Geocaching - The Origins

Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called "geocaches" or "caches", at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world. Geocaching was originally similar to the 160-year-old game letterboxing, which uses clues and references to landmarks embedded in stories. The first documented placement of a GPS-located cache took place on May 3, 2000, by Dave Ulmer of Beavercreek, Oregon. The location was posted on the Usenet newsgroup sci.geo.satellite-nav as 45°17.460′N 122°24.800′W. Within three days, the cache had been found twice and logged each time. According to Dave Ulmer's message, this cache was a black plastic bucket that was partially buried and contained software, videos, books, food, money, and a slingshot. The activity was originally referred to as GPS stash hunt or GPS stashing. This was changed shortly after the original hide to Geocaching on May 30, 2000, when it was described as a "Global Positioning System (GPS) Stash Hunt" by Mike Teague in an email sent to the GPS Stash Hunt webmaster. After recommendations in initial emails on the GPS Stash Hunt mailing list, the name of the activity settled on geocaching.


Geocaching Rules and Culture

Geocaching has a few unwritten rules and norms that make up the culture of the activity. Firstly, cache owners put effort into selecting appropriate containers and locations while trying to minimise environmental impact. They provide maintenance over time when monitoring their cache listings. Geocachers understand it is a privilege to access private property and follow all posted restrictions. Cache hunters obtain permission where required and tread lightly to leave no trace. Additionally, they keep group sizes small and behave discretely when others are present to respect the spirit of the hunt. When taking items from a cache, geocachers will leave something of equal or greater value if able. The logbook is always signed with at least their geocaching handle and date. Beyond just accumulating finds for bragging rights, the joy is in the hide-and-seek journey. While families enjoy the adventure together, teamwork and good sportsmanship are encouraged. Experienced geocachers act as stewards and are willing to assist newcomers in getting started. Creative cache owners design quality hides, containers, puzzles and locations. They provide meaningful nudges and hints when needed. Geocaching evokes a spirit of community, inclusiveness and exploration. Events and group outings strengthen bonds between members who share this passion. Members look out for each other and cooperate to promote responsible caching.


Although it began organically, a structure exists to govern quality and fairness. Listing websites monitor cache submissions and reviews to maintain standards. Cache types, difficulty ratings, location vetting, and review processes aim to provide consistency. Recommendations guide cache owners in acceptable practices and etiquette. Rules prohibit dangerous or illegal hiding locations. Commercial advertising is minimal to keep the hobby non-commercialised. With millions of caches worldwide, finding every single one is impossible. The enjoyment comes from the journey of seeking containers in new locations, not just racking up numbers. The geocaching community shares values of integrity, creativity, community, adventure, learning and nature appreciation. Following these cultural norms enhances the experience for everyone.


Global Reach - Geocaching Around the World

Geocaching has expanded across the globe over the past 20 years to become a worldwide phenomenon. While it originated in the United States, there are now active geocaches on every continent. The activity has spread to over 100 countries thanks to the internet and GPS technology enabling collaboration. The growth from a couple of hundred caches in 2000 to over 3 million today demonstrates its universal appeal. The website remains the largest listing site with over 3 million active geocaches published. However, regional sites like Opencaching Network, Terracaching and Navicache have also gained popularity in parts of Europe and Brazil. Between these secondary sites, another 600,000 active caches can be found. Listings span locations as remote as Antarctica to as famous as the Eiffel Tower. Participants have gotten creative placing geocaches underwater, on mountains, in iconic landmarks and across extreme terrains. Different countries have unique preferences for cache types or containers. While some geocachers prefer easier urban finds, others seek out remote locations to boost their find count. Mega event gatherings draw thousands of enthusiasts to new international venues each year.


