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Geocaching FAQ

What is Geocaching?
Geocache with GPS Geocaching is the brainchild of an American by the name of Dave Ulmer and was originally conceived in May of 2000 when he hid the first cache in some woods near Portland, OR. Since then many new twists and variations of the game have come (and gone), but the general concept has remained pretty much the same. Geocaching itself is quite simple and generally involves the hiding of a cache filled with small prizes, or "treasures" as some call them. The geographical coordinates of the cache location are then determined using a hand-held GPS receiver. The hider then posts these coordinates to one or more listing services on the internet ( such as Geocaching With NaviCache.com ). Along with the coordinates the cache owner will also place a general description of the area, and often other clues as to the location. Periodically checking the listing service for new caches in their area, other participants will then take these coordinates and clues and then using their own GPS set out on a sort of treasure hunt trying and find the hidden geocache. Once found, the idea is to take something from the container and leave something of comparable value in its place. This helps to assure that there are always items in the container for the next finder(s).

Has it always been called Geocaching?
Though Geocaching is now the most common term used to identify the sport, it was originally referred to as a GPS Stash Hunt. The game has taken on many forms and you may also sometimes hear it referred to by other names such as Navicaching, GeoStashing and Terracaching as well as some others. There are also various other forms of the sport that have emerged, such as Geodashing.

OK, So how much does Geocaching cost?
Generally speaking, there is no charge for geocaching and as long as you have access to the coordinates and a GPSr, you are welcome to go in search of the cache. The coordinates and clues for geocaches are made available through online listing services that maintain a database of cache locations and while a few of these sites have taken a more commercial approach to the game, in almost all cases these services are free. 'Geocaching With Navicache'is one such service and access to all listings in our cache database here are offered free of charge. This is not to say there may be no costs at all involved in playing the game however. When first starting out there may be the cost of a GPS receiver (that is of course unless you already have one). Also if you plan on hiding some geocaches of your own, then you may need to purchase a weather-proof container and some goodies to place inside it. Keep in mind that while most of the listing services do not require a fee the costs of maintining these sites can be high and we of course encourage an occasional donation in order to help keep the sport free to everyone.

How much is a GPS Receiver, and where can I purchase one?
These days you should be able to find and purchase a GPS from most consumer electronics or sporting goods store as well as many online vendors. Like any other electronic gadget, GPS receivers vary in style and features. They can cost as little as a hundred dollars, and run all the way up to as much as one-thousand dollars. Geocaching does not require the top of the line model and what you spend really depends on your wants, needs, and budget. For the serious cacher, we do recommend you purchase a unit that at the very least is water proof, has the ability to store maps, and has a good antenna. Two of the largest and best known manufactures are Magellan and Garmin. Both offering a wide range of models to choose from. If you are just getting start and this will be your first experince with a GPS, you may want to check our Discussion Forums where you can get advice on the GPS that may best suit your needs for geocacing in your area.

Don't I need to pay a fee to receive the GPS signals?
In a way, some of you already do, every time you pay your taxes. The GPS (Global Positioning System) was originally designed for military use and is paid for by the U.S. Government. The more direct answer however would be 'NO', there is no fee charged to receive the signal and all you need to do is turn your GPS receiver, follow some instructions for its initial setup, and enjoy!

What sort of things can I expect to find in a Geocache?
The most popular items placed in 'Traditional' caches are small inexpensive (Dollar Store)type items, but the truth is you never know what you may find. In fact, there have probably been as many different kinds of items found in caches, as there are caches themselves. Items inside the cache containers have ranged from small toys, tools, and local area souvenir, all the way up to expensive movie props. Another popular item is the single use disposable camera, though this is not meant for you to take along when you go. Instead you are encouraged by the cache owner to take a picture of you and your group. Remember, what the cache contains is not as important as the fun and challenge of finding it. In fact some geocaches referred to as Virtual Caches do not consist of a container at all and are insted designed to provide an opportunity to visit a wonderful scenic place you may otherwise never have known about.

