We’ve had the privilege of introducing a few hundred middle school students to the game of geocaching. For those of you wondering about this world-wide game of hiding and seeking “treasure”, here are some key facts:
- The word geocache comes from GEO (for geography) plus CACHE (for valuables concealed in a hiding place
- The game started May 3, 2000 – 48 hours after Selective Availability* was turned off, pursuant to an order from U.S. President Bill Clinton.
- There are now millions of active geocaches hidden around the world and more than 5 million user accounts on www.geocaching.com (the most popular geocaching website)
* a feature of the Global Positioning System which limits the accuracy of GPS coordinates available to civilians
How Does it Work?
In very general terms, a geocacher hides a container, records its position using a GPS receiver or a smart phone and then shares the location and a description of the container online. Most geocaches are published on geocaching.com. Before a new geocache is published, a volunteer reviewer ensures the new geocache meets all of the placement guidelines. Sometimes the hider will be asked to provide additional information and/or shift their container to a new hiding spot. Once everything is “good to go”, the newly published listing allows anyone with a GPS receiver or a smart phone loaded with a geocaching app to use the published coordinates to try to find the container.
Are All Geocaches the Same?
No! Geocaches can be as big a Rubbermaid storage tote or as small as the tip of your baby finger. They can be sitting in plain sight under a tree, can be covered by fallen leaves or old logs, or they can be camouflaged to look like a rock, a log, part of a sign or something else. There are special types of geocaches that don’t have a container, including event caches (where a bunch of geocachers get together for some reason) and earthcaches (which are geology lessons).
Every physical geocache – even the ones as small as the small as the tip of your baby finger – contain some sort of logbook. Larger containers often have trading swag, such as small toys, magnets, etc. If a geocache contains trading swag and you decide to trade, you should always trade for something of similar or greater value. It’s considered “bad manners” to leave things like range golf balls, expiring coupons, old nails, and similar items in a cache. Geocaches should never contain food, matches, pocket knives or other inappropriate items.
When You Find a Geocache
- Record your find in the logbook
- Re-hide the container exactly as you found it – same place and same camo (or maybe even a little better, if it was out in the open)
- If you find a trackable, be sure to put it in another cache soon
- Log your find (and any trackables) on geocaching.com
We use a GPS receiver when we’re out geocaching, so can’t offer much advice on using a smart phone app. But if you’re interested in how GPS receivers work, we did a series of blog posts on that topic back in January 2012 (check the archives).
You may also want to click on “Geocaching” in our category cloud to read all of our posts related to geocaching – events, trackables, personal geocoins, geocache hunts and hikes, some of the stats geocachers like to track and more.
Questions about geocaching? Please leave a comment and we’ll do our best to provide an answer.