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Geocaching Basics: A Simple Guide for Beginners

Did you grow up fascinated by movies like The Goonies and Treasure Island? I sure did. There is something exciting about going into unknown territory with nothing but a map and a handful of clues to find hidden treasure.

Did you know that there is a real live treasure hunt going on right now all over the world? It’s completely free and anyone is allowed to join. This GPS treasure hunt is called Geocaching. It’s an easy and accessible microadventure for anyone looking to fulfill their lifelong“Goonies” dream.

In this Geocaching for Beginners guide, we outline everything that you need to get started in this global game. You’ll learn how to play, the different types of caches, tips, as well as common geocache terms to help you along the way.

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, in national parks like Kilimanjaro, and even in popular landmarks like the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. 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!

Geocaching Basics: How to get started

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 geocache map of caches 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 geocache logbook to see when it was last found. Be warned: there are sometimes unintentional spoilers in the photos and logbook.

There are many geocache types so 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 a 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, you found one! Now what do you do when you find a geocache?

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. The 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 geocaching log sheets or 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.

official geocache

Geocaching 101: 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

This GPS game has evolved over time to now include many geocaching cache types. 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 recommended place to start for Geocaching newbies. Traditional caches will be a container located at the GPS coordinates indicated on the cache page. Geocache sizes 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.

Related Content: The Philosophy of Microadventures

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.
geocache swag and geocache token
Photo Credit: Dirk (Beeki®) Schumacher from Pixabay

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.

Related Content: Quarantine Microadventures: Activities to try at home

Geocache swag items

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.

Geocaching for beginners. Geocaching Virginia

Frequently Asked Questions:

What are some good geocaching swag ideas?

In our opinion, contributing a piece of geocache SWAG is one of the best parts of geocaching. By exchanging a SWAG item with your own little treasure, you begin to feel part of this global community of adventure seekers.

While we have seen a good share of smaller items like paper clips and painted rocks, some of the best geocaching SWAG that we have seen include:

  • Hand-made items (knitted items, jewelry, keychains, etc)
  • Compasses
  • Collectibles
  • Individual packs of insect repellent, hand wipes, and hand warmers
  • Adventure-themed pins, patches, and stickers
  • Christmas ornaments
  • Money

What should I wear geocaching?

This really depends on the location and time of year that you are searching. Geocaches are located all around the world in cities, mountains, beaches, and more.

Typically, it is best to wear long pants or shorts with long socks (for protection from ticks and scratches). A good pair of supportive hiking shoes is essential. You may end up hiking or walking in circles for quite some time before finding a cache. Other geocaching essentials include sunglasses, a sunhat, and a breathable shirt.

Can I hide a cache?

Anyone can hide a cache, but there are some guidelines to follow. The official geocaching.com blog outlines the steps required before hiding a geocache. After following these preliminary steps, you must submit your geocache for review and publication.

What is the best app for geocaching?

There are several geocaching apps available ranging in their levels of sophistication and features. For those just starting out, it comes as no surprise that the official geocaching app is one of the best.

The free version gives you access to a geocaching map and details like cache type and tracking code. It also has interactive features allowing you to log your find, send the geocache creator a message, and share the cache with others. The paid version provides access to more caches in addition to more advanced features.

Is Geocaching safe?

Geocaching is intended to be a safe and family-friendly adventure. If all caches follow the guidelines appropriately, they should never take you into harm’s way. The hazards that you might encounter are generally ticks, poison ivy, scratches, and snake bites.

Final Thoughts

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.

Now that you know the basics of how to geocache, it is time to start your first treasure hunt!


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Geocaching Basics for Beginners; Pinterest

Cecilia

Cecilia is a bubbly Filipino-American with an affinity for constant change...that or a 10 second attention span. Refusing to sit still, she travels the world, in pursuit of adventure, excitement and meaningful experiences. She holds a Masters degree in International Development and Public Policy, and a BA in Business Management.

This Post Has 24 Comments

  1. Hannah

    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!

    1. Lovicarious

      What was the Geocaching HQ like? I’d imagine it was filled with all sorts of unique caches from around the world on display!

  2. Emma

    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

    1. Lovicarious

      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!

  3. Megan

    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!

    1. Lovicarious

      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.

  4. Ummi | Ummi Goes Where?

    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 ?

    1. Lovicarious

      Haha I’m just happy that you used the term muggle!

  5. Venaugh

    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.

    1. Lovicarious

      Glad you found it helpful. Hope you give geocaching a shot!

  6. globeloper

    This is so much fun! I did not know something like this existed. Am definitely going to try it out.

    1. Lovicarious

      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!

  7. Jess

    I’ve never heard of this before, actually! It’s so interesting. Great read 🙂

    1. Lovicarious

      Glad we could introduce you to the exciting world of geocaching!

  8. Annelies

    Ah, did some geocaching in the past and this article makes me want to pick up the habit again! Great post! 🙂

    1. Lovicarious

      You should! It is such a fun activity that not many people know about.

  9. Francesca

    I really want to go geocaching! It seems like a good way to combine hiking and a scavenger hunt. Thanks for breaking it down.

    1. Lovicarious

      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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