How to Cache
-How it began.-
-Purchasing a GPS-
-Guide to Finding-
-Hiding a cache-
-Geocaching Terminology-
How it began.

Hide and Seek a cache

When the GPS signal degradation called Select Availability (SA) was removed by the Clinton Administration May 1st, 2000 (statement), it opened up the possibility of games like this one.
On May 3rd, a container of goodies was hidden by a someone outside of Portland, Oregon - in celebration of the removing of Selective Availability. By May 6th the cache was visited twice, and logged in the logbook once.

Track Travel Bugs

Mike Teague was the first to find the container, and built the first web site to document these containers and their locations that were posted to the sci.geo.satellite-nav newsgroup. In July of 2000, Jeremy Irish found Mike Teague's web site and found his first cache outside of Seattle, Washington. Recognizing the potential of the game (but never expected the growth), Jeremy approached Mike Teague with a new site design, used the name Geocaching, and developed a new web site adding virtual logs, maps, and a way to make it easier to maintain caches as the sport grows. The site was alive for a while, but my cache the official torch was passed to Jeremy on September 6.


Since the launch of the web site, the Geocaching sport has grown to caches in all 50 states and over 100 countries. There are now many variations of the game, including virtual caches, offset caches, puzzle caches, links and and multi-stage caches. New ideas and new great games crop up every day. From its inception, has been developed and maintained by Jeremy, with the assistance of Geocachers around the world. Many thanks to the Geocaching community for making the game it is today. The official web site for Geocaching is

Who knows where it'll go next!


Even earlier, Nuuksion Metsäsissit, initially Metsäsissit, had been hunting locations in the Greater Helsinki, Finland, area based on coordinates since the 1980s. Although they used 1:20,000 maps and half- a-millimeter measurement accuracy which gives 10-meter accuracy for the location, they started to use GPS in the early 1990's to determine accuracy. In many ways this was a precursor to geocaching :) (Information provided by Mesu)

Back to top

Guide to Purchasing a GPS unit

This is a guide for purchasing a GPS unit for the sole purpose of Geocaching.


First off, you can't really go wrong purchasing either a Magellan or a Garmin. although owners of these units aren't as rabid as the Apple/Windows wars, you can probably talk to either a Garmin or Magellan user and they'll swear by their units. Make sure whatever your GPS unit is, that it has the bare minimum features ($100 and up):

  • Store waypoints (200+ waypoint storage is cool, but for Geocaching 10 is ok)

  • Long battery life (20+ hours is pretty standard)

  • Waterproof - It should be submersible. Many caches are near water and you may end up dropping your GPS unit in there.
  • A wrist strap - Read the above line for why.

  • 12 channel parallel receiver system - basically means it can get good reception in most conditions. Read the box and make sure it says this.
  • A basic unit is the Garmin ETrex GPS, or Magellan GPS 315. If you want to spend a little more, you might want these features as well ($200 and up):
  • Waypoint averaging (pretty standard with Magellan, I believe. Garmin, if you're reading this, upgrade your ETrex to do this!). When you place a cache it helps to average out the coordinates to get a good read.
  • Altimeter - Shows you how high up you are. GPS can do this, but not as well. For most Geocaches you do not need it.
  • Built-in Magnetic Compass - You can always bring a regular compass, but this helps quite a bit, especially when you get within 100 feet of a cache. You can also get a regular compass to accompany your GPS unit. The Garmin ETrex Summit GPS, for example, has a built-in compass and altimeter.
  • Map Capabilities - Downloading maps of the area to your GPS unit is great, but can get expensive. It will help let you know where nearby trails, rivers, etc. are located, however, which may increase your hiking pleasure.
  • More information on Garmin and Magellan can be found at their web sites:
  • Garmin
  • Magellan
  • Where to buy a GPS Unit

    Most marine and outdoor stores carry the most popular GPS units. You can also purchase them online, like at

    Is there a GPS for handhelds?

