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What is Geocaching?
Geocaching is a sport for all age groups and all abilities. Basically, individuals and/or organizations, using hand held GPS (Global Positioning System) receivers, set up geocaches and post the latitude and longitude of the location of the geocaches on the internet. GPS users can then use the coordinates to find the geocaches. When you find a geocache, take something from the container, leave something you've brought with you, sign the logbook, and then return the container to it's hiding spot for the next finder.
The name geocaching is pronounced jE-O-'kash-ing and is derived from the words "Geo" for geography and "Cache" meaning a hiding place especially for concealing and preserving provisions or implements. Geocaching has also been called the GPS Stash Hunt or the Global Positioning Stash hunt.
The geocaching game consists of 2 parts, hiding a cache, and finding a cache. The hider will create a cache and research where to locate it. Once hidden, the hider will take a reading of the co-ordinates from their GPS unit, then create a cache page on a geocaching web site stating what the co-ordinates are and what the rules of that particular cache are. The seeker will find the cache page, and either print it out, or record the co-ordinates in their GPS unit. They will physically seek out the cache using the given co-ordinates. Once found, they will sign the log. Optionally, they can take something from the cache, and leave something in the cache. After the find, they will record it on the cache page of the geocaching web site.
For more detailed information about geocaching, we would like to direct you to the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) of the Geocaching.com website. Geocaching.com is the most popular of many geocaching web sites with over 650,000 caches in 214 countries and averages over 400,000 logs by over 60,000 account holders per week.
What is a GPS Receiver?
A Global Positioning System unit is a electronic device that can determine your approximate location (within 6-20 feet) on the planet using longitude and latitude coordinates by interpreting signals from various GPS satellites. You can use the unit to navigate from your current location to another location. The accuracy of the reported position decreases if the cannot receive clear/strong signals from the GPS satellites, many things can block/distort the signals including dense bush, tall buildings, metal structures and even sun spots. This can add to the challenge of finding a cache. Some receivers have their own maps, built-in electronic compasses, voice navigation, depending on the complexity of the device. You don't need to know how GPS receivers work technically to Geocache. All you need to do is be able to enter what is called a "waypoint" (a specific latitude and longitude) where the geocache is hidden.
What are latitudes and longitudes?
Latitude is measured from the equator, with positive values going north and negative values going south. Longitude is measured from the Prime Meridian (which is the longitude that runs through Greenwich, England), with positive values going east and negative values going west. So, for example, 97 degrees west longitude, 49 degrees north latitude is -97 degrees longitude, +49 degrees latitude. This can also be represented as N 49º W 097º. There are 180 degrees to the west of the Prime Meridian, and 180 degrees to the east of the Prime Meridian for a total of 360 degrees around the planet. There are 90 degrees from the equator to the North Pole, and 90 degrees from the equator to the South Pole.
To measure the distance between latitudes, and between longitudes, they can be broken down into "minutes" and "seconds". As you know, there are 60 minutes in an hour, and 60 seconds in a minute when we tell time. This is also the case with latitudes and longitudes.
The distance between N 49º and N 50º would be sixty minutes, as is the case between W 097º and W 098º, as well as every othere latitude and longitude. If you are half way between N 49º and N 50º, it would be represented as N 49º 30' because 30 "minutes" is one-half of 60 "minutes". "Minutes" are represented by a single quotation mark.
If you are half way between the "minutes", you can represent that as 30 "seconds". That would look like N 49º 30' 30". "Seconds" are represented by a double quotation mark.
Aside from the representation like N 49º 30' 30", there are also other formats. You can have your minutes and seconds shown as a fraction. In the example at the beginning of this paragraph, we can have this shown as N 49º 30.500, because 30 "seconds" is one half (or 0.500) of a minute. Another format would be where the latitude or longitude is shown as a fraction of the first number. This would be 49.50833. (49 for N 49, .50833 is determined by taking 30.500 divided by 60 "minutes"). If this latitude was south of the equator, it would be -49.50833. If it were a longitude that was west of the Prime Meridian (eg. W 097º 30' 30"), it would be -97.50833 and if it were east of the prime meridian it would be 97.50833.
