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Geocaching 101

Welcome to the geocaching community! If you still have questions after reviewing this information, we recommend that you search our Help Center or ask a question in the geocaching Forums.

The Game

What is geocaching?

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.

How is the game played?

At its simplest level, geocaching requires these 8 steps:

  1. Register for a free Basic Membership.
  2. Visit the "Hide & Seek a Cache" page.
  3. Enter your postal code and click "search."
  4. Choose any geocache from the list and click on its name.
  5. Enter the coordinates of the geocache into your GPS Device.
  6. Use your GPS device to assist you in finding the hidden geocache.
  7. Sign the logbook and return the geocache to its original location.
  8. Share your geocaching stories and photos online.

There are many other levels to the game. Keep reading the guide to learn more!

What are the rules of geocaching?

  1. If you take something from the geocache (or "cache"), leave something of equal or greater value.
  2. Write about your find in the cache logbook.
  3. Log your experience at www.geocaching.com.

What do I need to go geocaching?

The only necessities are a GPS device or a GPS-enabled mobile phone so that you can navigate to the cache, and a Geocaching.com Membership.

Where are geocaches located?

Geocaches can be found all over the world. It is common for geocachers to hide caches in locations that are important to them, reflecting a special interest or skill of the cache owner. These locations can be quite diverse. They may be at your local park, at the end of a long hike, underwater or on the side of a city street.

Are there different types of geocaches?

Yes. There are currently over a dozen "cache types" in geocaching, with each cache type being a different variation of the game. See the full list of Geocache Types.

How did geocaching start?

It's a very cool story, actually. So cool that it deserves its own page.

Getting StartedWatch Video

What kind of cache should I look for on my first adventure?

Cache Type: Traditional Traditional Cache Icon

Difficulty Rating: 1 Difficulty: 1 Star Icon

Cache Size: Regular or Large Regular Cache Size Icon Large Cache Size Icon

You should also check to see that other geocachers have recently logged finds on the cache page (also called the cache listing). This indicates that the geocache is most likely still in place and findable. Find logs are indicated on the cache page with a smiley face. Smiley Face Icon

Searching for geocaches

You can search for geocaches by location or by GC Code (a unique code associated with each cache listing) from the homepage, the Hide & Seek page or the advanced search page. Premium Members can sort search results by caches with the most favorite points, difficulty of find, terrain rating and more.

Loading coordinates onto your GPS device

The method of loading coordinates onto your GPS device varies depending on what type of device you have.

Inputting Coordinates by Hand

If your device does not connect directly to the computer via an interface cable, you will need to enter coordinates into the device by hand. This process will be different for each device. Check your device's manual for instructions.

Send to GPS

If you have a DeLorme, Magellan or Garmin that connects directly to your computer through an interface cable, you can use the "Send to GPS" functionality to send a cache listing directly to your GPS device. The first time you use this functionality, you will be instructed to download the appropriate plugin for your GPS device.

Download LOC or GPX file

If you have any model of GPS device with an interface cable, you can download the cache listing as a LOC file (Basic Members) or GPX file (Premium Members). LOC files contain basic information about a cache, including coordinates, cache name and difficulty and terrain ratings. GPX files are available for Premium Members and include all of this data as well as the cache description, hints and the 20 most recent logs. Premium Members can also download up to 1000 caches in a single GPX file using the Pocket Query feature.

For most GPS devices, you will need to download third-party geocaching software to read LOC or GPX files. Some devices, like the Magellan Triton and Garmin Colorado, support and read Geocaching GPX files directly.

Finding GeocachesWatch Video

What does a geocache look like? Watch Video

Geocaches vary greatly in size and appearance. In the field you will see everything from large, clear plastic containers to film canisters to a fake rock with a secret compartment. So, how do you find the cache?

The first step is to get a general idea of the cache's size. The size is shown on each cache page. A general overview of the cache size graphic is found below. Please note that these are just examples; sizes can vary.

Micro Cache Size Icon Micro - Less than 100ml. Examples: a 35 mm film canister or a tiny storage box typically containing only a logbook or a logsheet. A nano cache is a common sub-type of a micro cache that is less than 10ml and can only hold a small logsheet.
Small Cache Size Icon Small - 100ml or larger, but less than 1L. Example: A sandwich-sized plastic container or similar.
Regular Cache Size Icon Regular - 1L or larger, but less than 20L. Examples: a plastic container or ammo can about the size of a shoebox.
Large Cache Size Icon Large - 20L or larger. Example: A large bucket.
Other Cache Size Icon Other - See the cache description for information.

Small, Regular and Large containers typically contain trade items.

To learn more about what to look for on the cache page and in the field, check out our video 5 Geocaches in 30 Seconds, these cache container photos, and read our guide.

