What the Heck is Geocaching?  A Beginner's Guide
Many thanks to members of the Getting Started forum for their generous and patient advice -- Thot

Geocaching With a Smartphone

This original article was written before there were smart phones, so their use wasn't addressed.   If you intend to use your phone as a GPS Receiver Go Here for a version of this article more suited to Smart Phone users.

Geocaching without a GPS Receiver

If you just want a taste of what geocaching is like before investing time or money Go Here for an article explaining how to geocache without a GPS receiver.


It's a high tech Easter egg hunt.  Someone hides a container of inexpensive knickknacks -- a cache.  Then they post its latitude & longitude on the internet, and other people go hunting for it.  If they find it they trade knickknacks and sign a log to record their visit.  The picture on the right is an example of a classic geocache

This guide was originally written 15 years ago so it's a little long in the tooth, but the principles are still the same, and I try to update it with significant changes occasionally.  For example, the larger container hidden in parks and the woods are the exception today.  Most are microcaches -- read on, all is explained.

In Mid. '03 few people had heard of geocaching -- it was almost a secret game.  It's grown a lot since then.  I stumbled onto the game about a year later and have been playing since. 

The minimum you have to have to play is a handheld GPSr (Global Positioning Satellite receiver).  Global Positioning Satellites are used in all forms of navigation today.  They send signals that these receivers use to figure out where on the surface of the earth they are. (Serious cachers usually still use handheld units like the one on the left but many cachers use smart phones today)

As the game has grown it's developed a number of variations.  There are micro caches that are only large enough to contain a rolled up, or maybe folded flat paper log for you to sign.  There are puzzle caches, and other spin-offs. A more recent addition is Wherigo caches.  (Here's a list of cache types.)  There used to be locationless (also called reverse) caches and virtual caches, but as of the end of 2005 locationless caches are no longer supported by geocaching.com .  Most (many?) preexisting virtual and webcam caches can still be hunted and logged as finds, but new ones aren't being approved. [Note: starting in October 2017 Geocaching.com has begun allowing a select few geocachers to create one virtual cache]

I have what I call microvirtuals for places that are interesting but too difficult to hide a real cache there.

There's more than one website that supports this game, but far-and-away the most extensive and most popular is, what else, geocaching.com -- also called Groundspeak.  You get cache locations there and then return there to record your adventure and success or failure to find them.  On the main geocaching.com page you can enter your zipcode or address and get a list of the caches near you.  Another geocaching site is Terracaching.com.  They still support the wider variety of cache types, but are quite small. 

When I explain geocaching to friends the inevitable question is, "Well if the GPS gadget takes you right where it is, what's the game?"  First, the gadget only gets you close -- typically about 10-12 feet away.  And, the cache is hidden -- either from geocachers to increase the challenge/fun, or to conceal it from muggles.  Muggles are the uninitiated -- people who don't know about geocaching, and may stumble on the cache and take it, ruin it, or throw it away.

But, the real fun is discovering new parks and interesting places near you that you never knew were there.  It's absolutely astounding how many interesting places there are near you that you're probably unaware of.  If you resist the temptation to make this a competition and just have fun and enjoy the places it takes you, it will be a more rewarding activity.  Most smaller kids love it, so it provides a setting for outdoor family fun.   Note:  In recent years geocaching has moved more and more toward microcaches.  When I started caching 80-90% of all caches were similar to the one shown in the picture above and hidden in interesting places to visit. Today 80-90% are microcaches. They're cheap and easy to hide and people who play the game to compete for number of finds can go from parking lot to parking lot quickly.  This saddens me, I don't find it fun to visit Walmart, Target, etc. parking lots.  Sigh . . .  So I urge you to stay closer to the original intent of the game and hunt regular size caches in the great outdoors and I hope you will enjoy the game more.

Click here to visit my photo journal of the places I've gone and caches I've found. (It hasn't been updated in a long time).  In some cases it will give you an idea for how the kind of caches I like are hidden. 

When I began a weakness of the geocaching website was the FAQ's.  That's why I decided to create this page -- to help beginners learn geocaching.  So, here's help with some of the fundamentals:

Which GPS Receiver?


(It's very difficult to give advice on this subject today because there are so many different ways to cache.  As a result it's difficult to keep this section current.  In 2004 when this article was first written the options were pretty limited.  Multiple rewrites have made this section choppy and hard to read and it's probably out of date six months after the last revision which was in 2008 -- sorry.  I'd say skip this section for now and go on to)

Caching With an iPhone

This original article was written before there were iPhones, so their use wasn't addressed.   If you intend to use your Smart Phone as a GPS Receiver Go Here for my suggestions.

