Miles Burke

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Finding that first geocache

Geocache camouflage

So, you’ve read my previous posts about Geocaching, and you’re up with all the lingo and how to read the Geocache listing page, and ready to try your first cache. Let’s walk you through finding that elusive first find.

Start by reading everything you can before you leave the house. Read the attributes, ratings, description and possibly the hint (if your confidence is low). I’m going to assume you’re attempting a Traditional cache with a fairly low difficulty and terrain rating.

As a result, you won’t need to take much with you, besides perhaps a print out of the cache listing or your smartphone, which you can use for ‘paperless caching’. It’s also a good idea to take a pencil or two (bring a spare to place in the cache, if the one provided is missing), a few cheap trinkets to swap (especially important if you’re taking children) and it’s probably worth taking a drink bottle.

Arrive near the listed coordinates, and find somewhere nearby to park. Now, head on over to the rough location. Take a look around, and see if there are any people nearby – part of the geocaching game is to not be caught, so you need to be ready to abort the hunt if there are people nearby. Fire up your geocaching app, or your GPSr if you have one, and wait a few moments for the coordinates to settle.

Then, walk in to where the device leads you (if you’ve got the excellent Geocaching application for the iPhone, it features a handy compass and map). Once there, remind yourself of any clues to where the cache could be hidden. Perhaps the clue is ‘down low’ or ‘in the abvious place’. For many caches, the obvious place to start looking is at the base of a tree or underneath a bush.

Be careful! There may be broken glass, spiders, snakes or other refuse to keep an eye out for – you may want to resort to using a stick or heavy duty gloves to hunt. Look for anything that could be out of place; an unusual pile of twigs or leaves, or a stack of stones are a good giveaway.

Be careful with the environment though – the purpose of Geocaching is to enjoy nature, not destroy it. Trampling over plants and throwing rocks and sticks every which way isn’t taking care of the environment.

Another good hint is to consider where you would hide something. That’s helped me find a number of elusive hides before. Could it be up in a tree, underneath some rocks, or hidden inside a log?

If you don’t immediately find it, start to widen your search area – some devices (especially the iPhone) could be out by a few metres at least.

Assuming you find it (and face it; many first hunters don’t, so please don’t despair), pull the container out a distance, open it carefully, and pull out the logbook (typically an exercise book or notepad). Find the first blank page, and sign the log – something along the lines of date, your caching username, and a comment or feedback, such as ‘Thanks for the great cache – love the location!’.

Now, if you have kids, they’ll want to look through the trinkets and perhaps swap something. The key here is to swap to approximately equal value. Don’t go putting in a 10 cent coin in exchange for a watch, for example. It’s also worth noting you shouldn’t place food items or any perishables in, either, as this could go off, and attract wildlife.

If the log book or pencil needs replacing, feel free to do this – leave the original log book in there though. Experienced cachers often bring spare pencils, plastic ziplock bags, etc for this very purpose. It’s a nice way to help the community and the cache owner.

Once you’ve gotten over the excitement of the find, replace the container exactly where it was. Hide it well (so take note how it was originally hidden) and head back home. Once back at your computer, revisit the listing page, and click the ‘Log this cache’ link. Even if you didn’t find it, this is a step to take regardless. Choose the appropriate choice ‘Found it, or Did not Find’, choose the correct date, and then leave your comment or feedback.

Hit save, and that’s it! You’ve found your first cache. Now, there’s plenty more to find in the future – many of us have thousands of caches available within a few hours drive!

Best of luck finding that first find!

Learning the Geocaching lingo

Geocache containers

You’ve read my last two posts, What is Geocaching? and Getting started with Geocaching, and now you’re ready to learn some of the terms used by geocaching participants.

You certainly don’t need to be proficient at these in order to start geocaching, but it certainly helps if you have an idea what is being said or written in logs.

Here are some of the more popular phrases found in Geocaching.

The actual container that you’re looking for. These can be anything from Mont Tins, to fake rocks, to Ammo cans, plastic containers or other watertight items.

Someone who hunts geocaches.

Short for camouflage, a popular method of helping to hide those caches.

Acronym for ‘Did not find’. It’s worth logging your DNF’s, as it helps the owners understand if there are potential issues with a cache of theirs.

Acronym for ‘First to find’. As your geocaching developers, you’ll start wanting further challenges, by being one of the first to find a new cache. This adds an element of speed to the game.

An acronym for ‘Geocoin’. These are specially made coins that feature a unique code that can be logged on the website, and moved form cache to cache. They are not designed to be kept, but rather moved to another cache.

Acronym for ‘Ground Zero’. The GZ is the listed final coordinates for a cache.

A term used to describe non-players of geocaching, ie: the general public. Muggles are a blight on the game of geocaching, as they’ll unexpectadly pop up when you’re hunting for a cache.

Short for ‘Quick and Easy’. This often appears in logs, if you find the cache within a few minutes of looking.

