Spending time in the great outdoors is all of the entertainment some hikers and campers need to have a great time. Between the sights and sounds of the natural world and the relaxed pace of the natural world, many people are content to just take it all in. But some of us like having a little more to do when enjoying the wilderness. You may be delighted by the beauty surrounding you and happy to escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life, but once the tent is pitched and the campfire smoldering, you can’t help but feel a little bored.
Fortunately, there are a number of great ways to have fun while hiking or camping. Below, we’ll talk about geocaching — one of the most rewarding (and occasionally challenging) activities to enjoy during your next adventure.
What Is Geocaching?
In a nutshell, geocaching is a game-like activity in which you hunt for treasure. But, instead of using a treasure map, you will use a GPS device to find the loot. And instead of gold or riches, the treasure will usually consist of a journal and collection of interesting knick-knacks left by those who came before you.
The object of the game is to find various geocaches – typically a small to medium-sized plastic or metal box – hidden in various places all over the world. To find the cache, you’ll have to use a combination of clues and GPS coordinates. Once you find the geocache, you’ll usually sign the included journal and leave a brief note about finding the cache.
Additionally, many geocaches also contain a variety of small items other geocaching participants have left. Typically, you’ll be encouraged to take one of the items and leave a new one of your own. Some of the items may be rather random, but others will likely have some sentimental value to the person who left them.
Over time, many items will migrate from one geocache to the next, as participants collect them and then place them in other geocaches. For example, a can of beans (often called the “original can of beans,”) that was placed in one of the very first geocaches ever documented has traveled all over the U.S. Some of these types of famous items can actually be tracked, so that you can try to find them yourself.
Some geocaches are placed in relatively easily accessed areas in cities or suburbs, but most of those that outdoor enthusiasts will encounter are placed in state parks, national forests and other out-of-the-way locations. Geocaching first began around the year 2000, as GPS units became increasingly affordable and common. The activity formerly went by a variety of names, including GPSstashing, before the community settled on the term geocaching.
How Do You Participate?
The first thing you’ll want to do is to find a geocache listing site that covers your area (or the area in which you’ll be traveling). A simple Google search should produce several different listing sites from which you can choose (although geocaching.com is a good place for most novices to get their feet wet).
Be sure to familiarize yourself with the procedures and protocols of the site and follow all of the rules listed. Pick one of the caches that seems to be in your area and get to work.
Some caches will require you to solve puzzles or decode ciphers to reveal the coordinates of the cache, while others simply provide you with the coordinates right off the bat. Just select the style that most appeals to you. Some geocaching sites and societies may charge a nominal fee (or accept donations), which help to offset the costs of managing the site, but others allow you to participate for free.
What Do You Need To Geocache?
Part of the appeal of geocaching is that you don’t need much equipment to participate. Basically, you’ll need the following items:
A Handheld GPS Device
The primary piece of equipment you’ll need to geocache is a handheld GPS unit. It needn’t be especially expensive or packed with features – just about any model that will determine your location accurately will work. However, models that include tracking features and allow you to store waypoints, routes and other data are generally preferred.
Be sure that you select a model that will hold up to the rigors of trail life. You don’t want your GPS to stop working because you dropped it on a rock or because the humidity in the forest reaches saturated levels. Some GPS units are designed to stand up to these types of indignities, but others can be protected through the use of a padded, waterproof cover.
A Smartphone, Tablet or Laptop Computer
You’ll often need to check the listing site that provides coordinates and clues to a geocache’s location, and the best way to do this is with a cell phone (or, if you prefer, a tablet or laptop). A cell phone will also allow you to consult maps of the area or post messages on the listing site once you find your treasure. Cellphones also provide obvious safety value, which you should always keep in mind while exploring the wilderness.
Note that many modern cellphones provide GPS capabilities, so you may not need to carry a separate GPS and cellphone.
