Maybe you have heard of the term but you're wondering, "what is geocaching, exactly?" Geocaching is a treasure hunting activity that uses a GPS device to locate caches (cache is a word that means hidden supply) . There are more than a million of these caches hidden around the world, and they may contain anything you can imagine if it fits inside the container. Geocaching is often called a sport, but that is a misleading description in some ways. Geocaching does not have to be physically challenging and it is not really considered a competition (although like any activity it can be made competitive). Geocaches have difficulty ratings ranging from extremely easy to nearly impossible.
Why is geocaching fun for the millions of people who participate in the activity? There are a lot of reasons but the biggest one is the sense of adventure that comes from hunting for these hidden treasures. You are given GPS coordinates and sometimes clues to help you find a cache. Using the coordinates and clues, you navigate to where the cache is hidden. Getting there is part of the fun, but once you reach the correct location actually finding the cache can be a challenge, too. It's a lot like using a modern day pirate treasure map to track down buried loot. Besides the thrill of successfully locating caches, some other reasons geocaching is fun include the interesting locations you can discover and the "covert" nature of finding caches without revealing what you are doing to people who may be nearby when you find it. If you want an excuse to pretend to be a secret agent on a classified mission, this is it!
So how does geocaching work? Here is a description of a typical geocache find, from start to finish: Step one is to pick a cache to look for. There are several websites that list geocache locations, but the biggest and most popular is Geocaching.com. You can use the website free without setting up an account, but a free account will let you keep track of caches you have found and post comments about them. The GPS coordinates for the cache will be listed for you to write down or print out. Alternately, you can download cache information (with coordinates) to your mobile phone or GPS device if they feature the capability to do so.
Once you have selected a cache and you have the coordinates, use your GPS device to get to the location. This can vary in difficulty depending on the capability of your device and the cache you choose. Some geocaching apps that are available will give you detailed instructions to get from your current location to the coordinates and can include a compass feature to guide you the last few feet. There are both free and paid options for geocaching apps. Your device will get you close to where the cache is hidden, and that's when you begin looking around the area to uncover the treasure. If any clues were provided they will often help you to find the cache. Geocaches are rarely buried since burying them is considered against the rules. So a shovel is not needed, but caches are almost never in plain sight. Usually you have to look under or behind something and sometimes move objects that conceal the treasure.
When you find the geocache container, it might be anything from a small film canister to a large ammo box. Inside the container there should be (at minimum) some kind of a log for you to sign as verification of your find. There will usually be other random items inside, too. You may find foreign coins, action figures, books, jewelry, toys, and sometimes trackable items that geocachers move from cache to cache. It is considered good geocaching etiquette to leave something in exchange for treasures you remove. After plundering the treasure you sign the log, replace the contents of the cache, then hide the container just like it was when you find it for the next geocacher to look for. If you have an account set up on Geocaching.com or a similar website you can post a notification that you found it and leave comments if you like.
Are you wondering what do you need to try geocaching? The only real requirement is a GPS device capable of letting you know your precise location on the globe. This could easily be a GPS enabled phone or the navigation built in to your vehicle. A handheld device is a better option, because you can use it to guide you within a few feet of the geocache location while a GPS mounted in your car may not be able to get you right on top of the cache. It's a good idea to have versatile footwear in case you want to venture into a patch of woods or climb a steep slope. Carrying your own pen to sign the log is also a good idea, in case one is not provided or is out of ink.
If you decide to give geocaching a try, Geocaching.com should be your next stop. There you can find more information about how to get started and how to choose a good candidate for your first attempt. You may be surprised by how close to home some caches are. You could be sitting less than 500 feet from one right now. It might also amaze you to discover some of the crazy locations geocaches have been hidden. For example, there are several scattered around Antarctica, and there's even one on the International Space Station! If you find that you enjoy geocaching you may eventually decide you want to create and hide your own cache for others to find. Whether it becomes a lifelong hobby or just a single afternoon distraction, chances are very good you will enjoy your geocaching experience.