Geocaching 102 – Geocaching Variations

In a previous blog, I introduced geocaching – the world-wide GPS hide-and-seek game. In this blog, I will take a look at the many variations of the game.

The Websites

geocache

Geocache

By far, the largest and most popular geocaching website is Geocaching.com. Established in 2000, Geocaching.com currently has nearly 2 million active caches listed, and over 5 million registered users. Groundspeak, the parent company of Geocaching.com, also operates Waymarking.com, where one can “catalog, mark and visit interesting and useful locations around the world;” and Wherigo.com, which features “GPS-enabled games in the real world;” and Earthcache.org, which lists sites where one can “learn about a unique geoscience feature or aspect of our Earth.”

Geocaching.com is not the only site with geocache listings. One of the earliest competitors was Navicache.com. Established in 2001, Navicache grew fairly quickly as an alternative to Geocaching.com, but has faded greatly in popularity in recent years. Another 2001 competitor was Scout’s GPSGames.org. GPSGames was the first site to offer other GPS-based games in addition to geocaches. These games include Geodashing, Shutterspot, GeoVexilla, MinuteWar, GeoPoker, and Geodashing Golf. Buxley’s Geocaching Waypoint is a site that collects, compiles, and lists geocache data from multiple sites. Due to a legal battle with Groundspeak, Buxley’s stopped listing caches from geocaching.com in January, 2006.

Hidden in a stump

Hidden in a stump

In response to dissatisfaction on the part of many geocachers with Geocaching.com, Terracaching.com was created in the fall of 2004. Terracaching.com features less restrictive policies regarding the types of caches that could be hidden, a decentralized cache review system, and a rating / scoring system. Terracaching took off quickly, and is still the second-most popular alternative to Geocaching.com.

In the last few years, some additional geocache listing sites have been created, including Opencaching North America and OpenCaching.com, which was started by Garmin, a GPS manufacturer. Both of these sites were launched in 2010. Opencaching North America is actually part of a worldwide network of Opencaching sites (Opencaching.com is NOT part of this network, however.)

This list is not exhaustive, as new sites and variations pop up from time to time.

Cache Types

There are many different kinds of geocaches:

  • The most basic type is the traditional cache. Traditional caches are simply a container, a logbook, and sometimes trade items, hidden at the posted coordinates.
  • A multi-cache involves two or more locations. The geocacher visits one location to get the information to locate the next location, continuing until they find the final location.
  • A puzzle cache involves solving some sort of puzzle, deciphering clues, working equations, or some other challenge in order to find the coordinates for the actual cache location. The puzzles can range from very simple to extremely complex.
  • A Letterbox Hybrid cache incorporates elements from Letterboxing into a geocache. Letterbox caches always contain a stamp used to stamp that visitors can use it to record their visit.
  • Event caches are gatherings for geocachers. These can include small gatherings of just a few cachers to mega-events with thousands.
  • Virtual caches are caches that do not have a physical container, but rather involve finding an object that already exists at the posted coordinates. Some of the variations of virtual caches include webcam caches, Earthcaches, and Whereigo caches.
  • “Locationless” caches (also known as “Reverse” caches) involve finding an object that meets a specific objective, then recording the coordinates where it was found.
  • BIT caches are a tag with a code and sometimes a QR code – no container. BIT caches are logged by inputting the code on the online cache page.

Not all cache types are supported on all geocache listing websites. For example, Geocaching.com no longer lists any “locationless” caches, but Terracaching.com does; and Geocaching.com will not list any new virtual or webcam caches, but existing ones have been “grandfathered” and allowed to remain. Whereigo caches and Earthcaches are only listed on Geocaching.com, and BIT caches are only on Opencaching North America.

Advertisements

Geocaching 101

Rich with a geocache

Since October 5, 2001, I have been playing a game called geocaching.  What is geocaching?  It’s sort of a high-tech treasure hunt.  People hide a container of some sort – a “cache” – containing a logbook and sometimes other stuff somewhere out in the world.  Using a GPS device, they obtain the latitude and longitude coordinates for the hiding spot, then post them online.  Other people then download the coordinates, and go look for the container.  When they find the container, they sign the logbook.  If there is something else in the cache, the player has the option to trade something they brought with them for something in the cache.  They then re-hide the container in the place they found it.  Later, they can go to the website where the cache is listed, and create an online log documenting their visit.

