Your First Geocaching Hunt

Your First Geocaching Hunt

Geocaching 101In order to keep this as basic as possible, we’re going to begin with just two assumptions:

  1. You have never used a GPS before, and the one you have is a basic handheld model.
  2. You’re going to be hunting a fairly easy traditional cache that is hidden in the woods.

Of course, assumptions are just that?assumptions. The cache you choose might be quite a bit easier or maybe even a little harder than the one in the tutorial. It shouldn’t be too difficult to adapt the information below to the cache you are searching for.

I’ve divided the process of your first geocache hunt into seven steps. It may be that some of these steps are more basic than you need. If so, feel free to move on to the next page using the links provided at the top of each section.

Step 1: Setting Up Your Geocaching.com Account

While anyone can view a cache page simply by going to Geocaching.com, you cannot view the actual coordinates for the cache without signing up for an account with the website. This is a precaution to help prevent cache theft and other malicious intent. Basic accounts are free, so this won’t cost you anything. You may wish to become a premium member, which comes with a few extra perks, but for now a basic membership is all you will need.

On the left side of any page on Geocaching.com you’ll find a link named “My Account.” Click here and then click the “Create a new account” link.

Just a note: If you’re concerned about privacy issues, be sure to read the privacy policy provided on the page. Geocaching.com has been extremely responsible with personal information.

The first page you encounter is for your basic account information. You will need to fill in the following boxes:

First name and last name: Again, this information is all secure and will not be sold to anyone.

Email address: Every week a new cache notification is emailed out showing new caches within your home area. On top of this, as you continue caching you’ll likely want to put some caches on your watch list and will receive an email every time someone logs them. Your email address will also enable other cachers to get in touch with you.

How do you want to receive emails? The choice is yours, basic text or html formatted. Html will usually contain pictures and be more colorful but basic text is easier to download. Honestly, I’ve never known Geocaching.com to send out an html-based email (yet).

Pick a username to use with this account: This is an extremely personal step. Your username is what other cachers will come to know you by. You might choose a nickname you’ve had for some years or a screen name you’ve used online before. If you’re planning on caching as a family or group, you might want to come up with a team name. This is your opportunity to be creative and make yourself memorable to others.

Enter a password and re-enter your password: As with your username, your password needs to be personal. Make sure it’s something you can remember easily.

The last step on this page is a checkbox for whether or not you want to be notified of news relating to Geocaching.com. Thankfully, Geocaching.com does not inundate you with a lot of email. Feel free to check this one if you wish.

Click “Create my account” and move on to the second page.

Where in the world are you?

The second page in the account setup process is appropriately named “Where in the world are you?” Keep in mind the words in bold at the top of the page, “Everything on this page is optional.” After the first page is completed your account complete enough for you to go find a cache. However, information provided on this page will make caching easier for you.

Geocaching is a location-based game and as essential as it is for you to know the location of the geocaches you hunt, it’s also important for Geocaching.com to know where you are. Providing accurate information on your location will enable the website to provide you with accurate information about the caches that are around you. Also, when the time comes for you to hide your first cache, the cache reviewer will be able to tell whether or not you’re from the same area in which you’re placing the cache. This speeds up the review process.

The top box is already checked for you, “Send me a weekly emailer listing new caches in my area.” Of course, you may uncheck this if you wish, but it’s a very handy email to receive.

Your Country/State?/ Address and Address (continued)/ City/ Postal Code: These are self-explanatory

Default Timezone: If you’re unsure about this and are using a Windows based PC, double click on the clock in the lower right corner of your screen and then choose the “Time Zone” tab. If your clock is correct it should show you what time zone you live in.

Preferred Units: The choice is Imperial (miles, feet, inches, etc.) or Metric (kilometers, meters, etc.). This will affect the way distances are expressed on the cache pages you see.

