If geocaching sounds like something you’d like to try, then you’ve come to the right place. This article will take you step by step through finding your first geocache.
In order to get started, you’ll need to visit the website, www.geocaching.com. It’s free to sign up and only takes a minute. When choosing a username, choose something you will want to keep; it’s the name you will use to log your finds and how you will eventually become known in the geocaching community. Of course you can always use your real name if you prefer.
Once you are signed in, decide on an area in which to seek your first cache. While geocaches are hidden all over the world, I recommend staying close to home for now, but any familiar place will do. Go to the “Hide amp; Seek a Cache” page and search your area of choice for a cache to find. If you want to narrow your search area, you can choose “Search with Google Maps” and enter a zip code or an entire address.
Once you have the possible caches in your area on screen you will want to pay attention to several things. First, the Difficulty and Terrain ratings will let you know what to expect from the cache. The Difficulty indicates, on a scale of one to five stars, how hard the actual hiding place will be. A cache with a one star Difficulty rating might simply be hidden under a pile of sticks; a two may be less obvious and a four or five may be extremely well camouflaged. The Terrain rating, on the other hand is a measure of the physical exertion required to get to the cache site. A Terrain rating of one is wheelchair accessible, whereas a 1.5 might require the seeker to step up onto a curb or steps. A Terrain rating of five stars would require special equipment to reach the coordinates – perhaps a boat, mountain climbing gear or scuba equipment.
The other thing to look for when choosing a cache is the size. The smallest, a “micro”, is the size of a film canister or smaller. A “small” may be about the size of a peanut butter jar and a “regular” might be a 1-gallon container. This information will help you to know what you are looking for. Once you choose the cache that you will seek, you should print out the cache info page and take it with you. Before you log off, zoom in on your map and take a good look at the cache area so you have an idea to where you will drive. You can print the map as well if your GPS receiver doesn’t have built-in maps. You will need to input the coordinates from the cache page into your handheld GPS receiver as well.
Before you head out the door, there are a few more things you should do. Preparing to go geocaching is much like preparing for any outdoor sport like hiking or camping: check the weather and dress appropriately; wear good tennis shoes or boots if you are going into the woods; wear sunscreen and/or bug spray if needed and maybe take along a poncho. I also suggest that you carry a backpack with a pencil, a water bottle, your handheld GPS receiver, spare batteries and a few items for trading. For more information on trade items, watch for my upcoming article, “Geocaching 102: Trade Items – Trade Up or Trade Even”.
Now that you are prepared, you can head out to the cache location. Generally speaking, there are three steps involved: driving, hiking and searching. You’ll want to drive to the general area of the cache based on your map. Obviously, if the cache is located in a local playground or park, for example, you will only be able to get as close as the parking lot.
For the second step, hiking or walking, take your handheld GPS receiver and follow the pointer on the Compass screen (Garmin models) to the cache coordinates. This may take you on a walk of as little as 100 feet or as much as ¼ mile, ½ mile, or considerably more. If there is a path or trail, stay on it for as long as possible, even if it doesn’t seem the most direct route. On my first cache hunt, my daughter and I bushwhacked through 100 yards of thorns only to find that the cache was right off the trail we had started on.
As you approach the coordinates of the cache you will begin to search the area. It’s important to note that GPS receivers are accurate to within about six to 20 feet under the best conditions. That means that once you arrive at the listed coordinates (“ground zero”), you may still have to search a 20 foot radius around you. If you are under tree cover, or standing near a mountain or building that may inhibit satellite reception, your search area may be considerably larger.
Begin searching for things that seem out of place or spaces in which a container could be hidden. Remember that a well placed cache will not be immediately visible to anyone not playing the game. If there are people around, please try to be discreet so as to not give away the cache location to non-players (affectionately called “muggles”).
Once you find the cache, open it up and find the log book inside. Sign it with the date and your chosen geocaching name. If the cache contains trade items, feel free to take some thing as long as you leave something of equal or greater value. Note in the log book what trades you made. If you would like to write a few words about your experience, feel free to do so. Some geocachers enjoy reading the logs of previous finders. Make a note for yourself as to what you took and left, if anything, and then carefully rehide the cache exactly as you found it. If you don’t make a trade, you can write “TNLN” – took nothing, left nothing.
Congratulations! Now that you have found a geocache, logged it and replaced it, you can head back to your car, remembering to pick up any trash you may find on your way back. When you get home, log back into www.geocaching.com, go back to the cache page and log your find online.
Search for the relevant info about geocache and utilize it to your advantage where everyone is spoilt for choice where you also need to look up the best treestands for hunters that would aid you in the quest.