A Family-Friendly Way To Exercise
Geocaching is great exercise for your mind and your body. It’s fun, and unlike most leisure activities, you can do it alone or with a big group. It’s very family-friendly, and you can bring the family dog along too if you like. It’s the thoroughly modern version of an old-fashioned treasure hunt. Unlike treasure hunts that use a rough-looking map marked with a big, red X, you use a hiking GPS device that supplies you with a set of coordinates to lead you to the treasure, sometimes with other clues supplied to make it easier or more interesting to find a hidden hoard and claim your geocache.
Geocaching Is New, But Growing Rapidly
While treasure hunts are an old pastime, the idea for geocaching is only about 15-years old. Geocaching was made possible when the US Department of Defense stopped scrambling the GPS signals that global positioning satellites emit. Once the signals were readable by anyone with a device that could pick them up, there was an explosion in the civilian use of GPS for any number of devices, especially handheld and automobile navigation devices. Enthusiasts began hiding caches of interesting baubles here and there out in the landscape, then providing their satellite coordinates to a quickly growing email list of people interested in finding what was originally called a geostash. That name didn’t last long, and enthusiastic GPS treasure hunters soon changed the name to a geocache. That original email list of geocachers has expanded greatly, and now there are many websites that host geocache database information. There are now over one million known caches hidden around the world, and the list grows rapidly on a daily basis.
The rules of geocaching are changing constantly as users think up new and fun ways to make use of the locating power of their GPS devices and the easy availability of other enthusiasts via social media. A few of the newer and more interesting ways of geocaching include requiring players to solve some form of puzzle or cipher in order to unlock coordinates that help them located caches. Some geocachers include trinkets, commonly referred to as travel bugs, that indicate a distant location that requires extensive travel, sometimes as far away as another continent.
Some Geocaching Basics
While there are many different groups that practice geocaching, each with different approaches and rules, there are a handful of standard geocaching guidelines thatthe overwhelming majority of enthusiasts adhere to closely:
- Geocaches should not be placed on private property without explicit permission
- Geocaches shouldn’t be left in National Parks or other sensitive wilderness areas
- The contents of geocaches shouldn’t be offensive to anyone that discovers them
- Geocaches should be hidden enough so that they’re not visible to casual passersby
- Geocachers should be able to find and replace any geocache without disturbing the site, or littering
- Geocaching etiquette is based on the Golden Rule: Treat others as you’d like to be treated
- Since hidden devices can be alarming for people not familiar with geocaching, the geocache container should be camouflaged to blend in with its surroundings
- The fun of geocaching is finding things on your own, so don’t reveal the exact location of caches to others
- If you discover a travel bug, you’re not required to take it all the way to the distant location indicated on it, but you’re expected to put it in another geocache, ideally closer to the ultimate destination than where you found it
- It’s considered good manners to report your discover of a geocache to other users on the website where you found out about its existence
- Geocaches often contain items called trade trinkets, and if you take one, you’re supposed to leave one in return for the next person to find
Handheld GPS Makes Geocaching Simple and Fun
Handheld GPS devices like Garmin eTrex, Montana, Monterra and Oregon and the Magellan eXplorist make geocaching fun and easy to enjoy. Some GPS devices are optimized for geocaching, and have dedicated utilities built in to enter and keep track of your geocaching treks as well as your cache discoveries. The majority of devices simply require map coordinates that indicate the location of hidden caches. These coordinates can be expressed in classic longitude and latitude increments of degrees, minutes, and seconds, or sometimes in military style coordinates called Universal Transverse Mercator projections. These UTM maps divide the topography into 1,000-meter squares that make locating landmarks on a map very easy. Geocache coordinates might be listed on one or the other coordinate formats, but almost any geocaching-capable GPS device can convert one from the other.
Some Commonsense Items for Your Geocache Outing
Geocaching can be enjoyed in urban, suburban, or wilderness settings. Since by definition you’ll be unsure of exactly how long it will take you to find your geocache, and you’ll often be hiking over unfamiliar terrain, it’s important for geocachers to make a few commonsense preparations to make sure you get home safe and sound.
Geocachers often carry the same kinds of gear that any hiker might bring along, but here’s a handy list of items that you’ll find handy when you’re out on a geocaching hike:
- Flashlight – It might be dark by the time you find what you’re looking for and make your way back to your starting point
- Cell phone – Experienced geocachers don’t use a cellphone as the primary navigation device because if it runs out of battery, you won’t be able to navigate or call for help.
- Water bottle – A water bottle is better than any prepared drink because you can refill it almost anywhere
- Extra batteries – Whatever GPS device you’re using to find the geocaches need to work until you reach your destination as well as make it back to your starting point. Most GPS units allow you to swap out alkaline batteries, so carry some along
- Notebook and pens – Geocaching requires keeping track of information, and you’ll be glad to be able to do it quickly and easily. Some GPS units allow you to record geocaches by saving waypoints, and some even have built-in cameras, but you might still need something to write with to figure out geocaching riddles and ciphers
- First Aid Kit – If you’re traveling way out into the country, make sure you’re prepared for any eventuality