Geocaching as a Fun Family Preparedness Activity

by David Morris on January 5, 2012

From time to time, I like to share ideas for fun activities that you can do on your own or with other members of your family that have a “hidden” preparedness component.

Geocaching is an activity that fits into that category incredibly well, and it can be as much pure-fun or as serious as you decide you want it to be.

In case you don’t know what geocaching is, you’re not alone. Geocaching is basically a global treasure hunting game that combines navigation, critical thinking, creative thinking, following directions, and luck. In short, people hide containers containing trinkets and post clues online on Geocaching.com on how to find them using a GPS device. There are over 1 million worldwide, they are in all 50 states, you can find them in small, medium, and large towns, as well as in wilderness areas, and there are geocaches that you can them in terrain ranging from wheelchair accessible to high-angle caches in the middle of multi-pitch climbs. Chances are good that you have one or more within a mile of you as you read this.

If you’re interested in learning land navigation or getting a family member interested, geocaching is a great way to get your toes wet and get exposure to some of the most basic elements.

An easy way to get started with geocaching if you have a handheld GPS is to go to geocaching.com, sign up for a free account, plug in a location near you where you’d like to hunt for a geocache, plug the latitude/longitude or UTM coordinates into your GPS, and go hunting.

Alternatively, if you’ve got a smart phone, you can download the geocaching.com app, which uses your phone’s GPS feature, and start hunting for nearby caches. This, of course, depends on your comfort level with enabling GPS on your phone and agreeing to share it with geocaching.com.

In either case, you’ll want to pick caches with as low of a difficulty level as possible to begin with and ideally one that has been found recently and that looks like it has good hints. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to start off with easy geocaches to build confidence and THEN switch to more challenging ones.

Once you get to the coordinates listed for the cache, you’ll learn a valuable lesson in navigation: +/-, otherwise known as accuracy, is a BIG deal when you’re looking for an exact location.

Here’s what I mean. Let’s say that when the person who placed the cache originally placed it and recorded the location, their GPS was accurate to within 20 feet. When you go to find it, YOUR GPS is telling you that it’s accurate to within 20 feet. That means that when you get to the exact coordinates listed on geocaching.com, you’ll be within 40 feet of the cache. Depending on the location and the description/clues, a circle with a 40 foot radius can mean the cache will be very easy or very difficult to find.

Just to put things in perspective, I’m writing this article in a built up area with very good cell coverage and my cell phone is bouncing around between accuracy readings of 32, 98, and 361 feet, depending on the moment.

When you find a geocache, it will usually range in size from a small pill bottle to an ammo can and be filled with semi-useless trinkets, stickers, and other stuff that you might get from a gumball machine. In geocaching culture, it’s customary to take something and replace it with one or more items of equal or greater value. The prize isn’t really what you take from the cache…it’s the thrill of the chase and finding the cache…the goodies are just for fun. It’s also customary to sign a log with your name or handle and the date that you found the cache. Personally, I rarely, if ever take anything from the cache unless I’ve got my boys with me, but I do sign and date the log with whatever random handle I decide to go with at that moment.

Some caches are under rocks, under fake rocks, inside of fence posts, attached to the bottom of sculptures with magnets, inside the leg of a specific table at a restaurant, hanging in bushes, behind a loose brick/loose mortar, behind a book in a library, in a tree, etc. The locations are only limited by the creativity of the person placing the caches.

Another aspect about geocaching in populated areas is “muggles.” Muggles are non-geocachers and as a geocacher, one of your goals is to find the caches you’re looking for, open them up, and replace them, without any muggles realizing what you’re doing. This is kind of a fun spy-vs.-spy/Jason Bourne component that adds both an element of frustration and excitement to the process. Alternatively, you can just find the cache and forget about whether or not anyone sees what you’re doing.

One of the things that I like to do is incorporate geocaching with trail running/hiking. I’ll pick out one or more geocaches along a route that I want to run to add an additional element to my workout. If you’re running in an area where the terrain allows you to shoot accurate azimuths/reverse azimuths and you’ve got an accurate topographical map, geocaching is also a great way to practice finding “exact” locations with a map and compass.