By far, the biggest and most popular geocache listing website is Geocaching.com.  As of the time this was written, there were 1,728,669 active geocaches listed on Geocaching.com.  Other geocache listing sites include Terracaching.com, Navicache.com, GPSGames.org, OpenCaching.us, and OpenCaching.com.

The only things a person needs to go geocaching is an account on one of the listing websites, and a handheld GPS device of some sort.  If a person is good with aerial photos, they can even get by without the GPS, using a service such as Google Earth to download aerial photos with the cache location marked.  I did this for years, and still do, from time-to-time.

Geocache under a bridge

Geocaches can be hidden almost anywhere – in forests, on the side of the road, in city parks, or in a Wal*Mart parking lot.  I have one hidden in my front yard.  Some places – such as national parks and some nature preserves – will not allow caches, and most sites have some kind of guidelines regarding where is considered acceptable, or not, to place caches.

The containers can range in size from a 5-gallon (or bigger) container, to a “nanocache” no bigger than a pencil eraser.  There are even a few “virtual” caches, without an actual container.  All caches (except the virtuals) contain some sort of log book or log sheet for the finder to sign.

Some caches contain trade items – called “swag” – in addition to the log book.  Very seldom is the swag valuable; typically, it’s small toys, nick-knacks, and dollar-store trinkets.  If a cacher finds a cache and wants a swag item from the cache, they are supposed to replace the item with something they have brought with them, of equal or greater value than what they remove.

Microcache

Some people ask me, what’s the point of geocaching, if there’s not a real treasure to find?  The fun is the hunt.  There’s something about hunting for things that other people have hidden that seems to be intrinsically entertaining for a lot of people.   It’s like hide-and-seek for geeks.  It’s fascinating to see all the different, creative ways people can hide a cache, often in plain sight, so that a passer-by won’t find it, but someone who is looking for it can find it.

Another thing that makes geocaching fun is the variety of kinds of caches.  Most caches are of the “traditional” variety – the GPS coordinates take you to the cache location.  There are also “multi-caches” where the GPS takes the person to a clue, that gives them another set of coordinates leading to another clue, leading to another, eventually leading to the final cache location.  “Puzzle” caches require the hunter to solve some sort of puzzle to obtain the coordinates for the cache; some puzzles are simple, but others can be extremely difficult.  There are even “event caches” where geocachers meet at a certain place and time to swap stories, share a meal, and/or participate in geocaching-related activities.

Geocaches can be easy or difficult to find.  Caches are given a difficulty and terrain rating by the hider, on a scale of 1 (easy) to 5 (difficult).  A terrain of 1 should be wheelchair accessible; a terrain of 5 requires specialized equipment, such as climbing gear, scuba gear, or a boat.  A difficulty of 1 means the location should be obvious once the cacher is nearby; a difficulty of 5 means that the cache will be very difficult to find, even if the hunter is right next to it.

Travel Bug

Many geocaches also contain “trackable” items.  These items have a unique serial number attached, which allows them to be assigned to a specific cache.  When a cacher removes the trackable item from the cache, they move it to a different cache, and log the move online using the serial number.  In this manner, trackables can be tracked as they move from cache to cache, and from cacher to cacher.  Common trackable items include Travel Bugs and geocoins.  Trackable serial numbers can even be attached to vehicles, ballcaps, and t-shirts.

Geocaching is a great way to see new places and meet new people.  Many areas have geocaching clubs that meet together from time to time, volunteer in parks, or work with local governing authorities to keep geocaching safe and accessible.  If a person has an interest in the outdoors, moderate computer skills, and a flair for adventure, geocaching is a great way to explore the world.  Most caches are good for small children, the elderly, and everyone in between.  My son has been hunting them since he was barely 3 years old.  Many can be accessed by people with physical disabilities.  Geocaching is a great diversion when traveling – most highway rest areas have at least one cache, and tourist areas are popular places to hide geocaches.

If you think geocaching sounds interesting, give it a try.  But beware – it’s addicting!

For more information, visit the Geocaching.com website.