Are you looking for a fun, family-oriented activity to spice up your annual camping trip, or just a new idea for a fun day out? Look no further than a real life scavenger hunt with geocaching, the family fun adventure sport-cum-treasure hunt which is taking the outdoors world by storm! In a nutshell, geocaching is a popular outdoor activity consisting of hiding objects for, and finding objects left by, other people in the community. It connects people all over the world, and allows technology to provide clues and coordinates to get as many people outside and hunting as possible! It’s been rising in popularity in accordance with developments in GPS technology and through good old fashioned word of mouth! It’s a good way to get you and your kids spending time outside, will lead to adventures and it’s fun for all the family! Now, with smartphones and apps, it’s never been easier to get started. So what are you waiting for? Let’s find out a little bit more about geocaching…
What is Geocaching?
So, what even is geocaching? It’s often defined as an “adventure sport”, but it may be easier to think of it as a worldwide game of hide and seek. However, instead of finding each other, you’re finding objects that other people have left. Like a worldwide networking of treasure hunts! Using a GPS device, people who are part of the community can hide objects and look for other objects which participants have left in certain locations. The objects are known as “geocaches” or simply “caches”, so named due to the Grecian word “geo” meaning “the Earth”. These caches are bundles, usually in some form of waterproof container, such as Tupperware, and will be hidden at certain coordinates all over the world. A typical bundle of this sort would most likely contain a logbook and a pen/pencil so that people can keep a record of who has managed to find it. They may also include non-perishable food, small games, books, videos and in some cases, software. Sometimes people leave behind more personal items as well, but this isn’t necessary, so you don’t have to part with your beloved trinkets in order to play!
There are many different types of geocaches you can leave for others to find. Take your pick, but make sure your goodies are always hidden in waterproof boxes, to protect from the elements! There are your traditional geocaches, which consist purely of the box and the things inside, as mentioned before. There are multi-caches, whereby there will be multiple geocaches hidden; the first will contain coordinates to the second, and so on. There can also be mystery/puzzle geocaches, where the seeker must first complete a puzzle or game to solve in order to find the geocache. There are even time-specific geocaches, such as night geocaches, where the seeker must search for the geocache at night, using a flashlight to illuminate reflective tape that marks where the treasure is hidden!
Geocaching.com emphasises on their website that Geocaching is a sport that is open to everyone, and that you should think of it as “ real life scavenger hunt ”. Although a small amount of technical knowledge is required, the only device you need to start is your smartphone (any phone with a GPS receiver)! Alternatively, you can buy a GPS device, but if you have a smartphone then you can be geocaching in no time at all. In America, there are over 455,000 geocaches hidden so you are literally always close to one. Let the treasure hunt begin!
The history of geocaching
Geocaching really caught on when selective availability was removed from the Global Positioning System (that’s GPS to you and me). This meant that there was suddenly a much-improved level of accuracy when it came to finding coordinates – perfect for geocaching! However, this is only when geocaching as we know it in its current form grew significantly in popularity. Before there was geocaching, there was something known as letterboxing. Geocaching also shares similarities between benchmarking, trigpointing, orienteering, treasure hunting, waymarking and Munzee, but it is letterboxing that geocaching actually evolved from.
Letterboxing originated in Dartmoor, England, when hikers of the moor left letters for those to come next along the paths, perhaps addressed to family members, friends or even themselves in the future! Clues to where the boxes would be hidden were placed in stories, printed catalogues, or word of mouth. This activity dates back as far as 1854, when some letterboxes were so well-hidden that only the most dedicated hikers and letterboxers would find them. Similarly to geocaching, letterboxes would often contain some sort of logbook or record so that letterboxers could keep track of who had found each box. This activity still exists today, with the most dedicated letterboxers meeting twice a year on the days when the clocks change, to discuss tactics and box ideas.
Geocaching is perhaps the more technology-oriented evolution of this basic activity. As mentioned before, it originated once selective availability was removed from GPS (selective availability meant that GPS used to contain deliberate, time varying errors for up to 100 metres, to prevent precision weapon guidance). This alone points to the more technological aspects of this activity as opposed to the more basic treasure hunt setting of letterboxing. The first example of geocaching can be dated specifically back to the 3rd May 2000, when Dave Ulmer from Beavercreek in Oregon posted on the Usenet newsgroup sci.geo.satellite-nav the following:
“Well, I did it, created the first stash hunt stash and here are the coordinates:
N 45 17.460 W122 24.800
Lots of goodies for the finders. Look for a black plastic bucket buried most of the way in the ground. Take some stuff, leave some stuff! Record it all in the log book. Have Fun!
