Here’s a step-by-step guide to finding your first geocache:
Purchase a GPSr handheld receiver. Used and low-end units can be found for under $100 on eBay and Internet retail sites. Read the user manual,become familiar with the way the device displays your location and learn how to navigate to a destination or “waypoint.”
Register at Geocaching.com. Tell the site where your home coordinates are so you’ll have a starting point. You also choose a username when you register. The next seven steps are accomplished on the website.
Look for caches in your area by searching your ZIP code or address. The search results page gives you high-level summaries and links to detailed descriptions.
Choose basic single-stage caches that have a difficulty and terrain rating of 1 or 1.5. We also recommend you look for “small” or “regular” cache sizes so you aren’t frustrated searching for a tiny container.
Choose a nearby location. You may have to return to search more than once. Select a park rather than a busy shopping center because you’re less likely to endure the gaze of bystanders. You’ll get used to this over time,but it can be a little disconcerting at first.
Look for terms like “easy,” “simple”,“fast”and “park and grab” in the descriptions. You don’t want to be too ambitious your first time out!
Check the log summaries and look for geocaches with a high ratio of “Found”to “Did Not Find” results. A good candidate looks like this:
A poor one looks like this:
Those little frown faces are logs of people who did not find the cache. If more than about one in four people failed to find the cache,it’s probably a poor candidate for a first-time search.
Decrypt and check the hint. Geocachers love to play word games. If the hint looks cryptic or unintelligible,it probably won’t do you much good. On the other hand,a hint like “under rock,behind large maple tree” is intended to help you get to your destination.
Read the last few logs. Beware of any recent “Did Not Finds.” These could indicate that a cache is missing. Conversely,logs may contain valuable information that can help you in your search. An expression like “I’ve never seen a hide like this!”tips you off to an unusual container or placement. For your first time out,look for language that indicates the cache is a quick and easy find.
Check your GPSr. Make sure you have fresh batteries and that you’re getting a good satellite signal (all units have a feature to tell you signal strength). You’ll want to check signal strength again when you get to your location. Accuracy of more than about 30 feet will complicate the find.
Consult a topographic map if you have one,or look up the location on Google Earth. This will show you surrounding terrain and help you find the easiest approach route.
Remember that coordinates don’t discriminate by elevation. Your GPSr may say your destination is 50 feet in front of you,but it won’t tell you about the sheer rock wall you have to climb to get there! In addition to free services like Google Maps and Google Earth,you can purchase topographic software like DeLorme’s Topo USA or GeoBuddy.
Calibrate your GPSr’s compass. Non-magnetic compasses of the type found in most GPSr are notorious for getting out of alignment. A poorly calibrated compass can send you on a wild goose chase. Calibrating is usually a simple setup procedure that’s described in the manual.
Drive or walk to your destination. Many descriptions will guide you to appropriate parking.
Don’t rely too much on your GPS when you reach your destination. It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that electronics will lead you directly to the treasure. Even the best handheld GPSr are only accurate to within a 15-foot radius. Let your eyes guide you from there.
Leave the shovel at home. It is against the rules to bury a cache,so digging won’t be necessary.
Look for items that are out of place. Rock piles or branches that don’t look like they were placed by the hand of nature are a good bet. If the hide has a low difficulty rating,you can probably catch at least a glimpse of the container without probing. Large containers are generally easier to find because there are fewer places to hide them.
Find the cache and sign the log book with your Geocaching.com username and the date. Include a comment if you’d like. Be sure to note that it’s your first find!
Take something/leave something. You may discard this practice after your first few finds,but this is one of the fun parts of discovering the game. Leave a toy,trinket or personal item like a key chain. The value of an item you leave should be at least as great as the value of anything you take.
Snap a photo. You do have a digital camera,right? Take a shot of yourself or of the surroundings,being careful not to give away the actual location of the cache. Upload this to Geocaching.com when you get home.
Log your find on Geocaching.com from the “log your visit” link in the description. Be sure to note that this is your first cache. Cache owners are always delighted to hear that they’ve helped introduce someone to the game,and you may well get a welcome message from the owner.