A camera in the cache... Do I have to take my photo?
Quinn Signing Log Don't worry, the photo is only to send your boss to show him what you were really doing when you called in sick!
Actually unless the cache description states a photo is required to log the find, then NO, you do not have to take your picture. The photos are usually just another way of showing others that you have met the challenge of finding the cache. Many cache owners will place these cameras within their cache, and then they will collect them when some one mentions in their log posting that the camera is full. After collecting the camera and developing the film, they often place the pictures on either their own web site, or they may submit them to the listing site to be posted there. If you take your picture, be sure to note the frame number in your log entry. This way the cache owner can put a name to the faces in the pictures. If you would prefer not to have have your picture posted then simply don't take it.

Sounds like fun!, How do I get started
First, do some research on GPS units. As mentioned earlier there are many models to chose from. You'll need to find the one that best meets your needs so don't rush into it. Some units don't do as well as others in heavy tree cover, and this is something you will want to keep in mind when making your choice. If the terrain is open and tree cover won't be an issue in your area, then just about any GPS you buy should be suitable. However, if there is medium to heavy tree cover, it will give you problems every time if you go with the wrong unit. In a case like this it may be better to choose a unit with a good quadrifilar helix antenna as found in the most of the Magellan GPSr's. These units will offer improved reception over those with a standard "patch" antenna. Remember though, they all have there limits. The important thing is to be sure to ask questions and not rush into your first purchase. Take your time, do some research and spend your money wisely. You can ask questions and find out more about GPS units is in our Forums. Another excellent resource is over at gpsinformation.net

I've purchased my GPS, So I'm all set right?
Not quite so fast! No doubt that after doing your research, and making that big purchase, you're probably going to want to run right out and find your first cache! We recommend however that you take some time to get used to your new GPS. Even if it is not your first GPS purchase, you should always familiarize yourself with the unit before heading into the field. Options and operation can very from one model to the next and the field is no place for surprises. A great way to get used to any new GPS is to place an item in an open area and make a note of the coordinates. Then, leave the area and use the GPS to see how close it will get you to the target.

But Wait! there's still more. Remember, a GPS can only point you in the correct direction of a cache, and this is "as the crow fly's". Keep in mind that navigating around anything in between you and the cache will often be required. While that is part of the fun of the sport, it is also a good reason to become familiar with topographic maps. In fact, the use of a topographic map is in most cases, highly recommended. These maps may not only save you tons of time and needless walking, but they may also prevent you from doing any needless (and highly frowned upon) "bush-whacking". Don't worry though, cache listings here on Navicache (and most other sites) will always include a link to a Topo Map of the area the cache has been placed in. Simply print the map, and take it along.

Other things you will want to bring along include a compass, extra batteries for your GPS, plenty of water, and depending on the location a first aid (or even snake bite) kit. Of course these are just some suggestions and items will vary depending on the location of the cache and type of terrain.

Anything else I need to know before heading out?
One of the most important things we can recommend is, know your limits. While Geocaching is a family oriented sport, and most caches are in easily accessible areas, many are not. And while most cache listings will include a difficulty and terrain rating, what may have been easy for the experienced hiker who placed the cache, may not be so easy for someone who doesn't get outdoors very often. So if you are just getting back into shape, or bringing the little ones along, be sure to check the cache difficulty ratings and read the cache description.

Also, Be sure to dress for the occasion. If you will be Geocaching in the open desert areas of Arizona or Nevada for example, bring the sunscreen (and the water we mentioned before). And when it comes to water, bring plenty of it. You are better to carry some extra back out, than to run out on a hot day and run the risk of dehydration. Now, if you will be in the forests along with that water, you will also want to be sure not to forget the good old bug-be-gone spray. Depending on the area you will also want to watch where you are walking. It's no fun to get home with a strange rash running up your legs and arms because you had no clue what Poison Ivy looked like. In fact, there is some great information on our Poison Ivy FAQ page so you'll know what not to walk through, or touch while feeling your way through the brush trying to locate that cache. Also, while some people don't have a problem with snakes in their area, many others do, and it is something to take note of. You don't want to go sticking your hands where you can't see, watch your step at all times, and please keep a good eye on your kids if they come along.