Stash contians [sic]: Delorme Topo USA software, videos, books, food, money, and a slingshot!
* Sent from RemarQ http://www.remarq.com The Internet’s Discussion Network *
The fastest and easiest way to search and participate in Usenet – Free!”
[taken from: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!msg/sci.geo.satellite-nav/mchHczyzVHo/p_SzccG87HgJ]
The first ever geocache was found twice within three days, the first time by Mike Teague. The success of this first geocache hunt prompted this worldwide phenomenon to begin. Originally referred to using the word “stash” (e.g. “GPS stash hunt” or “gpsstashing”), the word was later dropped due to potential negative connotations, and thus “geocaching” was born!
The activity has expanded and developed a lot since its beginnings, with whole families adopting the activity to add some more fun to their camping trips, or just to have a fun day out. However, this activity can really be enjoyed by anyone and everyone. There is even an app which you can use to post coordinates, have discussions and even post selfies once you have found the caches! The perfect combination for those of us who love camping but are also partial to a bit of technology at the same time.
So, why is this activity growing in popularity? It’s in part due to the advent of technology. It’s easier than ever these days to just pick up your smartphone and begin your adventure – no need for clunky GPS devices or maps. It may also be in response to Emma Watson’s recent promotion for the smash hit film Little Women, as she hid copies of Little Women around the world, near statues of famous women throughout history. Similar to geocaching, this idea was aiming to inspire young girls around the world to educate themselves about women throughout history, as well as in literature. It also brings people together in the same way, and gets people outside.
The evolution of technology tends to lead people towards the virtual and the digital. This can often mean time spent on social media – not inherently evil, as some may argue, but not necessarily the most productive use of time and does not encourage people to get outside in the same way that geocaching does. Geocaching is an example of an advent of technology which leads to people on a real life scavenger hunt exploring the world in its physical form, rather than through Instagram (not to bash social media; it has its place) and geocachers spending more time in nature as a result of the technology. This type of activity can also be seen in games such as Pokemon GO, another use of technology which encourages people to get outside and play the game, looking to catch Pokemon all around the world.
The official geocaching website lists fifteen reasons to love geocaching, and if these don’t convince you, what will? The first reason listed is that it will remind you that adventure still exists in the world. The list comprises everything from getting outside and staying healthy to falling in love – telling the story of a couple who went geocaching on their first date and are now happily married. It will stretch your physical and mental limits, as well as problem solving skills, but the list also points out that it can bring you moments of peace and tranquillity as well, as it leads to spending time calmly searching or solving a problem. You’ll have stories of adventures to tell to all your friends and you may even make some new ones! It’s a cyclical activity, so the more you search and hide, the more fun you’ll have and the more fun you’ll provide to others as well. You’ll learn fun facts about Planet Earth, you’ll discover new places and explore your own neighbourhood with new eyes. It’ll help you see the world and it’s fun for all ages and the whole family.
If this has piqued your interest, you can read the full article here: https://www.geocaching.com/blog/2017/11/15-reasons-to-love-geocaching/
How do I start and what are the rules?
Now that you’re convinced that this is something you want to try, let’s talk about how you can actually get started. How do you begin to find the caches? Is there a directory? Are there rules to follow? The main rule about geocaching in general (more rules about how to hide and search for caches later on) which is dictated by the “Geocachers’ Creed” (a guidelines for those looking to begin) calls for participants to “avoid causing disruptions or public alarm”. Other main rules include not endangering others in any way, minimising the impact on nature, to respect the boundaries of private property and to avoid causing any sort of public disruption or alarm. These rules mostly result from police stopping geocachers as they often look suspicious while hunting for caches. The attitudes towards this activity tend to be quite negative and hostile but this should not stop you from starting to geocache! It’s a misconception that is purely based on quick assumptions. If this worries you, go in a group and stick to geocaches in less public places, so that chances of disruption are minimised.