They cost from $100-$600+.  To start geocaching you should be able to get a satisfactory unit for $250 or less.  Don't confuse the automobile navigator GPSrs with the handheld ones used for geocaching.  As of fall 2013 a few of the navigators are beginning to get the functionality for geocaching but, for now, you still need a handheld.  The two most popular brands are Magellan and Garmin -- Lowrance is also in the game.  Garmin sells many more GPSrs than Magellan.  There's a lot of ill-founded but intense brand loyalty. From what I read several years ago comparable units perform about the same across brands.  As far as I know, today all models support something called WAAS.  In my opinion if you're buying a GPSr and you're in the United States you want one that supports WAAS -- it increases the accuracy significantly. I used to say, other than this about all you get for more money is more features -- not better basic accuracy, but with mid-price units sold since about 2007 you can get better/faster accuracy.  Newer mid-price units have better sensitivity than older units and some get more satellites.  If you already have a handheld GPSr that lets you transfer waypoints (cache locations) to it from your computer it will do fine to start you out.  As of 2015 WAAS only worked in North America, South America, Australia and Eastern Russia, so the rest of the world does without it anyway.  The newer mid-price units let you carry cache data in them.  This is information from the cache page giving cache type, size, description, hints and some of other peoples logs that talk about finding the cache. Some new units add data from the Russian GLONASS GPS satellites. 


A GPS is a Global Positioning Satellite that transmits signals indicating where it is.  A GPSr is a receiver that receives signals from several GPSs and uses them to determine where it is on the surface of the earth.

The most popular GPSr for beginning geocachers may be a Garmin eTrex Legend.  I've never used one, but the more I learn about this unit the less I care for it.  In the beginning I used a Magellan SporTrak Pro and was happy with it (This model was discontinued long, long ago.  You'll have a good deal on a beginning unit if you can get a used SportTrak with/cable for $30 or less on EBay. Be sure it has a cable and you will need a serial port on your computer.  Most computers don't have serial ports anymore, but there are 9 pin serial-to-USB adapters you can use -- e.g. $15 from Amazon or  Best Buy.).  A number of people believe the older Magellan units do a better job of finding locations in adverse conditions, like heavy tree cover, than do the older eTrex and other low priced Garmins (Recent mid to upper priced Garmin models with high-sensitivity receivers do a better than the SporTrak).  The tradeoff is the older Magellan's take longer to settle down when you reach the general area of the cache.  You have to wait a minute or so for them to decide on the final location, whereas the Garmin units don't have this delay.  My Magellan did a good job in tree cover, but I had to give it a minute or so to settle on an answer after I got near the cache.  The bottom end of the Magellan and Garmen lines are inexpensive, but be sure you can transfer waypoints (cache locations) to them from your computer.  If not it rules them out for geocaching as far as I'm concerned.  A few years ago I bought a Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx -- it was still considered the most popular handheld GPSr by geocachers as of January '11.  [Note:  My 60CSx failed in mid-2013 and I now have a Garmin GPSMAP 64s which carries cache descriptions, and hints. It also adds the Russian satellites to the ones it uses making it faster and more accurate.]  I didn't find the 60CSx a lot better than my SporTrak for basic cache finding, but it has some features that make it easier to use.  USB is much easier and quicker than Serial Port for sending/receiving data to the unit.  Battery change-out is easier.  The popup menus are nice.  It holds more caches.  Batteries last much longer.  If you use it for maps (I don't) the color screen is easier to read. 2016 NOTE:  If I were buying a handheld model for geocaching today I would get the Garmin GPSMAP 64s.

You'll want a cable that hooks to your computer to download cache information into your unit.  To repeat, some cheap older models don't connect to a computer -- avoid them.  Entering waypoints manually is very tedious; plus, the first time you wander off into some godawful place because you entered one of all those numbers wrong you'll regret not buying a unit that lets you enter them using your computer.  The cable itself used to be an optional extra with some inexpensive models, and it's cost could make-up the difference in the price of a better unit, so consider that if using cost as a deciding factor.  You don't need a high end ($400-$600) GPSr for geocaching. It's true if you become a caching fanatic you'll probably get one. 

