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Geocaching 101

A global treasure hunt is right at your fingertips. Tech Talker delves into the exciting world of geocaching.

By
Eric Escobar
September 20, 2012
Episode #046

Geocaching 101

by Eric Escobar

The other day I got an email from listener Jordan who asked about geocaching. This isn’t really a subject I would normally cover, but I love geocaching so much that I thought it would be a fun topic for this week.

So if you’ve never heard of geocaching…well, you’re probably not alone. Basically geocaching is a worldwide treasure hunt where people use GPS-enabled devices to look up coordinates of a hidden treasure also known as a cache. But where does this treasure come from? Who hides it? And how can you join the hunt?

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Who Hides the Treasure?

Anyone can create a cache and it can be made of almost anything. Generally a cache fits into the criteria of being a waterproof container (such as Tupperware), an ammunition container, or some other repurposed container. Within each cache, the treasure hider stores a log book, a pen or pencil, and generally a few trinkets. 

Once the cache is created, it is then hidden. Sometimes caches can be simply hidden in a local park, but they can also be hidden in very elaborate ways, such as underwater or atop a mountain! Once hidden, the creator logs its GPS coordinates and then posts them on a website such as Geocaching.com for members of the geocaching community to find.

Just to give you the scale of geocaching, there are over 1.8 million active caches hidden on all seven continents and even one on the international space station!

Okay so those are the basics of what geocaching is, but there’s much more under the hood.

What Happens When You Find the Treasure?

So let’s say you’re out geocaching and after an hour of searching…success! You’ve found your first treasure!

When you open up the cache, you’ll see a small notepad, a pen, and a bunch of odd objects. I mentioned earlier that a geocacher would place trinkets into the cache. These are generally objects of little monetary value, but unique to the area. For example, in my treasure hunts I’ve found trading cards, foreign currency, and even a flash drive. The general rule of thumb is to never take something out of a cache without putting something of your own in. Once you’ve selected an item you want to take, sign the log book and note the date when you found the cache. Then put something of your own into the cache, seal it up, and hide it right back where you found it for the next treasure hunter to find.

Beware of Muggles

Keep in mind that if someone were watching you during a hunt and didn’t know what you were doing, it would look pretty odd—which leads me to the next rule of geocaching: Beware of Muggles! If you’re familiar with the Harry Potter books, then you would know that a muggle is a non-magical person who is completely unaware of the magical world. So how does this relate to geocaching? Well, geocaching started around the same time as the first Harry Potter book was published, and the geocaching community adopted the term “muggle” to refer to anyone who is unaware of geocaching. So when you are handling a cache, make sure the treasure doesn’t fall into muggle hands.

I really like this part of geocaching because it adds an extra level of adventure as you try to keep the hunt a secret, like in some sort of spy movie!

How do I Find the Treasure?

I know that I’ve spent a good portion of this podcast not talking about technology at all, but I needed to get all of you up to speed before I could get to the best part.

To find a cache, you need a device that can receive a GPS signal. In the early days of geocaching, this meant that you needed to have a GPS worth a few hundred dollars to even get started. Nowadays, your standard smartphone has this capability. In fact, there are geocaching apps for every major smartphone on the market. These apps range from free to around $10 but open up a whole new world for the avid geocacher. With one of these apps, you can easily search for caches around you, see a satellite view of the coordinates with your position and the location of the nearest treasure, and even get a few hints about the cache if the owner of it felt it was necessary.

These apps are arguably just as effective at finding geocaches as professional grade GPSs that can run you several hundred dollars. But don’t think for a second that these phone apps will do all of the work for you. Generally, they will get you to within 15-20 feet of the cache, but after that it’s up to you to roll up your sleeves and start searching high and low, all while avoiding any muggles that might be watching.

Once you find the cache, you can either log your find from your device or wait until you get home to post it on the geocaching website. This will give you a digital log of the caches you’ve found as well as information about the other people who have found them as well.

I love geocaching because it combines technology and the outdoors. It encourages people to use technology in a positive way and gets them away from the computer screen to explore the physical world.

So here are your Quick and Dirty Tips for becoming a master geocacher:

  1. Go to www.geocaching.com and sign up for a free account.

  2. Try out one of the geocaching apps for your mobile device, or use a GPS.

  3. Find your buried treasure.

  4. Avoid the muggles.

Happy hunting!

Want to test your tech smarts? Click here to take my new quiz!

Well, that’s it for today. Be sure to check out all my posts at techtalker.quickanddirtytips.com. And if you have further questions about this podcast or want to make a suggestion for a future episode, post your comments on the Tech Talker Facebook page.

Until next time, I’m the Tech Talker, keeping technology simple!

Smart Phone Navigation image courtesy of Shutterstock

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