    Yep. For the palm, there's the Magellan GPS Companion for Palm V/Vx, Rand McNally StreetFinder Deluxe GPS for Palm V, and Rand McNally StreetFinder Deluxe GPS for Palm III series. For the Handspring, there's the Geode GPS from GeoDiscovery - It is a higher-end GPS unit which will fulfill all of the basic requirements you have, plus it has excellent maps available for it, a magnetic compass and a altimeter. It currently (4/3) retails for $290 at Amazon. COM. With CE devices that have a Compact Flash port, you can use the Socket Ruggedized Serial I/O Compact Flash Card to connect to any Garmin or Magellan GPS unit. You'll also need to purchase the Garmin PC Interface Cable or Magellan 730277 GPS PC Cable, depending on your brand or GPS model. However, keep in mind that you will be trudging through the woods with your handheld, so it might be better just to buy a regular GPS unit and a data cable instead.

    Back to top.

    Guide to Finding a Cache

    Step 1 ? Researching the Cache

    Keep in mind that distances can be deceiving. When you're using your GPS unit to find a cache, the unit only knows how close the site is as the crow flies (a direct line). You may be a mile from the cache, but there may be a river in the way, or a near-vertical climb involving 3 miles of switchbacks, or a mountain ? you get the picture.
    1. Buy a map of the area from your local camping store for those caches that are off a trail or too remote to drive close to. Topographical maps (which show features of the land like hills) are best, so you can get a good idea of the terrain you'll be crossing. You'll also know whether to bring your Honda Civic or rent a Land Rover. For car geocaches (ones you can drive to and walk a short distance), use MapBlast. provides you with a link to MapBlast so you can get directions to that location. Make sure to zoom in on the location to make sure it's near a road. MapBlast can only get you so far! If you have a good idea of the area, you can navigate via the GPS unit. This is best when the park is small. This is also the most challenging, and is not recommended for your first hunt. You'll most likely need to do all three things to prepare and reach the Geocache, though our experience has shown different combinations for each cache. I'd always start with one of the online map sites first to get an idea of the area, then decide on whether you need to buy a map or use what you have. Since this is your first time, it's also ok to read the stash notes, look at a picture of the cache, or read other people's experiences finding the cache. Some may be visible from 20 feet away, while others in more trafficked areas may be buried under some rocks (or in one case, in a World War II bunker!). Getting within a mile or two of the site isn't usually too difficult ? it's the last mile that'll get you every time.

    Step 2 ? Preparation

    Preparation is key in any kind of outdoor activity, but you can never stress enough the importance of preparation and safety. Keep these tips in mind when searching for a cache:
    1. Have a buddy with you! Never go off into the woods or remote locations without a partner, especially when Geocaching. We don't want you focusing on your GPS unit and walking off a cliff. It's great fun, so think about planning a camping trip around the stash hunt with your family or friends.
    2. Many of the caches are off-trail, so make sure to be aware of your surroundings. If you're concentrating on your GPS unit, look around you occasionally for holes, bears, etc.
    3. Bring and drink plenty of water, and don't drink directly from a stream! For some of the more difficult trips, bring a water filtration system. You can get them at most camping stores.
    4. Let someone know where you're going and when you're coming back.

    Step 3 ? The Hunt

    Now you're ready for the hunt.

    1. It should be pretty straightforward to get within a mile or so from the cache (unless it's deep off-trail). If you've done your research, follow the map more than the GPS unit (although we keep ours on the whole time). It's inevitable that you'll lose signal from overhanging trees, mountains, etc.
    2. If you're using USFS roads (US Forestry service), the signs for each road can be pretty small in size. Instead of street signs, they're brown signs that have white writing running vertically. Usually they're close to the ground. Sometimes you may have to backtrack on the road to locate them.
    3. It's always good to have a compass on hand if your GPS unit doesn't have one.
    4. When you leave your car, mark its location as a waypoint! Sounds silly, but once you get deep into the cache hunt, it's easy to get disoriented. We've learned this from experience!
    5. When you get close to the Geocache (within 300 feet, which is the length of a football field), make sure to check your GPS unit signal. Sometimes the signal will have an error between 25- 200 feet. Don't concentrate as much on the arrow as the distance decreasing, as you get closer to the site.
    6. For the last 30 feet, use a compass or direct your buddy in the direction of the cache. In some cases we've had good luck circling the site with the GPS unit to get a good area to search.
    7. The final 30-100 feet is the hardest. It helps to think like the person who hid the cache. If there are stumps around, investigate around the base. Check for a pile of rocks. Some stashes, especially in people-trafficked areas, are pretty ingeniously hidden, so it helps to know the container they used.

