Geocaching: what’s the game then?
Written by: Stewart Borland
Published: 26th August 2015, last updated: 27th January 2020
X marks the spot. The International Geocaching symbol
Geocaching is an internet based treasure hunt game that uses GPS technology. What’s so interesting about that? you might ask, but it’s a game that has caught the world’s imagination. Today there are over 6 million players aged 8 to 88 out in the countryside searching for treasure, and at the last count 2,700,012 Geocaches worldwide. Some of them are yet to be found.
Geocaching: A quick history!
The game has been going for 15 years and is the brainchild of Dave Ulmer. Back in the prehistoric mists of May 2000, twenty four new orbiting satellites came online making GPS tracking a reality. Now, for the first time people could pinpoint locations of themselves, or of anything they wanted. At the time the internet buzzed with excitement about the possible applications of this new technology.
Dave Ulmer decided to test it out by leaving a bucket in the woods near his home in Oregon. In the bucket he put a few goodies to swap: DVDs, books, a slingshot. Then he posted the GPS coordinates of the bucket on an internet forum, and waited.
Dave Ulmer with a plaque commemorating the first Geocache (by Max93600, Wikimedia Commons)
Two people found the stash, swapped something in the bucket and posted their experience on the forum. Then a whole load of other people decided to try the same thing and Geocaching was born! Now it has its own Geocaching webpage where you can log your finds and join the community. Although it’s internet-based it also gets people outside into remote areas where they have to trek, hike, climb or even dive! So the benefits of Geocaching to today’s sedentary Computer Generation are obvious. It’s great fun for families on holiday too.
Traditional Geocaches are often found in plastic containers or old military ammunition boxes like this one. (“Classic Geocache” by i_am_jim, Wikimedia commons)
Geocaching: How to play
Once you’ve registered yourself on the webpage you’ll find a map of the world. All you do is put in your chosen location or a postcode (zip), and all the caches in that area will appear with their names and GPS coordinates. You enter the coordinates into your GPS device and off you go!
Although the GPS location is easy enough, it is often quite tricky to find the actual Geocache. It takes some resourcefulness. They might be hanging up in trees, or buried in the ground. Sometimes they are magnetic and stuck to the underside of something metal. So you have to use your wits. But that makes it all the more satisfying when you do find one. You can log your name in the log book or online and, depending on the type, sometimes you can swap something of yours of equal or higher value with something you find in the box.
In many boxes you might find objects that can be moved from cache to cache, known as “Hitchhikers”. These can be trackable travel bugs like this one:
Trackable Travel Bug
or Geocoins, which are becoming very popular. Each Geocoin has its own unique tracking number which can be logged on the webpage. These are designed to be carried away and left in another Geocache. At Highland Titles we had our own collectible Geocoin minted. We’d love to see how far around the world intrepid Geocachers might carry them. They could end up anywhere! They look like this:
Highland Titles Geocoin
And you can buy them here:
As well as finding Geocaches left by others, anyone can install their own Geocache and register it with the site. Some caches are in record breaking locations. For instance the lowest Geocache in the world (at the time of writing) is 2300 meters below sea level! It was installed there by Richard Garriot, who went along for the ride in a submarine with a scientific research mission. It is next to a hydrothermal vent on the sea floor somewhere off the coast of Portugal and you can go visit it if you have the nerve! Apparently there’s a small plastic horse down there.
The highest in the world was put there by the same person. This man gets around. No one is going to beat that record for a while because it’s on the International Space Station! It orbits at 250 miles above the Earth. The difficulty rating is set at the maximum of 5 stars (you don’t say). Although this might be classed as the hardest to find, it has had 4 logged visits (all of them by astronauts), while the one on the ocean floor has had precisely none! Here is Richard Garriot to explain himself in a short video:
Highland Titles Nature Reserve now has its very own Geocaching sites, not so remote and much easier to get to! There are two Geocaches on Keil Hill. (We’ll give you a clue, they are near the Salachan Burn!) Good luck finding them and we hope many more of you will join in and have lots of fun Geocaching! Just watch out for muggles, they won’t know what you are about and might be frightened. Be gentle with them.
You can read even more about geocaching here at Hobby Help.
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