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Geocaching for Beginners: Complete Guide to Get Started

Geocaching is a fun outdoor activity you can do with all the family, What is Geocaching & How do you get started? Here's our beginner's Guide

Are you and your family and/or friends looking for an activity that’s fun and exciting, yet also promotes physical activity? If so, you might want to consider getting into one of the latest trends in outdoor recreation: geocaching.

Similar to hunting for treasure for the modern age, geocaching originated in 2002 as a simple game, and over the last nearly two decades, it has evolved into a highly sophisticated global phenomenon, and for good reason.

It’s an exhilarating activity that exercises both body and mind. You’ve probably even heard about geocaching before. But what does it involve? How do you go about getting started?

In this guide, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about geocaching for beginners. The information presented here will help to get you started with this trendy recreational activity so you and your loved ones can enjoy hours of entertainment.

Geocaching Explained

Even if you’ve heard of it before, you may not be exactly sure what geocaching is. So, before we dive into the basics of this activity for beginners, let’s start by explaining what geocaching is.

Geocaching (pronounced “jee-oh-cash-ing”) is a lot like a treasure hunt, but instead of using old maps where “X” marks the spot, this activity involves using a GPS receiver and geographical coordinates to locate a hidden object; additionally, clues may also be given to help fellow geocachers locate the hidden items.

Unlike traditional treasure hunting, the treasure isn’t hidden and buried in a chest, but rather the treasure (known as a “cache”) is hidden in an above-the-ground, environmentally-friendly location.

People around the world participate in geocaching. It’s a super-fun, educational activity that promotes physical fitness and unity. Once you get started and find your first treasure, you’ll see why so many people participate and you’ll be hooked, too!

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What Exactly is a “Cache”?

The term “cache”, as mentioned, is the word used to describe the treasures that fellow geocachers hide, with the intention of you finding them.

  • Caches consist of a collection of little trinkets, charms, knickknacks, or what have you (think small plastic toys, marbles, colored stones, and baubles, for example).
  • Packed with those little goodies is a pen or pencil, as well as a logbook. Sometimes, a disposable camera may be included, too.
  • This collection of items is then placed into a water-tight container and hidden above the ground with some type of object obscuring it; a rock, a shrub, or a tree, for instance.
  • The person who hides the cache then shares the geographical coordinates of the treasure on geocaching websites (www.geocaching.com, for example).
  • Using those coordinates, other geocachers can then search for the treasures that have been hidden.
  • Fellow geocachers also share stories and photos of their adventures.
  • Typically, a 5-star rating system is used to indicate the difficulty level of locating caches, as well as the severity of the terrain on which they’re located.

Once a cache is located, the treasures are examined and the finder can remove one of the items; however, the finder must also replace the item that he or she has taken with something of his or her own choice. It doesn’t have to be expensive at all; just make sure that what you take is of equal or lesser value than the item that you take (more on that later).

Geocaching Guidelines

While the game evolves on a regular basis, geocaching does follow some basic guidelines, some of which include:

  • Caches should never be hidden on the grounds of national parks.
  • When placing caches on privately owned land, make sure to get the permission of the property owner.
  • Under no circumstances should offensive or derogatory items be hidden in a cache; this includes the trinkets that are hidden in the cache, as well as the log book and any photos.
  • A “leave no trace” approach should be take when geocaching. In other words, you should not damage or disrupt the area in any way.

Variations of Geocaching

The rules of geocaching are constantly evolving, which is exactly what was intended when the game was established. Fellow geocachers are always adding new ways to engage, which is part of the reason why it’s such a fun and exciting game.

Examples of different variations of the game include:

  • Caches can contain travel bugs, which are specific baubles that have goals attached to them; traveling from one part of the world to another, for example.
  • In order to reveal the coordinates, ciphers need to be solved.
  • Sometimes, the clues to locating the cache are encoded. With this variation of the game, you can usually click on the clues on the website to reveal what they mean or you can leave them encoded to increase the challenge.

Those are just a few examples of the different variations of geocaching. As this global treasure hunting game continues, the variations will also continue evolving. It’s exciting to think about the new variations that will be introduced in the future.

How to Get Started with Geocaching

So, how do you get started with geocaching? First, it’s important to note that anyone and everyone can participate in this game, no matter where they are located in the world. Additionally, you don’t have to pay any fees to join.

Below, we share some tips so you can join in on the geocaching fun!

Visit a Geocaching Website

To get started, you’ll need to visit a geocaching website. There are several different sites to choose from, but we recommend Geocaching to get you started.

This is one of the most widely used websites for this international treasure hunt. To give you an idea of the scale, it contains more than 3 million coordinates for caches in virtually every corner of the globe.

As mentioned, a 5-star rating scale is usually used to indicate the level of difficulty for caches. Typically, the rating is located next to the coordinates of each cache for easy usability.