There's a page of geocacher reviews of GPRs on the geocaching.com web site.  I used to link to it here but they change the location so often I couldn't keep up.

How Do I Get Cache Locations Into My GPSr

First and foremost, always enter the cache coordinates into your unit, even if you have to do this manually.  Do not try to wander around watching the coordinates on your unit change until they match the ones printed on the cache page.  This is a VERY painful way to hunt. 

You have to register to see or download specific cache data, but it's free.  Geocachers use handles/pseudonyms like Renegade Knight, OpinioNate, moonpup, despot&smitten, guttergrrl, tirediron.  When you register on the website your username becomes your geocaching name, the name you will be known by in the caching community.  Also, you will have to write it over and over and over in all the cache logs, so you may want a short easy to write one like Thot :-)   Spend a little time thinking about what you want to be called before registering.  Click here to see a list of geocacher's names.  Think about signing a name like "headed_west_and_never_looking_back_0671" hundreds of times, often on tiny pieces of paper.  In 2010 they made it easier to change your name -- you do it where you edit your profile.   But, you want to do it quickly, else everybody who's come to know you as BuxomBetty won't recognize you as 34Thelma. 

After you have an account, go to this geocaching.com web page.  Enter your zipcode or home address in the blank and click the magnifying glass. This will give you a list of caches moving out from the center of your zipcode or address.  You could go to each cache page and enter the coordinates into your GPSr manually, but that's a lot of work, and an error can put you in some terrible place. (You'll have to do it this way if you don't have a computer cable.). 

Now go here and download & install the free version of the program EasyGPS.  [NOTE:  This part has not been revised for the latest version of EasyGPS.]  You can download individual caches from geocaching.com into GPX files and load them into EasyGPS.

Once you tell EasyGPS which brand & model of GPSr you have (and if its an older unit, which Comm port you're using), connect your cable and turn on your unit; then click this button on the EasyGPS toolbar and  it will load the coordinates/waypoints you've collected into your GPSr. 

If you decide to become a Premium Member of gocaching.com ($30/year or $3/month last I checked) there's a more convenient way to get cache lists.  They're called "pocket queries."  I have no idea what they have to do with pockets. Some caches are Premium Only.  You'll not be able to see these caches unless you're a premium member.  It used to be this didn't mean much, but as caching has grown so have the number of vandals and others who have no respect for the game.  So, more and more caches are being marked for premium members only.  Vandals are less likely to pay for a membership. There are still a lot of ordinary caches so I wouldn't worry about this until you become hooked on the game.

If you really get into this you'll probably want to get a program named GSAK.  It costs a few bucks and is more difficult to learn then EasyGPS, but it does a lot more things with pocket queries than EasyGPS.  The more you use it the more you will realize what a remarkably versatile program it is.

What Should I Carry When I Go Geocaching?

As you might expect, opinions vary on this question.

My list is from the perspective of an old guy.

I use a denim carry bag to keep things together/collected, to carry to the car when I start out. Here's the contents of my bag.  When I leave the car to hunt for more than an urban micro I take the bag, but I leave some items from it in the car. My stick is always in the back seat or trunk, except when I'm on a hunt.  Hereís my list:  (This used to be true.  I'm too decrepit to do hikes and caches in the woods anymore <sad face>.

