about when I blog about geocaching.

1. What is geocaching and what exactly is a geocache? – Geocaching is an activity that uses GPS coordinates to help you find a container. That container is the geocache. Geocaches come in several sizes, and ones that can hold stuff will have small toys and treasures for trade. All geocaches will have a log to sign, though it’s recommended to always carry a pen on you since really small caches can’t hold a writing utensil.

2. So I can find the cache and take all of the stuff? – I suppose you could, if you were a jerkface. The main rule of geocaching etiquette is that if you take something, you leave something of equal value. We have a stash of small toys from garage sales and happy meals that we leave at caches. We also tend to take toys from one cache and put them in another one later on. It’s not always toys either. Some caches have themed items and items that will help you make your own cache.  You can leave stuff without taking anything as well.

3. I live in a city.  If people are hiding stuff, all the caches must be out in the woods, right?  – Nope. There are geocaches everywhere.  Nature caches can be found in woods, in fields, on bridges, along nature trails. City or urban caches can be found in the same kinds of spots, along wooded park areas, on bridges, along walking trails. There are even caches hidden in lamps and parking lots.

4. But not in the middle of nowhere in my tiny town, probably? – Dude…they’re everywhere. Having said that, we have traveled through a few really small towns that didn’t seem to have any, at least none that came up in our app search. That doesn’t mean they weren’t there. Even if by some chance you’re immediate town doesn’t have any, you’ll likely be able to find some within a 25 mile radius.  Geocaches are all over the world and more are being hidden every day. There’s even one in space!

5. Okay, I’ll bite. How do I out if there are any near me? – Go to www.geocaching.com and sign up for a free account. Then you can do a search for nearby caches using your address or zipcode. While you’re there, explore the site. Read some articles and watch their tutorial videos. They’ll give you a lot more information on geocaching rules and types of caches you can find.  If you do start geocaching, this is the site where you’ll log all your finds.

6. GPS involves satellites. I currently don’t own a satellite. Exactly how much money will I have to put into this? – That depends. The best tool for geocaching is a handheld GPS device. These devices start at $70 and go up from there depending on how many bells and whistles you want. You can find them cheaper on eBay, and if you’re just starting, a cheap one is all you need. If you don’t end up liking geocaching, then you can re-sell it. However, $70 is still an investment. If you have a smartphone, there are apps that will give you a compass and ways to log your finds, so you don’t need to invest anything new. We use our smartphones. The GPS isn’t always great, but it gets us there. We just have to be aware of our battery power, so we always carry a charger with us.

7. Are those the only costs? Really? – You’ll probably spend more in gas.

8. I have a GPS for my car. Will that work? – We use ours to get us to the general cache area, but our Garmin Nuvi isn’t great for taking us right to the cache spot. Sometimes a short hike is needed to get to “ground zero” (the spot of the actual coordinates), and you can only get so close with a car and an auto GPS.  A handheld or smartphone is the way to go.

9. You said “hike.” I hate exercise and I’m not fond of the outdoors, so this probably isn’t for me. – Geocaching has definitely helped us increase our activity level, but that’s because we wanted it to. We try to find places to hike and walk to get to certain finds. But somedays all we do is drive around, park for a couple minutes to make the find, then get back into the car.  As for being an outdoors person, you may find that geocaching isn’t your thing, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve developed a better appreciation for the outdoors since we started, and now I love going out on adventures.

10. Running around and looking for containers sounds weird. Where’s the thrill? – I wondered that when I first started, too. I decided I wanted to geocache at a time when I couldn’t geocache due to physical issues, so it seemed like a thing that would prove I was better if I could do it. When I finally got brave enough to try it, I figured I’d try it a couple times and then be done. I didn’t expect it to be so addicting.  Finding the cache itself is a thrill, like solving a puzzle or uncovering a treasure. Beyond that, finding caches takes you to really cool places and pretty scenery. I’ve seen so many things I didn’t even know existed because the coordinates took me to a place I wouldn’t have otherwise known about or thought to explore.

There are a lot of other details in geocaching, like travel bugs, premium accounts, and pocket queries, but I’ll save those for another post. If anyone reading this has questions, please post them in the comments and I’ll answer as best I can. I wanted this to be starter’s overview, and I would definitely invite anyone with even a touch of interest to give this a try.

A.

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