What is Geocaching?
Geocaching – The High-Tech Treasure Hunt
Geocaching (pronounced geo-cashing) is a relatively new form of outdoor adventure that combines treasure hunting, hiking and navigation. The name is a combination of the prefix “geo,” short for geography, and “caching,” which means to hide something away. Geocaching relies on handheld GPS (Global Positioning System) devices and on a network of geocachers who hide small treasures (known as caches) for others to find. The coordinates of hidden caches are posted on the Internet and anyone armed with a GPS can navigate their way to find them.
Origin of Geocaching
The rise in popularity of geocaching can be traced back to 2000, when the U.S. Department of Defense stopped scrambling the signals from its global system of 24 navigational satellites. This allowed anyone to use the satellite signals to determine the longitude and latitude of any location, something that previously could only be done with a compass and topographical map. Suddenly GPS receiving devices could be much more accurate, making them a far more useful device for hikers.
To test the accuracy of GPS devices, many hikers began to leave things in the wilderness and then post the coordinates of the items online. Searching for hidden items using GPS coordinates became a popular activity for hikers. Fast forward to 2010 and there are now almost a million registered caches hidden in more than 200 countries around the world.
Official Geocaching Website
The website Geocaching.com is the official site of geocaching. It provides instructions on how to get started with geocaching. Once you’ve registered on the website, you can search for geocaches by zip code, state or country, specifying a search radius. Before searching for a geocache, decide what kind of adventure you’re looking for. You can embark on a challenging trek into the wilderness in search of a cache or you can look for one during a walk in your local community.
When you’ve looked over the list of available caches in your area of interest and found a cache that sounds interesting, you can retrieve the coordinates and enter them into your GPS device. After you find the geocache, you can return to Geocaching.com and log your find. You can also share stories and post photos related to geocaching.
Registering on Geocaching.com also allows you to hide your own caches and register them for others to find. A basic membership on Geocaching.com is free. A premium membership is $30 a year and provides additional features such as the ability to automatically transfer geocache coordinates into your GPS.
What’s in a Typical Cache?
A typical cache consists of a small waterproof box, a log book, and one or more small items (such as toys, trinkets or souvenirs). The common practice when you find a cache is to sign the log and return the cache to its original location. If you take one of the items, you should leave something in its place. Some small caches contain only a log. The real treasure to be found while geocaching is the satisfaction of navigating your way to the cache’s hidden location.
There are several variations on the basic cache. Some caches are based on a theme, such as a popular movie or book. Other caches are multi-part, with each cache containing a clue to the next. There are also caches that involve a puzzle that must be solved in order to find out the coordinates. See the Geocache.com website for more variations on the basic geocache.
The Challenge of Geocaching
It may sound like finding a geocache is a simple matter, given the coordinates of the cache and a GPS device. It’s actually more challenging than it sounds. If the cache is located in the wild, there may be many obstacles such as mountains and rivers between you and the cache. It pays to plan ahead and find out about the route to the cache, just as you would for any backcountry trek.
Geocaching.com encourages everyone to respect the environment while geocaching and to practice the principles of Leave no Trace. A worldwide initiative called Cache In Trash Out fosters geocaching combined with cleaning up parks and other outdoor spaces. Geocachers bring trash bags and pick up refuse that they find along the way.
GPS Devices for Geocaching
There are a wide variety of GPS devices available and most of them are suitable for geocaching. When shopping for a GPS for geocaching, look for a highly visible screen, good satellite reception and easy-to-use controls. A GPS that is rugged and waterproof with a long battery life is the best choice for hiking. The top GPS brands for geocaching include Garmin and Magellan. Groundspeak, the company behind Geocaching.com, has also developed an iPhone geocaching app that taps into the GPS capabilities of the iPhone 3G and 3GS. The app provides direct access to Geocaching.com’s data base of worldwide geocache locations.
The Benefits of Geocaching
Geocaching is a fun activity that encourages people to get outdoors, exercise and discover new places. It’s a great way to get together with friends and to meet new people. It can be challenging and educational. With all these benefits, it’s not surprising that the popularity of geocaching has exploded in the past decade.