  1. GPSr & extra batteries
  2. A pen/pencil for signing logs.
  3. Printed copies of the cache page including at least the last 5 logs, & a print of a zoomed map linked to from the cache description page. During my first couple of years of caching I carried these pages for the cache I'm hunting folded in my pocket, the rest are left in the car until needed.   Note: If I expect to hunt more than one cache on a single hike I put the pages for all these caches in my bag. [UPDATE:  I now have a Garmin NUVI navigator which I use to guide the my car to the cache and store the cache data so I no longer need the printed maps.]  [UPUPDATE 2: My latest Garmin 64s let's me load the cache data into it along with the coordinates.  I still load the coordinates into my NUVI and let it guide the car to the general location. Once there I switch to the data in the 64s]
  4. OFF/Deet - in Houston this is essential -- jillions of mosquitoes and West Nile Virus and now some new dread disease carried by mosquitoes.
  5. A stick for walking on irregular ground, moving stuff aside, beating back brush/weeds, knocking down spider webs, tapping tall grass or areas ahead of you you can't see to find holes, warn snakes you're coming and poking around in worrisome places you'd rather not put your hand.  My stick is a $9 aluminum trekking pole I bought at Walmart.  [UPDATE: I now use this stick I got on Amazon. It's heavier and somewhat clumsier, but the aluminum one says not to put your weight on it and I now have to sometimes.]  It's hard to decide whether the stick should be listed fourth or fifth.  For me it's essential.  I'm 80+ and no longer have good balance, so I never go to a cache hidden in the woods or where I have to walk on uneven terrain or tall grass without it.  Urban micro caches are less likely to require it.
  6. Compass - which I use very infrequently, but there are occasions when it's very useful.  In undergrowth you sometimes can't move around to do my "hunt-hunt-dance" to locate the cache.  In this case you can use the GPSr's bearing and your compass to see which way to look.  Sometimes you can't get a good GPSr reading -- it jumps or wanders around (A number of things can cause poor/erratic signals.).  With a compass you can move to locations with better signals, then use the it to triangulate on the cache.  I have a standard Silva Ploaris 177 Boy Scout compass from Walmart for $10.  NOTE: My GPSMAP 62s and the newer 64s have built in compasses so I no longer need a separate magnetic compass. 
  7. One chopstick in my bag for pushing tiny caches out of tight places.  Amazing how many times this comes in handy.
  8. A cap/hat if I'll be in the sun or winter cold.
  9. Right hand (I'm right handed) pigskin glove - mostly for moving aside thorns but occasionally putting it into/under worrisome places.  (NOTE:  A brief Google search indicated pigskin resists puncture better than other materials.)
  10. A Digital Camera with extra batteries is optional, but it's how I record my adventures.  Of course you can also use your smartphone.  You can upload pictures to your log on geocaching.com.  A few caches require you take pictures.  (Don't post spoiler pictures showing how to find the cache in your internet log. In my photo journal I scrambled the photos and made the names anonymous to avoid giving anything away.  None of the spoiler photos in this collection were posted to my web logs.)
  11. A snack size ziplock bag (3" x 6") with 4 wet wipes, 4 alcohol wipes, 4 betadine wipes and 6 band-aids. 
  12. A pair of pointed tweezers for getting teeny tiny logs out of their containers. (cap the end to keep from puncturing yourself)
  13. Now-a-days I also carry replacement logs and occasionally Path Tags, but obviously these aren't necessary. 
  14. I carry a medium sized hand mirror in my bag. It has helped me find many urban microcaches I was unable to find without it.  I found one at the Dollar store.  I also carry an articulating inspection mirror -- a mirror with a telescoping handle. To peer into, above and under hard to reach places, but I haven't used it in forever -- the mirror is too small.

The stick and the following item are more important to us old codgers who can't climb, stoop, bend, squat and kneel like younger folks. And, irregular ground is more of a problem - it threatens a fall and things break easier.

In wet areas, like we have a lot of here in Houston, caches occasionally require sloshing through mud and/or standing water. I bought a pair of super cheap (~$12) knee high rubber boots at Academy (I just clicked this link and see they've gone up smartly).  They stay in the trunk/cargo area until needed.  I also carry a large plastic trash bag in one of the boots, to protect the trunk.  If I muddy-up the boots I put them in the plastic bag.  When I get home I clean the boots and replace with a new plastic bag. 

I leave a couple of bottles of water in the car.  If I expect to be out in the heat for over an hour I carry a bottle in my hip pocket.  Note: I've gotten too decrepit to do this anymore.

I carry very little swag (stuff to trade) because I donít trade. I go for the fun of the hunt and to see the places (that's why this proliferation of pointless micros is distressing for me). I've only taken things from the cache when they were required to complete the cache instructions, or an occasional First to Find prize.  The only rule is you must sign the log.  In the old days those who traded listed what they took and what they left in their web log.  (UPDATE:  As the game has evolved few people list trade items in their web logs anymore.)  If you don't plan to trade you may still want to keep at least one nice trade item in your bag in case you discover something you really want.  I carry two mint condition Sacagawea dollars for such situations.  [I know, I know, you're not supposed to put money in caches.]

Iíve had a Leatherman type tool and a first aid kit in the trunk of the car for years before I began caching.  I carry a small Spyderco pocket knife and a tiny cell phone (fits in my watch pocket) at all times, so I didnít put these on the list.  I think a cell phone is essential if you cache in the woods or remote areas -- particularly if you cache alone.