What's usually in a cache?

In its simplest form, a cache always contains a logbook or logsheet for you to log your find. Larger caches may contain a logbook and any number of items. These items turn the adventure into a true treasure hunt. You never know what the cache owner or visitors to the cache may have left for you to enjoy. Remember, if you take something, leave something of equal or greater value in return. It is recommended that items in a cache be individually packaged in a clear, zipped plastic bag to protect them from the elements.

Quite often you may also find a Trackable, a sort of geocaching "game piece" that you can learn more about here.

What should not be placed in a cache?

People of all ages hide and seek geocaches, so think carefully before placing an item into a cache. Explosives, ammunition, knives, drugs and alcohol should not be placed in a cache. Respect local laws at all times.

Please do not put food or heavily scented items in a cache. Animals have better noses than humans, and in some cases caches have been chewed through and destroyed because of food items in a cache.

How do I find the cache and what should I do once I've found it?

There are many things to know about searching for a cache. For instance, did you know that there is a slight "error" to every GPS device due to technological limitations? Your device can get you close to the cache, but there are a number of things to consider as you get closer to the cache location.

When you find the cache, sign the logbook and return it to the cache. You can take an item from the cache if you like - just make sure to leave something of equal or greater value in its place. When you are finished, put the cache back exactly as you found it, even if you think you see a better spot for it. Finally, visit the cache page to log your find and share your experience with others.

Can I move a cache once I find it?

Please do not move a cache from its original location. If you feel that the cache may not be located in the correct location, please email the cache owner directly or post a log on the cache listing page, notifying the owner of your concern. Cache owners are responsible for maintaining their cache placements.

What should I do if I discover that a cache has gone missing?

If you visit a cache location and the cache is missing, make sure to log the cache with a "Didn't find it" log so that the cache owner is notified. Cache owners who repeatedly receive "Didn't find it" logs should check to see that their cache has not been removed.

As a geocacher, if you notice that a cache page has an unusual number of "Didn't find it" logs, please let the local reviewer know or contact us. We rely on the geocaching community to let us know the status of caches in their area.

How do I log my find?

Instructions for logging a "Found It" are located here. If you need to post another type of log, such as a "Didn't find it" or a Note, the same instructions apply, with one small change; instead of choosing "Found It" in the drop-down menu, you would choose the applicable log type.

Hiding GeocachesWatch Video

Who hides geocaches?

Members of the geocaching community hide and maintain all of the geocaches listed on Geocaching.com. You can hide one too!

How do I hide a geocache?

Before considering your first geocache hide, we suggest that you find a variety of caches in your area. Seeing caches in a variety of locations, in different containers and hidden by a variety of users will help you understand what makes a great cache hide. This makes it more likely that you too will hide an interesting cache that everyone will enjoy!

As you prepare to place your cache, review our Guide to Hiding a Cache and the Geocache Listing Guidelines. It is important that you understand these guidelines before submitting a cache for review.

When I submit a new cache for publication, how long will it take to be listed?

Each cache that is submitted to Geocaching.com is reviewed by a volunteer to ensure that the cache meets the Geocaching Listing Guidelines. It may take up to three days for the volunteer to contact you and make your cache live on the web site. Sometimes the volunteer will need to work with you to fine-tune the listing so it can be published. We kindly ask for your patience during this review process, especially on weekends when site traffic can be high.

Does Geocaching.com or a volunteer physically check the cache placement before the listing is published?

We rely on the geocaching community to abide by the geocaching guidelines, to ensure that permission for cache placement has been sought and given, to provide accurate coordinates, and to keep the contents family-friendly. An onsite visit is not done. If you find a problematic cache, please contact the owner directly or contact us.

TrackablesGo To Video Playlist

What are Trackables?

A Trackable is a sort of physical geocaching "game piece." You will often find them in geocaches or see them at geocaching gatherings. Each Trackable is etched with a unique code that can be used to log its movements on Geocaching.com as it travels in the real world. Some of these items have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles thanks to geocachers who move them from cache to cache!

There are three main types of Trackables: Travel Bug® Trackables, Geocoins and other Trackables.

A Travel Bug is a trackable tag attached to an item that geocachers call a "hitchhiker." Each Travel Bug has a goal set by its owner. Goals are typically travel-related, such as to visit every country in Europe or travel from coast to coast. Travel Bug Trackables move from cache to cache with the help of geocachers like you. See the "What do I do when I find a Trackable?" section of the guide for information on how you can help Trackables move.

Geocoins are customizable coins created by individuals or groups of geocachers as a kind of signature item or calling card. They function exactly like Travel Bug Trackables and should be moved to another cache, unless otherwise specified by their owners.

