micbinks - UK holiday, leisure & tourist attraction images

Leisure Activities - Geocaching Treasure Hunt

Belinda and Mike - follow our tourist travels in the UK

What is Geocaching all about then?

We enjoy Geocaching - a pastime using Sat Nav and the internet to find hidden items around town and country.

It's best described as a fun and educational recreational activity; a treasure hunt that uses a GPS receiver or, more commonly these days, a smartphone + app to find, typically, a box with goodies in.  See the entry on Wikipedia for a full description.

micbinks geocaching statsHere at micbinks we contribute to the geocaching community on the global GPS cache hunt website: www.geocaching.com - check us out under our ID which is, of course, 'micbinks' - and we enjoy searching out locations both locally and when on holiday.

Geocaching can be environmentally friendly - 'cache-in trash-out' - where participants clear rubbish from the geocache area (like The Wombles?).  It's a family friendly pastime and healthy for both mind and body, what with all the walking/searching/thinking that's required.  And it's highly educational - knowledge of navigation, topography, land use, GPS, mapping and the grid system is gained (oh, and where the nearby pubs are!).  As a responsible pastime, accepted practice guidelines are published by the geocaching community.

Using a device to find a geocache
GPS tracking a cache...

Locating a cache in the rocks
Finding a cache...

Logging a cache find at a scenic location (this one in Gower)
Logging a cache

So how do you go Geocaching?
Our early Sat Nav receiverNot so long ago a handheld Sat Nav receiver (image left) was required for geocaching, but now you'll already have suitable hardware - yes, your smartphone!  You'll need to install a geocaching app plus map for offline use and open an account with Groundspeak's geocaching.com, the geocachers gateway.  A basic account is free; a paid premium member subscription (currently 24.99/yr) provides access to more caches and more functions.  You'll be able to view geocache details which includes a description, photos, previous finders' logs, and, of course, the vital cache coordinates.  Caches can be searched for by area, viewed in a list and located on the map.  Once you've read and noted some juicy caches to attempt (they have difficulty and terrain ratings) in your chosen area, just save the caches in the app for offline use and you're off!  It's probably best to start with straightforward rural caches approached on foot or cycle as there's less people about (called muggles in geocache speak!) to contend with.

Searching out a geocacheFollow the electronic compass or map arrow, keeping in mind that, unless you have wings, you can't always navigate 'as the crow flies'.  When you get to within, say, 10 metres, start looking around for any clues as to where the geocache might be hidden.  It helps to keep in mind the cache container type you're looking for, description, previous finders' logs and the additional hint.  This often gives it away with clues such as 'bottom of fence post', 'under seat', 'hole in wall', etc, so be careful not to spoil the fun!

Logging a geocache findWhen you've (hopefully!) found the cache, open the container and fill in the paper log with the date and your geocaching name.  Larger caches contain small items you can swap if you wish.  Seal the lid and carefully replace the geocache back where you found it, covering with sticks, stones, etc. ready for the next geocacher.  If you wish, take a photo of something interesting nearby, taking care that it doesn't reveal the hiding place.

The final stage is to log your find(s), either from within the app or on geocaching.com: log in, browse to the relevant geocache page and add a sentence or two describing your find (try to make it interesting) plus upload your photo if you took one.  And you're done!

So who places geocaches in the first place?  Why, other geocachers of course!  Here's some we've hidden:
GC1FCY1 - One, Two, Three, FORE!
GC1T6HC - Jack & Jill went up the hill...
GC1W156 - A Sussex High

Let's look at one of our geocache finds...

Looking for a geocache
It's gotta be around here somewhere!

Ah! Found the geocache
Ah, what's this buried in the Ivy?

Geocache find close-up
Got it!

Now, if we haven't put you off(!), read on for more on Geocaching...

Cache types
A micro cache - 35mm film potThe most popular is the micro-cache, a 35mm film pot placed as a stand-alone cache.  An advancement on this is the multi-cache which necessitates finding a number of caches each giving a part GPS coordinate to note for the final cache coordinates.

Other geocaches require the solving of simple - or involved - clues such as noting dates on, say, a building, notice or gravestone then using these numbers to work out the coordinates by following a given formula.  Now this may sound like too much trouble, but once you've tried one you'll find it's quite straightforward and a lot of fun, especially for the kids.  Some can involve a trail; the most interesting can take you round a historic location, for example.

A larger cache container containing swapsThe larger lunch box caches contain small items to swap, the idea is one item is taken and one left which is noted in the cache and online log.  Items thus travel from cache to cache, often great distances and overseas too.  The next stage on from this are Travel Bugs where particular items are tracked as they travel around the country - or the world!  Now, where's that tiny tatty teddy auntie gave me all those years ago...

