How to Get Started With Geocaching

Get Fit While Finding Hidden Treasures

geocaching cache
ra-photos/Getty Images

Did you know that all around you are hidden treasure troves of clues and trinkets only known to modern-day treasure hunters? In fact, according to Geocaching.com, there are well over 2.6 million of these hidden treasures just waiting to be uncovered. If you're willing to turn your next hike into a geocaching adventure, you can join the ranks of other geocachers (a group of more than 6 million worldwide) and unearth your own rewards.

Geocaching Basics

Geocaching is a fairly straightforward endeavor, requiring nothing more than the GPS coordinates of a hidden cache, hiking gear and a GPS device. The trick, however, is knowing how to dive into the underground culture of geocaching.

Luckily, that's fairly simple, too.

In geocaching, you have someone who's hidden a secret cache, and you have people searching for that cache. The cache-hider notes the GPS coordinates for the cache and loads them into a geocaching website, like Geocaching or OpenCaching. The coordinates are then available for geocachers to upload into a GPS device, which can then be used to help locate the hidden cache.

Caches usually consist of a box or container that contains clues, trinkets or some sort of puzzle. What you find in the container will depend on what type of cache it is.

  • Traditional Cache. This type of cache typically includes a log book where you can sign your name and note your find. Sometimes caches also include trinkets or items (the "treasure") that you can take with you. Just remember - if you take something from a cache, be sure to replace it with something of your own of equal or greater value. You may also find a "trackable" inside a traditional cache - trackables are like geocaching game pieces. Most trackables have a code that can be followed online, and trackable owners set goals for the trackables movements - for instance, visiting every state in the U.S. If you take a trackable with you, you must log its movements online and help it on its journey. If you don't take it with you, you can still "discover" it by noting your discovery in the log book.
  • Multi Cache. A multi cache is exactly what it sounds like - a traditional cache set up in multiple stages. When you come across the first cache, instead of finding a log book, you'll find the GPS coordinates for the next cache. It's like the ultimate game of hide and seek - you continue discovering the next set of coordinates until you finally come upon the last box that holds the log book and possible goodies.
  • Puzzles. A puzzle cache is a little tricky. The listed coordinates of the cache don't actually take you to the hidden treasure. Rather, they provide you with a general location of the cache (within roughly a mile), and you then have to use clues listed describing the cache to discover its true location. These can be tricky, so they're best left for geocachers who have been doing it for a while.
  • Virtual Cache. Sometimes geocaches don't have you search for a physical cache, but for a specific location where you learn the history of an area. Virtual caches are often used by national and state parks or other federally protected lands because physical caches hidden on protected land are prohibited.

Getting Started

It's very easy to get started with geocaching. First, make sure you have a GPS device. If you have a smartphone, you can download an app designed for geocaching. Two of the most popular free apps include:

    Most other highly rated apps cost between $4 and $10, so you might want to make sure you're committed to geocaching before you buy.

    Once you have an app, simply use an online geocaching system, like OpenCache or Geocaching to locate a cache in your area and upload the cache's coordinates into your app. If you're using an iPhone or Android device, most apps simply allow you to locate the coordinates in the app, so there's no uploading that needs to be done.

    As long as you have the GPS coordinates and a GPS device, you're more-or-less ready to get going, but before you head out the door, take a few safety precautions:

    • Read reviews of the cache to note anything about the area you might need to be aware of, such as rocky ground, creeks or other natural terrain
    • Wear shoes and gear appropriate for the search - athletic shoes or hiking boots may be required
    • Know roughly how long it will take to locate the cache, and plan accordingly - pack water, snacks and sunscreen as needed
    • Pack to enjoy the trip - have a camera and notebook available, and be sure to charge the battery on your GPS device before you go
    • Tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back
    • Bring items to restock the cache if you take something from it

    Etiquette

    Most geocaching etiquette is fairly common-sense. For instance:

    • Don't fill a cache with anything dangerous or sharp
    • Don't fill a cache with trash
    • If you take something from a cache, replace it with something else
    • Don't trespass on private property, and don't dig holes to hide a cache
    • Don't share cache locations with non-geocachers - it ruins the game
    • Understand that the cache belongs to the cache-hider, don't relocate it or take it

    Health Benefits of Geocaching

    Generally speaking, the health benefits of geocaching are those of hiking or walking - it reduces stress, increases heart rate to improve cardiovascular health and can help you maintain or achieve a healthy body composition. Depending on where a hidden cache is located, you might also travel up and down difficult terrain, increasing strength, coordination, balance and agility as well.

    But the real benefit of geocaching is that it's fun. It provides a mental and physical challenge that can make for an exciting activity you can do with your family or friends. If you struggle to stay motivated to exercise in a traditional setting, the benefit of finding hidden treasure just might be enough of a stimulant to keep you on track.

    Continue Reading