Home Coordinates: You might not have figured out how to discover these on your GPS yet, but if you have it’s a good idea to enter them here. The first box contains a dropdown arrow to choose different coordinate formats, though the most common is already chosen for you. If you know the coordinates for your home enter them in the boxes provided.

Click “Update my location info” and move on to the final page in the account setup.

Who are you?

The third and final page is titled, “Who are you.” Again, this is optional information, but unlike the other pages the information you provide here will be available to all other members of Geocaching.com. This is the information that will make up your personalized profile page. When someone wants to know more about you they will click on the link to your profile and learn all you want to tell them.

The first item on the page is a checkbox to indicate whether or not you want your email address to show on your profile page. This is a matter of your own choice, but even if you choose to keep your email hidden, people can still email you through a link on your profile. Your email address will remain hidden from them, though.

Occupation: If you’ve got one, great.

Location: Be as specific or vague as you like here. Anything works.

Home Page: If you have one and would like to share it enter the web address here. It will serve as a link on your profile page.

Title: If you participate in the Geocaching Forums this is what will appear under your username. A lot of people have fun with this.

Instant Messenger/Instant Messenger ID: If you use one and want to share it with others in the Geocaching community feel free to enter it here.

Clicking the checkbox marked “Show my Instant Messenger address in my profile” does just that. Don’t be surprised when people message you.

Your Bio/Your Hobbies/Recent News: These three textboxes enable you to do a lot of personalization to your profile page. As indicated by the checkbox at the top, you can enter this information in html code if you wish. This will format the text with different fonts, bold, italics, and even pictures if you wish. You don’t have to be too proficient at html to put together a nice profile page and there are plenty of tutorials available on the web if you’re interested.

Forum Signature: If you choose to participate in the Geocaching.com forums (an online community of geocachers who share ideas and a lot of silliness) what you place in this box will appear at the bottom of your posts. You can include a quote that means something to you, some short biographical information, a web link or other text information. Images are not allowed in signatures. Also, this text isn’t html, but can instead be formatted in BBCode, which is similar. Tutorials for BBCode can be found all around the Internet.

Click the “Save my Profile Details” button and go check your email. It’s time to look for your first ever email from Geocaching.com.

The email is titled “Validation Instructions” and contains a link and validation code that you will need to enter to complete your registration. Simply follow the instructions in the email and your account setup is complete.

{mospagebreak title=Step 2: Picking out your
first cache to hunt}

Step 2: Picking Out Your First Cache to Hunt

What we want to do here is find a cache that will be as fun and rewarding as possible. As you find more and more caches you’ll encounter micros (very small containers) and multi-caches (that take you to multiple locations) and mystery caches (which might require solving puzzles before you find the correct coordinates). For your first cache let’s keep it basic. You’ll be looking for a traditional box hidden in a wooded area.

However, we want to make sure the first hunt isn’t too frustrating, so we’ll try to find one with as low a terrain/difficulty rating as possible. These ratings range from 1-5 stars. A 1 star terrain should be accessible with a wheelchair. A 5 star terrain will require some specialized gear (anything from a 4×4 vehicle to snorkeling or rapelling equipment).

Open up your computer’s browser and go to www.geocaching.com/my. If you’re not yet logged in you’ll need to be. This is your personal account page. As you find caches and perform other activities on the website they will be recorded here. On the right side of the page you will see a series of links. The top ones are your Search Options. Click the link for “Search for nearest caches from your home coordinates.”

The next screen will show you the results of your search: caches near your home zip code or coordinates (which you entered during the account setup). They are listed from nearest to your home to farthest away?up to 100 miles.

You will also see a variety of icons on this page. Since we’re keeping this one as simple as possible you’re looking for a cache with the following criteria:

A traditional cache icon. This means it’s a single box located at the posted coordinates.

A low terrain/difficulty rating. These caches will be fairly easy to find. Look for a cache rated between 1 and 2.5 in both terrain and difficulty.

