Geocaching is an outdoor treasure-hunting game in which the participants use Global Positioning System receiver or other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers (called "geocaches" or "caches") anywhere in the world. A typical cache is a small waterproof container containing a logbook and "treasure", usually toys or trinkets of little monetary value.
(copied from Wikipedia.org)
For the traditional geocache, a geocacher will place a waterproof container, containing a log book (with pen or pencil) and trinkets or some sort of treasures, then note the cache's coordinates. These coordinates, along with other details of the location, are posted on a website (see Websites for geocaching). Other geocachers obtain the coordinates from the Internet and seek out the cache using their GPS handheld receivers. The finding geocachers record their exploits in the logbook and online. Geocachers are free to take objects from the cache in exchange for leaving something of similar or higher value, so there is treasure for the next person to find.
Typical cache treasures aren't high in monetary value but may hold intrinsic value to the finder. Aside from the logbook, common cache contents are unusual coins or currency, small toys, ornamental buttons, CDs, or books. Also common are objects that are moved from cache to cache, such as Travel Bugs or Geocoins, whose travels may be logged and followed online. Occasionally, higher value items are included in geocaches, normally reserved for the "first finder", or in locations which are harder to reach.
Geocaches can range in size from "microcaches", too small to hold anything more than a tiny paper log, to those placed in five-gallon buckets or even larger containers.
If a geocache has been vandalized or stolen, it is said to have been "muggled" or "plundered". The former term plays off the fact that those not familiar with geocaching are called "geo-muggles" or just muggles, a term borrowed from the Harry Potter series of books.
If a cacher discovers that a cache has been muggled, it can be logged as needing maintenance, which sends an e-mail to the cache owner so it can either be deactivated, repaired, or replaced.
Due to the hide-and-seek nature of the game, without some rules geocachers could be a danger to themselves, other cachers, or society. Geocaching.com has guidelines for hiding your first cache through their listing service. Other websites, like Terracaching, have their own set of guidelines for acceptable listings. Geocachers interested in enumerating a basic set of generally accepted practices have also developed the Geocacher's Creed and Geocaching Policy website.
When geocaching in busy locations, searching for a cache can require tact and craftiness to avoid the attention of the general public. The person hiding a geocache frequently takes this into account so that the hider and those looking for caches will not cause undue alarm. When care is not taken in hiding or finding a geocache, cachers have been approached by police and questioned when they were seen as acting suspiciously. Other times, investigation of a cache location after suspicious activity was reported has resulted in police and bomb squad discovery of the geocache. One such cache was destroyed by the Bellevue, Washington, bomb squad, who suspected that an ammunition canister labeled as a geocache was a bomb .
Although not dealing with geocaching specifically, the Leave No Trace principles are how some geocachers feel geocaching should be done.
Geocaching is similar to a much older activity called letterboxing, which has been in existence for about 150 years. Letterboxing relies upon references to landmarks and/or clues embedded in stories. The major difference is that geocaching relies upon the Global Positioning System. Geocaching via GPS was made possible by the removal of selective availability of the Global Positioning System on May 1, 2000. The first documented placement of a cache with GPS assistance took place on May 3, 2000, by Dave Ulmer of Beavercreek, Oregon. The location was posted on the Usenet Newsgroup sci.geo.satellite-nav. By May 6, 2000, it had been found twice and logged once (by Mike Teague of Vancouver, Washington). Today, well over 350,000 geocaches are currently placed in 222 countries around the world, registered on various websites devoted to the sport.
Origin of the name
The activity was originally referred to as GPS stash hunt or gpsstashing. This was changed after a discussion in the gpsstash discussion group at eGroups (now Yahoo!). On May 30, 2000, Matt Stum suggested to change the name "stash" into "cache" and also mentioned "geocaching" as the name of the activity.
Websites for geocaching
There are a number of websites that list geocaches around the world. The first and currently the largest, is Geocaching.com, which began operating in 2000. This site has members worldwide, and hundreds of thousands of caches available. Caches are published by regional cache reviewers and the site stresses family-oriented caching. Its claim to be "official" and its commercial interests are often bones of contention. There is the basic, free, membership which allows users to see coordinates for most caches in its database, and the premium, paid-subscription accounts which offer additional features and a few more cache sites.
Geocaching.com no longer lists new caches without a physical object, including locationless/reverse and webcam; however, older caches of these types have been grandfathered in (except for locationless/reverse, which have been completely archived). The exception to this is earthcaches, which have been reestablished as caches eligible for new listings. Approval for new earthcaches must be obtained through the Geological Society of America. Groundspeak, Inc., the site's owner, has created a waymarking website, at Waymarking.com, to handle all other non-physical caches.
An alternative geocaching site is TerraCaching.com, whose goal is to have members place and seek caches that are somewhat higher in quality, either from the difficulty of the hide or from the quality of the location. Cache approval is handled by other members through a sponsorship system. Members peer review the quality of other members' caches. It is another worldwide game with caches numbering in the thousands. TerraCaching.com embraces virtual caches alongside traditional/multi-stage caches, and has a large selection of locationless caches integrated into the web site. The Dutch entry to TerraCaching is TerraCachers.nl.
A third site frequently used for geocaching is Geocaching with NaviCache.com. Navicache.com has pockets of popularity worldwide and continues to grow. While many of Navicache.com's listings can be found cross-posted to other sites, they also offer many unique listings. Unlike some of the commercial sites, Navicache does not charge to access any of the caches in their database.
In the United States, where most geocaching services are hosted, coordinates are not protected by copyright but cache data are. Some commercial web sites listing geocache data are generally protective of their data. People scraping data from geocaching.com have been threatened with lawsuits by Groundspeak, Inc., owners of the site. One of the most notable examples of this is that of Ed Hall who in 2001 was threatened with a lawsuit. According to Hall, the threat was due to Groundspeak's request that he provide a copyright notice on his website, Buxley's Geocaching Waypoint, attributing Groundspeak as the owner of the cache data. However, Groundspeak claims the dispute occurred after Hall refused to remove a cache listing from his maps at the request of a cache owner. As a result, his site now acknowledges the various sources of cache data he uses, but after a disagreement with Groundspeak Inc. about licensing, he no longer includes any data from geocaching.com. Navicache.com (and others) take a more 'open-caching' type approach, sharing their database with Buxley's and others.
Geocache listing sites
- Buxley's Geocaching Waypoint - Compilation of multiple listing sites
- Geocaching.com (Groundspeak) - International listing service for geocaching
- Geocaching.com.au - Listing service for geocaching in Australia and New Zealand; not related to Groundspeak
- Geocaching@PT - Listing service for geocaching in Portugal
- GPSGames.org - International listing service for geocaching as well as similar alternative activities
- Navicache - International listing service for geocaching
- Opencaching - Listing service for geocaches in Germany
- TerraCaching - International listing service for geocaching including a scoring system
- TerraCachers.nl - Listing service for geocaching in the Netherlands based on Terracaching.com
Books on geocaching
- The Essential Guide to Geocaching by Mike Dyer (ISBN 1-55591-522-1)
- The Complete Idiot's Guide to Geocaching by Jack W. Peters (ISBN 1-59257-235-9)