Geocaching is your secret weapon as a parent to help get your kids outside for a walk. Read this to find out why.
Geocaching is a treasure hunt game where you enter coordinates into a GPS device.
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 website for others to find.
How to get started
The primary website for finding geocaches is geocaching.com
This is the original site operated by a US company called Groundspeak. A few other sites exist, such as Garmin's OpenCaching, but currently, the vast majority of caches can be found on geocaching.com.
Registering on geocaching.com is free for the basic service and enables you to get started straight away. You can enter a town, place name, or postcode, and search for all the caches in that location. You can also view all the caches on a map.
The details on each cache include the GPS coordinates and may contain some interesting facts and clues. Many have hints on how to find the cache, which is encrypted in code - something easy enough for older kids to decipher.
Types of Cache
There are different sizes and types of cache. When you are beginning geocaching, look for Traditional Caches.
These are usually plastic boxes containing a logbook, swappables and trackables inside (more later).
Other types of cache are micro and nano caches. Micro caches are typically camera film roll pots with no room for swappables 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 coordinates 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.
You mustn't draw attention to yourself when locating a cache. As with anything, some people would try to ruin the game if they knew about it.
People who don't know about Geocaching and are not taking part are 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 keeping your activities hidden by sitting and placing your bag in front of that particular cache location. On another cache in Venice (yes, in Italy), a man was sitting by it, fishing when we got to the cache. Unfortunately, we had to leave that one.
Caches should never be placed anywhere illegally 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, you don't want to act suspiciously in our security-conscious times. This year a geocache was blown up by the bomb squad. The GB Geocaching Association has 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 logbook, and remember to update the find on geocaching.com
Swappables and Trackables
You'll find items your kids can swap within the traditional cache, although the quality can be a bit variable. You may find a small pack of crayons, plastic rings, or 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 items with a tracking code are usually Geo Coins or Travel Bugs. You can record these finds on the trackable section of geocaching.com. You move the trackable from the cache into another one.
On the website, 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 picks it up moved the travel bug abroad. The furthest move for us has travelled to South Africa after we placed it in a remote location near where we live. This is interesting and educational for the kids, seeing where the trackable they found has travelled around the globe.
Try it out on a day out
At some National Trust locations, you can borrow a Garmin GPS and try it out.