A regular to large size container. These will be larger boxes (somewhere around the size of a shoebox) that will contain several trade items. These caches should be especially fun for young children that will enjoy receiving a reward for their hunt.

Once you find a cache that meets these criteria, click on the name of the cache to advance to the cache page.

It’s important that we pick a cache that seems trouble free. Very often caches will turn up missing?carried off by people or animals or washed away in bad weather. You don’t want to go on your first cache hunt only to be disappointed by a cache that’s not there. Scroll down the cache page to look at the recent logs at the bottom.

The cache you’ve chosen should have a fairly recent date for the last time it was found. Look for a log with a recent date that has a yellow smiley face icon next to it. If the cache logs instead contain blue frowning faces, this means that the geocachers who recently searched for it couldn’t find the cache and there’s a good chance it’s either missing or simply very difficult to locate.

Carefully read the cache page, looking for any details that might help you in your hunt or any information that might make the trip more enjoyable (the page might mention scenery or wildlife to look out for). You may also wish to decrypt the hint now, or wait and do it by hand later while searching for the cache.

Once you’re satisfied that this is the cache you want to search for, scroll back to the top of the cache page and look for a link on the left side middle of the page that says, “make this page print-friendly.” When you click this link, a new window will open with a new version of the same page, but with low graphics. After this window opens, look for the “print-friendly” link on the new page and click it again to include the last five logs. Often times reading the logs from recent finds can give you valuable information that will help you if the cache is difficult to find.

Your other option is to open the page as an Adobe PDF document. The format on these pages is excellent for those who prefer to cache with paper (as opposed to paperless, which is a lesson that comes later). The layout on these pages is simple and makes it very easy to organize a day of caching in binder or on a clipboard. PDF’s are available with no logs on the page, the five previous logs or the ten previous logs. To use this feature you will need to download and install the free Adobe Reader, but it’s such a widely used program that you should have done that already.

{mospagebreak title=Step 3: Getting coordinates
into your GPS}

Step 3: Getting Coordinates Into Your GPS

 It’s now time to get the coordinates from the paper into your GPS receiver. If this is the first time you’ve ever used your GPS you will want to power it up and set it outside in a spot with a clear view of the sky. The GPS will need to sit for about 10 to 15 minutes in order to update itself and find the position of the GPS satellites.

After 15 minutes the GPS should be ready to use. As you progress in your experience with using the GPS you will probably use a data cable connected to your computer to automatically load coordinates for geocaches. This is a tremendous time saver and prevents you from inaccurately entering the coordinates. However, since this is your first time, you will be entering the coordinates by hand.

It’s difficult to anticipate what kind of GPS you have. Most manufacturers follow a similar pattern for entering coordinates (waypoints) into a GPS. I’m working with the assumption that you have a basic model, most likely either a Garmin eTrex or a Magellan eXplorist. Of course, you should always consult your owner’s manual for exact instructions, but the instructions I have provided should get you started.

A basic GPS receiver will allow you to mark a waypoint by entering a name or identifier for the waypoint (such as “HOME,” “WORK,” “CACHE,” etc.) and enter the longitude and latitude coordinates for the waypoint. On the basic yellow Garmin eTrex, go to the main menu and choose “MARK” from the list of options. Once “MARK” is highlighted, push the “ENTER” button (on the bottom left of the unit) to select it.

On the more advanced eTrex units, pushing in on the “Click Stick” controller will mark a waypoint. On the Magellan eXplorist GPS, you simply push the “Mark” button, located at the bottom left of the unit and identified with a pushpin icon.

Once you’re on the “Mark” screen, you need to give the waypoint a name. GPS’s usually default to a simple numbered system (001, 002, and so on). In order to keep track of which Geocache you are searching for, you will want to identify it with its GCID number. You will find this at the top of the cache listing. It always begins with the letters “GC.” Enter this in the “name” field on your waypoint marking screen.

