What with the wide range of geekery we have here, I'm surprised I haven't heard of anyone else doing this. I was bored in work after lunch so I typed this up.
What is Geocaching?
The Geocaching website defines Geocaching as:
"Geocaching (pronounced geo-cashing) is a worldwide game of hiding and seeking treasure. A geocacher can place a geocache in the world, pinpoint its location using GPS technology and then share the geocache's existence and location online. Anyone with a GPS device can then try to locate the geocache."
My own personal favorite definition is "I find tupperware in the woods using multi-billion dollar satellites."
Here's a great clip of Geocaching in action from the movie "Splinterheads".
Who can Geocache?
ANYONE! It makes a great group or family activity (or with that special someone) to get outdoors and see things you may not have known existed in your own neighborhoods. I know a few folks who cache with their wives and kids and it's an awesome way to spend time out of the house.
Some people play the game solo; others play it in groups. Some are just loose-knit congregations of people; others have established group names and objectives to add to the fun.
What is a Geocache?
Actually, the correct question could be asked, "What ISN'T a Geocache?"
A geocache will be a container that, at the very minimum, will include a "log book" of some sort, which the Geocacher can sign to log that they found the container. The typical next step is to log it on the Geocaching website to indicate their find.
Geocache containers range from tiny, eraser-sized magnetic "nanos", to magnetic key-holders, tupperware, paint buckets, or some other (possibly specialized) sort of water-tight container that can hold the log, and possible "treasure" (among other things)
What are different types of Geocaches?
A Geocache that is hidden just as a container containing a logbook, with the coordinates posted, is known as a Traditional Geocache.
Other Geocache types include but are not limited to:
Multi-Cache: This involves two or more locations, the final being the physical Geocache. Often, multi-caches' coordinates point to a place to find a hint, which then points to a second hint, leading up to the final cache.
Mystery or Puzzle Cache: These can include a puzzle of some type to determine the final coordinates.
Event Cache: A one-shot "Geocache" where local Geocachers and or Geocaching organizations designate a time and location to meet and discuss Geocaching. Events which host more than 500 people are known as Mega-Event Caches.
CITO Event: (Cache-in Trash-Out). These are events that are specifically held to clean up an area to benefit a community. CITO is the practice of taking trash out of an area when you leave from Geocaching.
EarthCache: This is a special place where people can learn about unique geographical features or natural wonder of our planet. EarthCaches typically include educational opportunities. While there is not usually a physical Geocache to find, the Cache Owner will often require some other type of proof that you "found" it, such as answering questions or having a picture taken.
How do I find a Geocache?
Using GPS technology, whether it be a standalone GPS unit or a smartphone with GPS software, you find your way to the geographic coordinates of the Geocache and find it hidden there. Of course, "easier said than done" applies.
What are the rules of Geocaching?
Per the official website:
1. If you take something from the cache, leave something of equal or greater value.
2. Write about your find in the cache logbook.
3. Log your experience at www.geocaching.com.
You said "Treasure!" What kind of Treasure!?
Larger-sized Geocaches may contain what is known as "Swag." Little trinkets, toys, "signature items", and certain trackable items known as Travel Bugs or GeoCoins.
Typically, if a Geocacher takes an item out of a Geocache, it is considered good form to swap for a similar value item. IE if the Geocache is filled with, say, dollar store trinkets, it would be acceptible to replace an item you took with something small.
"Signature Items" are not typically required to be traded for, but it's fun to "get to know" the Geocachers whose footsteps you are following in by the items they leave behind.
"Travel Bugs" and "GeoCoins" (also known as Trackables or Hitchhikers) are items that are NOT traded permanently for. Instead, they are special, trackable items marked with a unique alphanumeric code, which can be entered on the Geocaching website. After a Geocacher purchases one, they are placed in a Geocache by the Geocacher and it is indicated on the Geocaching website that it has been placed in a Geocache.
At that point, any Geocacher can pick up the Hitchhiker and move it to a new Geocache.
Some Geocachers give their Hitchhikers backstories (ie, "Bob the Camel wants to see deserts", or "Please do a good deed before placing this Trackable in a new Geocache"). The website then tallies up the distance the Hitchhiker has travelled, and reports back to the owner that it has been moved elsewhere. (I recently moved a Trackable that has over 12k miles logged on it!)
What are some examples of Geocaches you've found?
I logged my 56th Geocache today. While I am by no means an expert, I find it to be a quite relaxing and often exhilarating game.
Some of the highlights and unique Geocache Containers:
In Texas, I found a Geocache attached to one of those huge green electric thingies on the side of the road. The logbook was folded into a ziplock bag, and the bag was hidden behind a light switch plate painted to match the green thing!
In Maryland, I found a Geocache Container known as a "Bison Tube" (A small tube which typically only has room for a log sheet; they are not much bigger than your pinky) magnetically stuck to the underside of the bottom of a railroad crossing sign for a defunct/repurposed railway.
Also, I found one that repurposed one of those hide-a-key rock items as a geocache on the side of a retention pond.
In my hometown in NJ, I solved a Puzzle Cache, which was rather easy, but the puzzle answer itself was a riddle. I ended up finding the Geocache hidden on the backside of a baseball field's scoreboard.
Why would someone want to hide a Geocache?
To show someone a new place
To teach someone something about their town, their state, their planet
To get people to experience new things
Okay so I signed up for Geocaching's Website, found a nearby Geocache, went to the coordinates, and can't find anything. What gives?
There's a high probability you're not looking in the right place
If, even after logging what is known as a "DNF" (Did Not Find) and possibly getting hints from the Cache Owner (CO, the person who hid the Geocache) you still can't find it, it's possible the Geocache may be gone. At this point, Cache Owners typically will investigate the cache and try to verify if it's missing. If so, they may replace it or "archive it", whereupon it becomes unsearchable and a new Geocache can be placed nearby by the original Cache Owner (or someone else.)
Where else can I find Geocaches?
Did you run a local search yet?
I've found Geocaches in parking lots, near lakes, town parks, undeveloped plains, baseball fields, shopping centers, business parks... There's over a million across the world - use your imagination!
Friends have found Geocaches in Washington DC, Mexico, Chicago... the list goes on. There's even a Geocache hidden deep in the Atlantic Ocean, and ALSO on the ISS! (Thank Lord British for both of those - you know who I mean - Richard Garriott, the creator of the Ultima games!)