The easiest way to begin geocaching is to download the app onto your smartphone. You will need to create an account and give the app permission to track your location, but once that is set up, you can begin! The whole process will take you less than five minutes and then you can immediately begin hunting! There are plenty of online communities to discuss tactics and share stories, and even on the app itself it is possible to log the caches you have found, allowing you to keep a record of your findings. The app will be the first place to find the most up-to-date information on where the caches are and new developments on techniques and news from the community. Download App here.
To reiterate, you don’t need any special equipment (another reason why this is such a popular hobby). All you need is a smartphone and an internet connection, (or alternatively, a GPS unit) and you are good to go on your real life scavenger hunt . Once you have your coordinates – which you download for free from your geocaching.com account – and have grabbed a pen or pencil to sign the logbook, you are ready to go! You will probably be surprised at how local the caches may be to you, and your phone or GPS unit will guide you to them with great ease. The hardest part may even be finding the cache once you are at your coordinates; they may be well-hidden or camouflaged. But don’t worry! The more challenging ones will be accompanied by clues by the geocache owner, and who doesn’t like a challenge anyway!
Check your app and the website before you leave your house and head to the coordinates. You will have a rough idea of where the cache is, how big it is and maybe even have read the hint to get more of an idea of where to look (but you don’t have to if you want a challenge!) – but that’s only the beginning. Once you have reached the coordinates, get searching! The cache may be hidden in amongst some everyday objects in order to deter you. If you’re in the countryside, the owner may have hidden it under leaves or other natural objects from the setting in order to really throw you off the scent. You may have to get your hands dirty! But don’t give up, this is just the final hurdle before you get to sign that log book! The important thing to remember, however, is not to disturb any surrounding settings or habitats, and leave everything the way you found it once you have finished your quest. Not doing so may result in harming animals’ homes, not to mention ruining the game for the next searcher. Remember; “take only photos, leave only footprints”!
The rules of hiding and searching for geocaching (as laid out by geocaching.com) include the right and wrong ways to go about concealing your geocache. For example, it should be placed in a way so it’s unnoticeable to the untrained eye, yet can be accessed without harming the surrounding terrain. The container itself should be camouflaged so it fits in with the surroundings and doesn’t accidentally alarm other people or animals in the vicinity. Once you have found the cache, the website emphasises the importance of not exposing the hiding spot to others. When you have found a geocache, move away from the site before you examine it. It is encouraged to sign the register that you find in the geocache in order to let the owner know that their cache has been successfully found. You should also log it on the website or the app to keep the community up to date and records accurate.
When you are exchanging the trinkets in the caches (also known as “trade items”) make sure you exchange them with objects of equal or greater value. To quote the official website, “leave the cache better than you found it”. Travel bugs are also objects that can be found in caches, but they are different to trade items as the aim to see how far they can go. They are sometimes called “hitchhikers” and are intended to travel the world. They are okay to take, but only so long as you intend to put them in another geocache. Make sure to also log the travel bug number online so that the owner can trace its travels.
Most importantly – return the geocache to the exact location in which you found it. Even if you think you can see or know a better hiding spot, resist the temptation! This will ruin the game for future searchers who would then have been using out of date clues to find a geocache which is now in a different spot.
For obvious reasons, this activity would be best to carry out in the summer months, since it requires spending a significant amount of time outside. It’s less fun to be hunting for hidden objects when it’s bucketing down with rain and in the dark! A much better idea is to wait for the summer months, but this doesn’t mean you can’t start planning in advance. You can start getting your kids hyped about their upcoming “Real Life Scavenger Hunt” as soon as you know you’re going to give geocaching a try. You can leave the majority of the planning to them (stepping in only for the more “adult-y” decisions) and turn the whole process into a game. You could get them to draw out a treasure map of the surrounding area once you have your coordinations and get them excited about hunting for the “buried treasure”! It’s proven way to get kids excited about being outside, with many photos of triumphant-looking children holding their “treasure” posted on the online geocaching communities!
We hope that reading this article has convinced you to give geocaching a go! It’s a really innovative way to get your kids excited about exploring and being outside, it leads to building community and it will even help you to explore both your neighborhood and new places more than you might be led to from merely a guidebook. There really is nothing to lose! Time to download the app and get started. Happy hunting! Download app here.