The worldwide scope means potential finds exist almost anywhere a person travels now. Geocachers use apps and offline maps to continue their hobby while vacationing abroad. Some make it a goal to find caches in every state, province or country. The community shares the spirit of exploration, cultural learning and global friendship. From its origins in the Pacific Northwest, geocaching has achieved remarkable global diffusion. Even remote African villages and Siberian towns have local geocachers maintaining hideouts. The ability to connect online shares this pastime with people worldwide who find joy in discovering their local areas. Geocaching knows no geographic boundaries in providing adventure and community.

Young people walking in countryside. Group of friends are hiking in nature on a sunny day.

Cache Types - Categories and Containers

There are many categories and varieties of geocaches to provide diversity to the hunt. Traditional geocaches are the most common and simply involve finding a hidden container to sign the logbook and exchange items. However progressive cache types add complexity through multi-stages, puzzles, or virtual elements. The size and durability of the cache container also varies significantly based on the environment.


Traditional Geocaches

The most common type of geocache, the traditional cache, delivers the core experience of hunting for hidden containers outdoors. Participants navigate to coordinates and read the terrain to uncover the covert placement. Traditional caches come in sizes ranging from micro to large, with all featuring some kind of logbook to sign when found. The basic premise remains unchanged across the spectrum. Finding a traditional geocache rewards the seeker with the satisfaction of discovering a secret location others overlooked. The cache container typically holds small trinkets to trade out while leaving something of equal value. Signing the logbook marks the finder's achievement. This combination of hide-and-seek with a treasure reward compels the geocaching ethos.


Hunting traditional caches fulfils motivations like collecting discoveries, benchmarking skills, and enjoying nature. Multi-stage and mystery cache variations add progressive challenges to the traditional format. But classic single-stage, straightforward coordinate caches will always be the bread and butter of the hobby. They offer quick adventurous breaks from routine. From urban lamppost hides to forest stump concealments, traditional caches inspire creativity in placement and stealth. Hunters grow observant of details and surroundings. A traditional cache transforms any landscape into a potential playground for exploration. Simple in concept but diverse in execution, the traditional cache encapsulates the spirit of geocaching


Progressive Geocaches

Beyond basic traditional caches, progressive geocaches add extra steps or requirements to increase the challenge. Multi-caches provide a sequence of multiple stages, with each waypoint or puzzle revealing coordinates to the next portion. The progressive journey builds anticipation for the final cache container. Mystery caches encrypt coordinates or clues to ensure finders must solve puzzles first. Letterbox hybrids incorporate concepts from the related letterboxing pastime by providing descriptive riddles about landmark features. Successful interpretation of the narrative clues leads hunters to the right area to search for the container. This adds an element of imagination to the hunt.


Some progressive caches like earthcaches or virtual caches focus the challenge on reaching a specific location rather than finding a physical container. Virtuals require check-in proof like a posted photo instead of a logbook. Earthcaches highlight geological formations as the target. Progressive cache formats appeal to seasoned geocachers seeking more cerebral tests. They take the hobby to another level beyond basic waypoint plotting. Solving progressive challenges provides immense satisfaction when the final stage unlocks and reveals the treasure. It supplements the thrill of the find with a greater sense of earning the discovery through mental fortitude.


Specialty Geocaches

While traditional and progressive caches focus on finding containers, speciality caches provide variety by changing the format. Event caches organise in-person social meetups rather than a hunt, building community. Webcam caches require visiting a location and taking a specific photo to submit online as proof. Other niche speciality caches cater to particular interests or skills. Lost item caches involve attempting to locate missing objects. Archaeology caches have an educational slant focused on historical knowledge. Night caching adds a sensory challenge.


Some speciality caches highlight unique environments like underwater or urban settings. Power trail caches string together huge series spanning wide areas, rewarding dedication. Mystery puzzles or geotour caches incorporate specific themes. Snowman caches require building creations rather than hides. Speciality caches enhance the standard hunt by fulfilling motivations beyond searching for containers. They encourage creativity, social connections, niche interests, and new perspectives. Speciality caches keep the game dynamic by providing twist formats, sometimes without even involving physical containers to find. The options ensure ongoing entertainment, learning, and community.


