Getting Started with Geocaching: Guest Post by Harley and Abby McAllister
I can honestly say that our family loves being outdoors together, but you wouldn’t necessarily guess it from the reactions we get from the kids when we suggest a hiking trip. If your kids are like ours, and our bet is that most of them are, they never seem to want to give up whatever they are doing in order to go on a hike. In the world of digital diversions, they tend to get more excited about the notion of watching a movie, playing a video game, or getting some time online rather than spending time in nature. But once they are actually outside and in the wild they always enjoy it – and we feel it is important to make that happen.
One of the best ways we have found to increase their interest in spending a few hours outdoors is with Geocaching. For those of you new to the concept, Geocaching is basically a treasure hunt where the treasure map is your GPS or your GPS enabled smartphone. In the world of this growing ‘sport’, thousands have gone before you and hidden small weather-proof containers at locations all over the world, and then saved the coordinates of the location with their GPS. Then they upload the data to a website where you can download them onto your own device, and then you get out there and hunt for it. Inside the container you will find a collection of little toys and knick-knacks, and the protocol is that you can take one with you if you leave one in return, or you can simply sign your name in the logbook and see who else has been there, and how recently, etc. It is really a fun way to add some spice to your outdoor excursions! In Montana alone, one search of caches brought up 7,911 individual caches! We mostly search for caches in natural areas but there are 471 caches listed in Billings so you really can do it anytime, anyplace.
The key to making this all work is having a large community of users who are placing caches and sharing locations, and that sort of networking is what the web excels at. There are a number of websites dedicated to this, and you can do a search of “top geocaching websites” and do the research yourself. But we’ll save you the effort – the searches will all tell you that www.geocaching.com is the granddaddy of them all. What’s best about this website is that you can get started for free just by creating a log-in, no money required! Eventually you may want to upgrade to a premium account for some of the features offered, but we have yet to feel compelled to make the leap ourselves. You can have plenty of fun and give it a try without having to open your pocketbook. All you will need to do is go to the site and create your log-in, then use the search feature to find geocaches near you. You will see a map with icons on it showing each cache, and when you click on the icon you will get more details about the size of the container, who put it there, and even a couple hints to help you once you get close. The user interface is very straightforward and easy to navigate.
The only other thing you will need to get started is a GPS. Now, this is a piece of equipment where you can spend as much money as your heart desires, but you can also get started for significantly less. First of all, you may very well already have a GPS – aka your smart phone. Most of today’s later model smart phones are GPS enabled to allow emergency location services, navigation services, etc. Be a little careful here because some phones do this by locating off cell towers, but a little homework will allow you to determine if your phone is GPS enabled or not.
If you do need a GPS however, there are still relatively inexpensive models available that are sufficient for geocaching. More expensive models will offer mapping capabilities, better graphics, easier download of data, more data storage, etc. but in reality, a basic unit is all you really need and there are a number of options. A full comparison of what is out there is beyond the scope of this blog post, but a little research will find you what you need and doing the gear research can be half the fun!
OK, so once you have your GPS device with a few geocaches downloaded to it, it is time to get outside! Below are our top 5 hints to ensure a fun outing, so take note and then get out and try it. We are sure that you will find it fun and addicting.
- Let your kids lead the way. As parents, we often want to be in charge to make sure we get someplace in the most efficient way, but this is a great chance to turn control over to your kids. Its empowering for them, makes them feel valued and important, and it is just plain fun. So hand them the GPS and tell them to lead the way, they will love it and what’s the worst that could happen? After all, you will know your exact location at all times!
- Bring the hints. Each geocache online has a hint that helps you find it once you are a close. The GPS will get you within 20 feet or so, but the hint will tell you to look high or low, or near an object, etc. You won’t always need it, but you’ll be glad you have it when you do.
- Be prepared. As with any outing with kids, bring the essentials. A fussy kid outdoors will almost always perk up when provided a snack, so bring plenty. Also bring the other essentials like water, sunscreen, bug spray, and appropriate layers of clothing.
- Geocaching items. Each cache should have a collection of items left there by earlier explorers, and you are welcome to take one provided that you brought something along to replace it with. Dime store toys and other trinkets are the most common, but feel free to use your imagination. Part of the fun is seeing what will be inside, so get creative and think of something fun. At a minimum – bring your own pen! Each cache also has a log book and a writing implement, but pencils get broken and pens left outdoors year round can dry out as well. You will want to write in the logbook, so make sure you bring what you need to do so.
- Bring extra caches! Finally, make sure you download more caches than you think you will need. Our first time out we downloaded two and thought that would keep us busy, but after finding them in fairly rapid succession our kids were left wanting more and we had no choice but to stop early and head back home. You have plenty of space in your device for lots of caches, so don’t be shy about downloading lots of them.
So that should be enough to get you started; now it is your turn to get out there and see a part of Montana you’ve never even known was there before!
This is a guest post written by Harley and Abby McAllister of http://www.our4outdoors.com/. All photos listed on this blog post belong to the McAllister’s. Be sure to check out their website for more information on getting outside with your kids, as well as an e-book on Yellowstone National Park!!