Geocaching - Getting Started

Geospatial Technology October 15, 2013 Print Friendly and PDF

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Geocaching - Putting GPS to Work


What is Geocaching?

Geocaching is a recreational activity that involves hiding and seeking objects, or "caches," usually with the aid of a global positioning system (GPS) receiver. You can think of geocaching as a high-tech treasure hunt. People hide caches and publish their coordinate locations to geocaching Web sites, thereby allowing others to use the coordinates to find the hidden caches. Geocaching is done on the honor system. After discovering a cache, finders sign a log and then return the cache to its hiding place. Sometimes a cache may contain a traveling object that the finder takes to a new cache. Information about the new location is then posted on a geocaching Web page. Other caches are exchange caches where you take something and leave something in return. There are currently millions of geocachers across the globe - probably some close to you.

What Do I Need to Get Started in Geocaching?

Getting started is relatively easy. While some geocachers prefer paper maps and traditional orienteering techniques, most geocaching is done using handheld GPS receivers. Geocaching is designed to be simple, so you don't need expensive GPS equipment to participate. Check out this guide to selecting an inexpensive recreational grade GPS receiver.

What Do Geocaches Look Like?

Most geocaches are simply containers, with all sorts of "treasures" thrown in, that are relatively easy to find.

Depending on their size, geocaches can contain treasures left by those who hide them as well as those who find them.

Their size may vary from small, filmlike canisters to metal ammo boxes. They typically contain a log sheet for recording your finds. They may also contain items of "interest" left behind by whomever hid the cache as well as other geocachers.

What to Expect When Looking for Geocaches

Geocaches are typically hidden from view to increase the challenge of finding them and to prevent them from being removed (muggled) by the public. People also hide geocaches to protect them from the elements, curious people, and even animals. Ideally, they should not be hidden where the seeker may be put in a dangerous situation when retrieving them. Most geocaching sites advise that caches should not be hidden where animals, such as snakes or rodents, might take up residence.

Fun Geocaching Things to Do

There are many different types of geocaching that people engage in.

This is an example of a travel bug with a special message designed to promote awareness of Unite for Diabetes.

Not all caches are containers filled with trinkets. Virtual caches are based on finding specific things, such as historical markers, while Earth caches involve finding unique geologic or natural formations. There are geocaching adventures that focus on locating USGS benchmarks. Once you get started with geocaching, you may want to seek out themed or challenge caches to your liking.

Many geocachers place special trackable objects in geocaches and then use geocaching Web sites to monitor where they travel. Some trackable objects include geocoins and travel bugs.

Geocoins, as the name implies, are custom-designed and manufactured coins that can serve as your personal calling card; travel bugs are like dog-tags and often are attached to a "hitchhiker" that carries the travel bug from cache to cache. Often, a geocoin or travel bug has a specific goal, such as traveling to a specific country or city, which makes monitoring its progress more interesting and fun.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.