What Is Geocaching?

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on January 06, 2023
6 min read

People of all ages can benefit from spending more time in nature. Immersing yourself in the outdoors is a fantastic way to improve both your physical and mental health. 

But just wandering the same old paths around your house can get boring after a while. Geocaching is a great way to find new places to explore while learning more about the world around you.

Geocaching is both a fun outdoor activity and a great learning tool. It’s the do-it-yourself version of treasure hunting. It’s even fun for people who are obsessed with their smartphones — because you need a GPS-enabled device in order to pull it off.  

In essence, geocaching is the process of hiding and locating small containers using only GPS coordinates. Variations on this idea exist, but this is the essential goal. 

The main point of geocaching is to get more people outside and to introduce them to the world around them. Pretty much anyone can start geocaching at any time. All you need is the desire to explore and access to GPS technology.

Geocaching originated in the early 2000s. The idea began with a single man hiding a cache of mystery objects in the woods outside of Portland, Oregon. 

This man, named David Ulmer, then posted about his hidden treasure on a public message board. He gave details on the location and told people to find it, take something, and leave something new behind. Someone found it less than 24 hours later. 

Soon, new caches were popping up in other states — from Kansas to California. Today, there are millions of small treasure caches located in all sorts of bizarre and mundane locations across the globe.

A few different types of caches exist. Some of these may appeal to you more than others. Examples of different caches include: 

  • Traditional. This is the most straightforward type of cache. You’re given GPS coordinates and need to find the nearby cache. The container could be up in the trees or buried under leaf litter. But don’t worry — people aren’t allowed to bury caches underground, so you won’t have to dig deep to find them. Cache sizes vary from very small — or microcaches — to large ones. Larger ones are typically much easier to find. 
  • Puzzle. This type requires you to solve a particular mystery or puzzle in order to find the exact location of the cache. For example, you may need to solve a riddle or decrypt a code. 
  • Multi. These caches involve multiple locations. You start by going to one location where you pick up additional clues to figure out the next location and, eventually, the cache itself. 
  • Earthcaches. These don’t involve any hidden containers. Instead, you’re meant to learn something about the environment where the “cache” is located. The posts for these caches usually contain lots of interesting information on the environment that they’re sending you to. 

Once you’ve picked the cache that you want to track down, the steps to geocaching are relatively simple: 

  • Enter the GPS coordinates in an appropriate device.
  • Follow the coordinates or other clues to the location of your cache and start to search.
  • Report back to your geocaching group once you’ve found the cache — you can even document your journey with photos.

If you want to start geocaching, you should first find an organization that has posted caches in your area. Some large for-profit organizations have spots labeled across the globe. 

Most of these will require some kind of registration. Luckily, they don’t need a lot of information from you, so you should be able to maintain as much privacy as you want. Then get started by searching for caches in your area or the area that you plan on visiting. 

Thoroughly check out the post before you pick a spot. Most posts will include a little bit more than just the GPS coordinates. Pay attention to details like: 

  • Any clues or puzzles that are provided in the post
  • Comments that other people have made after checking out the site
  • Any pictures of the area included in the post

Then you simply get your gear and head out into the world.

Geocaching resources that will come in handy include: 

  • A GPS device. This is a must in order to actually locate the cache. Luckily, there are plenty of apps that can transform your smartphone into a functional GPS device. 
  • Water. It’s always a good idea to bring water with you when you’re headed out into nature. If you plan on making a day of it, then consider packing a whole picnic. 
  • Sturdy walking shoes. With geocaching, you often don’t know what kind of environment you’re headed into. Wear clothes and shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty. 
  • Something to leave behind. A lot of caches have a take something, leave something policy. It doesn’t hurt to have a few fun objects in your pocket to place into the cache.

Geocaching is meant to be a safe, family-friendly activity. The caches might be hard to find, but looking for them shouldn’t put you in unnecessary danger. And, with a good GPS device, you’re unlikely to get lost. Just make sure that you have everything you need before starting off on your journey. 

You can find a cache in all kinds of environments — from deep in the woods to a random mural on a city street. Since it started, geocaching has spread around the world. It’s actually difficult to find a region that doesn’t have a cache or two within a few miles. 

Check out online geocaching organizations to find locations near you.

Geocaching for beginners isn’t that much different than geocaching for experts. In general, experts tend to be a bit better at actually finding difficult caches. Luckily, the more caches you try to find, the better you’ll get. 

Some tips for geocaching beginners include: 

  • Try looking for larger-sized caches first — some micro-sized ones can be very frustrating to find
  • Give different kinds of caches a try — even if you’re in it for the hunt, learning more about the world with an earthcache can be a lot of fun too
  • Learn your geocaching jargon — the community has developed a number of fun terms that beginners can acquaint themselves with, like TFTC, which stands for “thanks for the cache”

After finding a number of caches, you might be tempted to try hiding one of your own. Some things to keep in mind when hiding your own cache include: 

  • Make sure that your spot is at least 0.10 miles away from all other caches
  • Make sure to take precise note of your spot’s GPS location or no one will ever be able to find it
  • Choose a suitable container — it needs to be able to withstand the elements for a long time
  • Maintain your spot — responsible cachers will check in on their spots every so often to make sure that they’re still viable
  • Never place your cache in a spot that’s dangerous or posted as private property
  • Never use your cache to advertise for a business, charity, or event — this isn’t the point of geocaching and can create legal problems for some of the companies involved
  • Never place dangerous materials inside of your cache — this includes explosives, knives, drugs, and alcohol

Geocaching is a fun event that you can do on your own or with a big group. It’s a fantastic way to both explore and learn more about the world around you. Plus, it teaches everyone that nature and technology aren’t incompatible ideas. In short, it’s the perfect activity for all kinds of modern explorers.