geocaching, geocaching 101

15 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Geocaching…. | The Geocaching Junkie

I have noticed a recent influx of ‘found it’ logs on my caches from ‘newbie’ geocachers. In fact, some of my caches have been the first geocache some newbies have ever found – another reason why cache maintenance is so important! You don’t want a potential new geocacher to find a broken container, a soggy log or nothing at all if a cache has been muggled.

It got me thinking about when I was a newbie and what I wish I knew. I asked experienced geocachers to tell me what they considered to be the most important advice for new players to the game, and I also talked to some newbies to find out what they wished they knew before they found their first cache.

Before you start…

It’s tempting to just take your smartphone with your newly downloaded geocaching app and hit the road to find the cache nearest to home, but you might be better off taking some time before you go and doing a little research.

1. Do some reading – be prepared! 

Before going out, it might be useful to prepare yourself by doing some research into geocaching. New cacher Rhaelys, who started geocaching in April 2015 and has found 18 caches to date, made sure to spend “a lot of time on reading rules, looking at forums and checking out maps”. You know what they say, if you fail to prepare, then prepare to fail!

When you’ve chosen a cache to look for, the most important thing to read is the cache description. After that, you might consider throwing your eye over the most recent logs. You don’t want to set out to find your first geocache only to find that the last ten logs have been DNFs! Griffkids advises to “check past logs to make sure it’s still there”. Another reason to read previous logs: for extra hints. Fadingdimensions, who started caching in April 2015 and has 27 finds to date, advises to “always read other people’s logs…. They usually give little hints if you are in a jam.”

2. Know the cache size

SharkyC who started geocaching in March 2015 and has found 11 geocaches to date, wishes she realised “just how small the micros actually are”. This is a great reason to research container types before you set out. Just a quick internet search for ‘geocache containers’ may help you once you’re at GZ. Bingothebountyhunter advises new geocachers to “avoid micros” when starting out.

You may also want to avoid ‘other’ cache sizes at the beginning too. This is normally an unusual container type that doesn’t fit in to any of the other categories, although sometimes cache owners choose ‘other’ as the size when the cache is actually a nano. Nanos are a subcategory of micros and are probably smaller than you could ever imagine when you start out. You’ll no doubt be amazed when you first find one, but attempting to roll up a nano logsheet in the rain for the fiftieth time will knock that enthusiasm out of you. Not that I’m dissing nanos – I’ve hidden a few myself. Sometimes a great location you want to bring people to will only have the room for a nano.

I recently met some new geocachers at a cache and had the nano container in my hand as I was waiting until what I thought were muggles to leave. When they told me they were geocachers, I handed the cache to them and they were amazed “is that it?!”

Some examples of cache types
Some examples of cache types

3. Know the cache type

The current most common types of geocaches are traditional, multi, unknown, earthcache, wherigo, letterbox hybrid, virtual, webcam (both of the last two are what is called ‘grandfathered’, meaning these are probably quite old geocaches and new caches of these type are no longer allowed). Of course, there are various event caches also, but it’s unlikely an event will be your first smiley (although not outside the realm of possibility!)

According to the Groundspeak website, traditional caches are “the original type of geocache and the most straightforward”. When you’re looking for your first geocache, you should probably start out with this type.

I won’t go on about the different cache types here, there is plenty of information available already out there. But the advice is to stick to traditional caches at the start.

4. Choose your D/T rating carefully 

There are 81 possibly difficulty/terrain combinations available. When you’re starting out, it’s probably best to stick with lower difficulty caches. I looked for a difficulty 5 geocache in my first week as a cacher. As you might expect, I didn’t find it. In fact, I only found it when I was caching for about 18 months, and having now found it, I can say I never would have found it that first week. I didn’t have enough experience to know about caches that are deviously camouflaged.

Terrain rating is more open – if you’re already a hardened hiker or climber, you might decide a higher terrain rating is more appealing to you.

5. Learn how to use your GPSr/Smartphone app

Lulybelle says “My biggest problem when I started was I didn’t know how to use the app, I didn’t know you could see yourself moving on the map, so my advice would be to get familiar with the techy bits first.” Again, a little internet research here will help you with how to use the device you have available to you and get the most out of it.

6. Find out what a trackable is

This is important. All too often new geocachers take trackables without knowing what they are or what to do with them. AntoniaG and CriddyBee both advise newbies to research what trackables are all about before you go out geocaching. As CriddyBee says, it’s “sad to see how many (trackables) aren’t logged properly or go missing.” Remember that trackables belong to someone. It is very disheartening to see them go missing.


