Geocaching is a world-wide treasure hunting game, played in the great outdoors with the aid of a handheld GPS (Global Positioning System) unit. The fundamental goal is to locate hidden containers (called “geocaches”, or more familiarly, “caches”) and then share the experience online with the geocaching community.
Sound simple? It is. But there are many variations and auxiliary activities associated with geocaching, that make it an exciting and dynamic adventure. Future articles will address some of these variations, but for now let’s examine the basics.
Choosing a geocache: First, you need to choose a geocache that you want to seek. Hidden geocaches are logged into an online database by their owners. The online database organizes all geocaches by their location, based on geographic coordinates. In addition to providing details about the cache location, the online listing also gives general information about the cache, a description of the container size, and an overall rating of the difficulty level. These details make choosing a geocache fairly straightforward, no matter where you happen to be in the world.
There are several geocaching websites that list available caches. The most popular is www.Geocaching.com. While this one lists the most caches in its database, there are also others such as www.NaviCache.com, www.TerraCaching.com and www.GPSgames.org, that are worth looking into..
A typical handheld GPS unit.
(Photo by Linda Blaszka)
Seeking a geocache: Typically, you will need a handheld GPS unit to seek a geocache. If you don’t own a GPS unit, there are other options available.
Smartphones can often be used to navigate to geocaches when used in conjunction with a geocaching application such as the Groundspeak app for iPhone, or the Geocache Navigator app for Blackberry. Another option might be to check with your local library, as many now have GPS units available for loan. And lastly, there are a multitude of used GPS units for sale at a fraction of the retail cost, in the “GPS Garage Sale” on Geocaching.com.
Once your GPS unit or smartphone is locked onto a geocache’s location coordinates, you can usually get within a close proximity of the hidden cache. However, locating a cache is not as cut and dry as it may seem. GPS units have an accuracy of anywhere between 10 feet and 40 feet or greater. This means that in some cases, you will really need to look around and search for the cache. This, of course, is half the fun. And seeing that cache containers range in size from something as large as a shoebox, to something as small as the tip of your pinky finger, this can prove to be a challenging task; something along the lines of finding the proverbial needle in a haystack, if you will.
The sweet swag of a successful geocache find.
(Photo by Linda Blaszka)
Finding a geocache: Once found, the cache will present you with several things. At the very least, there will be a log to sign. Typical signatures include your geocaching alias, the date, and if space permits, a few words about your experience. Depending on the size of the cache container, there may or may not be a pencil provided, so always bring your own. The other thing you might find in your cache, depending on it’s size, is “swag”. The term “swag” refers to the prizes that are traded within the cache container itself . These rewards are of particular interest to young geocachers, and a fun part of the adventure.
After completing a geocaching excursion, it is a good idea to visit the website where you found the cache listing and log your experience there as well. You will begin to build not only a statistical inventory, but also a chronicle of your geocache experiences.
It’s also worth noting that not every geocacher finds the cache. Some finds are certainly easier than others and all geocachers, regardless of their experience, have logged a cache simply with the letters “DNF”. For those not yet familiar with geocaching terminology, this is an acronym for “Did Not Find”. Not that this matters much to most geocachers. Geocaching is about the journey, after all. And with an emphasis on family, community and environmental values, geocaching is a pastime that will broaden your horizions, and lead you to places you may not have otherwise experienced. And that, of course, is the true reward.
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