Waypoints in the Wilderness: Getting into Geocaching

By: Kevin Mims

Outdoors Insider Kevin Mims takes you geocaching.

As I slowly make my way down dusty Forest Road 13 in the Withlacoochee State Forest near Nobleton, I pause to check the screen on my handheld GPS. Having preset the location, I determine that the treasure I’m seeking lies somewhere amid the longleaf pines to my right.

My heart picks up in anticipation. I weave in and out of clusters of palmettos, dodging golden silk spiders and their massive webs, all while looking for a unique landmark that would indicate a good spot to hide a cache.

Spotting a group of live oak trees that seemed out of place, I rush over. Underneath a few well-placed branches, there it is! Opening the olive colored metal container, I made my entry into the logbook and proceeded to sort through the collection of medallions, action figures and other small items. I settled upon a Florida Trail patch, and in return I left a small compass.

It was one of many I located that day. Each one I found, I thought would be my last, but I couldn't get enough. It was my first outing, and already I was hooked on this new-fangled hobby of geocaching, a sport that combines technology and the great outdoors.

Ready to take part in a modern-day treasure hunt, too? Here’s what you need to get into it.

Tools of the Trade: What You'll Need

It takes more than a keen sense of direction to locate caches; you need some high-tech items to help you.

The most important item on your list for geocaching is a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver, and  you can choose from several types on the market today: handheld, car-mounted, even Bluetooth devices that interface with your cellphone or PDA. Since geocaching is mostly an outdoor sport, look for lightweight and water resistant models.

The handheld GPS is by far the easiest to operate and most versatile unit, allowing you to synchronize cache locations from your PC to the device. Once you have a few caches stored on your GPS, you are ready to hit the trail and start hunting down some caches.

If you already have a PDA or top-of-the-line cellular phone that also serves as a GPS, chances are, you can use it for geocaching. These units allow you to access different software on the go, but they may be less sensitive than handheld devices, so add an external Bluetooth GPS to get the best possible signal.

Don’t forget to bring your own treasure to swap out. Choose items that are interesting or useful, but not expensive. Emergency ponchos, souvenir coins and medallions and action figures are just of the few things you’ll typically find in caches. 

Plan your geocaching outing the same as you would a day hike: Wear proper clothing for the weather and bring plenty of water, a snack, first aid items and insect repellent.

Getting Started: Geocaching Resources

You’ve got your GPS and your trusty hiking shoes on. Now where do you find these caches?

As with most things nowadays, the Internet’s the place to go.

Considered one of the primary sources for cache locations, Geocaching.com is a great place to begin.

In addition, Florida has great websites dedicated to geocaching, and you can connect with fellow geocachers in your area. Visit the Florida Geocaching Association, the Northeast Florida Geocachers Association and the South Florida Geocachers for discussion forums, cache information and pictures to help you in your hunt.

Locating Caches

Here's where things get fun.

Your GPS will get you to within about 30 feet of the object. After that, it's up to you to canvass the area and find the cache. Look for prominent landmarks or geographical features that look like they would make a good hiding spot; most likely you will find the cache in those areas.

Not all caches are the same size, or even on the ground. Look above for a box hanging from a limb, or below for an object hidden underneath exposed roots. Geocaches are never buried.

And every cache is different. You’ll find microcaches (small containers such as a film canister), multi-caches (multiple locations with clues that lead adventurers to the final location and geocaches container) and a multitude of other types that may be a little more difficult. Divers even can find caches underwater.

I Found A Cache! Now What?

Don't be disappointed when you locate a cache and discover it is not loaded with Spanish doubloons or precious jewels. This sport is for the lesser treasures, and you'll most likely encounter small trinkets and other items that won't hold much monetary value.

You’ll also find a log book which gives details on dates on which the cache has been discovered, who else has previously found the cache, and basic comments on others’ experiences in finding the cache. You’ll see comments like “Nice cache, weather was great!” or “Took a couple of minutes to find, but eventually we got it!”

I've seen action figures, magnets, compasses and even a free meal coupon. Once you find your treasure, take it and replace it with something new. It's also customary to sign the log with your Geocaching.com username, letting others know that you were there and what you swapped out. Bring a pen or pencil just in case one is missing from the cache.

You've got the tools, you've researched cache descriptions and locations and they are all loaded in your GPS. There's only one thing left to do: Go geocaching!

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