Geocaching 101: Adding a Little Extra Fun to Your Next Hike

You never know where a cache might be hiding!
It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of exploring the outdoors on my own two feet, and advocating that others do the same. Hiking is one of my favorite outdoor pastimes no matter the season, and it’s a great way to get outside, especially if you live near great trails.

But if you’re looking to add some extra excitement to a familiar trail, or ways to encourage others to spend time outdoors with you, geocaching can be a great option for adventurers of all ages. 

Geocaching is defined loosely as “the recreational activity of hunting for and finding a hidden object by means of GPS coordinates.” And though I’ve primarily heard of geocaching as it relates to outdoor adventure, I’ve learned there are geocaches all around the city I live in, too. Sounds pretty neat, right?

How Did Geocaching Start?

On May 2, 2000, the federal government repealed “selective availability,” which improved the accuracy of GPS technology instantly, and gave civilians access to some pretty incredible stuff. Basically, imagine getting an instant upgrade to any and all things GPS-related - pretty neat, right?

The following day, Dave Ulmer decided to test the limits of this newly available technology and its accuracy by hiding a container in the woods outside Portland, Oregon, noting the coordinates with a GPS unit, and challenging others to find what he’d stashed. Once a stash was found, the general rule was to take what was inside and leave something else behind. Thus, the great global game of treasure hunting began. The name “geocaching” was coined by the first person to find Dave Ulmer’s cache. Learn more about the history of geocaching here and here.

What Do Caches Look Like? 

As it turns out, there are twelve different official types of caches, depending on what you’re interested in. Traditional Caches are generally containers, though the sizes will vary. At the least, they’ll contain a logbook to sign and usually an item for trade, like a toy, book or jewelry. Other traditional caches will have trackables or even goals like “take me to Peru.” And if you happen to be headed to Peru, for example, you can either choose to leave it or you can move the trackables to another cache to help achieve the goal.

If you’re looking for more of a challenge, Mystery/Puzzle Caches require a little extra brainpower to find. Geocachers interested in these types of caches often have to solve puzzles and decode clues to determine the cache’s coordinates.

There are a dozen different types of caches. You can decide what types you like as well as how hard you want finding them to be!
Then, there are EarthCaches, geological locations people can visit to learn more about a unique feature of the Earth. Educational notes are often included with these caches, so if you’re interested in adding some knowledge to your next outing, these are a great option. Learn more about the other types of caches here.

Getting Started Geocaching

When it comes to getting started, there are a few helpful things to keep in mind. All caches come with a difficulty rating; starting with the easiest ratings will get you geocaching experience, and after a few finds, you can move on to the tougher ones. Additionally, check to make sure someone’s found the cache recently, which indicates it’s still there and in the right place.

Remember, caches are often very well hidden and might be under rocks, or even look like rocks! Checking for hints on the cache’s page on, for example, can help you locate it more easily. They also track things like the type of cache it is, and the size of the cache. Finally, be aware of geocaching etiquette, specifically things like what to leave in a cache, what not to leave in a cache, and more.

Geocaching can be a great way to add a little extra fun to your hikes, especially if you're out with kids.

Also, just as required on any hike, make sure you’re dressed appropriately for the season, and don’t forget to wear comfortable and durable hiking boots, which can be easily found from popular retailers like Carhartt.

Huge thanks to the Carhartt team for providing the inspiration for this piece, and for sponsoring it! Are you a seasoned geocacher with tips to share? I’m a total newbie and would love to learn more! Other fellow newbies, what questions do you have about geocaching?