We keep hearing about this geocaching game from other campers. They say how much fun it is but we have lots of questions. We don’t want to invest a lot of money into something that might quickly be boring. What is it? How much does it cost? And is it good for families? We have so many questions about taking kids geocaching! David W.
Welcome David! We are so glad you reached out to us to ask these questions. We love geocaching and have been participating since mid-2008, albeit as off and on cachers. This would be because we did not find it to be a viable activity while our son was in a car seat. But, once he became independently mobile with his booster, we “drove” right back in. However, when taking kids geocaching we do recommend a kid-friendly game strategy.
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What is geocaching?
The word geocache is derived from two words: geo, meaning earth, and cache, meaning a safe place for hiding or storing something. The official definition of geocaching, as defined by those who created the game, is “Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.” Basically, it is a worldwide* game of hide and seek. The game began on May 3, 2000 in Beavercreek, OR (near Portland) and I (Tracy) have been to the original stash site with a photo to prove it. *Actually, it is now interplanetary as there is a geocache that can be logged from Mars and we have the souvenir to show!
Why do people geocache?
That’s a really good question and I’m sure there are many answers. We geocache because we enjoy getting out and about. It gives us a reason to explore new places and find new campgrounds. We have found new parks to play at, new trails to explore, new places to bike, all because a geocache led us in that direction. They make a nice break as we travel down the road and need to make a stop to stretch our legs, go to the bathroom, and/or get a bite to eat. We also enjoy the educational aspects that some caches offer.
Wait, there are educational aspects for kids geocaching?
Yes, there are. You can sneak some learning into this game with your kids. At a high level we believe that geocaching involves math and mapping, nature, technology, sometimes art, sometimes history, definitely safety, and the ability to work on problem solving and puzzles.
- Art: some of the caches we have gone to discover are placed to highlight a hidden mural or a statue. We would probably not have gone looking for these without a reason to do so but once we are there we can discuss what the artist intended by creating this piece.
- History: similar to the art, many caches have been placed in an area where there are interesting pieces of knowledge to acquire. Sometimes we have to answer questions about what we’ve learned in order to log the cache as found. Oftentimes we will become curious enough to further research on the topic once we get home.
- Math and mapping: we get to learn about how a compass works, what latitude and longitude are, how to follow directions, and map out the location of the cache. If you start creating your own caches, there will be even more math and mapping involved.
- Nature: while we wouldn’t wax poetic over the joys of an LPC (see below for common acronyms) many times we are in areas where we can discuss the plants and trees around us. We can also use this time to talk about the effects of pollution, maybe practice a little CITO, and discuss ways in which we can make the world a more beautiful place. One of my favorite picture books happens to be Miss Rumphius and while I wouldn’t go about scattering lupine seeds everywhere we cache, I do find it fun to dream about doing something similar.
- Problem Solving: many caches require a bit of problem solving such as where is thing actually located? I’m standing at ground zero and I see nothing out of place. Then we put our thinking caps on and evaluate the area. We get to think about how it might be camouflaged. Is it hanging from a tree limb? Do I see a guardrail that might have a magnetic attached somewhere? Is there a light pole skirt that lifts up?
- Puzzles: other caches actually require us to solve a puzzle before we even get the clues to go to the end location. We might be sent to one place, have to solve a puzzle, then get the coordinates for the actual cache itself. Other caches require you to solve a puzzle in order to even open the cache container. Those can be fun…and frustrating!
- Safety: there are so many ways to incorporate discussions of safety as you are geocaching with kids. Don’t stick your hand inside a hole without knowing there are no snakes or spiders inside. Watch where you are walking and don’t trip over that tree root and fall into that patch of poison ivy. We need to climb partway up that wall to reach the cache, how can we do so without injury? Take advantage of each situation to reinforce being aware of our surroundings, discuss road safety and water safety, and what to do if we get lost. All of these are skills every kid should know, but especially those who spend time camping and in the outdoors.
- Technology: we are using multi-million dollar satellites to find Tupperware containers in the woods, how can we not learn something about technology while playing this game?
What equipment is needed to start kids geocaching?
Back when we started, we used a Garmin handheld GPS along with lots and lots of paper. Sigh. So much paper. We were intrigued by others who used Blackberry devices, but they all owned them already and we did not. Therefore, we were thrilled when the geocaching app was introduced and quickly switched over to it. We both have the app on our smartphones and our son is extremely familiar with how to use the Navigate tab to head us in the correct direction. If we do bring the handheld along as well, he is responsible and is learning how to program it.
How much does geocaching cost?