Today there are a variety of ways to carry or directly access cache data -- iPods, smartphones, midrange and up GPSrs, etc.  You can cache with just a smartphone. A while back I drove up to a recently published cache and saw a young lady following her iPhone off in a completely wrong direction.  This old man and his handheld beat the 30ish gal to the FTF by a lot.

That's my list.  Some caches require long hikes.  I've never done any of those, but people who do use backpacks and of course carry plenty of water.

If you're interested in more extensive lists read this very old discussion and this one.

Tips For New Cache Hunters?

A cardinal rule is, if you trade items, trade even or trade up. That is, leave an item of equal or greater desirability than the one you took.  Please don't trade a broken McDonalds toy for a pocket watch.

Near the top of the cache description page you'll find the "Size."  Try to stay with regular caches in the beginning if you can. Micros can be hard to find for everyone, especially beginners.  Once the most common micro was a 35mm film container, but today they they can be a little larger or much smaller.  The official micro container is about twice as big around and half as long as your little finger.   Micros can be as small as a marble.  It's becoming more common to use these evil nano caches.  (TIP:  These tiny caches have rolled up pieces of paper for logs, when you put the log back, put it in the lid -- don't try to put it in the body and then replace the lid -- you'll just crush the log and become frustrated.)  Even when micros say one star they're can be difficult and discouraging to a beginner -- every kind of person decides how hard their caches are.  Micros are often attached by magnets to metal objects. 

Common "small" containers are Lock-And-Lock and serving size Rubbermaid.  "Small" caches I've found are typically about the size of a tennis ball or a stack of 7 Hershey bars, but small caches can be almost any size from somewhat larger than a 35mm film container to a quart/liter.  As you probably guessed, smalls are easier to find than micros, but harder than regular caches -- surprise!


Cache Sizes

Micro -- Smaller than a tennis ball
Small -- Up to a quart/liter
Regular -- A quart to 2 gallons/8 liters
Large -- Larger than a Regular

 Groundspeak Definitions

Try to stay with the easier to find regular size caches to start.  On the cache page it will rate the difficulty of caches from 1 to 5 stars.  The first number, the difficulty, is how hard it is to find.  The second is the terrain -- how hard it is to get to it.  A 1/5 will be easy to find when you get to it, but may require a boat and scuba gear to reach it.  Try hunting caches in this order until you get some experience: 1/2, 1/3 (1/4 if youíre athletic), then 2/1, 2/2, etc.  [NOTE: All sorts of ordinary people assign those numbers, so there are difficulty 1's I've never been able to find and 3's I found immediately.  Typically, the terrain ratings are more accurate than the difficulty ratings.]

If you're carrying a printout, be sure to decrypt the hints when you print the cache description page and include as many logs as you can for at least the first 5-10 caches you try.  Finding them gets easier with experience, but it can be challenging at first.  While at home, study all the logs left and pictures by others for clues to the cache location (They may contain spoilers).  They may also alert you to problems like -- "Watch out for the hornets nest in that tree north of the cache."  Make handwritten notes of anything special like this on the pages you print out .  If the latest logs have been DNFs (Did Not Finds) wait on those until someone else finds them -- they're probably harder and may be missing.  Tip: If you print cache pages days in advance be sure to check the website just before you leave in case the cache has gone missing.  It can be very discouraging to spend a hour searching for a cache that's no longer there.  Quickly scan all the logs to see how many purple faces -- DNFs.  These often signal the real difficulty level..  One, or two out of 30 may or may not, but 5 out of 20 means it's almost sure to be difficult no matter how the owner rated it, unless the DNFs are because it was missing for a while.

Believe your GPSr, but donít be slaved to it. When you get within about 20 feet (7 meters) start looking around for where it might be hidden.  Many beginners either depend too much on the GPSr, or donít trust it enough. Either is a mistake.  The satellites that the devices use are constantly moving, so some days, times and places you get better answers, and sometimes you get bad answers.   Also, in heavy tree cover you often get bad results and so did the person who placed the cache and measured the coordinates they posted.  In 2004 I did a survey of experienced geocachers and the coordinates got them to within about 20 feet (7 meters) of the cache on average.  Since then GPSrs have gotten more accurate so this distance should be less (unless it was placed by a person using a smart phone). Just remember, it's a combination of your unit's error and the error of the person who provided the coordinates.  Some (particularly new) cachers aren't careful in determining the coordinates for their caches or use a smart phone. Older GPSrs have greater error.  If you or the cache owner has one of these models, well  . . .   My personal experience is the cache is typically nearer than 15 feet (5 meters) when I reach ground zero, but I've run into a few caches where the coordinates were off as much as 60 feet (20 meters), and a couple or three rare cases where they were off about 175 feet (55 meters).  I would have never found these except for wandering around and thinking about where they must be hidden.  (I almost never run into errors this large anymore.)  If you cache in the same area, over time you will learn which cache owners usually post good coordinates and which will frustrate you.  There's a long-time cacher in my area that I sigh when I see it's their hide because the coordinates are often going to be off 30 or more feet. 

