Geocaching Tips for Beginners

sign on tree

This guide on geocaching tips for beginners will teach you everything you need to know about this exciting hobby. Geocaching is a fun activity that combines treasure hunting using GPS coordinates and online interface. It encompasses online computer gaming, puzzle solving, and physical activity not to mention a fun adventure in the great outdoors. If you’re interested in learning more about geocaching and what you can do to avoid making any embarrassing mistakes on your first adventure, then this guide will walk you through the steps you need to take to start your first adventure, the dos and don’ts of the game, and how to get started.

What is Geocaching?

Basically, it’s a huge high-tech treasure hunt. It combines outdoor adventures with GPS tracking and it’s a great activity for people of all ages. To date, there are over three million geocaches that are hidden all over the world in urban areas, trails, and in parks. The first step is obtaining the GPS coordinates and finding the box.

How to Get Started

This is a safe game for everyone to enjoy. However, just like with any type of hobby, there are some precautions that you’ll need to keep in mind.

First, get permission. As a geocacher, you must get permission from the landowner, if you want to place a cache on their property.

Dressing appropriately will also be important, since you will be exposed to the elements, insects, and possibly, challenging terrain. Bring along water, sunscreen, and insect repellent, in addition to snacks, and other necessities.

Always be mindful of your surroundings. Stay on course and avoid wandering in rural environments. Make sure you always let someone know where you’re going, especially if you’re hitting some backcountry cache where you will not have cellphone service and you’re heading out alone.

Where Can I Go Geocaching?

There are many aspects of this game that make it a great choice for people of all ages. It’s very versatile and you’re likely to find caches pretty much anywhere. Regardless of where you live, you probably pass by several caches on your daily route, so you don’t have to go far to find one.

When you’re geocaching, you can bring the kids along, go with friends and family, or head out on your own treasure hunting adventure.

One of the best things about geocaching is that it often takes places in locations that you might not otherwise explore. You can drive or walk past a certain cache spot every day, but when you’re actively caching, you’ll find yourself taking a deeper look at your surroundings. It can also be very educational as well since the cache description will often explain the history behind the object.

Hiding a Geocache

pointing at an item in the woods

Anyone that’s registered can hide a geocache. However, cache listings have to be approved and submitted to an administrator in order to ensure the cache listing follows the rules.

The is done to make sure that a cache can be maintained if a problem arises with the person who is responsible for it.

 

 

There are certain locations that geocaches are not allowed. This includes the following:

  •           Government property
  •           Airports
  •           State parks
  •           National parks
  •           Schools

Creating Your Own Geocache

Before you can start hiding a geocache, you need to understand what makes a good one. First, you need to use an original container, choose the right location, and create a good listing. Planting a large piece of ammo can make sense when it’s located off an old trail, but it won’t make much sense hidden in the middle of an urban area.

​You can also buy a kit that’s ready to hide from many sellers online. This type of kit will come with everything including logs, stickers, and containers, in addition to items that you can use to personalize your cache.

Boxes

These boxes come in different shapes and sizes. While the boxes can be made out of any type of material, they’re usually made out of plastic, wood, or metal and they’re designed to withstand the elements. Boxes may be plain, or they may have once contained some type of product such as ammo or food. These boxes are often hidden in a non-intrusive safe place.

The contents of the boxes are not the point of this game. Really, meeting new people, exploring new places, and the thrill of the discovery itself is what geocaching is all about.

Once you discover a box, you’ll open it, write your name down in the log, then take something from the box and leave something behind. You need to bring along a few trinkets to swap on your adventure, and something to write with.

Hiding Spots

Not all caches will be easy to find. Some can even be disguised as rocks. People can be very creative when it comes to hiding and disguising a cache. Remember, while a cache can be hidden under or behind a rock, it’s against the rules to bury a cache.

A cache can also be disguised as a birdhouse. Some will have bottoms that open up, while others will have flaps that open up. Some caches disguised as a birdhouse may even be hung with other ordinary birdhouses. Because of this, I always recommend having the general coordinates before you look, to save time.

One of the most common places you’ll find a cache is in a tree. This is especially true if the cache is located in a rural setting.

What You’re Allowed to Put in a Geocache

time capsule

Usually, you’ll find a small container that’s watertight and contains a log for geocachers to find. Larger caches will contain swag or trackables. There’s no typical cache, however, there are specific types of caches that are popular.

These caches will range in size from the size of a pencil eraser to the size of a five-gallon bucket. These caches are often hidden by camouflage to prevent them from being easily detected.

Some caches have been designed to look like everyday items such as magnets, rocks, bricks, and bolts.

A traditional container consists of ammo containers, film containers, bison tubes, or other types of waterproof containers.

There will be times when you stumble upon a box with a theme. The description of the box may request something specific such as a small toy or a foreign coin. It may be a multi-part cache that will contain more clues for the location of the next cache. The contents will vary from box to box.

Geocoin and Travel Bug

In some cases, you may find a trackable game piece such as Geocoin or Travel Bug. You can use these treasures and place them in the next cache you visit. They’re tracked online as they go from spot to spot all over the world. Travel Bugs are usually attached to an item and look like a metal tag.

