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Geocaching Basics - Modern Day Treasure Hunt

By Edited Oct 8, 2016 1 3

Geocaching is a treasure hunt game started in the early 2000s that is similar to location based games today. The big difference is that instead of you telling a website where you are, the website tells you where to go. At GeoCaching.com there are cache lists that you can look through to find a geocache near you.


A cache is a small container that holds a paper logbook. Many times it will hold much more than that. Sometimes there are items inside the cache that you can trade. Most of the time these are trinkets that have no value. You can take them from one cache to place in the next one you find. However, sometimes the items have value to the game and are trackable. You can log onto the GeoCaching.com website and see where the item came from and follow it on its future travels after you have re-placed it in another cache.

Caches are tied to GPS coordinates, therefore, unlike location based games like Gowalla and Foursquare, you have to look for a specific item in a specific location. It is not good enough to simply be in a general area. This also means that it is necessary to have a GPS receiver: either a stand alone one or one built into your phone. Car GPS units usually don't work well since you can't put a GPS coordinate into them directly. However you can often read the coordinates once you get close to the cache and see where you are in relation to where the cache should be.

Inside the Cache

There are various items you may find in a cache. The cache description at GeoCaching.com will tell you what to expect. There will always be a logbook in the cache. This is your proof that you found the geocache. Sometimes there will be a writing instrument in the cache to sign the logbook, but not always. It is best to bring your own pen (BYOP).

Common items in the cache will include toys, trinkets, business cards and other such items. The code of conduct says that if you take anything from a cache you should leave something in trade. It is acceptable however to leave an item even if you don't take one.

Trackable items are special items inside caches that have a serial number on them. These are special items that get logged at GeoCaching.com or other independent tracking websites. When you find one of these items you can trade something for it and take it with you to place in another cache. Regular items (non-trackable) can be traded for and kept. There are some caches that specialize in toys intended for your children. But, remember, don't take an item without trading something for it ( it is recommended you trade something of equal or greater value). Trackable items should never be kept. Their owners purchased those items for the fun of watching the items travel the world.

Many trackable items have a goal. When you log onto the GeoCaching.com website you can find the trackable item's logbook. This will give you the history of the item and what its goal is. Items may be on a mission to travel to a certain location to be retrieved by its owner or a friend. The item may have a goal to be photographed with certain landmarks or specialty items. These photos should be uploaded to the logbook for display.

There are also unofficial trackable items. A game that has been around much longer than geocache is "Where's George." It is an early Internet game where people record the serial number from a dollar bill and track it as others get and log the dollar at later dates. This is done at WheresGeorge.com.

There are alternate trackable geocaching items (often called geo-coins) that you may find in a cache. Those have their own tracking website address printed on the item so you can know where to register it. These items travel through geocaches, but are not an official part of the GeoCaching.com experience.

Fair Play

If a cache is hard to find, there is usually an encrypted hint in the cache description. This offers you help if you need it, but you have to request the help. You can read the description and then ignore the hint, or request the hint to be shown. There is nothing wrong with using the hint to give you a hand. That is what they are there for.

Besides the logbook inside the cache itself, there is a logbook at the GeoCaching.com website for each cache. Be respectful of others who are playing the game and don't post spoilers in your log comments without encrypting them. There is a tool at the website to encrypt the log if necessary. People are able to read it if they choose to.

Always place the cache back exactly where you found it. There may be times when a cache has fallen from its intended location. Or, that someone has put the cache back in plain view. In these cases, when it is obvious where the cache is supposed to be, you may place it back in the proper location.

Don't hide a cache in a different spot just to make it harder to find. There are rules that cache maintainers must follow. If you put the cache in a different spot you may be putting the owner's reputation at stake.


Besides being normal humans, muggles are people who do not know about geocaching and are not playing the game. Be careful who is watching while you look for, find and re-place a cache. If someone who does not know about the game finds a cache they may steal it thinking it is valuable, or throw it away thinking it is trash. Caches are supposed to have an explanation in them to tell what they are but people don't always read that before carrying the cache away.

Striking up a conversation with a muggle family at the park and inviting them to help you find the cache is perfectly acceptable. This is a great way to introduce others to the game of geocaching. Even if they never register at the website and play actively, you have educated people to respect the caches that they may stumble upon in the future.

Helpful Abbreviations

  • TFTC or TFTH – Thanks For The Cache / Thanks For The Hide
  • FTF – First To Find
  • TNLN – Took Nothing Left Nothing (there are many variations of this one)
  • BYOP – Bring Your Own Pen


Register at GeoCaching.com and look for caches in your neighborhood. You can search for caches that are near your work to find during your lunch break. You can use a geocaching app for your smartphone, or just use the built-in GPS to start looking for caches near you.

Get outside and explore your town in ways you've never done before. You will probably find neighborhoods you never knew existed.



Jan 11, 2011 11:58pm
I saw a program about this on PBS. This goes on all over the world. Interesting.
Jan 12, 2011 6:49am
Yes, they play it around the world. Currently, I live in a town where there are very few caches. But when I traveled in the US, it was fun to stop and find caches in several different states. Most rest stops on the Interstate Highway System has a cache at them.
Jul 18, 2014 11:28am
My sister does this and she has a great time! Nice article.
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