Cache Containers

Cache containers also vary immensely based on size requirements and environment. Micro and small containers only hold a tiny logbook, demanding very crafty hiding spots. Large caches enable storage for numerous trade items and even separate compartments. The traditional metal ammunition box has mostly been replaced with plastic containers. Waterproof and watertight containers allow underwater placements. Magnetic nano-caches placed in metal objects challenge hunters to locate tiny logbooks. Urban environments call for discreet everyday containers to blend into their surroundings. Rural areas enable the use of camouflage materials. Regardless of type, containers must be durable and able to protect contents from the elements.


Other cache types include virtual (locationless cache), Wherigo (uses a Wherigo cartridge and device), Lost & Found (seek missing objects), lab caches (science experiment), Project APE (travel bugs), GPS Adventures Maze Exhibit, GeoTours, GeoArt, etc. Cache sizes are often classified as micro, small, regular, large, or other based on container volume. An additional distinction tracks whether containers are waterproof. With so many categories and varieties, geocachers can continuously experience new forms of the hobby. The diversity appeals to different motivations and levels of difficulty. Simple caches provide quick adventures while elaborate, multi-stage challenges test skills. Creative cache owners ensure the pursuit never gets repetitive.


Coordinates and Navigation - Finding the Geocaches

The standard GPS coordinates for geocaching are most often given using the WGS84 datum in decimal degrees format. Coordinates may include up to six digits after the decimal point for higher precision, but most mobile apps and handheld GPS devices will display and save only four to five digits after the decimal point. GPS coordinates often follow a format like N 50° 06.560 E 008° 34.487. South latitude and West longitude would use negative signs instead of the N and E designators. Other coordinate formats can also be used, like degrees and decimal minutes such as N 50° 06.560' W 008° 34.487'. The most precise coordinates will include seconds as well, such as N 50° 06' 33.6'' W 008° 34' 29.2''. Some navigation apps even allow input using the Maidenhead Locator System originally used by amateur radio. Geocache listings require navigational guidance for the reader to develop a search plan. This includes the terrain, parking location, accessibility, public transportation, tools needed, etc. Descriptions may warn about possible muggles (non-cachers), snakes, bees, thorns, deep water, etc. Waypoints, additional coordinates, visuals, or puzzle clues enhance the cache narrative.

Some essentials for your geocaching toolbox


Equipment Needed - Devices, Apps and Tools

Geocaching requires some key equipment to pinpoint cache locations and retrieve the containers. At a minimum, a GPS device for reading coordinates is essential. While dedicated GPS units from brands like Garmin provide robust functionality, the GPS chipsets built into smartphones and tablets are adequate for most needs. For navigation in urban and natural environments, either paper printouts of maps from caching websites or geographic apps on mobile devices are useful. Some apps like have offline geocaching capabilities. Smaller smartphones may need large SD cards to store offline maps and satellite screenshots from apps like Gaia GPS. Apps on mobile devices can interpret coordinates and route to them, replacing traditional paper map navigation. Options like Google Maps, Apple Maps, and OruxMaps work across iOS, Android and Windows phones. Handheld GPS accuracy of 10-15 meters helps narrow the proximity when in the field. Supplemental map apps further assist with terrain clues.


Small tools carried in a caching bag or backpack prepare for extracting containers from clever hides. Retrieving magnets on a stick helps pluck nano-sized magnetic caches from metal objects. Extendable mirrors and flashlights peer into dark crevices. UV blacklights make painted or fluorescent containers glow. Tweezers/chopsticks grab small containers in hollows. A notebook aids in deciphering puzzle caches. Small trinkets and pens are handy for container trades and signing logbooks. For night caching, headlamps illuminate the search. Cache hunters should not need expensive or elaborate gear. A smartphone and basic tools are sufficient for most simple hides. However, veteran geocachers enjoy acquiring equipment like handheld units with advanced sensitivity, compasses, solar chargers and speciality hiking gear for extreme terrain. Gear selection allows customisation based on personal caching style and typical locations. With creative navigation and the right tools, any landscape presents the potential for discovery.


