First go at #geocaching

Over the past couple of months I’ve been pushing some of the GPS features on my phone (I’ll be back to talk about Foursquare and Gowalla in future blog posts), and the subject of geocaching has come up several times, so what is it… this video explains best:

With my work with CODEC, one of the ideas that I’ve been thinking about is creating a geocache trail, but it was not something I’d ever done – I just knew it was some sort of electronic treasure hunt – and sounded a bit geeky – but here we are, it’s NOT:

So, Tuesday evening, I went to #winchesterweb and I knew that Aimee (@sermoa) had talked about #geocaching before, so I asked her about her for more info, and if she knew how to set one up… not yet, but maybe that can be our next project, but rather than trying to explain it, we went #geocaching tonight (and wasn’t it nice weather for it!)!

So – why would you want to?

As with many things, it’s essentially a re-invention of an old game (apparently the first geocache was set up in around 2000, when accurate GPS data first became publicly available – and not restricted to the military), a treasure hunt, but utilising modern technology (any GPS system will work, including SatNavs). Children will love it, and I really enjoyed it – a good excuse for a walk/chat with a bit of a purpose, and the excitement of not knowing QUITE what you’re looking for, and then seeing the comments & thoughts of all those who have come before you (all the time able to Tweet away, etc.!) – in these recessionary times when there’s so much concern about obesity – a free way to get some exercise (and exercise your brain!)

So – how does it work?!

So now, do I try and explain it…

First:

  • Visit geocaching.com to identify geocaches you’d like to visit (print off as desired), or download an app onto your phone. I had the trial version of the official app, which offers 3 geocaches (but not THE nearest 3, necessarily). The full version is £5.99, which I have now downloaded, although I haven’t got the hang of how I log my finds – I still seem to have to go to the website for that!
  • Alone or with a friend (more fun with a friend!), take your smart phone (or your old technology – paper!) and track down the spot using GPS co-ordinates (usually accurate to within about 6 metres).
  • As you get very near, abandon the technology, use your eyes, and track down the item – the geocache description will give an idea of the size of the item that you’re looking for.
  • As subtly as possible, extract the item.  Move away from the area, and open the item.
  • See what’s been placed in there (some are tiny, and simply require that you add your name/date/comment to the list… so take a pen, just in case – although both the ones we found tonight had writing utensils in them!), and record your visit (both on paper, and by any other electronic means you like – but don’t give away the hiding place!).
  • If there are items in there, it’s possible to take an item out, but you must replace it with something – preferably of equal or greater value! There may be a Trackable item in there, which you should remove and record – and then find another geocache to place it in.
  • Ensure that the container is well secured and (subtly again) return it to where you found it.

On Return:
On returning from our walking/hunting (2 hours!) I logged into http://www.geocaching.com, set up an account, and then logged my finds (there’s an option to let people know if it’s disappeared, or if the item needs some form of maintenance… and hopefully you won’t need it – to say that you couldn’t find it)!

Next Steps:

  • Set up a geocache – lots of hints and tips available on the geocaching site!
  • Official guidelines – I already know: no food (foxes!), no medication (how do we know it’s really paracetamol!), and – I wonder why – no weapons!