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:
- The incredible variety of places to hide things in both urban and wilderness environments.
- The incredible variety of containers to use as mini and micro caches.
- The benefits and limitations of GPS technology.
- Using GPS/map & compass navigation to find something other than a street address.
- The surreptitious (clandestine) skill of retrieving and depositing “dead drops.”
- The ramifications of GPS/navigational accuracy.
- 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.
- The importance of clear communication with navigational clues and the frustration of trying to interpret poorly written clues.
- 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.