This summer one of our favorite discoveries has been Geocaching. Ideal for getting us out of doors on the less toasty days; the children have loved having a purpose to our walks and seeking out all different kids of treasures! Follow our first steps and see if you are inspired to join hunt…
The first thing to do is to sign up and get a GPS device operational. The easiest option for most is to download the app onto a smart phone. The app will walk you through setting up an account and how the maps work etc. but you may also like to take a look at www.geocaching.com. The website has additional background and useful articles on geocaching terms, extra features and fun gear.
I’m sure you’ll be amazed at just how many caches there are in a short radius from your home, work and regular haunts. It’s so simple to work a little geocaching into your day.
Before you Set Out…
Before you rush out on your first hunt, spend some time thinking about which caches to aim for and making sure that you have everything that you need with you. It is a good idea to aim at a place with several caches close by. This way you can get everyone involved and if you can’t find one cache you can move onto the next, hopefully with more luck, before people get dispirited.
Caches come in all different shapes and sizes. When you click on a cache marker on the map it will tell you how difficult the terrain is, what size it is (micro, small, medium, large, other), and how difficult it is to find. Some caches will be so small they only have a strip of paper for logging your find on. My advice would be to go big for the kids! Choose, if possible, a classic, medium sized cache or one that makes it clear in the description that it has swag for trade. In my experience these are easier to find and the children are much more motivated by the idea of a treasure hunt with actual treasures!
Having set your aims it’s time to pack! You don’t need to take too much more with you than you would for a normal hike but you want to make sure you have a pen (for the caches too small to provide one) and some swag for trading. Items such as bouncy balls, to soldiers, party favor type items, maybe even a hot wheels car are ideal. You can even make your own items to leave; I’ve gathered lots of ideas on Pinterest. You should never take from a cache without replacing an item to ensure that there is always something for the next geocacher to find.
Know What You’re Looking For
My biggest mistake with our earliest caches was navigating to the coordinates and then not really knowing what to look for. A quick google for types of caches will give you some visual ideas: magnetic key holders, plastic tubs and lock boxes are typical but really a cache could be anything. So you are looking for an object that is just slightly out of keeping with its environment. Something muggles (non-geocachers) wouldn’t notice but that catches your eye.
That said, I’ve seen adverts for model squirrels, hinged poop and all sorts to hide cache logs in! So, do check that difficulty rating if you want to start easy. If you are struggling or want a head start you can read the cache’s activity history to review other people’s experiences, check for photos and see if there’s a cache hint for extra help.
Learn from Others
The activity this will also alert you if there’s a problem with the cache. Sometimes the weather makes things tricky. The container may be water logged, the surroundings over grown, snow can bury hides and I’ve even seen notes about insect dangers. It’s best to be forewarned, especially if you don’t want disappointed child-helpers. For a full list of geocaching anacronyms and terms that you might see used have a look at this glossary, but the main ones I noted were simply TFTH (Thanks for the Hide), TFTC (Thanks for the Cache), TN.LN (Took Nothing. Left Nothing) and DNF (Did Not Find).
How to Keep the Troops Engaged!
I’ve found plenty to keep my walk-adverse boys engaged. They like to take turns to hold the phone and follow the maps, the oldest can review and repeat the description for us to keep it fresh in our minds. And being low to the ground and good at looking under benches, behind walls and in small gaps they are pretty handy at finding the prize! Once of that age they can of course take pride in writing their name in the log books, and even the youngest can press the button on the app to log our finds – that’s proved a very special treat.
Once a find has been logged, the cache shows as a smiley face on the map which is a reward in itself. It is also nice to keep their prized swag safe so they can see what they have won.
Onwards and Upwards
If you find that you are enjoying Geocaching you may like to subscribe to the upgraded version of the app. This gives you access to all of the caches that you can see on the map including harder rated finds, multi caches (where you have to go to a number of different locations to determine co-ordinates for the final cache), puzzle caches, earth caches (highlighting geoscience wonders) and event caches (which are normally meetings of geocaching organizations). The multi cache and puzzles have been a whole new challenge for me and one I feel I need to master more before taking young children with me. As the brothers get older though I am sure they’ll relish working out the clues and riddles. It will be great orienteering experience for them too.
If you decide to give it a go please share your first finds with us…