Now scroll down to the “Location” field. This is where you will enter the longitude and latitude of the cache you are going to hunt for. Your unit will default to your current location, so it is essential that you adjust the numbers to the geocache you are looking for. Entering coordinates can be complicated at first, but with practice you will be able to do it quickly and easily.

On the basic yellow eTrex, press the enter button and use the “UP” and “DOWN” buttons on the left side (top and middle) to scroll through the numbers. Press “ENTER” to select the number you need and move on to the next number in the coordinates.

On the eTrex units with the “Click Stick,” use the click stick to scroll through the number keyboard. Push in on the click stick to select your desired number and move on.

With the Magellan eXplorist series, use the toggling “ENTER” button to move up and down through the number list, push to the right to move on the next number in the coordinates. Push in on the button to move to the Latitude coordinates on the next line.

Once the numbers are entered, move to the bottom of the screen to “OK” on the Garmin units and “SAVE” on the Magellan.

Alternatively, on the Garmins you can choose “Goto” instead of “OK.” At this point, you’re ready to move on to the cache!

With the Magellan eXplorist units, you Click the “Goto” button and then choose “My Pts of Interest.” From here find the GCID number for the cache you’ve just entered and click in on the “ENTER” button. You’re now ready to go out and get the cache.

Step 4: Getting to the Cache

Before you leave home you should make sure you have the following:

  1. A pen with which to sign the cache’s logbook.
  2. The printed out cache page.
  3. Some items to leave in the geocache.

You should also leave a note with someone to let them know where you’re going and when you intend to be back.

The Geocacher U Pocket Guide To Finding Your First Cache
Everyone can use a little cheat sheet every now and then. This pocket guide keeps a few of the tips from this tutorial close at hand for your first few hunts.

Just download, print, cut and fold. Fill out the front side with information about the cache you’re searching for. Use the tips on the inside during your hunt, and use the back to keep a record of your finds until you can get home and log them online.

Click here to download this .pdf file.

It’s time to hit the road. Set your GPS to the navigate screen and let the arrow guide you. Hopefully you’re somewhat familiar with the area you’ll be traveling to, so you will be able to watch the road instead of the GPS for the drive to the cache location.

As you approach the location the cache is hidden in, chances are the roads will take you to within a quarter mile (.25) of the cache. If you’re in a state park or other recreational area, begin looking for a convenient parking spot. Otherwise begin looking at the roadside for an area to pull off to continue your hunt on foot.

The cache page itself might have parking coordinates. You may want to enter these into your GPS in the same method you entered the cache location and follow them to the parking coordinates. Once there you can switch your GPS to take you to the cache coordinates.

If parking coordinates are not provided it is a good idea to mark them yourself. This is especially important if you have a long hike ahead of you and might get turned around in the woods.

Now it’s time to hit the trail. Normally the trail you take will be fairly well marked. Again, the cache page itself might tell you where to start. Make sure you have a good fix from the GPS satellites (your arrow seems to be pointing consistently in the same direction) and head down the trail.

Note: be sure to keep your GPS on the navigation screen. There will be other times when the map screen might be helpful, but for this find the navigation screen should provide you with everything you need.

 Most trails will wind quite a bit as you travel through the woods. You’ll notice your GPS arrow pointing in all different directions as you continue down the trail (maybe even behind you). It’s important that you stay on the trail for as long as possible. Keep watching the distance indicator on your GPS to see how close you are getting to the cache. When it’s down to only a few hundred feet (maybe as much as .15 mile or so) it’s probably time to leave the trail. Your arrow might even be pointing at a right angle to the trail. This is a good sign you’re going to have to leave the trail and find your way to the cache.

Step carefully. As soon as you leave the trail you will find yourself stepping over around and through a lot of vegetation and hazards that weren’t on the trail. Be careful to watch for poison ivy or other dangerous plants and watch for fallen logs or roots that might trip you up. It’s also important that you take a good look at your surroundings so you will remember your way back to the trail.