    Step 4 ? The Find

    Huzzah! You found the cache! Congratulations! Now what?

    1. Usually you take an item and leave an item, and enter your name and experience you had into the log book. Some people prefer to just enter their name into the log book. It's an accomplishment enough to locate the cache.
    2. Make sure to seal the cache and place it back where you found it. If it had some rocks covering it, please replace them. It's pretty straightforward.
    3. Remember that waypoint we suggested you create where your car/trail was located? Use that now to get back! You'll be glad you had it.
    4. When you get home, email the person who hid the cache and let them know you found it! They're always happy to know the condition of their cache and it's nice to know that people are looking for them. Great work! After several trips to Geocaches in your area, you'll be ready to place your own. Welcome to the exciting world of Geocaching!

    Back to top.

    Hide and Seek Guide to Creating and Hiding a Cache

    So you want to hide a Geocache? Great! Read on

    Step 1 - Research a cache location

    Geocaching is just like real estate - location, location, location! When thinking about where to place a cache, keep these things in mind:

  • Will it be easy to get to? - If it is only a couple hundred feet from the highway, there's a strong chance someone may plunder it. Try to find a place that will take a bit of time to get to, preferably on foot.
  • Will it be easy to find? - If it is too visible, or too close to busy roads, trails, etc. there's a good chance someone may stumble upon it. Several of the original caches were discovered links and down this way, but the people who found it were nice enough to leave them there (or participate). But don't make it too difficult! If you hide it well, give hints on as to the location.
  • Will it be on private or public land? - If you place it on private land, please ask permission before putting it there! If you place the cache on public lands you need to contact the managing agency to find out about their rules. You will be in violation of federal regulation by placing a cache in any area administered by the National Park Service (US). The National Park regulations are intended to protect the fragile environment, and historical and cultural areas found in the parks.
  • Does it meet requirements to be listed on the site?
  • Make sure to review the guidelines for listing a Geocache on this web site during your research. You are ultimately responsible for the cache so make sure you know the rules for the area where your cache is being placed. Ultimately you'll want to place a cache in a place that is unique in some way. The big reward for Geocachers, other than finding the cache itself, is the location. A prime camping spot, great viewpoint, unusual location, etc. are all good places to hide a cache.


    Please be respectful of the areas you are thinking about placing the cache. For example, if it's the location of the spotted owl, or off-trail with delicate ground cover, keep in mind that others will be walking in these areas. (Added 5/28/02) Please do not place caches on archaeological or historical sites. In most cases these areas are highly sensitive to the extra traffic that would be caused by vehicles and humans. If you find a cache in one of these areas please remove it and replace it a safe enough distance from the site to ensure that the site will not be impacted by people searching for the cache and unknowingly traveling over or through a site.

    Step 2 - Preparing Your Cache

    First, you need a container. Anything water resistant, snow resistant, etc (depending on your climate), will do, but Geocachers have had good success with plastic buckets, Tupperware (or Rubbermaid) containers, ammo boxes, or unused sewer pipes (really!). You'll also want to invest in some zip-loc baggies to put the items into in case your container leaks. Whatever the container, make sure to mark your cache so that someone who doesn't play can figure out what it is. Most folks mark the container with, the name of the cache, and any contact information they feel is necessary. More info is better than less. Next, you'll need a logbook and a pen. A small spiral notebook does the trick. Make sure to put a pen in the cache as well! The author always forgets to bring one when searching for a cache.