Other Trackable items come in various forms including patches, key rings and more. A common feature of Trackable items is that they bear a unique ID code and text noting that they are trackable at Geocaching.com. More information about Trackables can be found here.

What should I do when I find a Trackable?

You are not required to do anything with the Trackable, but if you would like to interact with it, you have two options.

  1. Move the Trackable
    If you would like to move the Trackable to another cache, take it with you. You do not need to leave anything in its place as long as you are willing to help it on its journey. You can look up the Trackable's goal by entering its unique Tracking Code at www.geocaching.com/track or searching for the Tracking Code on Groundspeak's Geocaching Application.

    When you take a Trackable from one cache and drop it into another, it is important to log the Trackable's movements.
  2. "Discover" the Trackable
    When you have seen a Trackable in person, but have not moved it, you can log that you have "discovered" it. To do so, you will need to write down the Trackable's Tracking Code (the unique series of letters and numbers etched on the item).

    See "How do I log a Trackable?" for logging instructions.

How do I log a Trackable?

Instructions on logging a Trackable can be found here. If you are moving a Trackable in the real world, it is important that you also log this movement online. The steps for logging Travel Bug Trackables, Geocoins and other Trackables are the same.

Note that you should not show Tracking Codes to others or upload any photos displaying a Tracking Code. This code is only meant to be seen by those who have actually had the Trackable in their hands. If you would like to direct others to the Trackable's page, use the Reference Code on the Trackable page (it starts with TB or GC).

Where do I get my own Trackable?

Geocachers in the United States can purchase Trackables from Shop Geocaching. If you live outside of the U.S., you can purchase a Trackable from one of our Distributors.

How do I activate a Trackable?

To activate a Trackable, visit the Activation Wizard and enter the Trackable's Tracking and Activation Codes. The Tracking Code is the unique series of letters and numbers etched on the item. The Activation Code is typically found on an insert in the Trackable packaging.

Geocoin FAQ

Travel Bug® FAQ

What does...mean?

What does this word or acronym mean?

Hitchhiker, BYOP, TFTC, and so forth - there are a number of unique terms in geocaching that you may not know if you're still a "muggle." Our Glossary of Terms will help you translate this "geocaching speak".

What does this icon mean?

There are a lot of icons in the world of geocaching. Here the ones you are likely to see the most:

Favorite Points Icon Favorite Points - The blue ribbon identifies how many Favorite Points a cache has received. Favorite Points are awarded by Geocaching.com Premium Members to the caches they have enjoyed most.
Cache Types - each cache type represents a different variation of how to play the game.
Attributes - Attributes communicate what to expect at a cache location. Cache owners may add specific attributes to a cache listing before submitting it for review.
Cache Log Icons
Trackable Log Icons - These icons indicate actions associated with Trackables.

Trackable icons are also commonly seen on the site. These icons represent unique series of Trackables. There are hundreds of these icons. You can learn more about each series on the Trackables' pages.

What's in a Name?

How is geocaching pronounced?

You pronounce it Geo-cashing, like cashing a check (cheque).

What is the meaning of the word geocaching?

The word Geocaching refers to GEO for geography, and to CACHING, the process of hiding a cache. A cache in computer terms usually refers to information stored in memory to make it faster to retrieve, but the term is also used in hiking/camping as a hiding place for concealing and preserving provisions.

GPS

What is a GPS device?

A GPS device is an electronic unit that can determine your approximate location (within around 6 - 30 feet) on the planet. Coordinates are normally given in latitude and longitude. You can use the device to navigate from your current location to another location. Some devices have their own maps, built-in electronic compasses, and voice navigation, depending on the complexity of the device.

How does GPS work?

Each GPS device is a computer that receives signals broadcast from GPS satellites. A device needs to read signals from at least three satellites at a time to calculate its general location by a process called trilateration.

With signals from four satellites, a GPS receiver can get a more accurate fix that includes altitude and the exact time, as well as latitude and longitude. The more satellite signals the receiver reads, the more accurate the position it reports to you.

If I use a GPS device, can someone track where I am going?

No! GPS devices do not actually broadcast your location. The satellites using radio frequencies actually broadcast their own position. Your GPS device takes that information to figure out where you are (trilateration).

Unless you have a tracking system implanted by aliens, you should be safe from the satellites above. As an extra precaution, however, you can put aluminum foil on your head to deflect the "gamma" beams.

What features should I look for in a GPS device and where can I buy one?

Check out our Guide to Buying a GPS device for a list of features to consider when purchasing your device and information about where to purchase. Prefer to go geocaching using your smartphone and a geocaching application? Check out our list of Geocaching Live-enabled applications.

Still have questions? Find more information in our Forums or Help Center.

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