What is Geocaching and why?
Geocaching is a FUN outdoor activity. The main goal is to find hidden containers called „geocaches“, „caches“ or „containers“ at specified locations all over the world.
According to Grounspeak, the company behind the game, there are over 3,000,000 active geocachers worldwide and more that 830,000 hidden caches in 180+ countries all around the world.
If you ever wonder how the cashes are dispersed in the world, here are a few maps:
A photo posted on Reddit perfectly describes “What is Geocaching?”
To find a hidden cache, people use GPS devices that are fitted on most phones these days. GPS is a Global Positioning System, a position detection system that is enabled by the network of sattelites orbiting Earth. There are quite a few GPS detectors available on the market by various producers. Most mobile phones have a GPS sensor inside.
A regular cache might be a small box, film canister or a lunchbox. In the best case scenario, the container is waterproof and the hideout is well hidden. Inside, one will usualy find a logbook and a pen. Some of the geocaches contain „loot“ or „swag“ – bunch of low value items, like small toys, trinkets, memorabilia, etc. If you are really lucky, there might be some „high value“ items, like travel bugs or geocoins. These are special in-game items highly sought after by the experienced geocachers.
Once a geocacher finds a hide, she or he signs a logbook marking their visit and find.
Few of the reasons I find geocaching to be an amazing hobby:
- discovering new places & the story behind them
- seeing familiar spots from another angle
- providing a the purpose to go to seemingly (at first) random destination
- discovering little bits of history I‘d have never knew existed.
- a chance to put in those 6,000 steps a day
- breathtaking scenery and views
- finding a travel bug or two
- spending quality time with family
- getting the kids off computers and into nature
Geocache contents and special items
Geocaching game keeps all caches listed on their website geocaching.com . You have to be registered for a basic free account to access the list. Once you log in, you can start searching for hides around the location you are in. Every cache has a set of fixed coordinates, described by longitude and latitude, which looks like N 53° 21.438 E 004° 23.305.
A typical geocache is a container for holding a pen, a loogbook and some tradeable items as well. The contents of each cache varies depending on the cache size. In best case scenario, the geocache will be waterproof and protected from the elements. Water from rain, snow or floods will very likely damage any cache if it‘s not thoroughly waterproofed.
Usualy each geocache will have a description and a small hint helping locate the hiding spot once you reach the location. Top quality caches have descriptions in multiple languages and a clear explanation why this spot was chosen. Location might have historical, picturesque, personal or other significance. Premium geocaching members can also assign „Favorite points“ to a cache. A high number of those usually indicate „must finds“ in the area.
Once a geocacher finds a cache, they sign a logbook with their geocaching.com username and a date. This is usualy done to preserve the logbook space. Yet logbook space is unlimited online, and each lucky finder can describe their adventures while hunting for the elusive ones. I have placed a few hides myself and can tell you, that reading those extensive logs can be very entertaining.
Besides a pen and a logbook, there might be additional items in the hide, often refered to as „horde“, „swag“ or „loot“. Finders are allowed to remove an item as long as they replace it with something of similar (or greater) value. After signing the logbook and exchanging items, cache has to be returned to the original hiding spot and masked well.
A geocache‘s „loot“ might contain multiple items. They are usualy not expensive, yet hold some sentimental value to the hider/finder: small toys, coins, personal cards, notes. There might also be items highly sought after: Travel bugs and Geocoins. These two are the trackable items in the game, having their personal number assigned and written on the item. Travel bugs are sometimes called „hitchhikers“ and may have a mission assigned to them – traveling around the world, visiting nature parks or seeing as many cities as possible. A geocachers, after finding such a „treasure“, usualy removes it from a geocache, moves it to another location and places it in another geohide. Travel bugs can also be signed in at the geocaching website to allow tracking their journey throughout the world. Cities usualy have so called „travelbug hotels“, where people can exchange travelbugs.
There are few items that are not allowed in a cache, as explained by the game rules.
- Food: nuts, gum, candies. Animals have a good sense of smell and will get to the cache very fast.
- Illegal or restricted items: drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, etc.