The app is currently free, and we pay $30 a year for our premium membership. Since we already own our phones, we find this a relatively small price to pay for the hours and hours of fun we have with the game. Why do I say currently free for the app? When we first got the app on our phones, there was a small price associated with it. I don’t know if this will change again. If it does though, I’m sure the creators will keep it affordable.
Having said that, for those who seriously get into the game, there are other costs associated with it. We do spend a little bit of money each year on SWAG for trading and containers for placing our own caches. We keep it simple. Others can be a lot more elaborate. In other words, you can make it expensive, or you can keep it affordable.
This all sounds great! How does one get started geocaching with kids?
This is incredibly easy as long as you don’t get bogged down in the details. The hardest part is probably coming up with a username that isn’t already taken and yet means something to you. We geocache as a team under the name WagThatTAIL which works for us. However, the simple steps are as follows:
- Become a member
- Choose a name
- Create an account at geocaching.com
- Download the app
- Select a cache to find
- Search for those close by
- We recommend starting with traditionals
- Check their ratings
- What size is it?
- Read the description, possibly the hint
- Click Navigate and GO!
- Locate your cache
- Reading other logs can provide tips if you are stuck
- Practice Leave No Trace principles
- Once found
- Sign the paper log
- Hide it back exactly where you found it
- Practice CITO: cache in, trash out
- Digitally log your find
- Click on Log in the app on or on the website
- Choose your message type
- Say something fun*
*Those who create caches do so for the enjoyment of others. We hope to provide them with some enjoyment by writing something in response that might tickle their fancy or cause them to smile. We believe this is how you say “thank you” to the cache owner for the time and effort it takes them to create, place, and maintain their geocaches.
What exactly are do those cache types mean?
We recommend you read up on all of the different types of caches directly at the website. And now we will tell you that when geocaching with kids we recommend the traditional to start with. We also have a lot of fun with the mystery caches as they typically have a puzzle to solve prior to heading off on the hunt. Letterboxes are also on our list of enjoyable caches for geocaching with kids as they can stamp their notebook with the stamp that stays in the cache location.
How about some hints on reading the cache page?
Sure. We are a fan of keeping things on the easy side when we have our child with us. Start with the name of the cache. There can be valuable clues in the name which might help you narrow down a search area.
Next, we always check the “last found” date. If it has been a while since it was last found, we check the recent logs and look to see if there have been a bunch of DNFs posted. When the last several logs are Did Not Find, we move on to another cache. If the last few logs all say they found it, or if it has been found recently, we look at the Difficulty/Terrain ratings and the Size of the cache.
Difficulty/Terrain and Size
Both difficulty and terrain range from 1 to 5 and eventually we would love to hit all 81 possible D/T combinations but, again for now, we tend to stick to the easier ones. Size ranges from micro to small to regular to large to other. While there used to be fairly standard definitions of what each size consisted of that seems to have been lost along the way. Some caches will claim to be Small and once we find them, we would say they were Regular. Nano caches can be very hard to spot when you are new.
Next you are going to want to read the description. Not only will this provide information you might need to find the cache, it might also state: BYOP (Bring Your Own Pen). It’s no fun finding the cache if you can’t then sign the log. If there is a hint, we recommend you go ahead and read it when you are new. As you become more experienced you might try to find them without the hints but to begin with hints help enhance your geo-senses.
We now recognize common themes from local cache owners in their hides, especially when they are creating a power trail or GeoTour. Some of them have preferred containers so we know to always look for a bison tube, or a magnetic key holder, or an empty metal tin. Others always tend to hide in the same type of spot such as the top of a fence post, hanging from the branch of a tree, or under a lamp post skirt. These ten tips from the geocaching help center are a great reminder to read before each trip until you are confident in your skills.
Trails and Tours
Now for those wondering what a power trail could be, this is when someone creates a series of hides in a linear fashion such as one every mile down a highway. Similarly, GeoTours are a cluster of hides in a general area intended to bring attention to some local attraction. These are great ways to beef up your statistics if you are trying to reach a new milestone!
Now there are times we go geocaching without any kids. When that happens, we try for harder caches, or look for things that have been stumping others. The thrill of the hunt is what makes the game fun for us.
What are all those geocaching acronyms?
Every hobby seems to have their own language. Geocaching is no different. In this case, the ten most common acronyms you might find in descriptions, hints, and other logs are as follows:
- BYOP – Bring Your Own Pen
- CITO – Cache In, Trash Out ®
- DNF – Did Not Find
- FTF – First to Find
- LPC – Lamp Pole Cache
- SWAG – Stuff We All Get
- TB – Travel Bug ®
- TFTC – Thanks for The Cache
- TNLN – Took Nothing Left Nothing
- TOTT – Tools of The Trade
What else should I know before starting my kids geocaching?