Acronym for ‘Signed Log’. This is often used in the phrase TNLNSL (see below for TNLN).

STF or 2TF
Acronym for ‘Second to Find’ – see FTF above, you’ve won Silver, not Gold.

Short for Travelbug. These are other not-to-be-kept trackable items, similar to Geocoins, and can be tracked on the Geocaching website.

A short way of saying ‘Thanks for the Cache’ or ‘Thanks for the Hunt’. This is a nice way of thanking the cache owner for placing the cache you’ve just found.

This is short for ‘Took Nothing, Left Nothing’. This means the finder literally only signed the log, and didn’t swap any of the contents of the cache.

TTF or 3TF
This means ‘Third to Find’. A bronze place in the art of chasing down new caches. See FTF or STF above.

These are recorded coordinates, possibly in a multi-cache or used to show good places for parking, etc.

It may all seem like secret code, and in a way, I guess it is; Geocaching is a secret handshake kind of hobby, and these terms make it easy to write quick logs or have codewords for the general public, etc.

Now that you’ve become familiar with some of the terms used in Geocaching, I’ll next post about ‘Finding that first cache’.

Get started in geocaching

Geocaching symbol on a vehicle

If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to read my ‘What is Geocaching’ blog post, which will help this post make sense.

So, I’ve piqued your interest, and now you are keen to get started in geocaching. The first item you’ll need is a GPS capable device. Although I’ve heard of some people who literally just use the satellite overlay on Google Maps to try and pinpoint the location before going out to find a cache, having a device that lets you know where you are in coordinates terms is far easier in my opinion.

For me, I’d heard of Geocaching before, however I wasn’t ready to go and splurge a few hundred dollars on a dedicated GPS receiver to try the game. I was lucky to find that there are dedicated applications available from the App Store for my Apple iPhone. I still don’t actually own a GPSr, and rely on my iPhone for geocaching. I’ve found over 350 caches this way, so I am testament to the fact this works.

The official Geocaching app from Groundspeak is an excellent app for the iPhone, and there are plenty of other apps available for other mobile devices as well. Search the web or look in the Geocaching forums to find one suitable for your device.

The next item you’ll need is an account on It’s really simple to get going; create a free account by visiting this page. There are premium accounts as well, which give you extra features, however for a beginner, the free account is more than ample for your requirements.

Using the geocaching website, you can enter your home coordinates in your account details. This is really important, as it will allow the site to show you all the caches near your home. If you’re worried about privacy, you’ll be happy to know these details aren’t shared, but you can always do what I do, which is choose a landmark near my home as the coordinates I use.

Once all set up, you can search for nearby geocaches. You’ll likely be amazed at how close one is, and how many there are. For example, there are more than a dozen within a few kilometres of my home, and over 500 in the Perth metropolitan area alone.

You’ll find when you do look at a Geocaching listing, that there are some important elements to the listing. Firstly, look at the terrain and difficulty ratings. The terrain rating will give you an insight into what sort of environment the cache is hidden in (one star is nice flat and easy to navigate land, where five stars is likely to be somewhere normally quite inaccessible)

The difficulty rating will show you what the cache hider thinks will be the rating of difficulty finding the cache, with one star being really easy to find, and five stars means it may take hours to find the elusive container.

The next important item on the listing is the type of cache. Visiting this page will give you a better insight into what each type means, however I recommend that for your first few finds, you stick to ‘Traditional’ caches, which are the typical ‘hidden container’ variety.

Another often useful item is the Attributes. These are predefined terms that the placer of the cache can use to better explain the cache and its environment. Attributes include;

  • Recommended for kids
  • Takes less than an hour
  • Wheelchair accessible
  • Stroller accessible
  • Dangerous area
  • Snakes

Then, let’s take a look at the cache description. These are written descriptions provided by the hider of the cache to help explain the purpose of the cache, any meanings associated with the cache, and potentially a few hints to narrow the search.

Another great element of a cache listing is that some feature ‘Hints’, however these are encoded by using a simple code, to avoid people accidently reading them. The fun of finding a cache can often be reduced if you read ‘Under the gum tree, near the fence’. Hints are optional items to add when hiding a cache, so not all of them feature this.

To decrypt a hint, simply click on the ‘Decrypt’ link on the cache listing page. This will then display the hint, or use the decryption key also shown on the listing page to manually decrypt the hint.

All geocaching listing services link to a map. for example, links to Google maps. By clicking on the map, you can zoom in/out, and it shows the hiding spot (called a ‘GZ’) overlaid using an icon. You can turn ‘Satellite view’ on, to see the actual terrain and nearby landmarks.

A good tip is to also read some of the recent logs. When you find a cache, you record that achievement on the website, so it adds to your ‘finders score’ and allows you to leave some feedback. In the next post, I’ll explain some of the terms used in writing logs, or speaking to fellow geocaching enthusiasts – it may seem like a secret handshake society without some insight!

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