- Dangerous items: weapons, knives, ammunition, explosives, etc.
- Bubbles. Sonny and Sander from PodCacher explains it‘s a fun idea until the container leaks damaging everything inside the container.
- Anything that melts or decays over time or is easily affected by elements, humidity, etc.
Geocaches sometimes get lost or damaged. A common term for this is „muggled“. People (and maybe animals) that do that are called muggles, a term used in Harry Potter books.
Types of Geocaches and the differences
Geocaches differ in various parameters: size, terrain difficulty, accesibility, complexity. All there details affect the effort needed to find a hidden cache and sign a logbook. Some geocaches does not have a logbook and uses different methods for signing. Some of the most popular types of caches are:
- A Regular one-stage cache requires the player to travel to a specified location and find the cache with or without help from a special „hint“
- A Multi cache is made of numerous steps that usualy requires quite a bit of moving around, tasks and problem solving before you calculate final coordinates.
- Virtual caches are no longer supported by the Groundspeak, the company behind the Geocaching game.
- Earthcaches are a special form of caches dedicated to education on earth science, structure, earth layers and so on.
- Webcam caches are no longer supported by the Groundspeak, the company behind the Geocaching game.
- Mystery & puzzle caches require players to solve associated puzzles/task and derive the answers to get location of the hide.
Cache types are also associated with Geocaching events:
Geocaching players organise Event Cache, a social gathering. I‘ve seen multiple events organised by foreign experienced Geocachers moving to another country on vacation, etc.
Cache-In Trash-Out (CITO) Events are organised to help the environment around us, by removing trash, taking care of invasive plant species, removing growth from historical objects, etc.
A Mega Event is a gathering of 500 Geocachers or more.
A Giga Event is a gathering of 5000 Geocachers or more.
Sizes of Geocaches and the differences
When players submit new Geocaches to be registered, they are asked to put in the container size. It can be.
Micro: < 100 ml. Usualy these are very small and fits nicely in urban environments where stealth is required and the size of container matters.
Small: > 100 ml., but < 1000 ml. (1 liter). A decent size of cache, that can hold a comfortable size logbook, pen and a few items.
Regular: 1..20 liters. These are the big ones that can hold many items at once.
Large: Behemoths of the Geocaches. Over 20 liters in size.
Virtual caches: the ones where container is not needed – logged in though a photo-log or a similar method.
Difficulty, terrain settings, details of Geocaches
Another important setting of a Geocache is difficulty and terrain seetings. The Geocaching website puts it simply: 1 star in terrain allows a wheelchair user to comfortably pick up a cache, 5 star terrain will most likely need a set of climbing gear or extraordinary effors. 1 star of difficulty is a no brainer, 5 stars will make you sweat alot (at least the ones I found, did).
Cache description provide information on the environment and various details of the geocache.
Conditions: regular conditions and recommendations for cache hunters
- Scenic view
- Recommended for kids
- Takes less than an hour
- Difficult climbing
- May require wading
- May require swimming
- Available at all times
- Recommended at night
- Available during winter
- Watch for livestock
- Stealth required
- Night Cache
- Park and Grab
- Abandoned Structure
- Short hike (less than 1km)
- Medium hike (1km-10km)
- Long Hike (+10km)
- Field Puzzle
- Significant Hike
- Seasonal Access
- Tourist Friendly
- Front Yard (Private Residence)
- Teamwork Required
Permissions: special environmental protection conditions
- Off-road vehicles
- Truck Driver/RV
Equipment: items that are necessary / helpfull in finding the cache
- Access or parking fee
- Climbing gear
- Scuba gear
- Flashlight required
- UV Light Required
- Cross Country Skis
- Special Tool Required
- Wireless Beacon
- Tree Climbing
Hazards: warnings of dangerous conditions to look out for
- Cliff / falling rocks
- Dangerous area
- Poison plants
- Dangerous Animals
- Abandoned mines
Geocaching sometimes may be dangerous. You should always be cautious about your environment and the actions you take.