Try different displays/screens on your GPSr until you find the one(s) that works best for you.  Most GPSrs have one or more screens that point toward the cache.  You must be moving/walking in a straight line for it to point to the cache, unless you have a GPSr with a real compass.  It knows where the cache is, but doesn't know which way you are facing and thus which way to point if you're not moving.  Most units have a screen that looks like a compass, but instead of pointing north it points at the cache.  Personally, I don't like them.  If you stop walking they lose their mind.  And, I find them confusing -- they start behaving erratically as you get near the cache, the place where you need them most.  But, many very experienced geocachers (mostly old time cachers) rely on these pseudocompasses exclusively.  Now that I've used both Magellan and lower priced Garmin units I think I know why.  I think the Map method used to work better on Magellan units than on low end Garmin units like the popular eTrex Legend.  I suggest you go to a nearby park and "waypoint" an object you can remember such as a stump, water fountain, etc.  Then walk a hundred or so feet away and follow the device to return to the location.  Do this a few times then choose another object and do it again.  Try using different screens. Save these coordinates and try to find the locations again another day.  Repeat this until you get a feel for how the gadget responds and which displays work best for you.


Latitude/longitude coordinates are often called waypoints.  Your unit will let you record a waypoint for your present location.  There's usually a button you press that captures your present location.  When I say "waypoint a location" I mean use this procedure to capture the location.

If you're interested in how I setup my GPSr, and my technique for homing in on cache coordinates, I describe it  Here.

If youíre going into uncertain territory capture a waypoint at your car ("waypoint your car") as you leave it. Create another waypoint at a trailhead, and any point where you go off-trail in a wooded area, so you can find your way back out. You will get so preoccupied wandering around looking for the cache you may get completely disorientated/lost -- there are stories of cachers who spent unpleasant nights in some godforsaken place because they got lost.  You should also learn how to use your unit's backtrack feature, and be sure it's turned on.  Backtrack (may have another name) is a feature on most units that, if active, shows you the path you took to get were you are. You can follow it to go back the way you came.  Practice switching to and using this mode, so if you get lost you can use it to retrace your steps.  The commands to operate these gadgets are arcane and you aren't likely to remember how to do it when you need it if you don't practice using it.  You may not need to use the backtrack feature for a long time, so be sure to refresh your memory on how it works every week or so at first and month or so after that until every time you switch to it you remember how. 

Be sure to take your GPSr manual in the car (and maybe on the hunt) until you've learned and had experience using its features.

As long as we're on the topic of safety, tell someone where you will be and for how long.  Add some to the time so people won't start worrying too soon.

I mention again the importance of a stick. 

To some extent this is a game better suited to younger more agile people. I've had to give up on a few caches that would have required a mild form of acrobatics to reach it and get back.  NOTE:  Now that I'm 80+ with health issues I have to pass up even more and can no longer go on long walks.

When you can't find a cache you're tempted to try more and more unusual things/locations.  Don't take risks. Almost certainly the cache isn't in that risky location anyway unless the cache description says it is.  There are many other caches, and you won't get demoted, lose money or be ridden out of town on a rail if you pass on this one, and on the next, and the next. You'll be temped to take risks DON'T DO IT.

If the terrain is a 1.5, 2 or 3 you can usually assume it can be found without doing anything unusual.  In my experience they're rarely more than 60-80 feet off a trail and usually not that far.  If it's farther, or it looks like you'll need a machete to get through the undergrowth look for another way to it.  One of the biggest mistakes beginners make is to want to go straight toward where their gadget points.  ALWAYS look around for easy paths before taking difficult ones.  The trail may curve ahead, so you may fight a new path through a terrible jungle just to come out back on the same trail you were on.  Stories abound of the guy or gal who waded the creek or got cut up climbing through the fence, or bushwhacked their way through 500 feet of undergrowth just to find when they got there the cache was 20 feet off a main trail.  Walk past the cache to see if there's not a better way to it.  Usually the person who placed the cache didn't want to bushwhack their way to it anymore than you do.  On a larger scale, when I first arrive near the general area I may drive around for 5-10 minutes looking for the closest place to park for the easiest, or shortest way to begin (this applies to caches in wooded and hard to get to areas).  Nowadays you can scout them out on Google Maps or Google Earth.