Geocaching Website
The Geocaching Website

Get a Map and a GPS Device

In order to find the coordinates of a cache, you’ll need a map and a GPS device. There are lots of GPS apps that you can download on your mobile device, or you can use a handheld GPS navigator.

We recommend getting a GPS navigator because while apps may be useful, depending on where you’re searching, your device may not get service. Handheld GPS devices, however, are always reliable.

In addition to your GPS device, you’ll also want to have a physical map of the location. A map can show you important features that a GPS device cannot; waypoints, for example, may not be visible on a GPS navigator, but they’re always featured on a map.

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Additional Equipment and Tools

In addition to the coordinates of a cache and a GPS device, there are some other tools and equipment that you might want to bring along. Depending on the location, you may not need all of the following items, but here’s a list of some of the recommended gear that can make geocaching a more successful experience.

  • A compass. This will come in handy if your GPS device or the app on your mobile device fails.
  • A backpack. You backpack will definitely come in handy to carry all of the other equipment that you’ll be taking along with you; your map, a geocache you may be hiding, snacks, water, etc.
  • A water bottle. You’ll definitely want to bring along some water so that you can stay hydrated while you’re searching for a cache.
  • A waterproof jacket. You never know when rain is going to be in the forecast. It’s always a good idea to pack along a waterproof jacket, just in case you get stuck in an unexpected drizzle or downpour. It could also be useful if your trek ends up taking you into a damp location, such as near a waterfall.
  • A change of clothes. You might want to consider bringing along a change of clothing; just in case you come in contact with any water.
  • First aid kit. Cuts, scrapes, bumps, and bruises can happen at any time. You don’t want a little mishap to spoil your fun, so make sure you bring along a first aid kit, complete with bandages, over-the-counter pain reliever, antiseptic gel, and other basic essentials.
  • Sunscreen. You’ll want to protect yourself from the sun, too, so make sure you pack some sunscreen for your adventure.
  • A multi-tool. This can come in really handy for more challenging caches.
  • A headlamp. When the sun starts to go down and you still haven’t found your cache or you end up in a dark wooded area or even a cave, a headlamp will definitely be useful.
  • A notebook and pen. The majority of geocaches will features a pen or pencil and a logbook; however, you should also consider taking your own notebook and pen along so that you can jot down your experiences or leave a note for the next geocacher who comes through.
  • A cell phone. If you’re using an app on your cell phone as your GPS, you’ll already have your phone with you; however, if you are using a separate handheld GPS device, it’s important that you remember to bring along a phone, too. You’ll want to have a way to get in touch with others when you’re out exploring.
A Geocache attached to a tree
A Geocache attached to a tree

Geocaching Etiquette

It’s extremely important that you adhere to proper geocaching etiquette. Above all else, you should always follow the Golden Rule, which is to treat other geocachers the same what that you would want to be treated. By adhering to geocaching etiquette, you can protect the survival of the game.

In addition to the Golden Rule, here are some other basic geocaching etiquette tips that you should keep in mind:

  • Caches should be positioned in locations where they aren’t easily visible to people who are passing by; however, they should be able to be accessed with ease and without doing any damage to the flora or the terrain of the surrounding area.
  • Containers or boxes that are used to hold a cache should be camouflaged so that it blends in with the surrounding area.
  • Avoid sharing the exact location of your hiding spot with other people. Once you find a cache, discreetly move it before you open it and examine the contents inside.
  • Signing your name to the log book inside the cache is definitely recommended. This will let the person who hid the treasure know who has found it, and it also lets other geocachers know who else have found it. Make sure you go to the site where you located the coordinates for the cache and register them there, too.
  • Always make sure that trade items or trinkets that you exchange are of equal or greater value to the items that you take; it wouldn’t be fair to leave something of lesser value.
  • If you find a geocache that contains a travel bug, it’s acceptable to take it, as these items are supposed to travel across the globe. However, do note that you must place the travel bug into another geocache in some other location. Make sure that you log the number of travel bug on the site where you find the coordinates of the cache that it was found in so that the owner can keep track of its travels.
  • Once you located a cache, make sure that you place it back exactly where you found it. While it might be tempting to try and find a better or more complex location to hide it, avoid doing so. It’s not your cache to re-hide.
  • Always keep in mind the age-old rule of geocaching: CITO: Cache In, Trash Out. This rules means that you should always gather and properly dispose of any rubbish that you may find along your travels. You should always aim leave the landscape in better condition than you found it.