As you get more and more into geocaching, you’ll learn some valuable lessons that you can apply in a survival situation, including:

  1. The incredible variety of places to hide things in both urban and wilderness environments.
  2. The incredible variety of containers to use as mini and micro caches.
  3. The benefits and limitations of GPS technology.
  4. Using GPS/map & compass navigation to find something other than a street address.
  5. The surreptitious (clandestine) skill of retrieving and depositing “dead drops.”
  6. The ramifications of GPS/navigational accuracy.
  7. If you use a map and compass, the importance of current magnetic declination (magnetic north and true north are different in most places and the difference varies from location to location and changes over time.) The north on your map and the north on your compass may differ by up to 10-20 degrees in the US and you have to account for the difference when navigating or you’ll end up somewhere other than where you’re trying to get.
  8. The importance of clear communication with navigational clues and the frustration of trying to interpret poorly written clues.
  9. Ideas for setting up your own caches…either for geocaching or for your own personal preparations.

If you’ve got the time, I’d suggest trying geocaching this weekend, if not sooner. And two big hints…if you’ve got a dedicated GPS, use it. The increased accuracy will make a huge difference. Second, if you don’t have a smart phone, print or write out the coordinates, description, and hints. If you’re like me, if you don’t do this, you’ll wish you did when you find that you are several minutes into searching for a cache and can’t remember EXACTLY what the description said.

Any experience with geocaching? Are you someone who got introduced to caching through geocaching and moved on to caching preparedness supplies? If so, please share your comments and experiences by commenting below.

Until next week, God bless and stay safe.

 

David Morris

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

+2 Vote -1 Vote +1Modern Day Redneck
January 6, 2012 at 7:28 am

We are a family of Geocachers and have been for several years now. It is funny to see the faces of people at the meetings when they see a bunch of Rednecks pull up and hop out of their pickups holding GPS units.
I re-posted this article on my blog. Thank you for bringing this up. In my neck of the woods Geocachers are far and few between.

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+5 Vote -1 Vote +1John Calvin
January 6, 2012 at 8:19 am

David,
I’m out there geocaching almost ever day. When I’m wandering the backroads and woods of Oklahoma. I keep on the out look for water sources. The sources I look for are springs along the country roads. Also I watch for old abandon farm wells. I waypoint all these sources. I keep updated printed maps of these locations. I refurbish 50 cal. ammo
cans and hide them in area I can get to in a hurry. I hide my cans about a mile apart. I update my supplies in these caches once a month. Haven’t lost a cache yet. There is alot more on how to hide stuff in the field using your GPS unit. It is always best to keep your printed maps updated.
Cache Me If You Can
John

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Vote -1 Vote +1ed
January 6, 2012 at 9:24 am

Hi David,

Your Geocaching sounds alot like what we do in the military called land nav. The difference is the military maps are a lot easier to use than a GPS. The military maps can be accurate to 1 meter. I was really good at land nav while in the military. Reading what you wrote is making me consider checking out the geocaching site. Thanks for sharing the information.

ed

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Vote -1 Vote +1Bret
January 6, 2012 at 9:28 am

Some of the best third party references to explain, demonstrate, guide and enable youth and adults with an introduction to GPS for simple pff instructions can be found at http://www.geocaching.com. Orienteering and Geocaching has become the favorite monthly actitivity on campouts for scouts since 2010 with the current Geocaching Merit Badge pamplet stock number 610765 and worksheet http:/www.usscouts.org/mb/worksheets/list.asp
The 2012 Conference Training Schedue at Philmont Scout Ranch is offering a training course from August 12-18 this year for those who may be intersted in becoming very proficient in adding value and leading others using GPS technology.

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Vote -1 Vote +1Craig
January 6, 2012 at 10:31 am

I have been geocaching for about 2 years now and I agree with everything you said above!
It is also good, cheap, family fun too! And yes, it can be disappointing to not find some of them… it is also REALLY gratifying to find the harder ones! caching will take you to places, even in your own neighborhood, that you didn’t know was even there! Have fun caching!

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Vote -1 Vote +1Michael Young
January 6, 2012 at 10:54 am

I was introduced to geocaching through Boy Scouts and brought home to my family and to a couple of families we are close with. We have geocached all over Iowa and have visited a couple of other states.

They place these caches in almost everywhere! Found what they call a micro [a little magnetic device with only a strip of paper in it to log date and name] on an old WWII tank in a small city park. Yes, it was as difficult as you would imagine – it took 3 of us over half an hour to find it combing and scouring every nook and cranny of the tank. That was a very satisfying find!

