Wednesday, January 9, 2013


My little family loves geocaching. We started caching because Hubby and I wanted a hobby that got us outside and was sorta physically challenging. We both carry around a little extra weight, so it's not difficult finding something that causes us to exert energy (and sweat).

I remember we were visiting Kentucky and I came across something online about geocaching. I researched it a bit and within 30 mins, I had hubby's entire family outside looking for a cache. I'm pretty sure they thought I was nuts (and probably still do). But, we found the cache and immediately wanted to find the next closest one. We used sister-in-law's iPhone and a free app.

That's how easy it is to get started.

Here I'll answer some of the most frequently asked questions I get about geocaching:

1) What is geocaching? This bumper sticker says it best:

Photo courtesy of Cafe Press
People all over the world have hidden caches (treasures) and posted the GPS coordinates online at You get the coordinates and then go find the cache. Caches range in size from nano (size of a screw head) to large (ammo boxes). Generally, you don't know exactly what you're looking for, but you usually know the size.

See the little black container I'm holding? That's the cache (was hidden
under a park bench in Indianapolis)
2) Do I need a specific GPS unit in order to geocache? Nope! I've found caches using an iPhone, my Android phone, and the Garmin GPS from my car (portable). Nowadays, I use my Magellan Explorist which is a GPS made specifically for geocaching. I received it as a gift many months after we started caching. While it does make caching easier, it is not a necessity.

My Magellan Explorist GPS
There are basically to ways to geocache:

Freestyle caching: Very little prep required, usually done with an iPhone/Android phone using a variety of apps. Good for when you're already out and decide on the spot that you want to geocache. These are caches of opportunity.
Involved caching: Preparation required, good for when you want to spend several hours geocaching. You decide ahead of time which caches you want to find (using the Geocaching website) and set out to find those. Premium membership to the geocaching website isn't required for this, but it sure helps make the planning easier.
3) Who would enjoy geocaching? If you like being outside, walking around aimlessly, and exploring, then you would probably enjoy caching. Geocaching takes you all kinds of places. We've cached in the heart of big cities (Indy) and in the thick of the woods in the middle of freaking nowhere. We've walked right up to the cache and other times, we've searched for 90 minutes only to come up empty handed. Folks with heart towards being green would probably also enjoy caching (local geocaching groups often sponsor "Cache In, Trash Out" events in which you pick up trash while you're out caching).

4) Who would NOT enjoy geocaching? If planning a trip to find a plastic container filled with McDonald's toys isn't your idea of a good time, then you probably wouldn't enjoy caching. Geocaching also requires a bit of stealth (others around you, known as muggles, aren't supposed to know you're geocaching), so if you're not comfortable with feeling around under park benches while 500 people are enjoying a family reunion in the park across from you, then maybe caching isn't for you.

Geocache Hidden in a guard rail near the highway
5) What do you once you find the cache? A geocache, by definition, must contain a log book of some type. It doesn't have to contain toys or coins or anything else, but it must contain a log book. Once you find the cache, you sign the log book and the date. Then when you get home, you log into your account to log your find. This way, the person who went through the trouble of hiding the cache is notified that someone found it! Some caches do contain little trinkets and if you want, you can trade items.

6) How long does it take? That depends on how quickly you find the caches :) On a Saturday morning, we'll generally update the GPS and head out with the intent to find 3-4 that morning. We'll be out for 2-3 hours. Other times, we'll already be somewhere and I'll wonder if there's a cache nearby (usually there is). I'll put out my cell, look for a cache (using the free c:geo app) and grab one if it's nearby!

7) Do you need anything else besides the GPS unit/cell phone? Generally speaking, no, especially if you're freestyling. You don't need anything else. However, because we usually make this an all morning event, I have a backpack I bring:

Geocaching gear
Contents include Magellan Explorist, first aid kit, several pens, pad of paper, a flashlight, tweezers, hand sanitizer batteries, and Altoid mints :)

Batteries are important for the flashlight and the GPS. The tweezers are essential for taking logs out of the nano caches (they're too small to pull out with your fingers, so tweezers help).

I'll also bring snacks for the little guy and water for all!

8) Do I need a Premium (paid) account on the Geocaching website? No. The first year or so we cached, I didn't have the premium account. I was able to find caches, load them onto the GPS unit (one by one) and we'd be off. Premium membership is nice, though, because:
  • It helps support the website and without that, we wouldn't be able to geocache at all!
  • It allows you to run reports of geocaches and load them (all at once) on the GPS unit (rather than one-by-one which you have to do if you use a GPS unit without the premium membership)
  • Access to a few Premium only caches (not available to others)
It's $30/year. The last two years I've had it and now wouldn't go without it.

9) Can kids geocache? Absolutely! I would safely say that kids over age 2 will love it. It's outside, they can run around, get that energy out and have a good time. I'd be aware of where I'm caching, though. We'll take Ryan out when we go to the park or the woods. But if we're freestyle caching (in public)...we generally won't cache with him there. Remember, you're supposed to use stealth and that's difficult to do when you're with a little kid. I'd say 85% of caches we've found are kid-friendly. In fact, on the website, you can run a report (premium membership) and look for kid-friendly caches.

Looking for a geocache in the woods

Found it!
10) So, how do I get started? Wanna start now? Like, right now? Download the app to your phone, search for the cache nearest to you and go find it! If you're lucky like me, there's a cache less than 1/2 mile from your home that you could find RIGHT NOW :) Then, sign up for a free membership on the geocaching website so after you find your first one, you log it!

Here's a YouTube video on how to cache using your iPhone (this video is an example of free style caching):

After you free style a few times, then maybe you'll want to plan an excursion. In that case, use the website to find a list of 2 or 3 that look fun and interesting that you want to find. Send them to your GPS unit (or note their location) and then drive to the first one. The website can map out a few right around each other, which is very helpful when you're new and want to find a few that are in close proximity to each other. 

Just don't forget to log your visits (so you don't repeat them) and earn points towards receiving a "favorite" badge. Once you have a badge, then you can start awarding it to others when you find a cache you really, really loved.

One of our favorite caches-- can you see it?
It's hanging from the tree (circled in pink)
When we travel to another city and we only have a few minutes to cache, I use the favorites to decide which caches I want to find. Why spend an hour looking for one that nobody has favored? Unless you're going for quantity over quality. Then find the caches regardless of their favorite status. If you want to find cool ones though, and you're short on time, find ones that have at least one or two favorite points. Those tend to be the ones most worth finding.

These have a lot of favorite points!! (271, 116, and 101 respectively)

In another post, I'll review the different types of caches (traditional, virtual, Earthcache, etc), but for now, if you're new to caching, stick with the traditional caches (indicated by the green covered box as shown in the picture above). 

Taken during one of my favorite caches--
I never would have known this beautiful
site was full of walking trails!
Examples of a few caches we've found over the years:

Under a fallen tree, cameo'ed and was difficult to find.

Hidden within a hallowed out tree

Hidden under a large fake rock at the park.

Good luck and happy caching!

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