What is Geocaching?
It is an invaluable activity to help get the kids out into the fresh air.
Caches (the treasure) are hidden. Their coordinates for the cache are published on a web site for others to find.
How to get started
The main web site for finding geocaches is geocaching.com
Registering on geocaching.com is free for the basic service and enables you to get started straightaway. You can enter a town, place name, or post code, and search for all the caches in that location. You can also view all the caches on a map.
The details on each cache includes the GPS co-ordinates, and may contain some interesting facts and clues. Many have hints on how to find the cache, which are encrypted in code - something easily enough for older kids to decipher.
Types of Cache
There are different sizes and types of cache. To start out look for Traditional Caches.
These are usually a plastic box containing a log book and swapables and trackables inside (more later).
Other types of cache are micro and nano caches. Micro caches are typically camera film roll pots and have no room for swapables or trackables. Nano caches are even smaller. Needless to say, the smaller caches are often harder to find.
Some caches are multi-caches. You may find that one cache then gives you the co-ordinates for the next cache.
There are caches all over the world. Urban or rural, it doesn’t matter. There’s even one at the South Pole.
Shh! It’s a secret
It’s important that you don’t draw attention to yourself when locating a cache. As with anything, some people would actively try and ruin the game if they knew about it.
People that don’t know about Geocaching and are not taking part are known as Muggles. You must not let them see the cache or know of its presence.
We found a cache at the top of Mount Snowdon. There were a lot of muggles but the cache owner had left details on how you can keep your activities hidden by sitting and placing your bag in front of that particular cache location. On another cache in Venice (yes, in Italy), when we got to the cache there was a man sitting by it fishing. Unfortunately we had to leave that one.
Caches should never be placed anywhere illegal, and always have the land owner’s permission. If the cache is in a place that may be dangerous to kids (such as by a fast flowing river), it will usually say in the cache details.
Also, in our security concious times, you don’t want to be acting suspiciously. This year a geocache was blown up by the bomb squad. The GB Geocaching Association have issued guidance on placing caches and has worked with police to avoid this happening again.
When you have found a cache, record your name and date in the log book, and remember to update the find on geocaching.com
Swapables and Trackables
Within traditional cache you’ll find items your kids can swap, although the quality can be a bit variable. You may find a small pack of crayons, plastic rings, or even toy cars. So take something along for them to swap. Our kids have found items they’ve considered real treasures.
Look out for trackables. These are items with a tracking code, and are typically Geo Coins or Travel bugs. You can record these finds on the trackable section of geocaching.com. You move the trackable from the cache you found it in to another one.
On the web site you can find out about the trackable, its mission (some have goals, such as travelling from mountain to mountain), and how far it has travelled.
Some travel bugs have been around the world a few times. We’ve dropped some off and found that the next person pick it up moved the travel bug abroad. The furthest move for us so far has travelled to South Africa after we placed it in a remote location near where we live. This is something both interesting and educational for the kids; seeing where the trackable they found has travelled to around the globe.
Can I use my car GPS for Geocaching?
Yes. Although the GPS you use for your car won’t like being dropped or getting wet. Both things that can easily happen outdoors.
If your GPS device can connect to the computer, such as a Garmin device, you can click “Send to GPS” from either Geocaching.com or Opencaching. This will add the cache to your favourites.
Car GPS models also suffer from relatively slow response times, do not have the accuracy to narrow down the search for the cache, and don’t perform too well under trees.
You can also use the GPS built into modern Smart Phones, and there are geocaching phone apps for a variety of platforms that let you interact with the geocaching web site whilst in the field.
The ultimate for being outside is a dedicated hand held GPS. These are usually rugged, waterproof, are more accurate, and more reliable when under tree cover.
Garmin do a range of popular units, from the basic eTrex, to the more complex models, where you can purchase O/S maps.
Garmin have released a new version of the popular eTrex series (eTrex 10, 20, and 30), with Geocaching specifically in mind.
Try it out on a day out
At some National Trust locations you can borrow a Garmin GPS and try it out. They have published their top 5 places to go geocaching.
Other organisations and councils may also have Geocaching activities where you can borrow handheld devices. Shropshire’s Hills Discovery Centre put together a collection of Geocaching multi-caches, such as this WW2 series of geocaches. This included one of the most fun cache locations we’ve found.