What is Geocaching?

Geocaching(pronounced geo-cashing) is a rapidly growing hobby. It doesn’t require too much to get started, just an account really. You will likely want a GPS eventually too. But, first of all, I will lay out the basics of just what geocaching is.

Geocaching is a worldwide scavenger hunt. Various containers called ‘caches’ are hidden around, in both natural and urban environments. To find a cache, you go on to the Geocaching Website and poke around, maybe read the Beginners Guide. There are a few other geocaching websites, but the primary one is run by Groundspeak. Eventually you will go to the Play tab, and click on Hide and Seek A Cache. Probably the easiest way from here to find caches near you would be to enter your postal code into the Postal Code search bar. It will pull up a list of caches that each have coordinates. You enter the coordinates into your GPS (although you can sometimes find out where it is from Google Earth) and then navigate to the cache. The Map View is also very handy, although it can be finicky sometimes when clicking on the cache icons.

After you have found the cache, there should be a logbook inside. You write down your username and the date before putting the logbook back in the cache. Sometimes there are various trinkets inside the cache. If you take something, you are expected to leave something in return.

Now you go back to the Geocaching website and post a log entry online. It will be added to your list of found geocaches, and you can continue finding caches. There are many types of unique caches, containers and other things to know about… so lets get to it!

A picture of the frozen Rum River in Minnesota


This is a picture of the Rum River I took while going to a cache. The cache would normally require you to boat to it, but since the river is frozen, we could just walk. This is an example of a five-star terrain cache. You can get it in the winter, but it normally requires equipment (a boat).


So, you have signed up for an account and identified a cache you wish to find. What should you be looking for?

Geocaches come in many shapes, sizes and varieties. You might find them in urban areas, cleverly attached to the bottom of a bench with a magnet, or camouflaged in the middle of a forest. The common sizes are:

  • Micro. These are very small, and normally only include a rolled up log book. They might be found hung on a tree branch (around here, people like to hang them on pine trees) or attached with magnets in various places (underneath a metal bench perhaps).
  • Small. Slightly bigger, normally big enough for a couple of small trinkets. These might be hanging, but are also often underneath something. Camouflaged in a slightly hollow tree trunk perhaps, or in a small pile of wood or brush.
  • Regular. These caches are normally larger (such as an average-sized sandwich container) but may be hidden in similar places to a Small.
  • Large. The biggest cache size, these could be a large bucket or ammo can. There are normally many trinkets in them, and in most cases are easier to find due to their size. There seem to be less of these than the other sizes, mostly because they are harder to conceal.

Geocaches could be just about anywhere you can imagine. Once you get close to the location of the cache, start looking around. Some are very difficult to find. The best way to get experience with the different cache sizes and finding them is to simply get out there and look. However, there are some varieties of caches still. These have to do not with the size of the cache, but of various other factors. These include:

  • Traditional. These are a normal cache. You look them up, get the coordinates and find them. Simple as that.
  • Multi. Multicaches consist of a series of caches. For instance, the first in the series might give you coordinates to the next in the series until you reach the final cache.
  • Puzzle. Puzzle caches require you to solve some sort of puzzle (including word puzzles, riddles, math, etc) to get the coordinates to the cache. If coordinates are listed for a puzzle cache, they are likely not the real coordinates.
  • Letterbox Hybrid. Letterboxing is another kind of treasure hunting game. Sometimes people cross-publish their letterbox to the geocaching website, or vice-versa.
  • Event Cache. An event cache is not an actual container in most cases, but is instead a gathering of geocachers. You can log it to indicate that you were at the event.
  • Mega-Event Cache. A mega-event cache is just an event cache that is attended by 500 or more people.
  • EarthCache. An EarthCache is a special kind of cache which does not have a physical container. They are generally made to bring people to a geologically interesting area. This type of cache is the exception for some national and state parks. Since they do not have to actually be hidden somewhere, they are often used as an educational resource.

There are a few other kinds of geocaches that have been retired from being created on Groundspeak. These are mostly geocaches that have no container, but are instead just a location. When they don’t apply to an EarthCache or some kind of event, they are not considered to be a geocache. These caches have evolved into the website Waymarking, which is managed by Groundspeak.


Geocaching Lingo

Some common terms and phrases have come up in the Geocaching community. These are important to know. Below are the most common.

  • TFTC: Thanks for the cache. Seen often on log postings.
  • TNLN: Took nothing left nothing. Also seen on log postings.
  • SL: Signed log.
  • Ground Zero: The area that the cache is located in. Generally, when your GPS gets down to 0 (feet, meters) away. Since this does not always happen, it is just the general area your GPS brings you to.
  • Muggle/Muggles: People who don’t know about geocaching, or don’t participate. They might also say that a cache has been muggled when it disappears due to someone not knowing what it is and taking it.
  • Geosense: This generally refers to instinct. People that have been caching longer might get an idea of where a cache might be located before extensively searching. They are then using their ‘geosenses’.
  • BYOP: Bring your own pencil. Some caches are so small that they cannot provide a pencil for you to log it with. This serves as a warning, so you don’t potentially go a long distance to find a cache only to have forgotten a pencil.

Placing a Cache

Once you have found some caches, you might want to get into the other side of the hobby, which is placing caches. There are some certain guidelines to follow for placing caches. For instance, if you intend to place it on private property, you have to get permission. Some counties and municipalities do not allow geocaching on certain trails. You should check into these rules before you try to place one. A local volunteer will review and approve your cache for publishing. If they do not catch that it is in a restricted area (although my local volunteers normally do), it could cause you problems down the line. For instance, Here is the form you would have to fill out to place a geocache in an Anoka County park. They have some additional restrictions beyond those of the main Geocaching site.

It is recommended that you find some caches before going and placing one. You start to see how other people do it, and can take inspiration and indirect advice from their locations. Your first cache should probably be simple and nearby. Cache owners are responsible for maintenance of the cache. If someone reports that it is missing, you wouldn’t want to drive or hike a long ways at an inconvenient time just to check up on it unless you know you are dedicated.


Related Links

Groundspeak Geocaching Website

This is the main geocaching website. Most people geocache here. It is also an excellent learning resource, with comprehensive information on geocaching and regulations for placing caches.

History of Geocaching

The very first geocache was placed in the year 2000. At the time of this writing there are 1,977,008 active geocaches worldwide and over 5 million geocachers. The idea of Geocaching was introduced by Dave Ulmer. If you are interested in geocaching, this is a great writeup of the original history.

How Geocaching Works

HowStuffWorks on Geocaching. They have more good information about the topic.

Geocaching Reddit Community

A subreddit for geocaching. It is a great community to ask for help and share stories about your caching trips.

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