Geocaching is a popular outdoor recreational activity done all around the world in which the main goal is to locate small containers called "Geocaches" or "Caches", located in specific coordinates that anyone can go out and try locating by themselves while using a GPS receiver or smartphone with a GPS based navigation app.
Geocaching is a game that involves the internet, GPS map co-ordinates and travel. Players report their treasure hunt activities on-line to gain credits for their finds. Many of the players place caches (treasures) in spots they are quite fond of. So hunting them down will quite often lead to exciting adventures in lesser known locations.
One object of the game is to carry treasure from one cache to the next. Some of the treasures have identification information, so their travels can be tracked on-line.
To play the game you will need a GPS receiver, the cache description (printout or notebook with an internet connection) and about 1 hour spare (more for a difficult cache).
A typical geocache will usually be a waterproof plastic container which contains a small log and sometimes also a pen or pencil. Usually the Geocaches are well hidden, while all you are given are the coordinates of the general area in which it is located, and sometimes one might even have to go through several stations or solve a certain puzzle in order to locate the geocache. The person whom finds the geocache signs the log and indicates on which exact date they found the geocache, in order to document that they were actually there and found it. The geocache must be returned after that to the exact same place where the person found it. Sometimes slightly larger containers are used for geocaches, such as Tupperware containers or ammunition boxes. They will often have in them small items such as small toys/figurines or some cheap jewelry, which will often have some sort of sentimental value rather than monetary value.
Searching for geocaches can often motivate travelers to explore areas they never explored before, especially when they are staying in unfamiliar areas, as by looking for geocaches they might often explore slightly less crowded and touristy areas, and discover interesting places that most tourists don't get to see or even notice if they weren't looking for geocaches - whether they are searching for geocaches in urban areas or in nature.
Types of Geocaching
- Traditional Geocaching (sometimes also called Tradi) - coordinates are provided and one needs to use them to locate a hidden geocache.
- Multiple caches (sometimes also called Multi-Cache or Multi) - very similar to the "Scavenger hunt" game. One has to go through several stations, and in each station one has to use various clues that will help you locate the exact location of the next station. A multi-cache might in many instance take more time to complete in comparison with locating a traditional geocaching cache.
- Mystery cache or Puzzle cache (sometimes also called Mystery) - a puzzle (which can sometimes be quite complex) must be solved in order to be able to figure out the exact coordinates in which the geocache is located. Once one figures out the coordinates, finding the geocach become similar to locating a traditional geocaching cache. Some mystery caches could already be solved from home, so you shouldn't neccesarilty expect to have to find new clues in different locations.
- There are several other types of geocaching one can participate in, in addition to the three most common ones, although not all of them focus on locating geocache containers.
The most basic equipment
Sometimes, when the level of difficulty involved in locating a particular geocache is relatively high, you may need to bring additional equipment with you in order to locate the geocache. In general it is always advisable to carry with you:
- A pen - so that you will be able to document in the log book located inside the geocache container that you actually found the cache. Sometimes there might actually be a pen inside the geocache container that could be used by anyone whom locates the geocache.
- A GPS device and/or smartphone with GPS capabilities/apps - while many people purchase a dedicated GPS device which they carry while trying to locate geocaches, many people use smartphones with GPS based navigation apps.
If you are going to use your smartphone instead of a dedicated GPS device, you should make sure that you take with you a power bank to recharge your phone, as your battery will probably run out much faster due to using the phone much more while trying to locate the geocache. In addition, it is also recommended to install a good GPS based navigation app. In general, you can always get by even with simplest navigation apps that are able to lead you to certain coordinates. However, you should keep in mind that often using apps that specialize in locating geocaches may be better because they display both navigation info as well as info about that specific geocache while you are looking for it, and they will usually work also when you are offline, and they would also allow you to add comments after you are finished. Good geocache apps for Android devices include c:geo and the proprietary app of Geocaching.com which is also available for iOS devices.
