How to Use Your Smartphone for GeocachingGeocaching has a been a favorite geek pastime for almost twelve years now. The idea behind geocaching is simply to place a container somewhere in or around a specific set of coordinates, hidden from general view. Some caches are harder to find than others, but each one contains a unique collection of gifts left by people who have visited the geocache previously.

A geocache is both an adventurer’s hobby and a proof of concept that the honor system can work. By taking one thing and leaving another, you are keeping the geocache alive for the next person who stumbles across it.

In the past, this hobby was restricted only to individuals with handheld GPS devices, requiring some searching in combination with knowing the exact latitude and longitude of the hidden cache. It is estimated that over 1,600,000 geocaches are hidden throughout the world, with many of them accessible within walking distance of civilization. That said, you’ll probably find that some of the most rewarding caches are hidden in areas that are more difficult to get to.

Today, this activity is open to virtually anyone with a smartphone as GPS has become a standard feature on these devices.

What is Geocaching?

Geocaching is simply a modern-day treasure hunt. A container is hidden somewhere in an accessible part of the world that contains a gift (or several gifts) that were left there by either the founder of the cache or others that have come across it in the past. Generally, the cache will be hidden so passers-by won’t easily discover it. Often, a poorly hidden cache will come up missing after a while as someone comes along and ruins the game for others.

The idea isn’t so much to find something particularly valuable. Most cache gifts are really just cheap keychains or trinkets worth less than a couple bucks. The fun is in seeking the treasure using a GPS and a set of coordinates. Each cache contains a logbook that visitors use to document who they are as they discover the cache. In some cases, people write limericks or haikus.

Some geocaches are as big as a breadbox while others can be as small as a film roll. This depends entirely on who created the cache and what type of treasure is involved. In most cases, the cache is about the size of a VHS tape.

The important thing to remember is that your job as a seeker is to leave nothing disturbed. If you take something, leave something. If there’s a logbook, make an entry. Take a moment to log your experience on your geocaching site of choice as well, as this could be of value to the next person to seek the treasure.

Software

If you have an iPhone, you can participate in geocaching by downloading a $9.99 app from Groundspeak that lists all nearby caches, reviews of the cache, and a report on the terrain and difficulty of the find.

Android users also have the ability to take advantage of Groundspeak’s Geocaching software by way of a equally priced option available on Google Play.

You don’t necessarily have to have a paid app to participate in geocaching. Any GPS navigation app that gives you latitude and longitude can be used to locate geocaches listed on one of many related sites on the Web.

Alternatively, an app such as iMarkMySpot ($0.99) can help you pinpoint specific locations including latitude, longitude, and elevation. It works with your camera to enable you to snap a photo of your cache tagged with detailed GPS coordinates.

Also available for iPhone is Where Am I At? (free) which tells you exact latitude and longitude in addition to your approximate address along with a map of your location.

Web Resources

Geocaching.com is one of the most well-known geocaching resources online with over 7 million logs being submitted each month. Not only is this a great source of information about geocaching, but it’s also a good place to find downloadable cache documents (rule sheets, etc.) as well as find and participate in geocaching games and challenges.

OpenCaching is another great resource for geocachers that enjoy a more open and community-driven caching experience. Here, you can find and add caches to the interactive map, log your finds and pass along hints and tips to future explorers. The idea behind the site is to bring geocaching back to its humble origins of just being a simple and fun open experience for everyone.

Local organizations are also a great place to find interesting caches nearby. For example, the Texas Geocaching Association is a fellowship of geocachers and enthusiasts that bring the sport to a smaller community, allowing members to share in the experience and swap stories about their discoveries along the way.

Final Thoughts

Geocaching is a fun and creative way to get out of the house and discover new places. Some caches are placed in urban areas that are extremely easy to get to while others require you to do some climbing, swimming, or long-distance hiking to find.

It’s a blend of technology and adventure that allows geeks (like myself) to get up and out of the house without feeling as though I’m really doing anything particularly exhausting.