When searching for the cache look for something unnatural or out of place -- piles of sticks, bark, rocks, leaves or other debris.   Here's an example.  Out of place Spanish moss it often a dead giveaway  Also check out tree stumps, logs, and hollow tree trunks.  Small caches are often off the ground and Micros almost always are.  The crotch or V in trees where major members fork is a popular place for micros -- or maybe a knothole.  Micro caches are sometimes attached to the underside of things.  They're often attached to metal objects with magnets.

Then there are light pole caches that have come to cover the Earth in our area.  I'm not sure there's a parking lot without one & maybe two.  If you look at the bottom of parking lot light poles, they normally have a rectangular box-like cover/skirt at the base.  This cover will lift.  Today, many micros are attached to the inside of the skirt or cover sometimes with magnets -- often using magnetic key holders you get at the dollar store.  If you find yourself driving around on a paved parking lot looking for a micro, it's almost surely a light pole cache (LPC) -- also called a "skirt lifter." 

One of the secrets to successful geocaching is to become a tracker.  People who've been to the cache often leave evidence of the path they took and where they found the cache -- footprints, broken limbs, crushed weeds, deformed shrubs, etc.  Well worn ones are called geotrails.  This opening was a dead giveaway to what would have otherwise been a bear of a route in.  Look for the route that has the least brush, thorns, vines and other fun stuff to plow through because cachers before you have already thinned it out with their bodies.  I forgot and left my GPSr in the car one day on a FTF (First to Find) hunt, but it was in an area of high weeds.  I simply followed the trail of crushed weeds the owner made when he placed the cache -- took me straight to it. 

Don't beat your head against a wall trying to find a cache.  Pass it by and come back to it later after you've gained more experience.  My second cache was a very hard micro I couldn't find.  When I finally went back I found it based largely on tricks I'd learned in the meantime.  Also, it may be missing.  In the upper right of the cache page you can click link to watch a cache listing to see if someone else finds it.  You'll be sent an email if somebody logs it.  I usually don't go back to a cache I failed to find until somebody finds it or the owner assures me it's still there.

Some trading don'ts:  Don't leave food or items that smell (like scented candles or soap).  Animals have keen smellers.  They're known to destroy caches looking for food.  Finally, nothing dangerous or inappropriate for children.

In selecting swag (trade items) keep in mind many caches aren't watertight.  If you still want to leave things that'll ruin if they get damp, it's a good idea to seal them in ziplock freezer (heavy weight) bags and even that may not keep them dry.

Put the cache back the way you found it, and where you found it, unless you have very good reason to believe it wasn't in it's intended hiding place.  In this case, send an email to the owner explaining what you did.  Don't help the owner by moving the cache or hiding it in a better place -- they may want it to be very easy (or hard) to find.  Don't move the cache to where your GPSr says the coordinates are. If you think the coordinates are off, post that in your log.

Did I mention waypointing your car and taking water if it's a long hike?

And, don't forget to log your hunt on the geocaching.com website after you find (or don't find) the cache.  Go back to the cache page.  In the upper right there's a link to log your find.  On the page that comes up select Found It, Didn't find it, or Post a note.  Change the date to whatever day you found the cache, then type in some comments about your experience.  In the beginning, read some other people's logs for examples of what to say, and submit your log. After you have your own, you'll realize why after you've gone to the trouble and expense locating a hiding place, building a cache and hiding it and maintaining it, when finders say nothing or "Found it" or some such, it's disappointing. Here's a discussion on why you should record your DNFs -- caches you Did Not Find. 