Finally, it is also recommended that you tell a family member or friend where you are going and when to expect to be back. Remember, common sense is the name of the game, so be sure to use plenty of it. Know what type of terrain you will be walking in and dress for it. Following these few guidelines could make the difference between a good time, and a bad one.

What are some other things to consider when Geocaching?
It is important to always be considerate of your surroundings and try not to damage grassland or tree's while placing or searching for a cache. The next cacher as well as other hikers will enjoy finding the area in the same undisturbed state as you found it. If you notice a path has started to wear in the area heading to a cache, then please e-mail the cache owner and let them know. If you are unable to contact the cache owner directly, and it is a cache listed in our database, then feel free to contact us here at Navicache and we will see what we can do. It is important that we all do our best to prevent any damage to public lands. Not only to protect our environment, but also the good name of the sport. So please, don't trash, while you Geocache.

OK, so where are all the caches located?
There are thousands of caches worldwide. To locate a cache in the area you live in, or will be visiting, Use our Cache Search Page or, you can even search by Zip Code or geographical coordinate right from the Navicache Home Page. Another excellent source is the clickable search map provided by Buxley's Geocaching Waypoint's. Once you have found a cache listing that interests you, make note of the Latitude and Longitude Coordinates listed for that cache. These are the Coordinates you will need to program into your GPS. When entered into your GPS, these Coordinates are known as a "Waypoint". Because every GPS is set-up a bit different than the next, you be sure to refer to your owners booklet for instructions on how to enter a waypoint, and how to select the waypoint you want to go to once you have it programmed. This is generally pretty easy and should only take you a few moments to get the hang of it. The important thing to remember is to use the correct datum format and double check your entry before heading out. Navicache (and most others) use WGS84 Format. The wrong datum format or a single digit being entered incorrectly is all it would take to put you miles off target and ruin your whole day.

What's all the fuss about Topographic Maps?
Remember, the GPS is only going to tell you how far you need to go and in what direction. It is not always going to tell you about the obstacles that may lie between you and your destination. Can you imagine the frustration and disappointment after a 3 mile hike to find yourself 200 yards from the cache that sits on the other side of that swamp or hundred foot gorge you just arrived at. The use of a Topo Map of the area can help you plan the best direction to approach from. Most GPSr devices today offer the option to upload topographic maps directly to the unit, but if your does not you can find several sources online to print a map of the area.

OK, I've reached the coordinates, where's the Cache?
Usually the cache listing will include hints to the location as well as a description of the cache container. A cache can be in any type of container that a Geocacher wants to use to keep their items and logbook safe and dry. Most people try to use containers that are weather proof such as Tupperware containers, plastic buckets with lids, old lunch boxes, and then of course there's everyones favorite, the retired Military Ammo Cans. Many prefer the ammo cans as they are both weather proof and quite sturdy with plenty of room for all sorts of items. But knowing the type container is half the solution, the clues are the important part. You would be surprised at some of the creative places folks have hidden a cache so read the clues.

What if I can't find it?
Don't worry, It happens to the best of us.
Sometimes looking at the cache lists for your area, what looks like it is going to be the easiest find yet, can turn out to be one of the toughest once you get in the field. There's always tomorrow when you can try again. In either case, you should always log the attempt to the cache listing page. The person who placed the cache will generally be tracking the posts and if they suddenly notice that no one can locate the cache, it could be their queue to check on it themselves, to confirm it has not been removed.

OK I found it, Now what?
Once you or your group have found the the cache, you will usually remove one or more items from the container, and replace them with an item(s) of your own. To be sure there are items for the next cachers who come looking, it is common practice to place the same number of items as you take. You will almost always find a log book in the cache, so be sure to jot down a little note about your adventure for those that follow to read. And if it contains a camera, be sure to take your picture and log the frame number too!

That's it!... I can't brag?
Sure you can brag! After you have returned home from a day of Geocaching, you should always log onto the listing site and post your "Found It" entry to that caches page. Here you can leave a message to others about your success (or failure), as well as any details you would like to share about your experiences while searching for the cache. But be sure not to leave too many details about the immediate area. After all, you don't want to spoil the fun for the next cacher.