As you move towards the cache, keep checking your GPS screen. You will notice that you’re closing in on your target. When you are within 50-60 feet of the cache, stop for a moment and look around. Your GPS might need a few seconds to “catch up” with you. Watch the distance indicator to see if it drops a few more feet. As you continue on you will want to watch the area around you as much if not more than the GPS.

{mospagebreak title=Step 5: The search}

Step 5: The Search

 At about thirty feet it’s time to start searching with your eyes. Look for some likely cache locations. These will be at the base of trees, near fallen logs, among a pile of rocks or other locations where a box could be hidden. Very often the cache will be covered with sticks, leaves, bark or rocks to help camouflage it. Look high and low. Try to think like a geocacher: if you were hiding a box in the woods where would you put it? This is a talent that will become easier as you find more caches.

If you’re having trouble finding the cache don’t get discouraged. There are many factors that can cause you problems: tree cover, faulty coordinates, low batteries in your GPS or exceptionally sneaky cache hiders.

It’s helpful at this point to move a few feet away from the area your GPS is zeroing out on. Think of yourself as moving in a cloverleaf pattern. Walk out about 60 feet in any direction and then circle back towards the cache. Move slowly, allowing for any lag the GPS might be experiencing under the tree cover. Keep an eye out for those “likely cache location” and anything that might just seem out of place (like a group of sticks lying together).

If you’re still having trouble, it might be time to look at the hint on the cache page (if you haven’t yet). The hints are coded with a very simple code called “Rot13″ which is short for “Rotate 13.” Simply rotate the letters of the alphabet by 13 so that A=N, B=O, C=P and so forth. The cache page contains a decryption key to help you decode.

A simple cache with a terrain and difficulty rating of 1-2.5 stars shouldn’t take too long to find. Still, you might find yourself looking for a half hour or longer. If you are getting frustrated and still can’t find the cache it might be time to give it up and go looking for another cache. Even if you don’t find one on your first time out, you’ve gotten out into the woods and spent some time enjoying the world around you. You’re still taking home much more than you brought with you.

{mospagebreak title=Step 6: The find}

Step 6: The Find

If you found the cache, congratulations! It’s time to open it up complete your geocaching experience!

Another side note: If you’re caching with others (especially children) it’s very important that you help them share the whole search and discovery process. If you can, contain your excitement about your find and move slowly away from the cache?trying not to draw any attention to yourself. Allow the others with you to find it. You might want to eventually let them know you’ve found it and play a game of “hotter/colder” with them until they get to the cache.

First things first. Before you take the cache out of its hiding spot take a good look at how it’s hidden. It is essential that you hide the cache back in the way the owner intended for it to be hidden. Pay attention to the position the box is laying in and any particular camouflage that might be around it.

 Take care to open the container without spilling the cache contents. Caches are normally hidden in watertight containers like Tupperware or Rubbermaid. One of the best and most watertight containers are surplus army ammo boxes. These can be a little confusing to open the first time, though. If you’re right handed, grasp the lower wire handle in your left hand and hook the fingers of your right hand around the bottom of the wide metal latch and give it a firm jerk up. The can should pop open with some resistance.

One of the beautiful things about a geocache is that it tells the story of all the previous finders. Within the logbook and the trade items you’ll find glimpses of their personalities, their likes and dislikes, the story of how their day was going or how the hunt went for them. You may never meet these people face-to-face, but through the cache you share an experience with them.

You might want to take something from the cache as a memento of your find. The normal practice among cachers is to “trade even or trade up.” That means you’ll take something that’s of similar value as what you leave or you leave the cache a little richer than you found it. Caches can be full of a variety of items: CD’s, children’s toys, batteries and Dollar Store trinkets just to name a few. If you’re planning on doing a lot of trading you might want to pack a bag with a variety of items to swap out.

 Inside every cache you’ll find a logbook. This is where you record your visit. Logbooks can be a lot of fun to read through so you might spend some time getting to know the other cachers in your area by reading their stories in the book. Find the first blank page and record your visit.

