Geocaching in the South Sound

It is likely you’ve heard the word “geocaching” before. It might have been from an adventurous friend who climbs mountains and jumps off cliffs in their spare time, or it might have been from a mom who takes their kids out geocaching at neighborhood parks. You click “like” on their geocaching posts and photos, but you don’t really know what geocaching is.

Allow us to lift the secret veil and invite you into the community of adventurers in-the-know. Geocaching is the act of searching for cleverly-hidden containers using global positioning satellite-enabled devices. These containers vary in size, shape, disguise, type, and difficulty. They can look like a mailbox, a wad of masticated gum, a book in a library, a discarded piece of trash, or a utility box. With more than 2.5 million of these treasure troves hidden around the world in more than 180 countries, chances are you are within a mile of a geocache at any given moment.

Depending on the size of the container, you’ll find an array of small toys and trinkets inside (for those hunting with the younger set) as well as a log book and possibly some trackable game pieces (we’ll get to those in a minute). So how does one break into this secret world?

Step 1: Create an account 
Head over to geocaching.com and create an account.

Step 2: Download the geocaching app
The application is made by Groundspeak Inc. right here in the Pacific Northwest, it is available for your iPhone or Android device.

Step 3: Find a geocache
Obviously this is easier said than done. Start by looking at the terrain and difficulty levels. Take note of the cache size so you know how big the object is you are looking for. You’ll want to start out at a low difficulty and terrain level for your first find. Once you’ve found the one you want to hunt for, click “start” to the right of the cache name. A map will appear and show where you are in relation to the cache. Follow the compass and watch the distance count down. Once you are within 30 feet put your phone away and use your eyes. In wooded areas you’ll want to look for telltale signs that other cachers have been there. Urban areas are a little more difficult; you’ll want to look for anything out of the ordinary.

Step 4: Log your find
Bring your own pen, just in case; some caches are too small for a pen. You’ll find a log inside; sign with your user name and the date so the cache owner knows who has been there. Then click “Log Geocache” at the bottom of your screen. Leave a friendly note for the cache owner and say “TFTC” (thanks for the cache) and mention why the cache is so great.

Step 5: Move trackable items, if applicable 
Some caches will include geocoins or trackable tags. You’ll recognize them as such because they will have a code etched on them that is trackable on geocaching.com. Make sure to log these items and keep them moving; they are not for you to keep. Each coin or tag belongs to someone who has set a goal for the pieces.

At this point you are either hooked or incredibly frustrated. If you’re hooked, congratulations: go out into the world and let cache owners direct you to hidden locations near and far. If you are incredibly frustrated, it means that you’ve just had your first “DNF,” or did not find. Try not to be too discouraged; DNFs are quite common in the caching world and we promise, it does get easier. You’ll make your first find, and then you too will be hooked.

Geocaching with Kids

Geocaching with kids is like magic — like solving a mystery or finding hidden treasure. And the entire time it’s a bonding experience, but also a learning experience. It’s about working as a team, nature, geography — the list goes on.

Handheld GPS devices have come a long way, and smartphones have improved and can be used depending on where you are going. And geocaches? They seem to be everywhere.Here are some handy tips when geocaching with kids:

  • Prepare: If you are heading out, to the woods especially, prepare like you would for any hike. Make sure you bring water, snacks, and sunscreen, and dress in layers. Let your kids carry a light pack with their essentials.
  • Consider a GPS Unit: You might have better luck with a GPS unit rather than a smartphone, especially if headed into wooded areas. GPS units work better — phones can be spotty or not have service. Plus, GPS units are durable and kids can usually operate them (and drop them) and all is well.
  • Be Careful: Teach kids how to read the GPS — but also make sure they watch where they are going. Be careful when grabbing a cache. Be aware of your surroundings. Plot your course prior to leaving home and know your limits (and your child’s limits).
  • Bring Trade: Let kids bring small items to deposit in a cache of equal or greater value to anything they take. Sometimes it is a marble, token, or small toy.
  • Leave No Trace: Teach kids how to respect nature. Often caches are hidden near homes to creatures and plants. Teach kids the principles of Leave No Trace when outdoors.

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is a staff writer at South Sound magazine. Email her.
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