Can't I just take the whole cache with me?
Generally speaking, the answer is no! Once you have exchanged items, made your entry to the log book, and taken your picture, the cache should always be returned to its original hiding place. The reason for this is that others will probably come looking and removing the cache would obviously ruin their day. Now like any rule there are sometimes exceptions, but unless the posting for the cache specifically asks the finder to move it to a new location (as in the case of some Hitch-Hiker caches), then please do not remove the entire container.

I want to hide my own cache, Can it be placed anywhere?
Since the first cache was hidden by Dave Ulmer back in the summer of 2000, geocaching has become very popular with thousands of caches now hidden around the world. While caches can be found in some very fascinating spots, you can't just place a cache where ever you want. First and foremost, a cache should never be placed on private property without prior permission from the land owner. If by chance you have received permission from a land owner to place a cache on their property, you must indicate in your cache listing that it has been placed with permission on private property. You certainly don't want those who come in search of your cache to be charged with trespassing or to simply turn around and leave without looking when they see the No Trespassing signs. Also, you should always make sure you place your cache in a well marked container. The outside of the container should always be clearly marked to indicate it is a "GEOCACHE". By marking the outside in this manner you will hopefully help prevent anyone who may accidentally stumble across your cache from simply removing it from its intended location or panicing about a strange container in the park.

Another thing to keep in mind while placing your cache is that while parks in your area may look like the perfect place to get started (and they usually are), you want to be sure to become familiar with restrictions in your area before you decide to set a cache in your favorite park. A growing number of state and local parks accept geocaching within the park area, but some parks do have restrictions to help protect certain delicate ecological areas from possibly being trampled. Remember, park managers or other public land stewards are held responsible to protect their parks from unauthorized disturbances. Some are concerned that placement of a geocache within the park may be potential problem due to unnecessary bushwhacking. On the other hand, many managers may welcome the cache if it is placed responsibly so that their is no measurable impact to the area. So if you are considering placing a physical cache on managed public lands, you may want to coordinate with the park manager in advance for proper placement. This will help reduce the chances your cache from being impounded! Remember, you should not have to needlessly bush-whack into an area to place your cache, and others should not have to bush-whack to find it and burying a cache on public managed lands is forbidden and against geocaching etiquette (not to mention plain old common sense!). In fact, another great way to give back is to always take a garbage bag along with you when Geocaching. This way you can remove any trash you may see along the trails. If everyone were to take out a little trash each time they went Geocaching, just think how nice our parklands would look?

What kind of things can be placed in a Cache?
Anything you think would fascinate another person. But whatever you decide, remember Geocaching is a family sport. Make sure what ever items you decide to place in any cache, are safe! This means sharp items, spray cans, lighters, knives, firecrackers or anything else that may harm someone should not be left in most caches. Remember that many times there will be children tagging along on these hunts and often they will be the first ones opening these cache containers. It is recommended that you place only things in a cache that you would not mind your own child finding. Kids love toys, and there are many that you can buy for very little money to place in the container. Some people even leave "Where's George" dollar bills to be logged on the Where's George web site. So please be safe, and think first before you decide what you will be adding to a Geocache. It is also highly recommended that you place a Navicache Stash Note in your container. This will help to identify what the container is, who placed it, and how to contact the owner if needed. A printable version of the Geocaching With Navicache Stash Note is currently available in both English and German.

Can people track me while I am using my GPS?
The simple answer to this is NO, don't worry about people looking over your shoulder! Your GPS is for reception only and does not transmit any Information from the unit itself.

Where else I can learn more about Geocaching?
For starters, if you haven't been there already, be sure to check out the Navicache Forums. Here you can read through questions and answers that others have posted, as well as post any question or concerns of your own. The Forums are pretty active and on most days you can expect an answer within a matter of a few hours if not less. You may also want to take a look at some of the sites listed on our Links page, or pay a visit to our Live Chat Center where you can often meet up with other members and ask questions.

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