How To: Geocaching

Photo Credit: Cache Mania

Photo Credit: Cache Mania

If you want your kids to love hiking as much as you do, start by calling it a “treasure hunt”

Great hikes often involve a goal. Climbing a mountain to get above the tree line so you can look out over the valley below…navigating through a remote forest to find a waterfall hidden deep in the woods. But not every hike has a natural target to keep you motivated and trudging towards a rewarding finish line. This is where geocaching comes in.

The Wikipedia page for geocaching defines Geocaching as “an outdoor recreational activity in which the participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called ‘geocaches’ or ‘caches’, anywhere in the world.”

Basically, geocaching is treasure hunting with gadgets. For adults, the gadget part of that sentence is probably the turn on. For kids, treasure hunting is where the appeal is. If you ever wanted to get your kids hiking and exploring the outdoors, geocaching is a great way to do it.

Add the hunt for a geocache to any hike and you’ve not only added a goal to your hike, you’ve also transformed your little jaunt into an adventure.

Photo Credit: James Laurence Stewart

Photo Credit: James Laurence Stewart

What you need to get started

First off, a pirate costume is completely optional. Unless you plan on rocking the eye patch. In that case, definitely bust it out.

If you’re going hunting for treasure in the modern age, you’re going to need a couple things. The two required components for geocaching are access to location data coordinates as well as a navigational aid to get you to those coordinates. You can get both of those in your iPhone or Android phone and carry it all around in your pocket. The iPhone comes with a built in compass that will steer you in the right direction. Android users need to add a free compass app.

Your smartphone compass software has decent accuracy. Certainly good enough to get you close to the cache. Some portable vehicle GPS units have live coordinate capabilities and a “walking feature” that you can use if you want something with a little more accuracy. If one day you get really obsessed and are planning family trips to Thailand to go look for geocaches, definitely step up and get yourself a handheld GPS.

Now that you have the device, you need to use it to help you get to a geocache location. The best place to access an ocean of cache location data is to create an account at The web account is free and you can certainly plan ahead by doing some research and taking down some notes. We highly recommend adding the geocaching app to your phone. It is available for iPhone and Android. While it does cost $9.99 and it probably is going to be the most expensive app you have on your phone, so far it’s the only money you’ve spent on geocaching to date. And you’ll easily recover that $9.99 investment when you find that first chest of gold doubloons.

The geocaching app also has a built in compass that will tell you how far you are from your target, but performance of the built-in compass app on the iPhone (not sure about Android) was a lot more accurate in our testing. Give both techniques a try and find what works for you.

Truthfully, the geocaching app is totally worth it. Because the app knows where you are, you can launch it at any time and discover what caches are nearby. Imagine the fun of being able to pullout your phone the next time you are at a park with your kids and say “let’s see if there are any nearby treasures to find!” And these things are everywhere. You’ll be surprised how many caches are within 5 miles of your house. When you find a list of nearby caches, pick one to get some information on how difficult the hike terrain will be, how big (or small) the cache is, and how hidden it is. Definitely choose a larger sized one that is easy to find for your first hunt. It won’t be as easy as you think. It’s far from impossible, but its not like there are neon arrows pointing the way. Remember, these things are hidden.

Photo Credit: JJ Toothman

Photo Credit: JJ Toothman

Now that you’ve geared up

It’s pretty simple. Research coordinates, then use a gadget to help get you to those exact coordinates. When you get to “the spot”, be prepared to look under fallen branches, under rocks, or in bushes. Most cache information also includes a secret hint you can use to help you out more. If you have the geacaching app on your phone, you can access that hint after you’ve been stumped for awhile.

When you reach your goal,you’re going to end up finding a sealed container with a variety of trinkets inside. That’s your treasure and we’re sorry, but it’s usually not gold doubloons. And unless Warren Buffet buried the cache you are seeking, it probably never will be. But don’t tell your kids that. Just tell them you need to keep looking for more treasures.

There really aren’t a ton of rules around geocaching. One important one is to put the cache right back where you found it so the next person can discover it. A good piece of etiquette is if you are going to take a trinket out of the cache, you should put something back in. If you’re wondering what to bring with you for your trade on your first cache, something like a baseball card or a superball will do just fine. Your favorite salsa recipe would be cool to leave behind, but most kids could care less about that. And don’t even think about leaving behind that mini bottle of Jack Daniel’s you took home from a recent hotel stay. That’s just plain wrong (put that in your thermos instead). Most caches also contain a small notebook and pencil. That’s right, caches have their own guestbooks!

Go find your first one this weekend! We’ll be including more tips and information about geocaching in upcoming weeks. There’s an entire scene with its own vocabulary that we haven’t even touched upon. But truthfully, you now know everything you need to go outside and find your first cache. Keep it simple. Go find treasure.

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