Basic Outdoor Equipment
The rest of the gear you’ll need will depend on where you are looking for a geocache. If you are looking for a geocache in a suburban park half a mile from your home, you won’t need much more than a pair of walking shoes and some comfortable clothing. However, your geocaching adventures may take you much further from the beaten path, thereby necessitating a bit more gear.
You should always bring water along anytime you venture into the wilderness, but you can use your own judgment when deciding what else to bring. The following items may be helpful:
- Comfortable hiking clothes
- Hiking boots or good walking shoes
- Small first aid kit
- Trekking poles
What Kind Of Containers Are Used For Geocaching?
A variety of different containers are used for geocaches. In fact, this is part of what makes the activity so fun and challenging – you’ll rarely know exactly what you’re looking for.
Many geocaches are stored in military ammunition boxes. Typically, these boxes are covered in official geocaching stickers and they’re occasionally painted or decorated in other ways. Ammunition boxes are ideal for larger geocaches, as they will hold a fair number of trinkets, and they protect the contents from the elements. Additionally, most ammunition boxes are built from very robust materials, which ensures they’ll last for years.
However, other geocaches utilize different types of containers. Some are comprised of a simple plastic storage box, while other participants create custom-built boxes. Some of the most challenging geocaches to find are small ones – the smallest geocaches are often about the size of a film canister!
Note that geocaches are typically partially hidden in the landscape, and the very best ones are often the most challenging to find. In fact, geocaches should always be placed in out-of-sight locations, at least with respect to the primary trails and recreational areas in the vicinity.
Where Are The Best Places To Participate?
Geocaches can be placed in a variety of places, but they should always be located on public property. This ensures that anyone can seek them out and it prevents you from having to trespass to participate. In fact, geocaches should not be placed in any place that requires you to cross private property to reach, either. Given this, national parks, national forests, state parks and small municipal parks are some of the most common places in which geocaches are hidden. Just start searching by looking in your general area, and then try to pick one or more of the most appealing caches to search for.
General Geocaching Tips
Geocaching is a pretty simple activity that doesn’t require participants to possess a lot of equipment, experience or knowledge. You can get started at any time and start having fun almost immediately. But, there are a few important things you’ll want to keep in mind to make the most of the experience and ensure you don’t get in the way of anyone else’s good time.
- Some participants leave “hitchhikers” in geocaches instead of more typical trinkets. Hitchhikers are generally small items that bear the logo of a town or park. They’re designed to be carried by participants from one geocache to the next so that they eventually turn up in some exotic location. If you take a hitchhiker, be sure that you perpetuate its journey and place it in another geocache, located somewhere else.
- Always bring a small trinket with you to swap out for one of the items in the geocache. Never take anything unless you have something to leave in exchange.
- Remember that many children participate in geocaching, so only leave family-friendly trinkets or messages in the container.
- Never move a geocache – even if it wasn’t located exactly where it was supposed to be, or you had great difficulty finding it. If you truly believe there is something wrong with the location, contact the listing site and bring it to their attention.
- Always employ leave-no-trace practices when searching for a geocache. While most outdoor enthusiasts will agree that it is fine to leave an unobtrusive geocache in a natural habitat, no one wants to see litter scattered around the geocache site. This would also take some of the fun out of finding the geocache, as the trash would lead you right to it.
- Never spoil the hunt for anyone else. Finding the geocache on your own is part of the appeal of the activity – nobody wants to have that ruined by someone who blurts out the location of the cache.
- Make sure to note the size of the cache before you select a trinket to leave behind. Some caches are too small to leave anything behind; you’ll just have to sign the log and move on. Others are large enough to contain relatively big trinkets. You can’t always determine the size of the cache from a listing site, but many will provide clues.
Geocaching is a fun and exciting way to pass the time while you are enjoying the great outdoors, and people of all ages and experience levels can participate. So, grab your GPS, find a good listing site in your area and get out there and start looking for treasure. You never know what you’ll find inside the next geocache you open.