You’ll want to record the date you were there (some cachers like to record the time too) and sign the log with your username. Other than that you might include some details about your experience with the find, you might tell about your hike or any animals you encountered. If you have kids with you tell the story of their hunt. You might also record any difficulties you encountered, like non-geocacher (also known as muggles) near the area.

After you’ve made your trades and signed the log you’re pretty much done with the cache. You now need to rehide the cache the way you found it. Be sure to seal any baggies that were inside and seal the container lid down tight. The extra care you take to close the cache up and rehide it insures that the next finder has as enjoyable an experience as you.

It’s time to get back to out of the woods now. Hopefully you remember the way back to the trail. If not, hopefully you recorded your parking coordinates on the GPS and can use them to find the way back out.

Step 7: Logging Your Find Online

Not now, silly. This is just a picture!Your online log serves many purposes. It lets the cache owner know that the cache has been found, it allows other seekers to draw from your experience and it provides you with a handy record of your caching career. You’ll find yourself in the years ahead looking back over your cache logs, recalling the experiences from the hunt.

You begin the process of logging your find in the same place you began your hunt?at the cache page itself. Pull the page back up on your computer screen. Make sure that you’re logged in with your username and password. At the top right of the cache page you will see a series of links. The one at the top is labeled, “log your visit.” Click this to move on to the logging page.

No, seriously, this is just a picture. Don't click on it!At the top of the “Post a new log” page, you will see a drop down box for the “Type of log” you’re making. Logging your find is just one part of the history of your geocaching experience. There are times when you will log that you didn’t find the cache and other times when you will simply post a note. Occasionally you will encounter a cache that might have a problem (perhaps it’s missing or damaged or there’s something dangerous or disturbing in the area) and you might post a “Needs Archived” or “Needs Maintenance” log. For our purpose, though, we’re concentrating on logging your find. So choose the “Found it” from the dropdown box and move on down the page.

The next line offers you the option of changing the date you logged the cache. If you weren’t able to get back to the computer for a day or so you might need to adjust this. However, we’re going to assume that you rushed right home to log the cache, so just make sure the date is correct and move on.

The checkbox on the next line offers you the opportunity to add a waypoint to the log. Occasionally you will find a cache where the coordinates seem to be quite a bit off (30 feet of variance or less is considered to be normal). In these occasions you might want to use this feature to record the coordinates that you got at the cache site.

 The large text box below is for recording the body of your log. Your online log does not need to be an exact copy of your physical log in the cache. You’ll have more time to reflect on the experience and write your online log. Feel free to share as much or as little as you like about your hunt. Most online logs will include a list of any items taken and left in the cache. This is just common courtesy for the owner and other finders. Anything else you write is up to you.

You’ll notice that above the large text box there is a smiley face in a gray square. Clicking on this will pull up a new window with several different smilies that can be used to dress up your log. You can copy and paste the smiley codes into your log or type them yourself, just be sure to include the brackets (like this: [ : ) ]).

Under the large text box you’ll notice a checkbox that gives you the option of encrypting your log. There may be occasions when you will include “spoilers” in your logs. “Spoilers” are information that gives away a little too much. They could “spoil” the cache hunt for others who read them. If this is the case clicking this button will encrypt the log with the same Rot13 code used in the hint. Also, if need to encrypt just part of the log, click the button but place the text you want to remain un-encrypted within brackets ([like this]).

Once you’re satisfied that you’ve told enough of your story, click the “Submit log entry” button. After it’s processed and entered into the system you will be taken to a page where you can view your log. Congratulations. You’ve done it!

Of course, these are just the basics. As you cache more you’ll pick up travelbugs and log them through the cache pages. You will upload photos that you’ve taken while on the hunt and you will find new ways to personalize your logs and share your experiences with others. But for now, you found your cache, you shared your experience and you’re probably eager to go out and find the next one.