Survival and preparedness is serious business. The quality and quantity of survival skills that you have may very well mean the difference between living and dying after a catastrophe. From time to time, I like to share ideas for fun activities that you can do on your own or with other members of your family that have a “hidden” preparedness component. The way I see it, if you can have fun with your family while also learning skills that could save them or prevent them from experiencing unnecessary pain in the future, it’s a win-win situation.
Geocaching is an activity that fits into that category incredibly well, and it can be as much fun or as serious as you want it to be.
Geocaching is basically a global treasure hunting game that combines navigation, critical thinking, creative thinking, following directions and luck. People hide containers containing trinkets, called geocaches, and post clues on Geocaching.com on how to find them using a GPS-enabled device. There are more than 1.6 million geochaches worldwide.
If you’re interested in learning land navigation or getting a family member interested, geocaching is a great way to get your toes wet and get exposure to some of the most basic elements.
An easy way to get started with geocaching if you have a handheld GPS is to go to Geocaching.com, sign up for a free account, plug in a location near you where you’d like to hunt for a geocache, plug the coordinates into your GPS, and go hunting.
Alternatively, if you have a smart phone, you can download the geocaching.com app, which uses your phone’s GPS feature, and start hunting for nearby caches. This, of course, depends on your comfort level with enabling GPS on your phone and agreeing to share it with Geocaching.com.
Initially, pick easy caches that have been found recently and that look like they have good hints. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to start off with easy geocaches to build confidence and then switch to more challenging ones.
Once you get to the coordinates listed for the cache, you’ll learn a valuable lesson in navigation: +/-, otherwise known as accuracy, is a big deal when you’re looking for an exact location.
Here’s what I mean. Let’s say that when the person who placed the cache originally placed it and recorded the location, their GPS was accurate to within 20 feet. When you go to find it, your GPS is telling you that it’s accurate to within 20 feet. That means that when you get to the exact coordinates listed on geocaching.com, you’ll be within 40 feet of the cache. Depending on the location and the description/clues, a circle with a 40 foot radius can mean the cache will be very easy or very difficult to find.
When you find a geocache, it will usually range in size from a small pill bottle to an ammo can and be filled with trinkets, stickers and other stuff that you might get from a gumball machine. In geocaching culture, it’s customary to take something and replace it with one or more items of equal or greater value. The prize isn’t really what you take from the cache: It’s the thrill of the chase and finding the cache. The goodies are just for fun. It’s also customary to sign a log with your name or handle and the date that you found the cache. Personally, I rarely, if ever take anything from the cache unless I have my boys with me, but I do sign and date the log with whatever random handle I decide to go with at that moment.
Some caches are under rocks, under fake rocks, inside of fence posts, attached to the bottom of sculptures with magnets, inside the leg of a specific table at a restaurant, hanging in bushes, behind a loose brick/loose mortar, behind a book in a library, in a tree, etc. The locations are limited only by the creativity of the person placing the caches.
Another aspect about geocaching in populated areas is “muggles.” Muggles are non-geocachers. As a geocacher, one of your goals is to find the caches you’re looking for, open them and replace them without any muggles realizing what you’re doing. This is a fun spy-vs.-spy component that adds both an element of frustration and excitement to the process. Alternatively, you can just find the cache and forget about whether or not anyone sees what you’re doing.
As you get more into geocaching, you’ll learn some valuable lessons that you can apply in survival situations, including:
- The incredible variety of places to hide things in both urban and wilderness environments.
- The incredible variety of containers to use as caches.
- The benefits and limitations of GPS technology.
- Using GPS or map and compass navigation to find something other than a street address.
- The clandestine skill of retrieving and depositing “dead drops.”
- The ramifications of GPS and navigational accuracy.
- If you use a map and compass, the importance of current magnetic declination (magnetic north and true north are different in most places and the difference varies from location to location and changes over time). The north on your map and the north on your compass may differ by up to 10-20 degrees in the United States. You have to account for the difference when navigating.
- The importance of clear communication with navigational clues and the frustration of trying to interpret poorly written clues.
- Ideas for setting up your own caches, either for geocaching or for your own personal preparations.
Try geocaching this weekend, if not sooner. Two big hints:
- If you have a dedicated GPS, use it. The increased accuracy will make a huge difference.
- If you don’t have a smart phone, print or write out the coordinates, description and hints.
Do you have any experience with geocaching? Did you get introduced to caching through geocaching and move on to caching preparedness supplies? If so, please share your comments and experiences by commenting below.