After I posted about the Geocaching Get Outside Day on the Cub Scout Ideas Facebook page, one of my very good friends asked how to get started in Geocaching.
I wrote a quick “How to Geocache” response to her that I thought I would share here. My disclaimer is that I’m ready to head out myself, and I wrote this up very quickly, so forgive me if I made a mistake!
Here’s how you get started in Geocaching. To find out if you like it, go to Geocaching.com and set up a free account. It’s $30 a year to upgrade to a premium account which gives you access to lots more caches and some other great features. I love my premium membership, but I would wait until you’ve been out once or twice with the free account before you sign up just to make sure you like it.
After you sign up for your free account and verify it through the email they’ll send you, you’re ready to start! From the main Geocaching webpage, look under the “Play” tab and click on “Find a Cache.”
Next, enter your search term. This can be your zip code, city & state or even a geocache number (if you have one). You can add some filters (such as the distance from your search term, how difficult the cache is to find, etc.), but I would start with no filters. You’ll then see a list of geocaches. You’ll be amazed to see how many caches are practically in your back yard!
The list of caches will look like this:
The image on the far right shows you what kind of cache it is. The green boxes indicate that they are traditional caches. The yellow boxes mean that it is a multi-stage cache–the first cache will lead you to the second which will lead you to the third, etc. Click here for a full list of cache types.
The next column gives you the cache name and number (starts with GC) as well as the geocache “handle” of the person who hid it. My handle is ShortFamilyTN.
Distance is how far the cache is from your search term. Favorites show how many people have given the cache a “favorite” point.
Next are the columns for difficulty and terrain. Difficulty is simply how hard it is to find. Terrain is how hard it is to get to it (Are you hiking or canoeing or rock climbing to get to it? Or are you pulling up to a light pole in a parking lot?). 1 is the easiest, and 5 is the most difficult.
Until you have a little more experience and especially if you’re caching with boys, you’ll want to look for small or regular sized caches. The larger the cache, the easier it is to find.
The larger caches often have trinkets or “swag” for you to trade. My boys call it treasure! Looking for caches that potentially have treasure makes it much more fun for them! You should take something to trade. The expectation is that you’ll leave something equal to or better than what you take. Check out the kids’ toy bins for some trinkets. You can even trade for coins (take a toy, leave a dime or quarter).
Once you click on your geocache, you’ll see GPS coordinates in the blue box like this ” N 36° 02.778 W 095° 46.599″. The tricky part is how to get there! If you have a GPS receiver, you can input the coordinates into that. Amazon has a nice selection of GPS receivers.
A lot of folks use Google Maps to get started. You put those coordinates in Google Maps, and it’ll point you to that location. When you get fairly close, you can use the compass on your phone.
Or if you have the Google Maps app on your phone, type the coordinates into the app, and it’ll take you right to the cache.
Groundspeak, the main geocaching company, has an iPhone app. They have a free version that is very limited. They also have a $9.99 full version that I use. That sounds like a lot of money for an app. But when you consider that it’s about the cost of ONE movie ticket and that I can use it over and over again as entertainment for my kids, I think it is well worth the money.
If you decide to use the app, start on your computer and pick out 4 or 5 caches that are noted as the beginner caches. Write down the number that starts with GC. It’s located in the top right of the screen. When you go into the app, you have the option of searching for a cache by GC number.
Here is the important part. GPS coordinates are only accurate up to about 15 or 20 feet (depending on where you are). So, when you get that close, put the map or compass or phone away and just LOOK! Look high, look low, look for something that doesn’t look quite right–a strange pile of rocks at the bottom of a tree or something like that.
Don’t spend too long–maybe 15 minutes–looking. If you don’t find that one, go on to the next one. If you pick ones that are beginners and that are fairly big, you should find one quickly–maybe not your first one, but the second or third. It helps to promise the kids an ice cream cone or other treat when you’re done.
Each cache will have a log sheet in it. Sign it using your Geocaching user name that you signed up with. Then when you get back to your computer, “log” your visit. You’ll see that option directly below the GC number.
So, that’s it for the very quick and dirty getting starting guide! I hope this helps you participate in Geocaching Get Outdoors Day!
Yours in Scouting,