X marks the spot: What is geocaching and how does it work

December 12, 2018 3 min read

X marks the spot: What is geocaching and how does it work

By Ishveena Singh

Geocaching is a GPS-enabled treasure hunt played in over 190 countries across the world. In this game, outdoor enthusiasts follow GPS coordinates to explore new locations and find caches hidden by fellow geo-explorers in public spaces.

Geocaching started in early 2000 as a way of testing the accuracy of GPS receivers. GPS enthusiast Dave Ulmer hid a container in a remote area in Oregon, US, and posted its coordinates on an Internet forum. It was only three days before two GPS receiver users independently discovered the stash and logged in their experience.

Today, geocaching is no less than a worldwide phenomenon because anybody with a GPS-enabled smartphone can participate, and who wouldn’t want to explore the world in such an awesome manner! You can judge the game’s popularity by the fact that at the time of publishing this post, there were more than 3,154,380 geocaches hidden all over the planet; and there’s probably one hidden in your neighborhood too!

What is in a geocache?

While you will find an actual ‘treasure chest’ at the end of your trail, don’t expect its riches to remind you of pirates and Old West outlaws. A cache could contain any number of small items or trinkets – think key chains, costume jewelry, souvenirs, or something desirable. Geocachers call these ‘swag’ items, short for Stuff We All Get.

The rule is to barter – if you take an item, you leave one behind too. And it has to be of equal or greater value. If you did not bring anything to trade, don’t worry. There would always be a logbook for you to sign off and mark your find.

The original geocache Ulmer left contained a logbook, a pencil, and several small prizes with simple instructions: “Take some stuff, leave some stuff.”

How does geocaching work?

Basically, the first thing you need to do is create a free account on www.geocaching.com or sign up through the official Geocaching app. After that, you can either use a GPS receiver to punch in the latitude and longitude coordinates, or directly use the app to navigate to a nearby geocache.

Don’t forget to bring a pen because not all caches contain writing instruments, and you will definitely want to sign and date the logbook once you find the cache. You can also trade items if you want, but steer clear of any illegal, dangerous, or edible/scented material (they could attract animals or creepy crawlies).

Once you are done, place the geocache back where you found it; you don’t want the stash to get ‘Muggled’ or discovered/dismantled/removed by a non-geocacher. Yes, the term has been borrowed from the Harry Potter universe where Muggle refers to a non-magical person. Also, you must not bury the cache – no matter how fun ‘digging out’ a treasure sounds in your head. The community has strict rules against burying the cache – even partially.

Why do people geocache?

There’s a famous quote by briansnat, a Charter Member of Geocaching.com: “When you go to hide a geocache, think of the reason you are bringing people to that spot. If the only reason is for the geocache, then find a better spot.” This possibly is the biggest reason why people geocache – it gets them outside of the house and to the places that are actually worth exploring. The thrill of victory after completing a challenge aside, sometimes, geocaching can be a novel way to see the neighborhood in a new light. Or if you are traveling, you can experience unchartered territories like a local and even make some friends in the process. And let’s not forget that it is an activity that the entire family can do together while getting some good ol’ exercise.

It may seem hard to believe, but there are people out there who have been finding a new geocache and maintaining a logging streak for not weeks, not months, but years now. The community is as friendly as it is passionate about new adventures, and it is waiting for you to join them. Go geocaching!

About the Author

Photo of Ishveena SinghIshveena is a geospatial enthusiast and a veteran of creating and managing compelling digital content for organizations and individuals. When she is not making magic at her desk, you are likely to find her exploring nature, eating her way through life, or binge-watching funny animal videos.