How to Hide a Great Geocache

Geocaching is a high-tech hobby that uses a GPS receiver to find hidden containers in usually scenic locations. If you’re new to this hobby, I urge you to visit www.geocaching.com for more information on how to get started. I have been geocaching for 3 years now and have found close to 100 caches. Yet, I have only planted 3. That’s because there are a lot of things to consider before you just stick a container under a log. A good cache has a lot of different things going for it and you need to think about all of them before you buy your ammo can. All of the following information is based on a cache placed in the woods or other non-urban area. Urban geocaching has slightly different considerations which I don’t get into here.

A good cache will be memorable to find. We all want that experience when, as finders, we head out into the woods following that arrow. As planters, we want to give that to those who take the time to seek out our cache. In order to do that, I’d like to suggest a few guidelines to help you. First you need a good container and decent contents. Then, a good cache must be hidden well. You will need to accept certain maintenance responsibilities in order for this cache to provide fun for lots of cachers.

The Cache: Container and Contents
Let’s talk about the container into which you’re going to put your cache. Containers can be anything that will hold a logbook. Trade items are desirable in large caches but not essential in micro caches. But choose your container wisely! Not all food containers are waterproof. I highly recommend ammo cans. They are designed to keep your contents dry and they are highly durable. My sister and I planted a cache in a small ammo can under a fallen tree. A huge pine tree came down in a storm right on top of its hiding spot. So now the ammo can was under two fallen logs. We had to dig the can out from under the trunk. I thought for sure the cache had been ruined but the ammo can came away with only a huge dent in the side. The contents were still bone dry with no interior damage as the top had stayed sealed. That is a container well worth the money.

But as long as your container keeps out the water, it will serve your purpose. Water is by far the leading destroyer of caches. Rain and flooding take their toll on logbooks. Make sure your contents, especially your logbooks, are also placed in some sort of zipper baggie to prevent water from ruining it if the cache happens to get wet. If ammo cans aren’t available, Lock-N-LockÃ?® boxes are the next best thing and they come is varying sizes. These boxes are available at most retailers but the best variety of sizes comes from their on-line site www.heritagemint.com.

As for the contents of your cache, you need to have a logbook. That is the only way that cachers can prove they found your cache. Anyone can log a find on the website. Logbooks can be any kind of notepad. Waterproof logbooks and journals are available but they are expensive. I prefer a logbook that has room to leave a quick note about the weather conditions or the state of the cache when I found it. I don’t enjoy just signing my name and dating itâÂ?¦that’s for micros only. Pen and pencil should be provided but are not likely to remain intact. If your cache will be left out in freezing temperatures, the ink in the pen will freeze so make sure a pencil is provided as well.

Trade items always confuse people. You can trade whatever you want for an item of equal value in the cache. Swag seems to be the new term for geocaching trade items, especially those that are unique to the hobby. Swag can be obtained through the geocaching.com website. But most people start a cache with a few small toys, key chains, mini flashlights, compasses, and other small camping related items. Most include some kind of unique item such as a sig item. A sig (short for signature) item is a personalized item or a unique item that only a single geocacher or geocaching team possesses. For example, my cousin has a wooden nickel with his trail name and the date he started caching on it. It’s an item that only he can leave behind. Picking up these sig items is rewarding to some cachers. I like to collect sig items and those items that are very unique.

Trade items help to define a cache. If your cache has a theme, all trade items should be related to the theme. For instance, I found a cache where you could only trade patches. I found another where only travel bugs were allowed. Determining a theme for your cache can increase the fun but can also limit how many people have that particular item for trade. So if you go with this type of cache, make sure you denote it in your clues, and make it is an item everyone is likely to have with them.

In geocaching, there is great competition to be the First Finder. Many caches now include a First Finder prize. It is an item that only the first finder is allowed to take without a trade. It’s their reward for finding the cache before anyone else. This prize is usually a more expensive item like a flashlight and batteries, a gift certificate, or travel bug dog tags that have yet to be used. Think of what you might like to find in a cache and put that as your prize.

So the typical starting cache will contain the following: a logbook, a pen or pencil, a few small toys, small camping related items, a few sig items of the cache owner, a travel bug, and a FTF (first to find) prize. For information on travel bugs, see the website.

Location, Location, Location
Now that you have your cache, you need a good location to put it in. By location, I mean the trail system, general area, where the cache will be hidden. I don’t mean a tree or rock specifically. Good locations are those that provide a bit of privacy for a period of time. If a trail is frequently used, it may be hard for a finder to “score” the cache, that is, it will be hard for them to retrieve the cache without being seen or revealing the location. Besides, you want to bring people to a scenic area that may be overlooked by the general public, a place that could use a little more action. I love geocaches that are placed in my local area in places I’d never heard of. For example, a micro cache was placed near me recently in a park. The cache was called Cubley Park and I’d never heard of it. I’ve lived in this area all my life and it took a cache to inform me of the existence of this little memorial garden. That’s the kind of location you want.

When selecting a location, also take into consideration how tough you want your cache to be. If the trail is rocky or up a mountainside, only cachers of a certain persuasion will go after it. If you want a family friendly cache, consider what small children will be able to do and how far they can walk. Take into account that as far as they walk in, they will have to walk out. Your spot may be fine for you but consider if someone has arthritic knees or asthma. Though, this doesn’t mean you can’t plant your cache there, it only means to be sure to tell people about these hampering conditions when you post your clue. Tell people with the terrain rating if you think it’s going to be tough for kids. Provide the best information possible so cachers themselves can decide if they can handle finding your cache.