Other types of geocaches include:
Mystery caches - puzzles that need to be solved to determine the coordinates.
Earthcache - educational location that people can visit to view a unique geoscience feature on-the-ground.
Adventure Lab caches - the latest cache type; an outdoor virtual scavenger hunt that follows a story.
Return to topSee all cache types here

Container types
The most common is the 35mm film pot, but they can vary from the very small nano with just enough room for a log strip, to a lunch box or even bucket sized containing swaps.  In many areas containers are put in a camouflaged ammo type bag to keep the rain out (and make them harder to spot!).  The smaller containers are sometimes magnetic so they can be attached to metal objects.  Nanos can be particularly challenging geocaches to find, the blighters!

Muggles – what are they then?
A muggle free area at the moment... One term you'll often come across is that of the dreaded muggle, a term derived from the Harry Potter movies.  A muggle is an innocent non-caching member of the public who may unknowingly thwart your attempt at locating a cache.  Most cachers try to avoid raising the suspicions of the public at large when looking for caches as there's a chance they may think a geocacher is up to no good.  A persistent muggle is the worst, one who just won't move from the location you wish to search, such as someone sitting on the park bench right where you suspect the cache may be.  Most frustrating!
Left. No muggles in sight - yet - along this disused railway cycle trail as Mike logs a find.

Look out for the (usually) helpful cachers' trail when within spitting distance of the geocache you're searching out.  This provides tell-tale evidence that the geocache is nearby, such as downtrodden vegetation or unnaturally positioned stones.  But also be aware of a false cachers trail, indicating others have been looking... in the wrong place!

Let's look at some unusual geocaches we've found...

Unusual geocache at bottom of fence post
We're looking right at the cache...

Phoney stone geocache container
...yep, it's within that dummy stone!

Coloured beads riddle to unlock padlock cache
Puzzle solving required to unlock padlock

Geocache equipment and software
Mike logs yet another geocache findGenerally all you need is a smartphone, geocaching app and online access.  When choosing a new smartphone, we suggest picking one that has some degree of water resistance and ruggedness.  This is well worth the extra cost as however careful you think you'll be, it's inevitable it'll get rained on / dropped / generally knocked about in such an environment.  Fitting a knobbly phone case helps with grip and offers further knock protection, and a screen protector is a no brainer - it's certainally saved our screen while geocaching.  Also a power bank may just save the day when the battery runs out before completing the day's caches!

If the bug bites big then a dedicated handheld Sat Nav device can be considered, with more advanced Ordnance Survey mapping installed (subscription required).  Finally, using your good old existing PC or laptop facilitates studying caches in detail and logging your finds (or no finds!) on geocaching.com.

Other useful items to take on your geocaching adventures are: gardening gloves for rummaging around all those prickly plants, small tweezers for extracting log strips, a small telescopic rod with magnetic end, and a poking stick as you'll never find one nearby when needed!  Oh, don't forget a pen too.

Looking at some typical cache hidey holes...

A micro cache hidden under a horse trough
This was underneath a horse trough

'bottom of fence post' geocache
The ubiquitous 'bottom of fence post'

Extracting a geocache from under a boulder
A struggle to extract this one from the rock

Geocaching has social aspects too.  Apart from the social network provided by the website, many local groups of geocachers get together, say, once a month in a pub; automatic news of upcoming local meets can be notified.

It's an international hobby with many overseas travellers finding and logging caches in countries they're visiting.  Expect to see log entries from overseas visitors, particularly in popular tourist areas.  We've searched out some rather scenic caches over the years while touring in Gower, the Cotswolds, Cornwall, Isle of Wight, Wiltshire, Kent Pembrokeshire, the Wye Valley, Dorset's Jurassic Coast, Buckinghamshire and Snowdonia.

Here's some 'guardians of the cache'...

A snail guarding a geocache
This snail was gripping tightly to the cache

Spider on a micro geocache
Well, the spider didn't put up much fight!

Will this snail let us into the cache box?
Some guard - this guy was asleep on the job!

Like many hobbies, geocaching has its own language and abbreviations, here's a few common ones:

GPSr Global Positioning System receiver (AKA a Sat Nav device)
Spoiler - a give-a-way to the cache location, maybe a photo or text that's too specific
Stealth - trying not to draw too much attention to yourself while caching
SL - signed log
DNF - did not find
FTF - first to find
T4TC (or TFTC) - thanks for the cache
TNLN - took nothing left nothing
TB - Travel bug
CITO - cache in trash out
stickouflage - unusual pile of sticks covering a geocache

Here's some Geocaching resources you may find useful:
Groundspeak's international geocaching website
UK reviewer 'Graculus' (now archived) site of geocaching resources
c:geo - Android geocaching app (and the one we use on our smartphone)
Swiss Army Knife (GSAK) - geocaching and waypoint management tool for PC, processes GPX file for mobile device
Cachemate - geocaching database with hint decoder
Memory-Map - mapping software for PC or smartphone
Google Earth - uses KML overlays to view geocaches and trails

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Page last updated Aug 2021