So what is geocaching anyway?
Simply stated, geocaching is a treasure hunting game where you try to find a container, known as a cache, hidden by someone using coordinates that you can drive, bike, walk, boat or hike to using a GPS unit (GPSr to some) as your guide. Think of it as a mixture of a nice walk or hike outdoors, a game of hide and seek, and solving a puzzle, all at the same time.
You might find a cash in a hollow tree, under a park bench, or disquised as something that looks quite natural in its setting. In fact, I'll bet you have walked right past a geocache recently and not even known it. They are everywhere. Some are so simple you see them immediately. Others are right in front of your nose and you'll have to use your head to find them.
What exactly am I looking for?
That's an interesting question. You see, the cache itself could be anything. The only thing that is must include is a logbook, such as a piece of paper or small notebook, so that anyone who finds it can enter their geocaching name into the logbook. Many caches that are big enough will have additional items in them that are meant for trade. This is known as "SWAG" in the geocaching world. Think of small inexpensive toys or trinkets here, but it can vary from cache to cache. If you're lucky you might find a special trackable item that is to be passed from cache to cache and you can move it along in it's journey.
A trackable item is like a coin or a small trinket with a dog tag on it. The coin or dog tab will contain a secret code that you can enter into the geocaching site to track it and log your contact.
I have seen geocaches that are smaller than the top of my little finger and ones that are larger than a five gallon pail. The most common sizes, however, are the micro sized bison tubebison tube or 35 mm film canister, the small-sized peanut butter jar or food storage container, and the medium size ammo box purchased at an Army surplus store. You can see these types of containers in the picture here.
What do I need to get started?
Getting started in geocaching is very easy. First, you need a GPS unit. If you have a smartphone, you can get going right now using the built in GPS. I would recommend a more rugged GPS for the hikers out there, however, as you will end up in some interesting locations from time to time and water might come into play. If you've decided to go with a GPS you can get the most simple GPS around for as little as $50 or go all out and spend hundreds. For my money, the starter GPS fits the bill and the fact that they don't have built in maps that are included in the more expensive models only adds to the hunt.
Second, you need to know where to look. For this you will need to head over to a geocaching site. Once you are there you can sign up for a FREE account. Then, you can enter your zip code to see all of the nearby caches. Each cache will have its own web page showing you the coordinates to enter into your GPS. Once you find the cache, you can come back to log your visit.
Third, you need to grab a pen and a small trade item or two. This is especially important if you are geocaching with children. These trade items (SWAG) should be small and relatively inexpensive. If you do decide to take an item from a cache you should put an item back in of equal or greater value. Just remember, whatever you put in the cache will be outside and in weather, so food and liquids are out. I will typically be armed with a hot wheels car, a bouncy ball, and a few coins, for example.
That's it. Grab your coordinates, your GPS, your pen, and your SWAG and hit the road!