Geocaching for beginners

Geocaching is a great way to encourage yourself and others to get outside. Whether its solo, with your significant other or a friend, or with kids/family. It's a fun, inexpensive outdoor activity. Thanks to smart phones it's now super easy.

Initially I wanted to try Geocaching years ago and the hubby gifted me a GPS and was very encouraging... I tried using the GPS device, my inability and frustration to understand how to use it caused me to toss it aside and forget about geocaching. I don't mind labeling myself a city-folk, because when I get into these situations of understanding GPS or getting a just no. I love nature, love being outside, but I don't necessarily want nature to touch me. This activity helps me on the journey to bond with nature more.

So, when we found a Geocaching phone app I was very excited. I know how to use my phone, mostly. We downloaded the free app to try it out, then when we found a cache we wanted to do but was locked in the app, we then purchased the app from there. I've read mixed reviews about just purchasing and downloading the non-intro app for $9.99. The intro app works great for us so far.

Here is a reference image of the app in iTunes.

Then create a handle for you, your family or your posse. You can search locally for caches, you can enter in a destination and find caches. Either way works. Touch a cache on your phone that looks interesting, Read More about it by touching the title and dragging upwards.

All the dots are caches. Touch one to find out more.

Gear you need:
  • Water - Bring a hydration bag or a backpack with water bottles. Some caches are quite a hike. Once you find one and if there are more nearby you might want to keep hunting for treasure. We have the kids wear their bicycle hydration backpacks, carry their own water, snacks and they are in charge of the geocache items needed (see below). My 13yo has an Osprey Mokie and my 8yo son has a Camelbak Mini M.U.L.E. The hubby and I also carry our own hydration bags.
  • Comfortable hiking/walking shoes - You may come across mud, or hills, cross creeks, etc. Your hiking. Keep your feet comfy.
  • Snacks/Lunch - We head out as a family and if we don't have snacks we won't last long. At least the 8yo won't.
  • Bag of small treasures - Golden rule! If you take an item from a cache you MUST replace it with an item. Can be anything non-perishable; shells, small toys (fast food toys work great), money, foreign money, pokemon cards, etc. Always bring extra items. If we plan a 5-cache hike, we bring a baggie with 10 small items. It's possible both kids want to trade something out. Some caches are small like a prescription bottle, some are larger like an army box. But most items we've come across in the cache are small-ish. We keep a mason jar in our dining room for collecting items then grab it and fill our baggies when we head out. *Note: Some caches don't have any items in them, especially if they are really small.
  • Paper and Pen - Every time you find a cache you write the date and your handle on the paper log. Geocaches already have paper in them, but sometimes the log is full so it's nice to have extra paper and help the cache. Just fold up a couple lined pieces of paper and put it in your bag.
  • Optional: Portable back-up phone charger. I have one for traveling for work, picked it up at Target for $20. There are some really nice smaller ones available online. On my wishlist os a Goal Zero recharger, very posh.
  • Optional: Geo-dog - Don't forget water, a bowl and poopy bags for your dog.
Making our way to the trail-head to find the cache.

Now that you have arrived at the main location:

Touch the first cache you want to do.
At the bottom of the screen is a dial, there will be either an arrow pointing to the right direction or a orange bar in the direction dial. Move yourself left-to-right. The dial moves. If you have an arrow move left or right, once you are close to pointing the right way, the dial (orange vertical line) will appear. Once you have the dial set to the middle of the screen that is the direction you need to head.

Image on left has the dial in the middle, Image on right has arrow on left side.

It can get a little tricky if you are following trails and the dial is telling you to go ahead but its solid bush and brush. You will need to follow the trail for a work-around. You are hunting for treasure, if it wasn't at least a little challenging it wouldn't be very fun.

There is a length noted under the cache's name. Be aware of the average hike of the cache from the trailhead. Your smart phone will make a "ping" noise when you are within about 30' of the cache. But its hidden, so read the clue (if there is one), this can help you find the cache. When I say its hidden, its REALLY hidden sometimes. you have to look under tree's, up in tree knots, under bushes, sometimes its magnetic and stuck behind something, etc. You also need to be careful, caches are hidden and some creatures like to be hidden to. We've never come across anything, but just be aware.

Geocaches also vary in size. So don't always think "Look for a box", sometimes they are small containers with magnets under signs.

This cache was off the trail and very well hidden.

The cache needs to stay hidden. This is vital info. You cannot let "muggles", or non-geocache folk, see where the cache is. When you are looking and you notice people coming, you must play that you are just having fun in the woods. Once you find the cache, have one person be a look-out. Unfortunately some people are not nice and they will take the cache or destroy it. Always put the cache back where you found it, cover it up as it was, so the next adventurer can find it. And the person who placed the cache can maintenance it as needed.

If you're really struggling to find it and need some extra help, touch the title of the cache and drag it upwards. This will reveal a different screen with the word "Activity". Sometimes people add extra clues or images when they log it.
You click "About" to read about the cache again.
Click "Waypoint" to get back to your gps map.

Activity log has clues and sometimes images if you are really struggling

After you find the cache you log it on the app. This will keep track of how many you have done. Logging it is super easy, at the bottom of the screen tap "Log Geocache". You write in TFTC (thanks for the cache), you can put in a note that you left a cool prize or can write nothing. Its up to you.

There are different kinds of geocaches; puzzle caches that give you clues with numbers that will result in coordinates to the final cache, underwater caches, trackable caches, caches near bike trails, etc. I am still learning about all of these, but you can find out more here. There are lots of books available. I've found a few at my local library.

Just another great way to get outside and encourage friends and family to the same. Have fun!

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