    If you are an an area where the temperature dips below freezing, make sure to bring a soft lead pencil to place in the cache. Pens tend to freeze and are rendered useless :) It's also recommended to have a note to welcome the cache finder and let them know what it is all about (if they accidentally found the cache). We have a letter you can use in both Microsoft Word format and Text format. Lastly, you can put goodies in the cache. It's recommended, but not necessary! Some ideas of items to give as gifts:
  • Disposable camera - Put one in and ask everyone to take a picture of themselves and put it back in the cache. Later you can develop the photos and place them online.
  • Cheap toys - play-doh, silly putty, action figures, etc.
  • CDs, VGA Cards, gift certificates, dollar bills, gold bars, etc. It's up to you what you want to put in your cache, budget permitting. If you are a Dot com millionaire, I would hope you would pony up a bit of cache (err cash), but most of us can spend less than $10 to place a decent cache.
  • Do not put food in a cache! Critters have better noses than we do, and will bite, nibble or swallow your cache in an attempt to get to the goodies. Bottled water is a good alternative (and refreshing to Geocachers).
  • Please!

    No alcohol, tobacco, firearms, prescription or illicit drugs. Let's keep this safe and legal.

    Step 3 - Placing Your Cache

    When you reach the location to place your cache, the hardest part (depending on the model of your GPS unit, the terrain, etc), is getting exact coordinates from your GPS unit. It all depends on how visible your cache is, but you'll need to get the coordinates as close as possible to the cache. Some GPS units have the ability to do averaging, but if yours can't, the best suggestion is to take a waypoint, walk away from the location, then return and take another waypoint. Do this around 7-10 times, then pick the best waypoint (I've done this with a Garmin ETrex on a cache) Once you have your waypoint, write it in permanent marker on the container, the log book, and make sure you have a copy to bring back with you. Write a few notes in the log book if you like, place it in a zip-loc baggie, and place it in the container. Make sure to secure the container with a rock, etc, to decrease the chance of it blowing, floating, or being carried away. Please do not bury the container unless you have express permission of the landowner or manager. If the cache is far enough away from trafficked areas, your cache should be fine. An exception would be covering the cache with dead branches, bark, etc. to conceal the container.

    Step 4 - Report the Cache

    Either fill out the online form, or Send e-mail to The form is a much faster way to get your cache report published. If you use email, please provide the coordinates in WGS84 format and let us know a) the difficulty (1-5, 5 being the hardest) and terrain rating (1-5, 5 using climbing gear), b) a nickname for the cache, and c) your contact info. If you're creating a web site for the cache, let us know and we'll add it to the page. If you're a member of the geocaching mailing list, feel free to send it there as well. Most (if not all) of the geocaching sites read the list.

    Step 5 - Maintain the cache

    Once you place the cache, it is your responsibility to maintain the cache and the area around it. You'll need to return as often as you can to ensure that your cache is not impacting the area, and ensure that the cache is in good repair. Once people have visited the cache, inquire about the cache and their opinion of the location. Does the area look disturbed? Are visitors disrupting the landscape in any way? If you have concerns about the location, feel free to move or remove it from the area.

    Back to top.

    Geocaching terms and terminology

    Click on any of the headings below to jump straight to the topic.Or go back to top

    -Archiving-  -Benchmark-  -Bureau of Land Management-  -Cache-  -Datum-  -GPS-
    -Hitchhiker-  -Latitude-  -Letterbox(ing)-  -Longitude-
    -NAD27- -Spoiler- -TNLN- -Travel Bug- -UBBCode- -USDA Forest Service (USFS)- -Virtual(cache)- -WAAS- -Watch list- -Waypoint- -WGS84-


    This is usually seen when you own a cache. Archiving is basically deleting your cache from the listings on the web site. This usually occurs when you are not going to replace a cache after it has been removed. You can temporarily disable it as the cache owner if you plan to activate it again within a month.

    See benchmark hunting for more details.

    Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior, administers 262 million acres of America's public lands, located primarily in 12 Western States. The BLM sustains the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. Their web site is


    Pronounced "cash" - In geocaching it is a hidden container filled with a log book and pencil/pen, and possibly prizes. Caches were often used by explorers, miners, etc. to hide foodstuffs and other items for emergency purposes. People still hide caches of supplies today for similar reasons. Geocaching comes from the terms "geo" and "cache" to explain the sport. Some caches have cash in them, but there is no pun intended :)


    A datum is something used as a basis for calculating and measuring. In the case of GPS, datum's are different calculations for determining longitude and latitude for a given location. Currently, Geocaching uses the WGS84 datum for all caches. Many maps still use NAD27, which can cause confusion if your GPS unit is set to NAD27. Always check your GPS to ensure that WGS84 is the datum before entering a cache coordinate into your unit.


    GPS stands for Global Positioning System. It is a system of satellites that work with a GPS receiver to determine your location on the planet. Geocaching uses GPS to help hide and seek caches on the planet. For more information on GPS, visit Trimble's web site.


    A hitchhiker is an item that is placed in a cache, and has instructions to travel to other caches. Sometimes they have logbooks attached so you can log their travels. A Travel Bug is an example of a hitchhiker.


    Latitude and longitude create a waypoint. Latitude is the angular distance north or south from the earth's equator measured through 90 degrees.


    Letterboxing is similar to Geocaching, but you use a series of clues to find a container. Once you find the container (or letterbox), you take a carved stamp from the box and stamp your personal logbook. You then take your carved stamp and stamp the letterbox's log book.


    Latitude and longitude create a waypoint. Longitude is the angular distance measured on a great circle of reference from the intersection of the adopted zero meridian with this reference circle to the similar intersection of the meridian passing through the object.


    Stands for North American Datum 1927. The precursor to WGS84. Many maps still use the NAD27 datum, so always check before using a GPS unit with a map.


    A spoiler is information that can give details away and ruin the experience of something. For example, telling someone the end of a movie before they see it. In geocaching, a spoiler gives away details of a cache location and can ruin the experience of the hunt.


    Took Nothing. Left Nothing. Usually found in cache logbooks for folks that enjoy the thrill of the hunt more than the material contents of the cache.

    Travel Bug

    A Travel Bug is a hitchhiker. Visit the travel bug page to learn more about it.


    UBBCode? tags allow you to add formatting (bold, italics) and other information (emails, URLs) to your messages without learning HTML! They were created by Infopop, who run the Groundspeak forum software. More info on UBBCode? can be found on their web site.

    USDA Forest Service (USFS)

    The U.S. Forest Service, an agency within the Department of Agriculture, administers 191 million acres (77.3 million hectares) of National Forests, Grasslands, and Prairies. These public lands are generally geocaching-friendly, with exceptions of designated Wilderness Areas, and other specially designated botanical, wildlife, and archaeological sites. The phrase "Caring for the land and serving people" captures the Forest Service mission of achieving quality land management under the sustainable multiple-use concept to meet the diverse needs of people. The Information Center in the agency's national headquarters has been a Washington D.C. Virtual Geocache since August 12, 2001.

    Virtual (cache)

    Adapted from "Virtual Reality," virtual means "nothing there." So a virtual cache means there is no cache container. It's the location that is the cache itself. Nothing is normally traded, except photos and experiences.


    WAAS stands for Wide Area Augmentation System, but that doesn't really describe what it is. Garmin has an excellent description on WAAS.

    Watch list

    A watch list is a list of users that are watching a specific travel bug or cache. On some cache pages there is a number of users watching the cache. There is no current functionality to see who those people are.


    Waypoints are named coordinates representing points on the surface of the Earth. Geocaching uses a suggested waypoint for a cache, created automatically when a cache has been created. Because most GPS units have restricted names to 6 characters or less, we generate a waypoint name based on the ID of the cache. It is optional, but makes it easier to locate a cache on the geocaching web site.


    The most current geodetic datum used for GPS is the World Geodetic System of 1984 (WGS84). The significance of WGS84 comes about because GPS receivers rely on WGS84. Geocaching uses the WGS84 datum by default. We also use the format HDDD MM.MM, which is a standard for GPS receivers (like the ETrex). HDD means Hemisphere and degrees. MM.MM are minutes in decimal format. It is critical that the format is correct, otherwise cachers will be unable to find your cache!

    Back to top

    How to is taken in part from

    Andrew Preece: