In this Geocaching for beginner’s guide, we outline everything you need to get started in this global game. You’ll learn how to play, the different types of caches, tips, as well as terminology to help you along the way. As an added bonus, we share our very first geocaching experience!
What is Geocaching?
Geocaching is a real-life treasure hunt that combines modern GPS technology with a timeless thirst for adventure. Through a combination of GPS tracking, intense visual searching, and occasional puzzle-solving, geocachers are led to the secret location of a weatherproof container aka the treasure!
There are over 3 million caches hidden around the world along trails, in neighborhoods, national parks, and even popular landmarks. It is likely there is a cache hidden near you now, but the question is, will you find it? The only way to find out is to get started using the steps below!
Step 1: Go to Geocaching.com to create a free membership.
After registering you will have access to millions of geocaches hidden worldwide. Members may opt to upgrade to premium membership ($29.99 annually) for premium-only geocaches and advanced features such as lists and advanced searches.
Step 2: Search for Geocaches near you.
Utilizing the search bar, enter your postal code to access a list of geocaches near you. Click on the name to find out more information about the location, difficulty, cache size, and cache type. You can also view the virtual logbook to see when it was last found. Be warned: there are sometimes unintentional spoilers in the photos and logbook.
Select the cache that appeals to you and go for it!
Step 3: Seek a cache.
Enter the coordinates of the geocache into your preferred GPS device, or simply download the free mobile app. While both do the trick of pointing you toward your coordinates, the app does have some fun features like compass view. Your GPS will take you within about 30 feet of your destination, and then it is up to you to figure out the rest.
Use your eyes and hands to scope out your surroundings. Look high and low. Does anything look suspicious or out of place? Be patient, for locating a cache can often take some time.
Step 4: I found a cache!
Congratulations! Open up the cache and see what’s inside. If it is a larger box it is likely to be filled with all kinds of swag from past adventure seekers, usually things like stickers, keychains, plastic toys, and postcards. If you brought an item to exchange, take out one of the items, and replace it with one of your own. Rule of thumb is that your item should be of equal or higher value. Many geocachers like to collect and display their SWAG at home, others prefer to trade it in at the next cache.
If there is a “trackable” like a travel bug or geocoin, you can certainly take it, but remember that you are obligated to move that item to a new cache.
Every cache, no matter how small, is equipped with a logbook. Sign in with your geocaching username (ours is Lovicarious) and the current date. Carefully seal the cache and place it back into its original location.
Step 5: Share your geocaching story.
Log on to Geocaching.com or onto the mobile app to log your find. Owners love to follow along with these logs so be sure to share your story, express your gratitude, and comment on any upkeep needed if applicable. For example, this is where you can let the owner know that their logbook is almost filled or that rain got into their container.
Helpful Tips for Geocaching Beginners
You don’t need much to get started in the wonderful world of geocaching but these quick tips will help to set you off on the right foot.
Learn the common types of Caches
Geocaching has evolved over time. Each type of cache is essentially a different form of playing the game. While there are about 18 different variations, here are three of the most common Caches:
- Traditional Cache – These are the most common and the recommended place to start for Geocaching newbies. Traditional caches will be a container located at the GPS coordinates indicated on the cache page. The size will range from micro (which contains only a logbook) to large (which might be filled with SWAG and Travel Bugs.)
- Multi-Cache – This type of cache involves at least two locations whereby the first stage contains a clue for the next stage and so forth. The final location will contain the physical cache along with a log sheet for recording your find.
- Mystery Cache – For a true sleuthing adventure, the mystery cache is for you. This cache type involves some sort of puzzle that you will need to solve in order to uncover the location of the final container. You might have to solve a riddle, analyze the encryption on a grave, count the number of windows on a building, or any other odd puzzles. Be prepared to take your time and to use your noggin.
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Know your Acronyms
Just take a peek at a cache description or a log and it won’t take you long to realize that acronyms are big in the geocaching world. Here are a few common acronyms to help you decipher this new language.
- BYOP – “Bring your own pen” – While every cache has a logbook, some are too small to fit a pen inside. Even if the larger caches have a pen, they don’t always work so it is better to come prepared!
- DNF – “Did not find” – It happens. No shame in not finding a cache. Just mark it as DNF and you can always try again!
- CITO – “Cache in Trash Out” – a friendly motto shared by the caching community to pick up garbage while you search
- FTF – “First to Find” – The lucky person who finds a cache first earns bragging rights and claim to this title in the cache’s logbook. Sometimes there is even a special SWAG item marked FTF.
- TNLN – “Took Nothing, Left Nothing” – Exchanging swag is not a rule. Feel free to mark the logbook with TNLN.
- TFTC/TFTH – “Thanks for the cache/hide” – It is common to write this in the logbook for the cache owner as a token of appreciation
- SWAG – “Stuff We All Get”- SWAG is otherwise known as the trade items left in caches by geocachers.
- TB – “Travel bug” – This is a trackable item with a unique code that is tracked from cache to cache.
Other Geocaching tips
- Start off easy for your first cache. Check out the cache page to find the cache type, size, and difficulty rating. For first-timers, we recommend going for the traditional cache, large/regular size, with a difficulty of 1-1.5.