Make sure you know the difference between a trackable item and a swappable item. You do not need to exchange anything for a trackable, but it’s not yours to keep. Swag are small swappable, sometimes personalised, items that you can trade. If you see something you like in a cache, make sure to trade even or better for it. Kids will love this part of the ‘treasure hunt’.

7. Be well equipped

There are lots of geocaching TOTT out there. Most important is a pen or pencil of course, but a tweezers will be really handy if you’re urban caching. You might even consider packing a geobag. This is not so important if you’re going caching in a town or city, but if you’re planning to go in to the forest or mountains to find a geocache, make sure you pack a bag with any supplies you might need. Alstefanelli who started geocaching in February 2015 recommends that you “get good shoes, pack a fully functional geobag, get a walking stick [and] buy an external battery for your phone.” If you’re caching solely with your smartphone, an external battery pack is a priceless commodity, as the location services needed to cache with will drain your battery.

Now, go look for a geocache! 

Ok, you’ve done your theoretical research, now you’re dying to get your name on a logbook. Here’s what to remember when you’re out in the field.

8. Bring a friend

Sure, geocaching can be fun on your own, but when you’re starting out, it’s more fun to bring a friend, plus you won’t feel as conspicuous if you’re with a buddy. Duck Tales has this advice: “go with an experienced cacher. It helps avoid disappointment of a DNF and helps with the excitement factor”.

BigMcKs started caching in the summer of 2014 and was introduced by a geocaching friend, TucKids. She says as soon as her and her boys found their first cache, they were hooked!

If you don’t have someone to go with you, don’t worry, as Odies Crew says “just take the bull by the horns and go for it.” More often than not, you’ll be the only person in your circle that has ever heard of geocaching, and it can be difficult to convince others to go with you. So just get up and go!

9. Use your common sense and respect your environment

Don’t just follow the needle on your compass. I cannot stress enough the importance of this. The shortest route is the most taxing, more often than not. GrievousAngel advises that cachers should “use their brains to figure out that the best route may be *around,* not *through* the swamp, or zig-zagging up the mountain on the trail, no matter what the arrow tells you to do.”

Don’t pull GZ apart looking for the cache. Pooken advises “don’t go looking in dry stone walls. They aren’t supposed to be hidden there.”

In Ireland, Coillte maintain many of the forests where geocaches are hidden. Geocaches hidden on Coillte run land must adhere to their ‘Leave No Trace’ policy. The principles of Leave No Trace are:

  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Travel on durable surfaces
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimise campfire impacts
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of other users

These are good principles to cache by in general. If GZ is already littered, maybe consider bringing a small bag with you and regularly practicing CITO (Cache In Trash Out) – leave the area a little nicer for the next finder, if you can.

10. Sign the logbook!!!!! 

If I could put this one in flashing neon colours, I would. Seriously, the one strict rule of geocaching is to sign your name in the logbook. Remembering to bring a pen is part of this. I have pens everywhere. Several in my car and bag and always a least one in the pockets of every coat and jacket. A pencil or stamp works too but be sure to put your mark in the log!

DucInc backs me up on this one: “You only log a find when you actually find the container…getting to GZ does not equal a smiley!”


11. Don’t worry if you can’t find it 

SharkyC looked for three geocaches before she actually found one. You may not find the first one you look for. Let’s face it: you’ve never found a geocache before, you have no idea what you’re doing! We were all new once. Stick with it; geosense is a skill to be honed.

S2zero put it very well: “Just because you can’t find it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.” It might not be there. But equally, it might be and your geosense has well and truly left the buliding. DNFs are a part of geocaching. Sometimes the seemingly simplest of caches can leave you perplexed and revisiting the same place 5 times. But it always makes a great story when you finally turn that nemesis cache in to a smiley! DanUnaHolly take the “where would I hide it?” approach when they’re not having any luck finding a geocache.

Once you’re back home… 

You’ve found the geocache, you’ve put your name in the logbook and you’re probably feeling pretty pleased with yourself right now. What’s next?

12. Write about your adventure online

You can’t get that all important smiley unless you log a ‘Found It!’ on Remember, the geocache you found was placed by a geocacher just like you. They took their time and effort (and probably money) to create a fun experience for you. The log you write is their only ‘payment’ (well that and Favourite Points but those are for Premium Members Only). Write a little more than TFTC in your log. Not only will the CO be grateful, you’ll be able to look back and remember the find. Think of it as your geocaching diary. There’s no need to talk about what you ate for breakfast that morning (but by all means, you can! I’m looking at you THE_Chris!), but a little something about the hunt is always interesting.

