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What is geocaching? An introduction to the world’s largest treasure hunt.

Just a man, his gps, and some stuff hidden in the woods! Do you remember what your favorite holiday was when you were growing up?

I don’t remember much from my childhood, but I know without a doubt that nothing excited me like waking up on Easter so I could search for hidden eggs. Sure, the gifts weren’t nearly as good as they were on Christmas, but it was the searching that made the holiday a blast.

I don’t know if it was a reawakening of the primitive gathering instinct or just a fun challenge, but I could have searched for hidden eggs until my muddy little feet fell off.

Needless to say, I was immediately interested when I (much) later learned about something called geocaching. Essentially a world-wide, perpetual Easter egg hunt on steroids, the game involves looking for hidden items with little more than GPS coordinates and a keen eye. It’s a game that’s largely run by the participants, as anyone can make and hide a geocache and post it online for others to find. Because setting up caches is so easy, you’re likely to find them anywhere in the civilized world. I ran searches throughout Florida and found that even sparse areas of the state have caches scattered about.

What is a geocache? 

The geocache is the object you’re looking for. It can be anything from a small, watertight pill box to a sealed food container – hence the popular geocacher bumper sticker that says “I use multi-million dollar satellites to find Tupperware in the woods.”  Over the years, geocachers have gotten pretty clever with their caches; some use a rubber spider or snake, while others use fake electrical boxes to hide them in plain sight. There are plenty of magnetic containers available that make it easy to hide caches in urban environments, too. The range of caching options is pretty much limitless!

What happens when you find one?

Pretty much every geocache has a paper log sheet inside of it. Once you open it up, you log your find by adding your name and the date to the others (if there are others – you could also be FTF, or “first-to-find.”) Larger caches often have some sort of “treasure” inside, in the form of a key chain, toy, or other small trinket. You’re free to take the item, but only if you place a different item inside for the next geocacher to find. Sometimes, you’ll find a trackable itemThese special objects are tracked independently on geocaching.com. By logging it on the website, you can see everywhere the cache has traveled. Your task is to move it to a different geocache and keep it moving along!

What should I do with the geocache once I find it? 

The cache itself is sort of a “permanent game piece” in the overall geocaching scheme, so don’t keep it or move it to a different location. As a matter of courtesy, you can help make sure it’s intact and functioning correctly (i.e. the waterproof seal is keeping the log sheet dry.) If there’s something wrong with the cache and you can’t fix it, you can use geocaching.com to contact the person who placed it and let them know it needs attention. Of course, you should also put the cache back in its hidden location so the next participant can look for it!

What do I need to go geocaching?

The only requirement is a GPS-enabled device. You can use an outdoor GPS, such as the popular Garmin eTrex 20, or you can save a bit of money and use your smart phone. Geocaching.com has an app that links directly to their database of geocaches and shows them on a live map. If you don’t want to purchase the app from their website, there’s a free geocaching app called c:geo that many people swear by. I personally didn’t have much luck with either app (they drained my phone battery too quickly for my taste) so I bought a used handheld GPS on the cheap (the Magellan Meridian Gold in the photo.) I will continue to use the smart phone app in certain situations though, such as when I’m in the city and I just want to search out a couple of nearby caches.

Geocaching.com, the official geocaching website, has tons of caches in their database, and most of them can be found with a free account. The premium membership doesn’t cost much, and it allows you to pull up “members only” caches and download hundreds of cache locations right to your GPS.

What ages are appropriate for geocaching?

The short answer is that all ages are suited for the game. I would have to say that if kids are going to participate, they should do so with adult supervision since caches are usually hidden in the wilderness. Official geocaching.com caches aren’t supposed to be placed in dangerous locations, but the bar on danger is set a good deal lower when talking about small children. Even the kid-friendly caches I’ve found in the local state park are sometimes too high up in a tree for a child to reach or require trekking through tall grass (where snakes are regularly spotted) to get to. As long as common sense is part of the equation, it’s a perfect activity for kids . . . and they tend to love the adventure and challenge!

That’s the basics of the geocaching phenomenon; it’s all very simple really, but a whole lot of fun when you get out and do it. Still need some convincing? Check out my top 5 reasons why you should try geocaching!

 

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