- Check to see if a cache has a specific theme. This is important if you want to exchange a swap item. For example, a cache might be titled “Something Sticky”. In this case, the description page might indicate that in order to take an item, you must replace it with a sticker of some sort.
- Caches are never buried. Knowing this little tip will save you both time and frustration from searching in the wrong place.
- If you get in a bind, check the hint. Many caches offer a hint to help you figure it out. Be warned, sometimes these hints are more like spoilers revealing the exact location of the cache. If the hint provided by the cache owner still doesn’t help, check-in the online log. Visitors will sometimes post a comment or photo that accidentally gives it away.
- Keep an eye out for muggles. Muggles are non-geocaching folk. Curious muggles will often come across a cache and, whether intentional or not, will interrupt the game by removing the cache. With this in mind, it is good practice to exercise caution when inspecting a cache. Don’t get caught by a muggle!
- Try to leave swag when you can. It’s half the fun! Some cool ideas are handmade stuff, plastic figurines, keychains, stickers, magnets, etc. Our first SWAG leave-behinds were little Lego men that we made during our trip to Comic-Con the year before.
- Know what is not appropriate to leave in a cache. Never leave gross (condoms), dangerous (weapons, sharp objects), or edible things (candy, sports bars) in a cache. Families with kids frequently search for caches as do nosy animals sniffing around for food.
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Our First Geocaching Experience
We weren’t quite sure what to expect from our first geocaching experience. We overanalyzed every single word in the cache description as if each were a keyword to decipher the location of the Fountain of Youth. The excitement of finding your first cache creates an adrenaline rush as sporadic unconnected thoughts flood your brain.
“Is it here?” “Oh my gosh is it over there?” “Ahh, this must be it under here”.
We certainly didn’t expect our first cache to be hidden in plain sight, yet there it was! Our first cache was located inside a hollowed-out tree stump along the main sidewalk where unsuspecting muggles walk every day.
Our second cache led us to a historic home turned museum where we had to search the gardens for our “hidden treasure”. We wandered around in circles for about half an hour, staring intently at mulch, kneeling under bushes, pacing back and forth, and back again. We are certain that the museum docent was watching us fumble around like a bunch of idiots.
Once we got the hang of it, they went by pretty fast (then again we only chose 1.5 difficulty levels). Our last cache of the day brought us to a stone tunnel running under what once used to be a railroad. Our clue:
“If you are under the shade of darkness you have gone too far.”
We knew it must have been somewhere near the entrance of the tunnel so we searched behind every loose stone until we finally found it. The cache was tucked away inside the wall behind a stone. I kept a lookout for muggles, while Scott lifted the top, signed the logbook, and exchanged our swap item.
We love that geocaching is a new way to explore. Suddenly the familiar sidewalks and hiking paths become part of a treasure map. You begin to take notice of the small details you might have overlooked or discover places you never knew existed.
When you become a geocacher, you join a global community of adventure seekers. Just take a look at the log pad and you can see who else has found that cache. Sometimes the name is from years ago and sometimes it is from only hours before. You are not alone. There are others out there at this same exact moment seeking adventure.
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Oh I love Geocaching! We’ve not done much recently due to Covid (I didn’t fancy touching the boxes) but I think it’s about time we start getting back into it! I love the concept of a global treasure hunt. We’ve visited Geocaching HQ near Seattle which was tonnes of fun! The list of acronyms is so handy! There are so many, it takes so long to learn them all! Thanks for sharing this great introduction!
What was the Geocaching HQ like? I’d imagine it was filled with all sorts of unique caches from around the world on display!
I’ve heard of Geocaching but honestly didn’t know much about it so that’s really interesting to learn about. Sounds like a fun activity, and seems like there are so many you can do. I had no idea it was so popular. I’ll have to look into it a bit more
There are so many geocaches hidden around the world, but the majority of people still don’t know about it. In fact I’m sure several people have accidentally come across geocaches before without knowing what they were! Hope you check it out!
I’ve heard so much about geocaching over the years and always thought it would be so fun to do with my kids! I’ll have to try and get started!
It is a great activity to do with kids because it really is just like a modern day treasure hunt…and what kid doesn’t daydream about finding hidden treasure! We have wanted to take my niece and nephew geocaching for months, but haven’t had the opportunity yet.
Omg, this is so cool! I can’t believe I had never heard of it before. Seems like I was a true muggle, but now not anymore ?
Haha I’m just happy that you used the term muggle!
Such a great article. I never knew about geocaching so I love how simply you broke it down and made reference to the treasure hunt.
Glad you found it helpful. Hope you give geocaching a shot!
This is so much fun! I did not know something like this existed. Am definitely going to try it out.
The majority of people don’t actually know about it, yet there are caches hidden all around the world! Geocaching is truly an international treasure hunt!
I’ve never heard of this before, actually! It’s so interesting. Great read 🙂
Glad we could introduce you to the exciting world of geocaching!
Ah, did some geocaching in the past and this article makes me want to pick up the habit again! Great post! 🙂
You should! It is such a fun activity that not many people know about.
I really want to go geocaching! It seems like a good way to combine hiking and a scavenger hunt. Thanks for breaking it down.
Definitely a great activity to do while hiking. It is always fun to see little caches hidden in places you would least expect like in the middle of a national park!
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