Additional equipment worth bringing
Additional equipment one should consider taking with when going to look for geocaches, especially if you are looking for geocaches in nature (some of this equipment might also be necessary when you are trying to locate geocaches in urban areas):
- Clothing best suited for the environment you will be in - these items can include shoes that are suitable for walking in certain terrain conditions, especially when you are expected to walk in the woods, as well as clothes that are of less value to you, just in case that if they might get dirty or ruined it won't cause you heartache.
- Food - it is always advisable to pack some food and a bottle of water when going out to look for geocaches.
- A flashlight/torch - might be useful in locations that might be a bit darker.
- Small items such as small toys, cheap jewelry, or craft items - they could be useful if you'd wish to exchange them with those you find in some geocache containers.
- Gardening gloves - they may be especially useful in locations where one needs to dig a little in the ground to locate the geocache.
- Pocket calculator - when trying to locate a Mystery-Cache one will often need to calculate the coordinates of the exact location where the geocache is located. A calculator might often be helpful for this purpose. Since most smartphones nowadays include an calculator app, they may suffice for this purpose.
Rules of conduct and potential dangers
It is always advisable be discreet when trying to locate a geocache and not arouse the interest of passersby while you are trying to look for the geocache. Particular care should be taken in areas with a lot of passersby (commonly referred to as "muggles") - for example, locations close to busy sidewalks or streets. This is due to the common interest to reduce as much as possible the risk that a passer-by might decide to steal the geocache or destroy it completely. In addition, searching for the geocaches in unusual places can sometimes arouse suspicion towards you by passersby. Once the geocache is located the usual rule is to immediately hide it in the same location in the exact same way it was hidden when you found it. It is also important to make sure that it is not hidden in a better way than the way it was hidden when you found it. If in you found out that the geocache was not hidden anywhere near the coordinates specified on the internet you can indicate this in a note in the geocache log book. In addition, it is also customary to thank the Cache Owner responsible for placing the geocache by adding the acronym "TFTC" in your comment in the log book (which means "Thanks For The Cache").
Since searching for geocaches is usually an activity that takes place in nature, it is always important to take care of the environment - make sure to not throw garbage on the ground, trample plants or disturb animals. If the instructions on the sign at the entrance to a particular site explicitly state that you must not get off the walking path, make sure to always obey this rule. The information posted online about any geocache should always contain information about accessibility considerations, potential dangers, and limitations pertaining to any geocache. Read all of these comments carefully before you head out to locate the geocache.
Like any other activity done in nature, make sure you are safe while looking for geocaches. Potential hazards might include bad weather; dangerous animals or poisonous plants; surface hazards such as slippery soil, steep slopes, strong water currents, or the danger of drowning; risk from traffic while walking on roadsides or of slipping or falling while climbing. Also be aware of when hunting season occurs in forests you plan to traverse. Often the cache owners add a concise description of all the dangers that may be relevant.
Geocaches are added to the Geocaching.com database by many different people. Where a geocache was hidden a long time ago, new potential risks or dangers may have arisen or were unknown to the cache owner. In any case, you should always be careful so that you will always be safe while looking for geocaches.
Sizes, difficulty levels and item replacement
Common classifications for the different sizes of geocaches:
- Micro - any geocache that is smaller than a lunch box. Many times very small geocaches are referred to as a "Nano".
- Small - will usually be the size of a lunch box.
- Normal - will usually be the size of a shoe box, or an ammunition box.
- Big - usually refers to a container that is larger than a shoe box.
- Other - items of other sizes and/or shapes.
The smaller geocaches are usually more difficult to locate, but they will usually be more common in urban areas.
