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Modern-day treasure hunting: A guide to geocaching

Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix th...

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What is geocaching, you ask? It's the hottest new trend in scavenger hunts. It's fun, it's educational and it's an interesting way of connecting with people you've never met.
Excitement for the whole family
Kids geocaching

If you've been looking for a fun way to get outdoors with the kids, geocaching is a fantastic option. Since technology is involved, kids will think of it less as roughing it and more as a fun technology game that happens to take place outside.

What is geocaching?

Geocaching is a treasure hunt of sorts in which you use a handheld GPS or GPS-enabled phone to locate hidden prizes, or "caches," in a specific area. The caches are usually water- and/or airtight containers camouflaged to remain hidden, so they're unlikely to be found by accident.

Sometimes, the container will just contain a "guestbook" you can sign. But there could also be instructions on locating other caches or even inexpensive prizes for trading. The cacher will often leave instructions on how to use it and may even ask that you explain what you took, what you replaced it with and why.

Geocaching supplies

To make sure you have a good time, come prepared and bring the right supplies.

  • Plenty of water
  • Sunscreen
  • Snacks
  • GPS device or GPS-enabled phone (or a geocaching device that may be easier for kids to use)
  • A geocaching guide or schedule
  • Flashlight (even during the day)
  • Pen
  • Trinkets for trading (if necessary)
  • Hiking stick
  • First-aid kit
  • Gloves
  • Bug spray

geocache

How geocaching works

First, you need to find a cache or set of caches to look for. Geocaching.com lets you look for caches to find and will tell you the level of difficulty of the terrain and what type of cache is there.

Once you have your plan outlined, you'll need to make sure you know how your GPS device works. When you get to your location, use the GPS to find the general area where the cache is hidden. Most GPS devices are only accurate within about 20 feet (even less if it's a cloudy day), so once you arrive at the location, you'll still have to look around.

Make sure your kids know not to put their hands in dark holes (that's what the flashlight is for) and to be careful around other natural features like hills or large rocks. If they're younger, make sure they know to let Mommy or Daddy climb any trees.

When you find the cache, follow the cacher's instructions. Feel free to inspect the cache. The guestbook is there so you (and the original cacher) can see who else has been there. There also may be some fun notes from other people who've found the cache before you. If the cache asks for a trinket exchange, let the kids decide what should be traded.

A big principle of geocaching is the "leave no trace" rule. Don't tear up the countryside. Put trash in your pocket to throw away when you get back to civilization. If you move a stick or flip a rock, put it back the way you found it. When you're done with the cache, put it back exactly as you found it. Otherwise, you could ruin the experience for the cachers who follow you. In fact, if you see trash in the area, you should pick it up even if it's not yours.

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