Travel Bugs

Travel bugs (and coins) are a side aspect of the game.  You can do them or not.  Travel bugs are (usually) smallish objects with an identifying "dog tag" attached, that are moved from cache to cache.  The dog tags are purched from geocaching.com at an upscale price.  The dog tags are used to track/log their movements.  To be technically correct the dog tag is the travel bug, and the attached object is the hitchhiker.  But most people, refer to the combination of the two things as a travel bug.  This is my Blow & Go travel bug (NOTE:  It appears to have died in the hands of a cacher named Water Bear in May '08).  Travel bugs usually have a goal/mission/objective.  Blow & Go's mission was to travel to every state in the U.S. following some simple rules.  Travel bugs are not trade items -- you aren't expected to leave something in exchange when you take a travel bug, and conversely, you shouldn't take a trade item if you leave a bug.  [Note:  Some "travel bug hotels" require you leave a bug if  you take a bug.  Personally, I boycott this kind of arrangement because bugs can get trapped in them.]  If you pick up a bug you're expected to move it to another cache somewhere that (hopefully) will help it towards it's goal -- at least not detract from the goal.  For example, if it's goal is to go from California to New York don't move it from Texas to Arizona.  On the other hand moving it around in a local area is okay even if it moves a few miles the wrong way.  Don't hold a travel bug for a long time.  If you can't put in in another cache within couple of weeks, don't take it. 

Logging travel bugs can be quite confusing the first few times.  They have their own independent tracking system and thus are logged in addition to and different than caches.  You can discover travel bugs.  Just copy down the tracking number and leave the bug where you found it, then log it on geocaching.com.  I do this occasionally now but I object to geocaching.com fostering this practice.  By their very nature "travel" bugs are intended to travel.  Now they should be called discover bugs. Because you can now get trackables credit for discovering bugs they aren't moved as much -- moving is my reason for releasing one.

There are also geocoins.  Coins work much like travel bugs but there's no hitchhiker, the coin is the entire thing, tracking number and all, that travels.  Some people collect geocoins. 

A while ago pathtags became popular. Each cacher has his or her own unique pathtag (maybe several designs)  These are traded between geocachers at events, some people trade them by mail and sometimes they're left in caches for other cachers to take.  This is my pathtag    The popularity of these is waning. 

FTF -- First To Find

Some people compete to be the first-to-find (FTF) a new cache.  This can be a little difficult to do in urban areas with many cachers rushing to get this honor (and sometimes a special FTF prize).  If you decide to try this, and you are a premium member you can go here to and sign up to be notified of newly approved caches.  I, of course, don't participate in this plebian practice.

Hiding Your Own Cache
What container?  What do I put in it?  Other considerations.

I'll add this later if I get requests--in 15 years I've gotten no requests

But, choose the size in this order -- if the location permits hide a regular if
practical, if not then a small, if still not practical then an ordinary micro, if not a nano

Tip:  Most people agree it's better to find several caches
of the type you plan to hide before hiding one yourself.

A few tips

Caches have to be 520' apart

Containers if they can see rain, in this order:
Ammo Box
Preform Tube
Waterproof Match Container
Bison Tube

Nano if you have to
Containers that can rust or leak are a no-no


Here's geocaching.com's article on hiding caches.

More Questions?

If you have more questions there are forums at geocaching.com.  On the main page, click the "Forums" link in the list on the upper left.  I found the Getting Started forum very helpful.   When I started out, I asked lots of questions and generous members of the Getting Started group patiently answered them.  Back then they a friendly group and may still be.  I haven't visited in a long time.  If you move on to the regular Geocaching Topics forum, I found them not so friendly, for this reason I rarely visit them.

I've written some utilities I use for various Geocaching tasks.  They're free.  You can Go Here to see if you're interested in any of them.


My Poll of Geocachers' Ages
My article on setting up your GPSr and using it to home in on a cache
How to Extract Coordinates From Google Maps and Google Earth
How Geocache Sizes Have Changed Over the Years Since Geocaching Began
My Study of Travel Bug Lifespans
My Geocaches
My article explaining EPE (Estimated Position Error)
My article explaining why it's important to log your failures to find -- your DNFs

My Geocaching Utilities
Planning a geocaching road trip
FizzyCalc (originally named GeoCalc) -- very useful utility for working with coordinates
How a GPSr works
Wikipedia's Description of Geocaching
A better FAQ than the one at geocaching.com
The Kinds of Caches I Like & the Kinds I Don't
Geocaching.com's FAQ
A Video With Dave Ulmer (creator of geocaching) About the First "Stash"

Some Nano Cache Logs
My Geocaching Photo Journal
(It's large and takes a while to load)
Here's a Documentary on Geocaching
If You're Fit and Enjoy Geocaching In the Outdoors You May Also Enjoy Orienteering

 if you found this guide helpful drop me a line

Return To My Main Page

The Groundspeak Geocaching Logo is a trademark of Groundspeak, Inc. Used with permission.