One sad Geocaching story from my country: a group of Czech scout cyclists found a shelter from the stormy weather in an abandoned building when all of a sudden it collapsed on July 25, 2010.
Facilities: various useful services nearby
- Wheelchair accessible
- Camping available
- Parking available
- Public transportation
- Picnic tables nearby
- Drinking water nearby
- Public restrooms nearby
- Telephone nearby
- Stroller accessible
- Fuel Nearby
- Food Nearby
Logging a geocache
Once a player find a hidden cache, he/she should “log it”, by leaving a written entry in the logbook, unless the cache owner specified another method, like photo-log. As Geoccaching.com log entry field puts it “Share your story with the geocache owner and community. Try not to leave any spoilers!”
Once logging the find, one must select the type of log:
- Found it: for those skilled and lucky enough. Reading those adventure stories (when there is one) can be entertainment on it’s own.
- Didn’t find it: for those that were not able to find a cache at given location.
- Write note: players can leave notes in the logbook without signing a found/not found. Players also might provide additional info on the find. I’ve also seen this widely used to signal attendance for the geocaching events.
- Needs Archived: caches that are no longer maintained or irrelevant, like the ones placed in very, very bad spots.
- Needs Maintenance: caches that are in bad shape, found damaged, muggled.
While loging a cache, geocaching players often use keywords in their log, like:
- TFTC – thanks for the cache. A polite way to thank the cache owner for taking the time and effort to place the cache. Very common entry in the logbooks. Much better if the log comes with a longer description of finder’s adventures and/or a story.
- BYOP – “Bring Your Own Pen/Pencil”. It usualy means that the cache size is too small to hold a full sized pen/pencil or the original one was lost.
- DNF: “Did Not Find”. Indication, that the player was not able to locate the cache at given coordinates. A string of „did not finds“ might indicate that the cache was muggled (damaged/removed). It‘s also a sign for a cache owner to replace/restore the container and/or contents.
- FTF: “First to Find”. An entry marking first finder of a cache after it was hidden. Kind of „badge of honor“ for geocaching addicts.
- STF: “Second To Find”. A „consolation prize“ for those who did not make it to „First to Find“.
- SWAG: “Stuff We All Get“. Regular trading items placed within the cache‘s container.
- TB aka Travel Bug aka Trackable: A tag with a barcode that enables tracking of the item on the geocaching website. Usualy attached to a small item. Can be found in random hides and/or local travel bug „hotels“.
- TFTH: „Thanks For The Hide“. A polite way to thank the cache owner for taking the time and effort to place the cache.
Geocaching advice, tips & tricks (add your own in the comments section below)
Read recent cache logs before you go. It can save you time/fuel/energy by avoiding caches that have a string of „did not find“ in the logbook.
To find the „caches – hidden gems“ in the area, look for caches that have favorite points added. These are the points that Premium members can give to a cache. They are limited in number. A cache with a higher number of those usualy point to a „must find“ geocache.
Fully charge your GPS devices and have an extra battery possible. GPS location services drain batteries pretty fast. Murphy law states: „Your battery will die once you are 100 meters away from a geocache you spent hours to get to“.
Carry a spare set of boots / clothes if possible if you‘re geocaching in wet places. It sucks to stop caching due to accidentally getting your feet wet, especially in the cold season.
Make your first hide a special one. I know it‘s temping to create your own caches by taking a lunchbox and sticking it into the roots of some old tree. The problem is – those caches are „dime a dozen“. The same goes for the location – try to find a unique spot. Would you like to spend your afternoon going to this place?
Surgical gloves / hand sanitizer is your friend. Geocaching can get bit dirty at times.
Nano-sized containers can be a pain for beginners. If you are just starting out, better look for regular sized caches as the first ones.
Wet slopes are slippery and dangerous. I learned this the hard way. Wet or snow/ice covered slopes can be very tricky to traverse.
Remember that Geocaching is just a game! Chasing those geocaches can be quite exhausting physically and emotionaly, especially when chasing low quality caches through less than interesting places. If you feel cache fatigue, take a break J
Please add your advice in the comment section below. I’ll be happy to update the advice list.