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Geocaching 101

If you’ve been looking for a new outdoor hobby or interesting ways to use your global positioning system (GPS), geocaching might be on your radar. If you’ve been curious for a while, or you’re thinking, “What the heck is geocaching?” then you’re in the right place.

What is geocaching?

Geocaching is an outdoor, real-life treasure hunt. Using GPS devices, participants venture out to a specific set of coordinates in an attempt to find a hidden container known as a geocache. These geocaches may be located anywhere — from deep in the woods to hidden in urban centers.

How does geocaching work?

Geocaching uses GPS technology and the website accompanied by its smartphone app to find cache locations, create a list of caches and log the items found or added to each cache. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Invest in a GPS device or GPS-compatible smartphone;
  2. Visit and set up an account; and
  3. Set your course and search for caches near you.

Geocaching guidelines & tips

From geo-rules to geo-etiquette, there are some things to keep in mind before you go hunting for treasure.

  1. Geocaches should remain hidden from the public eye, so when hunting around regular folks, keep a low profile and don’t give away the cache’s location.
  2. Trade cache items properly. Swap out items of equal value or, better yet, replace the items you remove with even better stuff.
  3. Always log your cache. Each cache should have its own logbook or sheet of paper. You should also do this on the app or site.
  4. Exercise caution when planting geocaches. Don’t cache food, or scented items that may be attractive to hungry animals.
  5. Know the difference between trackable items — known as travel bugs — and regular cache items. Travel bugs have a unique tag and often come with a directive like “travel from Maine to New Zealand.” If you pick up a travel bug, you are agreeing to take it to another geocache and help it on its journey.
  6. Use waypoints (digital location markers) on your GPS or app to log all the twists and turns of your hike so you can retrace your steps.
  7. Be safe and legal. Don’t plant geocaches on private property, and use common sense safety precautions.
  8. Carry a cache repair kit as a matter of good etiquette. If you can, leave the cache in better shape than your found it.
  9. Respect the environment and follow “CITO.” Cache in, trash out.

What to bring when geocaching

Before you suit up and hit the trail, make sure you’ve got your gear. If you’re hiking longer distances through woods, take some time to review your checklist for the necessities.

  1. Waterproof backpack. The weather is not always predictable so protect all of your gear with a quality waterproof hiking backpack.
  2. Hiking boots. Sneakers aren’t your friends when you’re hiking rugged terrain. Invest in a good pair of hiking boots and your feet will thank you.
  3. Extra socks. Don’t underestimate the elements. Dry feet are important, so be prepared.
  4. Water. Bring plenty of water and stay hydrated even on short hikes.
  5. Whistle. A whistle is a good device to wear on a cord; if you take a nasty fall on a solo hike, this is a good way to signal for help.
  6. Batteries. Your GPS is your best friend until it runs out of juice and becomes an expensive plastic brick.
  7. First aid kit. Bring your first aid kit and be prepared.
  8. Tweezers. Tiny, smaller-than-usual microcaches can be stubborn little things. Tweezers can be a godsend.
  9. Pen & Paper. A pen will come in handy for logging things in smaller caches where there’s no room to store one, and it’s good to have extra paper in case the cache is out of it.
  10. Smartphone. Whether your phone is your primary GPS, or you want to cut down on the number of items you carry, a smartphone can help streamline the process. Be aware that a smartphone is not an ideal substitute for a GPS when hiking through wilderness or areas with heavy tree cover.
  11. Snacks. As a rule of thumb, never hike hungry.
  12. ROT-13 decoder. uses the ROT-13 cipher to encode hints. Carry a piece of paper with the substitutions written on it, or use your smartphone to run text through the cipher.
  13. Trash bags. Make it a point to pick up a few items of refuse and leave the area cleaner than when you arrived.
  14. Plastic bags. Electronics don’t like the rain, and if you get stuck in a downpour you’ll want to protect all your goods.
  15. Cache repair kit. Bring some logbooks, storage bags, pens and a small towel.
  16. Mirror. When you’re hunting caches in awkward places, a compact mirror is a handy tool.
  17. Knife. You always need a good knife or multitool on a hike. When a cache gets overgrown, a knife is your best friend.

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