Likewise, remember to properly log any trackable items you may have picked up in the geocache you found. You can find information on how to do that here.

13. Go to an event 

There is no right or wrong time to start attending geocaching events, but as early as you can is a good guide. I have met a geocacher who had never found a geocache before attending the event, although this is an extreme example.

Roaming Relic started geocaching in March 2015 and has found 42 geocaches to date. He had found 8 geocaches before attending an event while on vacation in Maui (lucky guy!). His experience was that “everyone was happy to accept a newbie in to the circle”. This is certainly true in my experience at events I’ve been to. Everyone is welcome. The more the merrier. Events are great forums to get extra hints and tips for that geocache that keeps eluding you, too. You will find out things you didn’t know about the website or the app you are using. And most importantly, you will undoubtedly have great fun meeting people who share this great hobby.

14. Become a cache owner

There is no rush in doing this. When I asked my fellow geocachers for tips, the overwhelming advice was to wait before placing a geocache. Of course, you can technically place a geocache without ever having found one, but you want people to enjoy finding your first hide, right? Finding a variety of caches will show you what you would like to hide. Maybe you prefer long hikes in the forest, so you’ll hide an ammo can at a great lookout spot. Maybe you prefer really tricky hides, so you’ll hide a fake bolt on a railing in a busy urban area, so cachers can put their stealth to the test.

The main advice is to get some experience before you start hiding. Kryten2x4p advises not to “start hiding geocaches until you’ve found at least 100!”

15. Keep Calm! 

This little gem of wisdom comes from Adolficus. Keep Calm. Simple. Don’t decide to pack it all in because you can’t find the geocache first time around or because you’re getting frustrated with the app. Geocaching is meant to be fun!

Keep calm & go geocaching

Geocaching Abbreviation Decryptor For Newbies 

Last but not least, geocachers are notorious for abbreviating a lot of phrases and it can make logs confusing when you’re starting out. Here’s a list of the most common abbreviations you may come across.

  • BYOP – bring your own pen
  • C&D – cache and dash
  • CITO – cache in trash out
  • CO – cache owner
  • DNF – did not find
  • FFS – what I say when I can’t find the cache 😉
  • GZ – ground zero
  • P&G – park and grab
  • PAF – phone a friend
  • SL – signed log
  • TB – travel bug
  • TFTC – thanks for the cache
  • TFTH – thanks for the hide
  • TNLN – took nothing left nothing
  • TOTT – tools of the trade

I hope you found this post helpful if you’re new to geocaching. Remember, we were all new once. If you can’t find a cache, why not ask the owner for further hints? There’s absolutely no shame in that. Go to an event, meet some locals and get some PAF buddies. We’d love to meet you and we don’t bite. Much 😉

Happy caching!


© 2015 | Sarah Murphy | All Rights Reserved

14 thoughts on “15 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Geocaching…. | The Geocaching Junkie

  1. Good advice! I’m guilty of not signing the log, now I know how important it is so thanks for that! Question- do you just use your mobile or have you another device? Battery life doesn’t last long when you’re a newbie and especially in the cold weather. It’s so frustrating when you have to go home without a find due to that.

  2. If I’m in the woods, I’ll use my GPSr (Garmin Oregon 600) but if I’m only doing a few urban caches or a series of park and grabs (where I can plug my phone in intermittently), then I prefer my iPhone 🙂

  3. Excellent advice. We met some cachers during the winter who were very new (it was only their first or second find). They didn’t know about logging it online. I still feel like a newbie sometimes especially when I get a run of DNFs.

  4. I see no mention of the Health Warning about the addictive nature of geocaching. But here’s a couple of early signs to look out for:
    You’re watching TV and it’s a nature programme-you’re thinking, ‘There must be a geocache near there’
    You see random items others are using for regular well established purposes and you’re thinking, ‘I could make that into/put that in a cache.’
    If you have had these thoughts, IT’S TOO LATE and you no longer have time to watch TV, it’s great! ?

  5. Great blog Sarah all of the above definitely but I cannot recommend going to an event enough.. Spending time with the elite catchers and getting a masterclass was the best time !! ? I am now hooked and plotting some of my own .. Carefully

  6. Great blog. Thanks for writing this. Wife and I are new…and I’m trying to research on the forums as much as I can…and am attending our 1st class tomorrow. Missing out on a perfect driving/geocaching day to attend. Your blog definitely helps.

  7. Can’t wait to go geocaching for my first time? If there is anything I should know before I get myself kill pls fell free to tell me?

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