Some of you may be wondering what Geochaching is. Others might have an idea, but have never tried it. This post is to give you a brief idea of what Geocaching is and how you go about getting involved with it.
Geocaching is essentially a high tech treasure hunt. A geocache is a container that someone has hidden somewhere in the world and marked with GPS coordinates. The containers can vary from about an inch long and barely larger than a pencil in diameter and up to plastic totes that can hold numerous items.
One of the best things about Geocaching is that it is available all over the world and there are an amazing number of them, meaning one is probably very close to you right now. If you want to look in your area there are likely many caches that you can find within a few miles of your house or where you work. Or, if you want to get to know an area better you can look for caches in your favorite park, forest, camping area or even near a relatives house. Be either looking them up before traveling or using a smart phone that allows you to access the internet you can look for caches on a road trip or your next hike.
Most geocaches contain at the very least a paper log. This is placed in almost all caches and gives anyone who finds it the opportunity to log their find for the next person and everyone else who finds it. If there is room in the cache a pencil or pen may be left for you to sign, but it is usually a good idea to carry a writing utensil with you, just in case.
Many Geocaches also contain "swag," or items for trade. These items might have a theme for a certain cache, or may be something significant to the person that left them. They usually have a relatively low monetary value. The idea with these items is that if you take one out of a cache you leave something else of a similar value. Some people like to leave similar items as a sort of calling card. I have seen wooden tokens with the cacher's name or nickname that show they have been there.
A step up from that is "trackable" items. These usually have to be purchased before use, but along with the item, you get a website that allows the movement of the item to be tracked. One of the bigger Geocaching websites (http://www.geocaching.com/), has what they call "Travel Bugs." A travel bug is a small dog tag type device with a unique code on it. When you log onto the geocaching website you enter that unique code and you can see the history of that travel bug. The owner can give the bug a name and express any wishes they have for the bug. A sample wish might be that the bug travels around the world, or maybe visits as many National Parks as possible. You can then see everywhere the bug has been and the total distance that it has traveled.
Is Geocaching hard? No, and sometimes yes. Due to the nature of hiding items the difficulty can vary largely and is often up to the person hiding the item. Fortunately there are many caches that are hidden in parking lots or smaller parks within many major cities. So for those just looking to get started or those that may not be able to cross rougher terrain there are still plenty of opportunities to find your caches. On the other hand, if you want a little more of a challenge there are caches on the top of mountains, on technical climbing routes, underwater and some that require you to solve puzzles to figure out the actual location.
To help you decide which caches you want to look for http://www.geocaching.com/ lists difficulty levels for both terrain and how well the cache is hidden. Terrain can be more difficult because of of rough it is, or as mentioned above, it may take specialized means to reach the location. Difficulty of the hide can really change things up. A relatively large cache could be hidden somewhere very hard to get to, but once you do get there it could be easy to find. On the other hand, a cache hidden near a very popular store might be very hard to find since it has to be hidden well enough that someone doesn't find it inadvertently and remove it.
So what exactly do you need to start Geocaching? At the very least you need access to the internet, which if your reading this, I would guess you do. Join one of the free sites, like http://www.geocaching.com/. Once you have an account you can search for caches using address,zip codes or even panning google maps withing the website to see lists of caches. Once you pick a cache you need to find it. My first cache was located using just the google map image from the website, granted that is far from ideal. One way to enter the coordinates from the website is to use a GPS capable smart phone. I found a free app for my iPhone that let me enter and navigate to coordinates. Groundspeak also offers a iPhone app that cost money, but allows you to look up, navigate to and log caches from your phone. The next option is a GPS unit. Though these can vary widely in price, they tend to be more accurate than most GPS enabled smart phone. You have to enter the coordinates from a computer, often typing them in by hand, but you get much more accurate results. The advantage of accuracy is that it gets you closed to the original location that the item was hidden, making your search easier.
While this was certainly not an exhaustive explanation of Geocaching, I hope it gives you an idea of what Geocaching is. Let me know your thoughts on it below.