Maybe you’ve read about it online, or you’ve heard it mentioned in passing at the water cooler and you’re intrigued enough to get out there and see for yourself what geocaching is all about.
It’s easy to be a geocacher; all you have to do is find a geocache (some might say all you have to do is look for a geocache). Simple. “But how?” I hear you asking. Well that’s why you’re here so let’s delve in to some more detail!
1. How do you know where the geocaches are?
First things first, you will need a geocaching.com account and the good news is, it’s free (you can choose to upgrade to a premium member account at a later date if you plan on sticking with geocaching)! You’ll need to create a username so try to choose carefully. You can always change it later but geocachers tend to refer to each other by their geocaching handles so it will be harder to change it once you make some geo-friends.
Next, you want to click on ‘play’, then ‘find geocaches’ and enter the area you want to see where the caches are. Chances are, there will be geocaches near where you live – there are over 2 million caches hidden worldwide!
2. Which geocaches should I look for first?
You can look for any of the geocaches that appear on your map but my advice is to look for traditional caches first (I’ll talk more about the other cache types in another post). Traditional caches appear as little green boxes on your map.
It’s best to stick to ‘small’, ‘regular’ or ‘large’ sizes at first. ‘Micro’ and ‘other’ sizes are best avoided when you’re starting out as they can be more difficult to find.
Lastly, you should consider the difficulty and terrain (DT) ratings on the cache. Stick with lower difficulty ratings to start. Anything above a 2.5 difficulty will, in theory*, be harder to find, and it be can be off-putting to fail at finding a cache when you’re starting out.
The terrain rating you choose is entirely up to you. If you’re already a seasoned hill-walker, you might consider a higher terrain – often these caches are actually easier to find because they’re placed in remote locations. Be careful of terrain 5 caches though: these may involve extra equipment such as a kayak or climbing ropes and harnesses. Check out the attributes on the cache page for more information on what equipment you might need, if any.
* Difficulty and terrain ratings are chosen by the cache owner and are therefore subjective.
3. I’ve chosen a geocache to search for. What next?
You need a means to navigate to GZ (ground zero). If you already have a handheld GPS receiver (GPSr) such as a Garmin or Magellan, you can download the geocaches you want to look for on to it by choosing ‘Send to My GPS’ on the website (note that this method does not currently work on Google Chrome or Firefox at the time of publishing, as the plugin is no longer supported. For those browsers, you will need to create a pocket query and I will explain how to do this in another post).
If you don’t own a GPSr, there’s no need to rush out and buy one straight away. Try out geocaching for a while and decide if you’re likely to stick with it long term, before making the investment. There are lots of apps you can download on to your smartphone to go geocaching.
For iPhones, there is the Geocaching Intro App which is free and gives you almost all the capabilities the paid app will. The big difference is the capability to save geocaches to an offline list, which enables you to geocache in places with no mobile phone reception. You probably won’t need this when you start, so stick to the free app for now.
The Geocaching Intro App has pop ups with instructions the first time you use it, which is really helpful.
For Android phones, C:geo is the most popular app and is also free to download and use. Android users rave about C:geo and I have used it myself and love the functionality. Unfortunately, it’s not available for iOS devices.
I will go in to detail on how to make the most of the features of both apps in another post, but for now, all you want to do is choose the cache you’re searching for and navigate to it.
Before you go, don’t forget to bring a pen or pencil with you. Sometimes they are in the container, but not always and you must sign the logbook to claim the find!
4. I’ve reached ground zero on my device, now what?
Firstly, you should keep in mind that every device that has the functionality to navigate has a margin of error of about -/+5 metres. Taking in to account your own device, as well as the device used to hide the cache, you should be searching around a radius of 10 metres for the container.
The cache has to be kept hidden from muggles (non-geocachers), so you are unlikely to see it sitting out in the open. Look behind a wall, under a bush, in the roots of a tree – anywhere you can think of. If there is a hint provided by the cache owner, use it if you are having trouble. If you are still stumped, read the cache description again (presuming you did this in the first place) and also read past logs for any subtle hints as to the container’s whereabouts. Occasionally, the cache owner will put a spoiler photo in the gallery so you should check there too.
5. I found it! What do I do next?
Congrats! You’re now a bona fide geocacher 🙂 There should be a logbook or logsheet in the container – sign it with your chosen geocaching handle. If you want, you can add the date and a note (if there is room!).
Aside from the logbook, you might also find so-called ‘swag’ items. You can trade these for items of equal or higher value. Usually these will be small things suitable for kids but occasionally you might find something like a carabiner or a keyring.
You might also find a geocoin or travel bug in the cache. These are not to be confused with swag items. They belong to other geocachers and want to travel between caches. Check out my blog post dedicated to how to handle trackable items here.
Try to be stealthy as possible when retrieving and replacing the container where you found it. Muggles can be curious and may take the cache or move it, so try not let them see you.
If anybody asks what you are doing, the truth is always the best thing to tell them, even if they might look at you like you’re insane! I once had a taxi driver tell me I needed to get a hobby when I explained what I was doing. My response? “This IS my hobby!”
6. What do I do now I’m home?
If you found the geocache, you need to log a ‘found it!’on the cache page. Alternatively, if you’re using the app, you can log your finds as you go.
You can write as little or as much as you want but remember: the cache owners are geocachers just like you and your log is often their only reward for their efforts. It’s nice to write a little more than just ‘found it’ or ‘TFTC’ (thanks for the cache), if you can.
Whatever you do, don’t describe the container or give away its location in your log! The cache owner will be within their rights to delete your log, if you do.
You can upload photos of your adventure, but likewise, don’t post any potential spoiler pictures, as they can be deleted too.
7. Remember the Golden Rules
There are not many hard and fast rules of the game. Geocaching.com lists only 3:
- If you take something from the geocache (or “cache”), leave something of equal or greater value.
- Write about your find in the cache logbook.
- Log your experience at www.geocaching.com.
I hope you found this post useful. Let me know in the comments how you get on searching for your first geocache.
© 2016 | Sarah Murphy | All Rights Reserved