Somewhere along the way in my travels I ran across an article that mentioned the hobby of “geocaching.” My impression was that this involved looking for and finding hidden containers of something or other — and leaving a notation of the find. This was pretty much the case, but there was certainly more to know than that. I had never heard of geocaching or heard anyone talking about that I could remember, but I was curious curious to see whether there was anything to find in my locale.
A web search quickly turned up geocaching.com which clearly seems to be the dominant clearinghouse for people who geocache. Studying a bit, I found out that this is a pretty big deal. Geocaching.com claims more than 10 million registered users with more than 800,000 in the U.S., 275,000 in Germany and 160,000 in Canada. There are more than 2.5 million geocaches in their database that are hidden in over 180 countries. There are geocaching clubs, events, and more.
The geocaching.com website is a deep resource that offers a free registration that provides basic capabilities — as a casual user this seemed to give me everything I felt I needed. A $30/year paid upgrade is required for full access – this unlocks a variety of functions and access to information about more caches than does the basic registration. A companion smartphone app (available for iPhone, Android called “Geocaching” proved vital for locating and navigating to nearby geocaches – again, premium features are unlocked for paid users.
Using the smartphone app, I can easily see the general location of geocaches that are nearby (screenshot). The blue dot in the screenshot with a white circle around it is my current location, the markers are geocaches I have not found yet, and the smiley faces are geocaches that I have found and recorded via the app or website interface. I was surprised to find that there are literally dozens of geocaches along trails that I regularly walk.
Clicking on a marker takes you to detailed information including geo-coordinates and a description of the cache (size, difficulty of terrain, description, hints, etc.), and a button that provides navigation to the geocache. The description sometimes includes interesting information about the history of the cache and/or the history of the place where the cache is located. Clicking on the navigation button provides alternate views of a compass giving you direction and distance to the geocache coordinates or a map showing your current location relative to the location of the geocache. Between the information provided and the navigation tools, the app will get you close such that it becomes a matter of poking around in the bushes, nooks, and crannies to complete the find.
I don’t think I’ll ever be more than a casual geocacher, but I’ve found it to be fun to open the app sometimes and see what caches may be along a route that I will be hiking anyway. Sometimes I can find them and sometimes I don’t.
Following are some additional images — captions, when provided, follow the related image.
Geocache containers come in all shapes and sizes. They all should contain a log of some kind where you can enter a date and a brief message to memorialize your visit. Carry a pencil or pen as sometimes the cache container is too small to include one. You can also log your visit in the geocaching.com database either via the app or the website.Geocaches can be found in all kinds of terrain and environments. You will rarely be aware of their presence along a trail as they are typically hidden well away from sight. I have not done any urban geocaching, but I note that these things are hidden throughout cities and urban developed areas as well.
Some geocaches require solving puzzles in order to determine the geo-coordinates where they are located. Another variation is a multi-cache where you have to find one cache in order to get a clue to determine the geo-coordinates of the next cache. In these cases, I did not find the Geocaching app navigation tools to be all that useful. For these kind of caches, I found a free compass app called Commander Compass Lite that provides for entering geo-coordinates that you want to navigate to to be useful.
Anyone can create and hide their own geocache and register it on geocache.com — however, this is subject to a variety of rules that are intended to keep people from going too wild about it. I have not encountered any yet that I thought were inappropriate or represented clutter.
Geocaches will often will also contain a variety of trinkets — finders are encouraged to carry small trinkets to trade for something they may find in the cache that interests them, but there is nothing that requires that. Serious geocachers may also leave “trackables”, trinkets with a serial number that allows for tracing their route from geocache-to-geocache on the geocaching.com website.This would be a fun thing to do with kids, I think. I could see it as a great way to teach them about navigation.