Getting Started - Accounts, Listings and First Finds

The first step in geocaching is setting up a free account on a listing website like This allows logging activity after finding caches. Users create a display name, address, and profile introducing their interests. A unique "geocaching handle" acts like a nickname. Beginners search for caches in their local area, filtering by attributes like terrain and difficulty. Cache listings provide vital details including parking coordinates. Descriptions contain hints encrypted in geocache speak. New cachers should print maps to visualise proximity or use navigation apps. Checking recent logs reveals maintenance status. At the general vicinity, sweep the space slowly to pinpoint the container location. This benefits from reading terrain and being attentive to GPS quirks. Approach from multiple angles to triangulate the position. Initial finds may take time as novices learn tricks for how experienced cachers hide containers. Consider bringing a friend for fresh perspectives. 


When the cache is located, sign the physical logbook inside. Tradition calls for taking an item while leaving something of equal value. Carefully replace the container as found for the next seeker. Post an online log sharing feedback on the hide quality, location, experience, or any maintenance needs. Consider a First to Find honour if quick on a new listing. Over several finds, skills improve reading coordinates, landscape features, and GPS tendencies. Seeking a variety of cache types and sizes provides diversity. Set a goal to find 5-10 caches in the first month. Learn maintenance etiquette as a cache owner from veterans. Hiding a personal cache comes next as comfort increases. Geocaching then provides ongoing adventure and community. With some basic gear, navigation abilities, and the right mindset, anyone can begin hunting caches. Researching the hobby and interacting with the community breeds success. Zeal and curiosity matter more than fancy tools. Geocaching offers life-long learning through practice. Improving techniques reveals the magic in both the hunt and the community.


Motivations and Benefits - Why People Geocache

Geocaching appeals to diverse demographics, from families to retirees, who all relish the spirit of adventure and community. The thrill of the hunt motivates those eager to find hidden treasures. Puzzlemasters thrive on geocache challenges. Children gain teamwork and patience while having fun outdoors. Competitive types drive for records, benchmarks, and first-to-finds. Armchair cachers participate virtually from home. The activity fosters geographical knowledge, logical thinking, tech proficiency, and navigational skills. Participants become more observant of their environment. Social meetups, focused outings, mega-events, online forums, and tracking leaderboards enable friendships around the shared passion. Some use geocaching for creative marriage proposals. The community jointly engages in preservation efforts. Goal-setting provides targets like discovering all area caches, earning souvenir badges, completing challenge checklists, or placing higher-quality hides. Statistics on finds, hides, miles, countries, streaks, etc. allow benchmarking progress. Limiting factors include terrain accessibility, transportation, weather, seasonal changes, and available free time.


Geocaching offers life-long learning and adventures. The ever-growing number of caches ensures new mysteries continually. Years reward dedicated devotees with navigation mastery. Patience and flexibility overcome frustrations. The activity connects people to nature and the community while providing exercise. In the digital age, geocaching provides a real-world escape. The hidden treasures are more than trinkets; they are the joy of exploration. Despite a competitive side, the community values collaboration. Experienced cachers freely mentor newcomers. Knowledge is passed down informally. Participants mutually support the activity and norms. In a world of screens, geocaching provides human connections through shared interests. The hides and seekers make the community special.

Let us know you agree to cookies

We use marketing, analytical and functional cookies as well as similar technologies to give you the best experience. Third parties, including social media platforms, often place tracking cookies on our site to show you personalised adverts outside of our website.


We store your cookie preferences for two years and you can edit your preferences via ‘manage cookies’ or through the cookie policy at the bottom of every page. For more information, please see our cookie policy.