We like to carry a bag of supplies with us. We call this our “geo-bag.” In it we keep some a variety of tools such as a skinny hook to pull logs out of nano caches and a log roller to roll them back up, a mirror to see inside or under ledges (although before getting this we used the camera feature on our phones), and a magnet to help pull magnetic caches off metal containers. Other options include tweezers, a flashlight (we just use our phones), and pens that can write on wet paper.
We also keep supplies to help maintain caches we find such as replacement logs in a variety of sizes, some small plastic baggies to keep logs dry inside their caches, and some extra containers to swap out for broken ones. This is where empty pill containers are extremely useful. Please remember to remove any personal information!
Don’t forget about some small items for trading! One of the things that makes geocaching fun for kids is the opportunity to swap out items in the larger caches. We have found fun trading items at our local party store in the birthday goodie bag section. Some cachers around us have signature items they leave every time they trade. We aren’t that organized, but we do love to recognize familiar items.
Last, we actually have a stamp with our team name on it and use that to stamp the physical logs instead. That way we never have to worry if our pen has run out of ink or if the paper is wet. The only issue we have is when we are attempting to sign a nano log as those pieces of paper are small!
What are some of the most fun caches you have found?
Oh, this is going to be a fun trip down memory lane…we have to say that finding the original cache has to be a highlight in Tracy’s hunt. Too bad it was on a business trip and Aaron didn’t get to go. Maybe someday we will go back.
Interestingly enough, Aaron’s favorite took place at a time Tracy was not with him. He had gone with her dad to run some errands they ended up at a City Park where there was a series of comic book characters. They did a little caching as they went, and he still talks about Super Fun #4 – The Joker six plus years later. We don’t want to include any spoilers, but the cache fits the name!
The kid’s favorite geocache would be World Largest Travel Bug Hotel. This cache is in Middle Tennessee and is a 960 cubic foot room filled with a variety of travel bugs and the signatures of geocachers all over the walls. He wants to plan another trip, but we told him we need to have some new travel bugs in our stash to drop off.
Some other fun ones we have found are include The Legend of Monkeybrad, Driveby Caching (unfortunately archived now) and Numbers Station. Each of these stand out for a different reason. Monkeybrad is a local to us geocacher with many out there. This one requires knowing how to use an actual compass and involves the local library. We came across Driveby Caching on a road trip and it also involved a library. Numbers Station required us to listen to a number code over the radio and then break the code to find the coordinates for the actual location.
You mentioned wanting to hit all the D/T combos. How do you track those?
Over time the statistics page has become quite robust. I remember when you had to log into a separate website to see all of the pretty charts for analyzing your success and failures. Now however we can see our caching chronology which includes things such as longest streak of finding, current slump, and finds per month. There is also a perpetual calendar view for those who want to find one on all 366 days (another one of our goals!), the types of caches found, the types of containers found, and distance statistics, not to mention the D/T grid showing all 81 of those combinations. Ours is definitely weighted in the upper left for the easier ones but things will change as our child gets older.
You will see more cache types on the statistics page than exist in the search filters. We do know that some of these types are no longer active, but are not sure why ones such as Adventure Labs aren’t listed while Wherigos are when both of these require downloading an additional free app to play even though they are both created by Groundspeak.
What should I think about when hiding my first cache?
If, after finding at least 20 caches, you find yourself with the itch to own some caches of your own, please read the instructions provided by geocaching first. Once you have done that, I recommend asking yourself these following questions:
- Will it be easy to get to?
- Is it likely to be muggled?
- Will it be easy to find?
- Is it on private or public land?
- You will need permission
- They can’t be placed in National Parks and other similar places
- Will searchers harm the environment?
- Why would I/anyone want to go there?
- Can you maintain it?
What are some of the most creative caches you have found?
Oh another fun question! I warn you that this is a fun rabbit hole to go down! We have had fun finding travel bugs as stickers on cars or even as a tattoo on another geocacher’s arm. Other favorites include finding fake rocks or an extra sticker on a metal box and we can’t forget these evil bolts! One last favorite would be the time we found one in a concrete parking stop block. We had to pull the bolt up and get the log out of it with our hook to sign it.
We really hope this look into the game has inspired you to get out there with your kids geocaching! If you have any other questions we haven’t answered, feel free to ask away…And remember: We joke about using multi-million dollar satellites to find Tupperware containers in the woods. And then we ask “What’s your hobby?”