Hike With A Purpose: Geocaching

As much as I recommend taking leisurely (or rigorous!) hikes through nature, travelling the same few local places can sometimes chafe after a while. There are plenty of spots worth traveling to, but most of you probably won’t be able to take a day hike to, say, the Tongariro Crossing (Mount Doom) in New Zealand.


So, if nature treks have gotten a bit boring for you, or if you just want to get yourself into a new hobby, I recommend taking up geocaching!


I remember when geocaching was fairly new, a few years after the turn of the century Consumer GPS devices were massive, clunky things, expensive to acquire and not particularly useful except on tracks throughout nature. In contrast, every phone has GPS capabilities, making the barrier to entry nonexistent when it comes to geocaching (though signal is still certainly a requirement).


The comparison to geocaching and apocryphal treasure hunts is often tossed around. After all, you are in fact searching for hidden items, with naught but a few clues to go off of. Instead of a worn piece of paper with an “X” scratched on it, you have access to a handheld device that gives you the location of a cache with pinpoint accuracy. That said, I’m sure that there’s a great opportunity to teach kids map orienteering this way—just a thought.


Gone too are the wooden treasure chests. Instead, we have a whole myriad of items to search for, from olive ammunition boxes to pill bottles to tupperware containers. The only thing that they have in common is that they are always hidden, out of the prying eyes of “muggles,” travelers that are not in on the game. Most of these containers include a small logbook for recording visits, and a number of knickknacks that cachers can swap for an item that they have brought. Urban geocaches also exist, for individuals that can’t make it out to the wilderness.


Geocaching is also a well-organized pastime. While there are many sites, such as the popular geocaching.com, that contain coordinates and advice for aspiring geocachers, the same few rules apply no matter where you go. Caches are not to be placed on private land or in national parks. Don’t leave anything offensive in a cache. And, as with any other outdoor endeavor, leave no trace.


Beyond this, there’s a staggering amount of variety in the caches you discover, even beyond the quirky containers often used (geocaching.com even sells official containers). Most are given a challenge rating, both in terms of terrain to reach and difficulty of discover. Even within the cache itself, the trinkets left can vary greatly. A common practice is to leave GPS-enabled “bugs”, often with a destination that avid cachers can help it reach.


The rules of geocaching are similarly fluid, with some particularly complicated caches turning into full-fledged treasure hunts that require solving series of clues to reach a destination. Other clues can be concealed for geocachers looking to put a little extra effort into their hunts.


Overall, geocaching is yet another reason to get outside and stay active. It’s a great hobby, suitable for all ages, lifestyles, and skill levels. Take your family, or your significant other, but whatever you take out of the cache, don’t forget to replace it!