Be sure your location adheres to all guidelines and rules as posted on the website. When you submit your cache for review, an administrator will review your coordinates and info. If they have any questions or problems, you may not be allowed to post your cache or you may need to provide further information. Be sure your cache is on public land with public access. Also, if you see anything that might deter someone from going where you’re going, you might want to rethink the location. Any “No Trespassing” or “Posted: Private Property” signs will make any cacher feel uneasy and they may turn around rather than get in trouble for being somewhere they shouldn’t be.

Hidey Holes

So you have a trail and location all picked out, now to scout out what can be deemed the “hidey hole”. This is the exact spot where the cache will be placed. Most caches in the woods are hidden under an old log, around a large rock, in a hollow tree, or in a stump. The best hidey holes are naturally occurring like a hollow tree hole or stump. Sheltered hiding spots are excellent as they may help to keep the elements from getting to your cache. In a pinch, you can set your box in the woods and cover it with forest debris and downed sticks but I don’t recommend it. One, it’s too suspicious to the casual observer and too easy for the experienced cacher.

Consider how far off trail your spot is. Make sure that people will not be trampling fragile growth. Consider what the woods will look like in all seasons. I do a lot of cache planting in the spring and it’s hard to tell what wildflowers and plants will be growing in these places when summer rolls around. I planted a box in the spring only to realize in the summer, berry bushes grew up in the area around the box. People would have to wade through some pricker patches to get to the box. We don’t want folks to get injured, and we don’t want to ruin the forest in our zeal to find and plant boxes. If you live in an area that receives snow, consider if your box will be buried in the winter time. If you have a foot of snow, is the cache still accessible? If you have several feet? How will the freezing temperatures affect your container and its contents?

Consider what kind of weather conditions the cache will be subject to. Will wind sweep it out of a precarious hiding spot? Will a nearby creek flood and sweep it downstream? Will a nearby dead tree fall on it, burying it? I’ve had the last two happen to mine. You want this cache to last a long time with little maintenance. Check to be sure your spot is not a “sinkhole” for water. If you’re in a low lying area, will the spot collect rainwater? Even a hollow stump, will collect rainwater and soon your cache will be under water. And if caught in a puddle in the spring, it may be frozen in a block of ice in the winter.

Look at the area within a 50 foot radius of the cache because most cachers will be searching through all of it. You don’t just zero in on the one rock where the cache isâÂ?¦you check all the rocks in the area of the GPS signal. So check for prickers, poison ivy, signs of wildlife like bears or snakes and make sure that these are noted.

Post Your Coordinates and Clues

Once you’ve found the perfect spot, hide your cache so that only a small portion of the box is visible. Geocaches are never buried and must have some part visible for the next person. Because the coordinates will get you to general area, you need to be able to see something of a cache. However, it is good to make sure the visible portion does not face the trail. That way the casual hiker won’t notice it. Then, mark your coordinates to be posted on the website.

Your GPS signal may not be good. Make sure that if you’ve been having problems with your signal that you take several readings and average them out. You may want to note difficulty in receiving signal as you near the cache site so people will not panic when the signal goes a little bonkers.

When you post your plant to geocaching.com, there is a waiting period as a volunteer administrator reviews your information and coordinates. If they have questions, try to answer them as accurately as possible. They will determine whether your cache will be posted on their site or not. Most caches are accepted within 3 days without a hitch. Then, all you have to do is maintain the cache.

Maintainance
Your caches should be within your local home area. You don’t place caches on vacation unless you have someone who is willing to maintain and check on that cache for you. And if that is the case, they should probably be the one to list it. If someone reports something wrong with the cache, or that it is missing, it is the owner’s responsibility to check on these reports and fix what is wrong. Caches can be archived and even deleted if they are not properly maintained.

It just frustrates cachers when they go out after a cache to find a wet, unreadable logbook or to find the cache is just plain gone. So make sure you can check up on these reports as quickly as possible. Don’t rely on the “goodness” of some cachers to fix your cache for you. While most cachers try to take care of a broken down cache, some just don’t carry the proper maintenance supplies with them. Or like I have experienced, you find a cache with a logbook that is soaked in a place you’re just visiting for the day. Ordinarily, I would have tried to leave some dry paper for other cachers to log in on so the owner had some time to check up on it. However, the cache had a hole in it and the baggie the log was in wasn’t watertight. I was also out in pouring down rain. So my help would have been wasted. This was a situation for the owner to take care of. When cachers report wet logbooks, something is wrong with your container or your baggies or both. Check up on these reports promptly.

Sometimes cachers just can’t find the cache and it doesn’t mean it’s gone, but several “no find” reports in a row should be taken seriously. If necessary, you may need to include some hints in your clues, either coded or not, to help the cachers narrow down their search area. Good hints to use are to point out natural landmarks. If you can identify trees, tell them what kind of tree it is close to. Telling cachers that it’s “under a fallen log” is all well and good except when there are twenty fallen logs in the search area. Be specific in your hints so you can narrow the search area to lessen the impact of people trampling the undergrowth of the woods.

So now you’ve provided some fun for some other cachers in your area. The most fun of planting caches is devising new ways to hide them. But remember that geocaching is as much about the hike and the scenery as it is about the find and the cache. So make sure you can provide that to cachers as well. So what are you waiting for, get out there and plant a cache.

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