How to Play the Game

Put simply, geocaching involves navigations to the geographic location of different caches. You do this by using the coordinates that provided with each cache you set out to find. The rules of the game are super simple. Here’s a basic overview:

  • Visit a geocaching website (one of the ones recommended above, or any other site you would like).
  • Browse through the different caches that are listed on the site and choose one that intrigues you.
  • Input the coordinates of the cache site (this is also known as the waypoint) directly into your GPS device or the app that you’ve downloaded on your mobile device. When putting the coordinates of a waypoint into your GPS device, enter the latitudinal and longitudinal line, which is expressed in Degree Decimal Minutes (DDM), the standard method used for geocaching. Do note, however, that sometimes a Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) system may be used, which is an easier system to use for map reading systems. The UTM system was developed by the military and divides a map into gridlines that are spaced 1,000 meters apart and makes it a lot easier to see and determine distances.
  • Once you’ve got your geocaching coordinates loaded into your GPS device, you’re ready to go out and find your treasure!
Geoaching is a fun outdoor activity
Geoaching is a fun outdoor activity

Tips for Geocaching Success

Now that you’ve found a cache that you want to find, you can set out on your adventure. To ensure that your geocaching experience is as enjoyable and successful as possible, here are some handy tips to keep in mind.

  • Check the weather. It’s a good idea to check out the weather forecast before you head out. Ideally, you’ll want to choose a day when the weather is clear. Mild temperatures are best, but you can certainly geocache when it’s chilly out, too.
  • Dress appropriately. It’s important to dress for the weather to ensure that you are comfortable and well-protected. For example, if it’s cool, a hat, a fleece or coat, long pants, gloves, a beanie, and a pair of long socks are highly recommended. In warm weather, shorts or lightweight pants, a short sleeved shirt, or a tank top should be fine.
  • Wear the right footwear. You’ll likely be walking for a long time, so it’s important to wear comfortable and supportive shoes. Even in warm weather, you should avoid sandals and flip flops; your feet will thank you! If the cache indicates that the terrain is rugged, you might want to opt for hiking boots, as they’ll provide you with the traction and support you’ll need.
  • Groups are better than solo treks. While you can certainly geocache on your own, when you’re just getting started, going with a group – or at least one other person – is highly recommended. Not only will you have someone else that you can rely on, but you’ll also have others that you can share your experience with. While geocaching is pretty easy – especially simple caches – until you get the hang of it, it’s safer to travel in numbers.
  • Leave a flight plan. Whether you’re going in a group or alone (though, as we said, geocaching in the beginning is best done with at least one other person), you should leave a flight plan behind. This plan should include the coordinates of the cache you’re looking for, as well as any other travel arrangements. It should also include a way to get in touch with you. Leave your flight plan with someone you trust. If an emergency arises, that person will be able to locate and get in touch with you.

Reasons to Give Geocaching a Try

Why should you get into geocaching? There are lots of reasons! Here’s a look at some of the most common reasons why people around the world participate in this modern-day scavenger hunt.

  • It’s a lot of fun. The main reason why geocaching has become such a popular pastime: it’s fun! There’s something so exhilarating about searching for hidden treasure and then actually locating that treasure. It really is quite thrilling.
  • It’s unifying. Not only is geocaching a great way to connect with family and friends who join in on the hunt, but it’s also a great way to connect with people from around the globe! It’s super cool to be able to interact with fellow geocachers who come from all corners of the world. Even if you never get to meet them in person, you’ll feel connected to others, and that’s pretty awesome.
  • It’s great exercise. Geocaching is a great way to get some much-needed exercise. It isn’t a boring workout at the gym, but the results may be even better! Trekking out in nature across various types of terrain will definitely get your heart pumping.
  • It teaches respect for nature. Now, more than ever, it’s important to have respect for nature, and geocaching is a great way to do that. In fact, one of the underlying principles of geocaching is to respect the environment. One of the cardinal rules is to pick up and properly dispose of any trash that you come into contact with and to leave the environment better than you left it.
  • It’s inexpensive. As stated, you don’t have to pay any fees to geocache; it’s totally free! Anyone can participate in this activity, which means that economic status plays no part in the game.
  • It’s rewarding. Searching for and finding a collection of treasures by using nothing more than coordinates and maybe a few clues is really rewarding. Once you find your first cache, you’ll instantly find out why so many people love taking part in this activity, and why it’s become one of the most popular outdoor activities in the world. Plus, you’ll get to collect small trinkets from other people, and you’ll get to leave little baubles behind for other people, too. All in all, it’s definitely a rewarding experience.

Summing It Up

If you’re looking for a low-cost, fun, and exciting way to get outside, enjoy nature, and get some physical activity in, then geocaching is definitely an activity that you should consider trying. Use the information presented in this guide and you’ll be sure to have a great time!

Jake

Jake is an explorer, he loves all types of outdoor pursuits such as hunting, fishing & hiking. Jake has been a full-time writer & blogger for many years now and he's here to share his passions with the BeActiveOutdoors readers. Contact Jake@beactiveoutdoors.com

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