Take a geo-location system, add an Internet directory of hiding spots, and voila! A 21st century treasure hunt! One T-shirt slogan calls it “using multi-billion dollar military hardware to find Tupperware in the woods.” Geocaching began in 2000 when an Oregonian stashed a container in the woods, posted its latitude and longitude on the Internet, and other GPS users went out and found it. Now there are nearly 900,000 geocaches hidden worldwide, and hundreds of thousands of cachers, ranging from the curious to fanatics. The hobby is a fun additional activity for those roaming the outdoors on foot, bike, 4-wheeler or horse. There are at least as many urban caches as park hides, so it’s also become a hidden virtual layer to the cityscape, unsuspected by passing muggles who are not into the game. And it’s a great family activity – kids love ‘treasure hunting’ and trading for the toys and trinkets found in many caches. Geocaching is also an open game, extendable (within limits) by its players to add things like gnarly logic puzzles that must be solved to reveal a cache location, or objects whose worldwide movements among caches are tracked online.
There are a few other geocache directory sites, but Geocaching.com is the original and by far the largest. Free to register and play the game; $30/yr for paid membership enables more powerful search and personalization options.
Find a geocache
The game can be played with any geo-location technology. Some urban cachers rely solely on Google Maps, printing out aerial photos of hide locations. Entry-level consumer GPS units or geo-location add-ons for smart phones are available in the $100 price range. Those who become serious about the hobby will want a GPS unit with these qualities:
* Ability to keep a satellite lock in poor signal conditions — from urban canyons to redwood canyons
* Rock solid firmware — there’s nothing worse than having to reboot the unit in the middle of a hunt.
* Good ergonomics and user interface
* Durability — tough enough to take a beating in the field
* Easy computer interface — for downloading and uploading cache coordinates, logs and descriptions
Although they’re not the latest products in the company’s line, the Garmin 60Cx and 60CSx are the workhorse GPS receivers of hard core geocachers. (The only difference between the two models is a compass and altimeter independent of the global positioning system featured on the 60 csx.) These models score on all the points above, coming short only on the computer interface, as they don’t mount as a drive on your computer desktop. However, they have USB interfaces and are well-supported by paperless caching applications on both the Windows and OS X platforms.
Hide a geocache
After finding a few dozen geocaches, most players will think of a nearby place that needs a cache and want to hide their own. There are some common-sense rules for placing and registering new hides on Geocaching.com, including keeping off property where the public isn’t welcome, not using a container that can be mistaken for a bomb, and labeling the geocache as such. Most geocaches are made from recycled or repurposed containers and camouflage, and many cachers pride themselves on creative reuse of materials in their hides. One essential quality of a geocache is remaining watertight through years of handling and tough climate. Two types of containers that are resistant against both weather and other geocachers are military surplus ammunition cans, and Lock&Lock-type plastic storage boxes.
Small 30-caliber or large 50-caliber military surplus ammunition cans work well. (When reusing ex-military containers, always sand off or paint over the military markings, which can be quite alarming to those not expecting to find a box of rifle ammo or grenades in their local park!)
Lock&Lock-type storage boxes are available as a pre-labeled set, or you can get an assortment of sizes to camouflage yourself.
Simple cache camouflage can be amazingly effective for hiding your cache from those in and out of the game, particularly in park hides. Camo tapes and paints designed for use by hunters are readily available, and one roll or spray can will cover many caches.