Looking For a Geocaching Kick Start?

If you have heard of geocaching but don't know exactly where to start, what you really need is this simple beginner's guide to geocaching.

Here you will find just the basics so that you can hit the ground running and become a geocacher.

What is Geocaching?

Before you head out you need to know what this game is really all about. You may have heard the term or even talked to friends about their experience, but let's take a closer look at what geocaching is before you head outside.

Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game where you use a handheld GPS unit or GPS-enabled smart phone to find a hidden cache (a container) that is out in nature somewhere. The container can be anything, really, from a tiny container the size of your thumb to something rather large that you need both hands to lift.

Inside each geocache there is only one requirement. Each one must have a paper log book or log roll to sign. That is how you officially prove that you have found the cache - by signing the log.

The whole point of geocaching is to have fun. You will meet caches that are hidden in plain sight and others that you can hardly see unless you step on them. You will also find everything in between, so there is a great variety of fun and challenge involved in finding hidden geocaches.

While you are at it you will be out in nature, hiking, walking, thinking, and solving puzzles to make the find. Some caches will have you scratching your head. Others will make you laugh out loud. Still others will confuse you, but they will not be boring.

If you like to be challenged, use gadgets, and get outdoors, geocaching is for you.

How To Get Started

To get started in geocaching you just need a few simple things.

You will need a handheld GPS unit to find the caches. You see, each cache can be found only if you know the GPS coordinates of the cache. Once you have these, you will use your GPS unit to navigate to the cache site and make the find. You want to have a GPS unit that is of good enough quality that it will bring you to within 5-10 feet of the cache.

You will also need to sign up for a free account at the official Geocaching web site. Setup of fast and free, and once you are a free member you will have access to the cache listings. You can also become a premium member for a small fee which gives you some extra website features and access to members only caches, but that is completely up to you and not necessary for a beginner.

Once you are on the geocaching site, search for a caches in your area by zip code or by using the interactive map. By clicking a cache you can get the coordinates to enter into your GPS. Once you have this, you are ready to go. If you have a smart phone and a geocaching app instead, you can sign up for the website, then enter your account name into the app and navigate to nearby caches from there.

You should know that the level of difficulty of a cache is listed on the site, so starting with some easier caches is a great idea when you just get started. You will also find the terrain rating of the caches, with the easiest being flat walkable ground and the hardest being very difficult, so you can pick the terrain that you are in the mood for.

Now you have a GPS, a membership, and a listing. It's time to find the cache.

What Else You Should Bring

When you head out to find the cache there are a few things you should bring.

First, the obvious. You need your GPS or smart phone and your geocache listing.

When you find the cache you will need to sign the log. Many caches will have a pencil or pen in them, however, time does strange things to pens and some caches are simply to small to hold a writing utensil, so you want to make sure you have a pencil or pen with you to sign the log. Remember, signing the log is the goal.

Another thing you might want, especially if you are geocaching with children, is some trading items. The caches sometimes contain small toys for trade. The concept is simple. If you want to take something from a cache, leave something of equal (or better) value behind for the next person. Kids love this as they can trade items all day long. That means they should come along with an item in hand for trading.

You Should Know This

Please understand a few things while you are out searching for the geocache.

Other people who may be around should not be made aware of the cache site. In geocaching these people are called "muggles" and they are the ones who may steal or disrupt the cache if they get their hands on it and don't understand what this game is all about. If you get to the cache site and you find muggles in the area, be discreet or try back later.

Leave the cache just as you found it. Don't grab the cache hastily. Take a second to notice how it is hidden, on which branch, in which crevice, at what angle. Your job, after signing the log and trading items, is to put the cache back exactly where it was. That is what the cache owner intended and you owe that to the next person who comes to find it.

Respect private property. Every geocache will be on public property or on private property with the property owner's approval. These are in the geocaching rules. However, some caches will be on the border of a property and another private property. Respect the private property owner's rights. Don't walk across their property to get to the cache. This will limit the chances of the property owner complaining or removing the cache in the future.

Once You Find It

Once you find the cache the steps are simple.

Sign the log with your geocaching name and the date.

Carefully replace the log and the cache just where it was.

Finally, when you get home, log your find on the geocaching site. Just log back in, call up the geocache listing, and log your visit with a "found it". Here you can write notes about your experience and what you liked about the cache or just thank the cache owner for the hide. People who hide geocaches love to get this feedback.

Did you fail to find a cache? Don't worry, this happens a lot. I told you some caches were pretty tough. In this case, you can still log the visit but choose the "did not find" option. By logging your unfound caches you can call them up in your view later and the cache owner gets this information. That is good, because if a few people don't find the cache all in a row the cache owner may need to check on the cache to make sure it is where it should be.

Once you are done logging your find online, you're done. Now all you have to do is figure out where you are going to go find a cache next.

Keep Geocaching

Geocaching is very addictive. It's kind of like hunting morel mushrooms. Once you start to find them, you want to keep looking for more.

You now have the basics. There is much more to learn, but the best teacher is experience, so get out there and start finding some geocaches. Now that you are through this beginner's guide to geocaching, you are good to go.