We have been on finds that have taken us to old cemetaries, abandoned railroad bridges, abandoned mining town foundations, and a special built room that was hidden between buildings and the entire room was a multi-cache.

Many more stories than I have time to share here.

It has been a terrific family activity to get us out of the house and have a purpose to go find something and in doing so we have been to and visited places that we have not been to before and seeing unique parts of the city and countryside. A side benefit is that is has helped me lose weight and maintain it.

As to Ed comments – if you enjoyed land nav in the service ( I sure did in the Marines ) then you would pick this up like fish to water.

Thanks for the newsletter and keep up the great work David!

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+1 Vote -1 Vote +1Nick
January 6, 2012 at 11:05 am

I purchased items from this site and am glad I did.
I also absorb all the newsletters information and
plan on using the survival tactics I did not know before
if necessary. Re-reading the course papers and the newsletters keeps me sharp.

Nick
CERT member and owner of SS4U

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+2 Vote -1 Vote +1Dawn
January 6, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Geocaching is awesome! Look for events and Mega Events in your area too! THere are lots of peole that are out there that are willing to help out a newbie! FIrst to finds are an honor of their own too! PLease be careful to hide the cache in the same location but better than you found it to prevent ones being stolen or destroyed by “mean muggles”! And check out Pathtags too! They are little coins that you can keep for your own collection! If you find travel bugs move them a long and log that you found them- theses aren’t keepers though, just travelers! Best of all, remenber where you came in and how to get out- we got lost in a swamp once, almost had to spend the night since we had no flashlight (Duh!) and didn’t keep track of our route in. BUt please have fun!

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Vote -1 Vote +1Butch
January 6, 2012 at 9:00 pm

I tried it a few years ago but lost interest in it but I think I will try it again. I’ll try and find a group in my area who can help me understand it better. I too am a CERT member and this could be a big help in S&R ops.

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+1 Vote -1 Vote +1David Beaumont
January 6, 2012 at 9:10 pm

As all have discussed, Geocaching is a great sport and exercise in navigating your way around the outdoors. Not only do you have a great time, like already mentioned, you’re also gathering detailed information about the area you’re visiting. I’d like to propose that this information be used for a purpose other than what has been discussed already. Geocachers are the on the ground experts of what exists in an area. Often these are public recreational lands. Being public lands they are under the control and effect of governmental agencies through land management policies, and political forces who desire to restrict or eliminate public access to these lands. You know the locations of roads; campgrounds; hiking trail heads reached by motorized vehicles; staging areas for horses; great places to have a picnic; or maybe set up a telescope for astronomy; or even just great places for solitude; the list is endless, and you’re the expert with the treasure map showing where it all is. You don’t have to identify the exact locations of your caches, just a general area is sufficient. What I do with locations such as those mentioned that I have found over the years, is work with governmental agencies and politicians to identify and preserve access to these areas. Find out who manages these areas and start working with them so that you can inform them of what is important to you and your family or friends. Help them to help manage the lands for the benefit of the public who uses the lands for recreation. Many of these agencies have regularly scheduled meetings where you can learn about what is happening in your favorite areas. All these agencies have Internet sites and can be found by doing a Google search. I have found that it does make a difference to participate in this process. My apologies for being a bit off thread here, but if you want to keep your areas open, you need to stand up and be heard!

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Vote -1 Vote +1Craig L. Johnson aka thenaturenurd
January 7, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Been geocaching almost 7 years…great article. Have come across some really neat areas caching and it has definitely worked to improve many of my essential skills such as observation, camouflage/caching objects, land navigation, etc. Its great to do alone or with family/friends. It certainly doesnt hurt (as you mention) to have hobbies/interests/activities that increase your skills in many ways. Thanks for the mention of this…keep up the good work.

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+1 Vote -1 Vote +1Desertflower
January 12, 2012 at 7:30 pm

my biggest concern with this is using GPS – I wouldn’t want to depend on something like this during an emergency. I’d much rather learn to use a compass and nav map. Unfortunately I was never in the military, so this is something I will have to teach myself. All my kids are young adults, 2 in college (the boys) so maybe I can get them interested in this as a way to get their overweight mom off her butt!! LOL…

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