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Geocaching: How to Get Started

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Geocaching: How to Get Started

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Looking for a fun, family-friendly way to exercise both mind and body? Try geocaching ("jee-oh-cash-ing"), the fast-growing sport that's akin to a modern-day treasure hunt.

Instead of a worn map marked with an X, you use a GPS receiver, a set of coordinates and (optionally) clues. And instead of hunting for a buried chest, you're looking for a cache of goodies hidden in an eco-friendly site above ground.

Geocaching Basics

What's a Cache?

How to go geocaching

Caches are hidden all over the world by fellow geocachers who put together a hodgepodge of trinkets, a logbook and pen or pencil, and perhaps a disposable camera. This hoard is then stuffed into a weatherproof box and hidden under a rock, behind a tree or maybe even in a more urban locale.

The geographical coordinates of these containers—some no bigger than a film canister—are posted on one of several Web sites for fellow geocachers to follow. One of the first and still most popular sites is Check it out beforehand to find a cache near you, updates to the game, and photos and stories shared by fellow geocachers.

Caches often use a 5-star system to rate the level of difficulty and the terrain.

Basic Geocaching Guidelines

Though always evolving, geocaching does follow a few fundamental guidelines. Among them:

  • Do not place caches on private land without permission or in national parks or wilderness areas at all.
  • Do not cross private property without permission to reach a geocache
  • Do not include offensive or inflammatory material in a cache
  • Maintain a "tread softly" and Leave No Trace philosophy.

Game Variations

Groundspeak travel bug

True to its grassroots origins, the rules of the game continually morph as players originate new twists to the rules of engagement:

  1. Trinkets can include travel bugs (example shown at right) which are specific trinkets with goals attached, such as getting from New York to New Zealand.
  2. Some coordinates can be garnered only through solving ciphers.
  3. Some clues are encrypted: You can click on them to see the clue or make it more challenging by leaving them encrypted.
  4. At one time, caches could be "virtual," making it all about the thrill of the hunt rather than the reward at the end. These virtual caches are no longer permitted, having been replaced by a separate hobby of "waymarking."

Getting Started

GeoMate GPS is family friendly.

With geocaching, there are no dues to pay or clubs to join. Simply log onto for access to nearly 2 million cache coordinates. The game transcends geographic, political, gender and age boundaries. Geocache sites range from easy to challenging, and their level of difficulty is indicated alongside the cache's coordinates for easy access.

Geocaching and GPS units go hand in hand. Even the most basic of units is enough to track down the location of a geocache. But to get a visual acquaintance with the area you'll be searching, a map is a must. Your GPS can tell you the straight line between 2 points, but unless the route's waypoints have been preloaded into your unit, only a map can show you that squiggly path between you and your destination.

Geocaching employs the skills of problem and puzzle solving: You'll sleuth for and identify clues, learn navigation and orienteering, and you may get an introduction to other related games such as letterboxing.

Shop REI's selection of GPS receivers.