A minute of latitude is always about 6000ft. A minute of longitude is about 4000 ft near Winnipeg and about 6000ft at the equator.
GPS receivers, or GPSr's, can use many different formats, however the N 49 30.500 format is the standard used in geocaching.
What equipment do I need?
A basic geocaching kit would include a GPSr, a "writing stick" (pen or pencil), and small tradeable items (eg. key chains, playing cards, badges, coins, stickers, etc, etc.)
A more complete geocaching kit would include a backpack, at least 1 GPSr, several writing implements, pencil sharpener, eraser, diverse tradeable items, batteries, flashlight(s), first aid kit, a compass, a camera, duct tape, knife or scissors, magnets (the latter 3 for fixing broken caches). You may also want to bring a cell phone with you. Bottled water is also important in hot weather.
Proper clothing is also important. Dress for the weather. If the weather is cold or wet, you may want to consider bringing extra socks, rain or snow gear, etc. In hot weather, bring a hat. For most urban caches, footwear is not too important, however for caches that require hiking, you may want to consider investing in a good pair of hiking boots.
Where can I get supplies for Geocaching?
Many sporting goods stores will have the clothing you'll need. GPS receivers can be purchased at many electronics stores, sports outfitters and online. All the rest of the items are available at most stores. There are also many places on the internet that will sell you geocaching gear.
How do I start geocaching?
Once you have a basic geocaching kit put together, visit one of the geocaching web sites listed in the "Geocaching" menu of this web site. Membership to most sites is free of charge, however several sites will give you more search capabilities if you become a paying member.
For the purposes of giving you a specific example, we are going to use Geocaching.com as a starting point. Once on the web site, click on the "Getting Started" link. This page has many links to information that will get you started on your first cache find.
Types of caches
- Traditional - This consists, at a bare minimum, a container and a log book. For example, these can be a 5-gallon pail, a Tupperware container, an ammo box, or 35mm film cannister (any water-tight container). Cache sizes can be large, containing many tradeable items, or all the way done to a micro-cache, containing only a log book.
- Multi-caches - A multi-cache involves two or more locations, the final location being a physical container.
- Mystery or puzzle caches - This form of cache can involve complicated puzzles you will need to solve to determine the coordinates. The initial coordinates are not of the actual cache location but a general reference point, such as a nearby parking location.
- Letterbox Hybrid - This is a combination geocache and letterbox, intermingling the two adventures. A letterbox cache can use clues or co-ordinates to find it. Once found, the finder will use rubber-type stamps in the log to show that they have found it.
- Event Cache - Geocachers or geocaching organizations can designate a time and location to meet and participate in various activities.
- Cache In Trash Out Events - Cache In Trash Out events are an opportunity for Geocachers to help clean up the parks and other cache friendly places throughout the world.
- Virtual Caches - A virtual cache is a cache that exists in the form of a location. A virtual cache should be out of the ordinary enough to warrant logging a visit. To log a find for a virtual cache, you must follow the instructions given by the cache hider. You can no longer create new virtual caches.
- Webcam Cache - For these are caches the idea is to get yourself in front of the camera to log your visit. You'll need to call a friend to look up the web site that displays the camera shot and have them save the picture to log the cache. You can no longer create new webcam caches.
- Moving caches - Not only do you find these caches, it's up to you to re-hide it in a new location for the next person to find it. These are being phased out at Geocaching.com.
Travel Bugs, Geocoins, and Benchmarks
A Travel Bug is a trackable "dog tag" that you attach to an item. The item becomes a hitchhiker that is carried from cache to cache (or person to person) in the real world and you can follow its progress online.
Geocoins are minted and individually numbered coins that are designed to provide geocachers with a collectible, tradeable and trackable cache items that are unique to geocaching.
As you move trackable items around from cache to cache you log your activities on the geocaching.com website to update the movements and whereabouts of the item.
Benchmarks are geodetic control points that are permanently affixed objects at various locations all over the United States to enable land surveying, civil engineering and mapping to be done efficiently. Many U.S. benchmarks are listed at Geocaching.com and can be logged. Canadian benchmarks are listed at www.geod.nrcan.gc.ca, but there is no logging process.