Friday, June 13, 2008

Geocaching 101

When I post on my normal blog about my geocaching adventures, I always get the questions, “Hey! What is Geocaching??” so let me take a moment to act light Yoda all enlightened will be.

In simple terms, geocaching is a treasure hunt, just a little more high tech and urban like, in most cases. It really doesn’t require much gear, just some sort of GPS unit, the coordinates for the treasure (or in geocaching terms, the cache) and a little sense of adventure. Sure, there are a ton of other things you could use and accessories, as I’ll be sure to mention because I’m the queen of accessories but really it's easy to keep it simple. Let’s take a little deeper dive into the “stuff” of geocaching.

The staple equipment of geocaching, the GPS, you can’t hunt without it! I started off geocaching with a Garmin Nuvi 660. Yes, a standard car GPS unit. It worked! However, it’s not going to give you quite the ease that having a nice little hand held would, like pointing you in the right direction. So, just recently we bought a Garmin eTrex Vista HCX and realized how awesome it is for geocaching, among other things like keeping us from getting lost while hiking. I would highly suggest that you use something like the eTrex for geocaching, however as I have proved, it can be done with anything that you can put GPS coordinates into, as long as your willing to put the effort into looking.

First, what’s a cache, right? Basically it’s a container that will hold at a minimum a log book for cachers to sign to document that they found it. The smallest of caches are called Micro-caches and I’ve seen them in containers as small as a cap of a highlighter marker. Some are big, housed in ammo cans or coffee cans and contain items you can trade out. These are your treasures you’re hunting for!

So, you’ve got your GPS. Now what? Now you log on to a geocaching site and find a treasure to hunt! The most popular by far is (get ready for it)! I’ve just recently found Terracaching as well and it’s right nice. However, for this, I’ll be using the geocaching site as most of my examples as they have a vast amount of caches listed and I think it’s probably the geocaching standard. I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of the site on here, as this is more for a general overview of it (in a little more detail than general overviews usually offer, of course). So you find your geocaches on the site that you want to hunt, you get the coordinates in your GPS either by downloading them directly from the site to your unit or by manually entering them and then.. your off! See, it’s that simple!

Just remember to size up the cache you are going to look for. There’s nothing worse than finding a geocache and not having the proper tools. As, I speak from experience because just yesterday we found a cache and had quite a difficult time. We found a micro-cache just yesterday and didn’t have tweezers with us (even though the hints on the website specifically stated you’ll need them) so we had to basically pull out the log book with a multi-tool. Not easy, but it worked. So, just make sure you realize the terrain you’re going into, how big or small the cache is and anything extra you may need. Most of the time, this information will be posted with the cache info on website listing the cache.
Here’s an idea, and something that I do. I have a geocaching bag thrown in my car. Here’s it’s contents:
Random Dollar Tree Toys (for trading out in bigger caches)
Geocoins/Travel bugs (if I have any)
My Geocaching Notebook

The pen/pencil is because most micro-caches don’t have a container big enough to house a pen or pencil and you don’t want to go through the trouble of finding the cache without signing the log book, do you? I don’t!
Some of the bigger caches will have items held in them for trade. You don’t have to trade anything, and just sign the log book but if you have something to trade, it’s kind of fun. It’s geocaching etiquette to not take anything out of the cache unless your going to trade something for it.
Speaking of trades, this is where geocoins and travel bugs fall in. Check out the links to learn a little more about what they are. Since I don’t own any I can’t speak about them from experience, but I plan on getting at least 1 of each in the near future.
And finally, my geocaching notebook is a key item for me. I typically have a log of the caches I’ve found, not found, etc. I keep notes on the ones I couldn’t find so I don’t repeat my steps over and over during different trips to find it. Plus, this gives me a way that if I just find some random time I want to go hunting, I have all my information with me and I don’t have to go find a computer to look a cache up. I usually keep a bunch of geocaches loaded in my GPS but in some cases I keep paper listings of them too, if they are in areas I’m not in very frequently.

So, there you have it! After this, I’m sure you’ll be ready to go out, grab your GPS and jump into the thick of it. While your out there, just remember one key thing. In order to keep geocaches from being stolen by non-geocaches, practice your stealth, but don’t do it in a way that you look like your about to rob someone!

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