The concept of scavenger hunting as an outdoor recreational activity has been around in some form or another for centuries. Letterboxing is one of the earlier known examples, an outdoor activity in which “letterboxers” would hide small boxes in publicly accessible locations and then leave clues pointing to the hidden item’s whereabouts.
While letterboxing continues to live on today, the more popular practice of geocaching offers a 21st-century, high-tech twist on the outdoor scavenger hunt.
Geocaching involves using a GPS device to locate a hidden, tagged container. The hiding geocacher fills the container with a log book, a writing tool and typically a few other trade items, takes note of the hidden location’s coordinates and posts them along with any other clues on a designated listing site. The finding geocacher takes this set of coordinates and uses a GPS to find the cache location. Under the agreed-upon “rules,” the finder may take anything out of the container, except for the log book and writing implement, as long as the object is replaced with an item of equal or higher value. Occasionally objects are moved from one cache to another one, earning them the designation of “hitchhikers.”
Geocaching was born at the tail end of the 20th century, as global positioning systems became more accurate. The first recorded geocache was placed on May 3, 2000 by a man named Dave Ulmer, from Beavercreek, Oregon. Ulmer shared the location’s coordinates on Usenet, and his hidden box – containing an assortment of software, videos, and other items – was found twice within just three days.
Photo Credit: cachemania – flickr.com
The practice has become increasingly popular since that first experiment. There are hidden cache locations in more than 200 different countries across the planet’s seven continents, with one even tucked away aboard the orbiting International Space Station. Different variations on geocaching, such as the competition-oriented geodashing, which has teams compete to be the first to reach different hidden locations, have emerged over time as well.
Geocaching.com is the largest of the geocaching sites, maintaining a database of more than 1.8 million locations and offering premium membership benefits such as advanced search features and special members-only cache locations. NaviCache.com is a free alternative to Geocaching.com, though these are far from the only resources available to would-be geocachers.
The actual process of locating these hidden boxes ranges from extremely easy and obvious to elaborate and, in some cases, dangerous. A typical listing site will note the difficulty of the course, highlight challenging terrain and provide details of the cache’s size, nearby services, a text description of the location, and a set of coordinates. You’ll also typically see some “cache logs” notes, amounting to comments from those who have checked out the stash before you.
Photo Credit: dmott9 – flickr.com
While you certainly can jetset around the world looking for remote hideaway locations, the practice of geocaching has become widespread enough that you’ll typically be able to sleuth down multiple spots in your own proverbial backyard. Geocaching doesn’t have to be an expensive pursuit, and it’s even something you can use to help give some direction to your aimless wanderings while on a vacation.
The listing websites and their search resources will be your best introduction to geocaching. All it takes is a set of coordinates and an open mind to set off on an adventure of your own making.
Cover Photo Credit: dmott9 – flickr.com