What to Bring Along

Most people who geocache will keep a pack with all of their gear on hand. In order to be prepared for your trip you’ll need to bring along trinkets to trade out, a knife, flashlight, weather gear, batteries, a log, and some pens. The bag should also be waterproof, so you won’t have to worry about damaging your gear if you get caught in inclement weather. You can find many sites that specialize in this type of gear including swag, sneaky containers, bison tubes, and GPS devices.

​Finding the Cache

  • Sign up for an account at GeoCache.Com. This is where you’ll find listings for different caches located all over the world. Choose one and take note of the clues given regarding the description, or the GPS coordinates. If you’re using GPS, keep in mind that forested areas, tall buildings, and cloud coverage can impact the accuracy of a GPS.
  • During your search, physical persistence, critical thinking, puzzle-solving, stealth, and patience will be important.
  • If you’ve chosen a cache that has coordinates, then you’re basically looking for something that’s hidden in plain sight. You may come across tells that will help. When you reach the site, get in there and get your hands dirty, poke around, lift up rocks, take out your flashlight and look in holes in logs, areas with dense brush, and other possible hiding places. Try not to get discouraged if you’re unable to find the cache right away.
  • When you locate a cache, open it and be sure to sign the log. Do not put your real name. instead, you’ll use the username from your Geocache account. You should also sign the online visitor log.
  • Once you’ve completed signing in both logs, place the cache back where you found it. If you’ve searched and searched and were unable to find the cache, or it’s damaged, make sure you contact the cache owner.
  • If you’re searching for a cache, there are many affordable and free apps you can use that are designed for both Android and iOS devices.
  • You can also purchase a GPS unit. Some models are designed specifically for geocaching.
  • The type of equipment you use will heavily depend on how serious you are about geocaching and how often you plan to do it.
  • A casual player who normally heads to a semi-rural or urban location will usually do well with using just an app. However, the serious player will want a GPS unit since they’re better for more rural locations and will not be limited due to a lack of cell service like a smartphone will be.
  • When it comes to the GPS you use or the smartphone app, you need something that will display the coordinates, in addition to a map that will provide the approximate distance and location. You should also use a device that’s able to handle terrain considerations.

Trading Swag

When it comes to trading the contents of a box, there are some rules you must stick to:

  • You can never take an item without leaving one that’s of the same or greater value.
  • Never put food in a cache since it can attract animals and insects.
  • Swag must always be kept G-rated since this is a game that’s played by people of all ages.

Geocaching Terms

buried item

In the geocache world, there are many terms that you’ll need to become familiar with, such as travel bug or swag. Below, you’ll find a list of the most popular terms and their meanings.

Muggles

Muggle is a term that was created for the Harry Potter book series. In the books, the term referred to people who were not witches and wizards. The term muggle is used in geocaching to refer to non-geocachers.

FTF

FTF stands for first to find. This refers to the first person to find a newly placed cache and this person gets bragging rights and the pleasure of entering their name first in a log.

DNF

This stands for did not find and it’s used when a person is unable to locate a cache. If online reports show several DNFs in a row, this can mean that the cache is missing.

TFTC

TFTC, or thanks for the cache, is commonly used in the log to say thanks to the person who created the cache.

CITO

This term stands for cache in, trash out, and it’s a great way to encourage geocachers to clean up the route they’re caching.

TNLN

The took nothing left nothing term is used when the cacher doesn’t take anything from the cache and left nothing behind.

Swag

This term refers to any trinkets or coins that a cacher may find in a cache.

Other Geocaching Tips

  • Your hunt will begin at home. Begin by researching different geocaches and look for one that will work for you. If you’re doing this with the kids, then a cache that’s located at the park is a great choice for a first adventure. Make sure you check the cache’s attributes first since it can give you helpful resources when you choose your first one.
  • Take into consideration the difficulty of the surroundings and terrain where the cache is located. Find out how the cache is placed. Keep in mind that they will not be buried, but they are hidden. Remembering this can help you find a cache faster.
  • Take a look at the surrounding areas on the map. Are the areas rural or are they urban? Make sure you adequately prepare for the environment. I also recommend bringing along a map of the area to support your search.
  • If you’ve decided to go alone your first time out, don’t forget to tell someone exactly where you’re going and how long you expect to be gone. If possible, go with family or friends as much as possible. This activity is definitely more fun if you do it in a group.
  • Always bring along the essentials with you, such as a device that’s GPS-enabled, extra clothing, food, water, maps, and a compass.
  • Always check out the environment that you’re heading to, especially during the winter or summer months.
  • Once you make it to a location, don’t try to find the cache. Look for a good hiding spot instead. In most instances, you’ll end up finding the cache this way.
  • Your GPS device should remain on at all times.
  • When you’re closing in on a cache, make sure you check the signal on your GPS. Focus on the distance decreasing more so than the arrow on your GPS device as you move in closer.
  • Always remember to sign the logbook and put the date. Leave a message noting your experience searching for the cache.
  • When you take something from the cache as a trade, make sure you put a trinket of your own inside it before you carefully seal it and return it to the exact place you found.

Final Thoughts

These geocaching tips for beginners will help guide you along your first adventure. Now, you know how to sign up for this exciting new hobby, how to prepare for any type of adventure, and what you can expect to find, whether you’re heading out to the backcountry or taking a trip downtown to look for the latest geocache in your areas.

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