Geocaching – High Tech Scavenger Hunt

Call it a sport, a leisure activity, a virtual treasure hunt, or a social networking activity, geocaching has it all! You may have heard of geocaching, but don’t really understand it. So, what is geocaching all about anyway?

What is Geocaching?

“Geocaching” is derived from two terms – ‘geo-‘, for geography, and cache, meaning a hiding place in the ground for treasures. Geocaching hinges upon the use of a GPS system, particularly a hand held system. Someone hides a cache somewhere, records the coordinates, and then challenges others to find the cache. If you are a hiker, or just love the great outdoors, geocaching may be a neat activity for you. Essentially, people hide caches and other people find them. A person may hide a cache in the woods, at a park, beside a bus stop, or virtually anywhere. They post the coordinates of the cache on a website, then others use their GPS units to find the cache. The cache is usually some type of waterproof container which holds a few trinkets, a small notepad and a pen or pencil. When you find the cache, you can pick up a trinket and leave a trinket. Normally the trinkets are small inexpensive items such as key chains or small toys similar to those from a gumball machine. Next, you can sign, date and comment on the notepad. When you return home, you can log in to the website and mark the cache as ‘found’ by you.

Sounds fun. How do I get started?

The first step is to acquire a hand held GPS unit if you don’t already own one. You do not need a military grade GPS that is accurate to 0.3 meters, but buy what you can afford. If you are not sure geocaching may be right for you, or if you are the type of person who starts something and loses interest easily, then buy an inexpensive unit.

Get to know the unit while experimenting with it in your yard or a local park. Take a small item, walk randomly to a location, stop, set the item down and mark the coordinates. Return to your starting location, and using the coordinates and the GPS unit only, try to follow the GPS directions back to the location of the item. Bring a friend or family member along and have them hide and mark the item and you try to find it. Once you get familiar with the unit and how close it gets you to your mark, you may be ready to go on your first hunt.

The most popular method of participating in geocaching is to become a member of an online geocaching group. There are several out there; some are local groups and some are worldwide. Normally the groups are coordinated on the world wide web, so do a search for geocaching and pick a group. There are pluses and minuses to each of the different types of groups. A larger, worldwide group greatly multiplies the variety of treasures that can be found and the network of people involved. However, you can get lost in the numbers. You may find that you would prefer a smaller group. Even some of the most popular geocaching groups have options for you to connect with locals and participate in local events.

Hiding and Finding Caches

You may enjoy either hiding or finding caches, or both. The idea is the same. The website communities you join will usually post guidelines for hiding caches. For example, many discourage the use of glass containers being used due to the potential of injury if the cache breaks. Also, there are strict requirements for where to leave caches, as you don’t want to trespass to enjoy the adventure.

Finding caches is easy, yet challenging. You can normally check out maps on the community’s site which provide you general location and coordinates. Oftentimes the person who hid the cache will provide a riddle or hints to help make the hunt a little easier. Once you find the cache and log in to mark it as ‘found’, you can even provide hints or comments about the site. You may have had trouble finding it or you may have noticed some poison ivy. You can help others by posting warnings.

Special Trinkets

The idea of swapping out inexpensive trinkets is a way for people to see their trinkets travel the world. You may pick up a troll key chain in Georgia, and when you are on vacation in California, leave it in a cache there. Another person may pick the key chain up in California, and leave it in Canada.

Many of the larger websites offer you the opportunity to purchase a more durable trinket, which has a registration engraved on it. These are usually inexpensive, between $10 and $25, but you have a trinket which can easily be tracked as it goes around the world. These may take the form of coins, or ‘bug-shaped’ pieces of metal, or other promotional items. In the world of geocaching, someone who finds and takes one of these trinkets accepts the responsibility for logging in where he found it, taking it to a different cache within a reasonable time, and logging in where he left it.

Non-cache Geocaching

Another popular form of geocaching is based on landmarks or scenic views. A person may have found a spectacular site in the woods, in a park, or by a river. They post the coordinates and challenge seekers to go to that spot, take a picture, and post the picture online.

Benchmark geocaching is gaining popularity as well. In this slightly more complicated hunt, seekers use data provided by the National Geodetic Survey to find surveying benchmarks throughout the United States.