Geocaches can come in a variety of sizes and shapes
Nano caches are a sub-type of micro caches that are most commonly used in urban areas
Lunchbox containers are especially common as geocaches and especially when the geocaches are hidden in nature, away from the urban areas
An ammunition box is considered a "normal" size geocache
There are two different difficulty levels for locating geocaches - the general difficulty level involved in locating a particular geocache, and the difficulty level of the terrain conditions in the area where a particular geocache is located. Both are marked on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being particularly easy and 5 being particularly difficult. The general difficulty usually refers to the difficulty degree of how it was hidden, how difficult it is to solve the puzzle, how difficult it is to open the geocache (e.g. open a physical lock), etc. The difficulty level of terrain conditions usually refers to the degree to which there may be a physical difficulty in reaching a particular geocache - for example the difficulty level rating of 5 may refer to a geocache which one can only reach by climbing, or by making use of other special skills such as diving. The difficulty level of each geocache is determined by the cache owner whom is the person the originally hid that specific cache. For anyone whom has never experienced looking for a geocache it is advisable to start looking for geocaches that are classified as D2 and T2 at most.
Small or large geocaches often contain items (commonly called "SWAG") in the geocache container. It is common that when one takes a SWAG item from the geocache container it is customary to replace it with a different SWAG item that has more or less the same monetary value, or even is of a higher monetary value. In addition, always keep in mind that because the geocache containers are hidden outdoors, and it can sometimes be a long time before someone else locates them, it is best to not put any consumables items back in the container as they might endanger the people whom would locate them eventually or the environment where the geocache is hidden.
Common geocaching glossary
- Word Value - the term is commonly used when the goal is to look for multiple geocaches or a mystery cache. Each letter in the word is converted to a number based on the position of the letter in the alphabet, after which all the numbers are added together.
- For example: the word "Wikivoyage" 23 + 9 + 11 + 9 + 22 + 15 + 25 + 1 + 7 + 5 127
- TFTC (Abbreviation for Thanks For The Cache) - the most popular way to express gratitude and appreciation to the people responsible for the geocache you located.
- Final (or in acronyms FN) - the last station of a multi-cache that refers to the actual container at the last station in which the geocache is located.
- Off - It is common to note that a geocache is considered to be "Off" when its true location does not match the coordinates posted on the internet that everybody have been using in order to try and find it. The term is often used in the comments section of the geocaching app, so that the person who originally hid the geocache will correct his/her mistake, or so that other people that would search for this geocache will be aware of this issue.
- Lost-Place (or in acronyms LP) - most often the term refers to abandoned buildings, or specifically to abandoned historic buildings that used to be used for industrial purposes.
- Muggle - A term, which stems from the Harry Potter series of books, that is used in this context to describe "ordinary" people unrelated to geocaching. The term is most often used when referring to passers-bys whom one might come across while trying to locate a geocache.
- Owner or Cache Owner (or in acronyms CO) - the original person responsible for creating a specific geocache.
- Digit Sum - the sum one gets when adding together all the digits of a number with several digits.
- For example: 239119 2 + 3 + 9 + 1 + 1 + 9 25
- ROT13 - A procedure in which all the letters are changed in a particular word so that each letter is replaced by a letter that is in the 13th position later in the alphabetic order. Alternatively, when one needs to do a ROT5 on a particular word one needs to replace each letter in the word with a letter that is 5 letters ahead in the alphabetic order.
- SWAG (Abbreviation for Stuff We All Get) - a term that refers to the various items, such as small toys or various cheap jewelry, that one can find in the geocache containers, which can be taken by the people who found the geocache, as long as they put a different item in the container.
- Wayoint - a term that refers to an exact location, based on the data one can infer from the latitude, longitude, and sometimes also additional data about how high it is located.
- Spoiler - in the context of geocaching a spoiler is done when one provides information that could ruin the search experience for people that want to look for a particular geocache.
- Signature Item - unique SWAG items that specific people tend to put in the geocache containers after they find them. These items usually include pins, certain crafts, or other items unique to those people.
- First to Find (or in acronyms FTF) - a term commonly used in geocache log books by the first person that located the geocache. There can only be one FTF for each geocache.
- Did Not Find (or in acronyms DNF) - a term commonly used by people who indicate in the geocaching app that they were unable to locate a particular geocache. This helps the person responsible for creating a particular geocache to understand potential issues that might need to fix so that people would be able to locate that geocache in the future. Often when people repeatedly mention "DNF" for a particular geocache, it may be because for one reason or another that geocache no longer exists where it was originally hidden.