Tuesday, September 20, 2011

{Tech Tuesday} Treasure Hunting AKA Geocaching (App Review)

"Look what I found, Mommy!"
June 2010
Ever heard of geocaching?

I'm pretty sure I saw the concept on one of our state parks websites several years ago, then one week I decided to figure it out. When we went out geocaching later that weekend, I knew I was hooked! I really enjoy it, Riley thinks "hunting for treasure" is great fun, and my husband Aaron knows it's a cheap way to get us out of the house as a family. Silas and Jonah haven't caught on yet, but it's only a matter of time. :-)

I love that it's something that you can do practically for free, especially if you have an iPhone or certain other GPS-capable smart devices, and it's very family friendly! It also takes you to places you may not ordinarily go, and there is the thrill and bonding that adventures with others bring. It's a very adaptable activity, and works for multiple generations (in fact, I've found some of the most active geocachers are retirees in their motor homes!).

So, what exactly is "geocaching?"

From the official geocaching website:

"GEOCACHING is a real-world outdoor treasure hunting game. Players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using GPS-enabled devices and then share their experiences online."

There are currently over 1.5 million of these hidden containers and over 5 million "treasure hunters" worldwide!! And it's only growing in popularity! There is a great guide to geocaching on the website to answer lots of FAQs.

After the research I've done, here are two ways to go about getting started geocaching:

~~The "Hard Way"~~

  1. Go to www.geocaching.com and sign up for a username (it's free). Mine is "RedbeardsWench" (Aaron is a redhead, and his username is "TheRedbeard" ;-) Tee hee!).
  2. Enter the zip code or address near where you want to search. So, say I want to search for caches near the University of Arkansas campus, I'm going to enter "University of Arkansas" in the Address field and limit the radius to 5 miles.
  3. NWA is a pretty active geocaching area, so there are 159 caches in that radius. I'm going to be looking for some specific conditions to suit my family.
  • A traditional cache - look for the green-lidded box symbol
  • Low difficulty/terrain (D/T) rating - for us, under 2 (out of 5) for both
  • Recently found - within a month or two - this means it's probably still there and findable
  • Often, I'll look for a larger cache size, since those often have things you can trade (real treasure!). This is indicated by stair-stepped boxes - on the left is the smallest called nano that normally just contains a paper strip to log your name; on the right is the largest size and these are not as common. For family outings we try for ones larger than nano.
Once you have chosen which caches to find, you have options depending on what type of device you'll be using. You can use the website to transfer the info to your GPS or your phone, or you can print out the info and plug in the coordinates yourself.

Or, you can do what I do and just use the app on my iPhone. :-)

~~The "Easy Way"~~

Geocaching.com has put out two excellent ways of geocaching right from your iPhone. (By the way, there are also Geocaching.com apps for Android and Windows Phone 7.) There is a free introductory version in the App Store. I used that version for several of our first finds, and it is very easy to use. You don't even have to have an account; it just uses your current location to find three nearby caches, gives you the attributes (difficulty, terrain, size) and the description, and then walks you through how to navigate to the cache. It automatically chooses easier caches since most users are beginners. The downside is that since you don't have an account, it won't record your finds.

If you want to upgrade to the next level, there is the full version. It's $9.99, which seems like a lot, but if you find that you like using the intro version, it is definitely worth the investment because it is very full-featured. It is WAY easier to use than the website, in my opinion.

You can actually do just about everything from the app, even sign up for your own account. Once you do sign in, you will see this screen. From here, you can select "Find Nearby Geocaches" and get a list of everything near your current location. Or you can select the "Advanced Search" to fit your needs.

The Advanced Search allows you to input a specific location. Just like on the website example, I've input "University of Arkansas." Unlike the website, I get to easily choose some options to limit the search criteria. I am just selecting the traditional cache for "Cache Type."

Among other options, I'm also choosing to limit by difficulty, terrain and size. This is what I look for when I get a big list on the website, but the app makes it so much easier!

Once I've selected all my search criteria, I get a list of ones that fit. Even with the limitations, I still get a sizable list. Now, I get to choose one. I'm going for the second - "Stairway to Heaven."

Next we come to the page with the details of the cache:

Selecting the "Description" button takes you to a page like this where you can get clues about the cache. This summary description often has a little bit of information, interesting bits or stories about the location, and usually what kind of container you are looking for.

In the field, your goal is to get yourself as close to the cache's coordinates as possible by following the map. You can utilize the compass on your later model iPhone, and the app allows you to see the map by street view, satellite, or a combination. Once you get close, the key is to think like the person hiding it - if you were a coffee container (or a travel soap box, or a pill bottle, or tupperware bowl), where would you be? You can even get a hint or read recent logs if you get stumped. Be sure to bring a pen to sign the paper log in the cache.

Once you find the cache, do a little dance!! Okay, good! Now, head back to that details page and select "Post a Log/Field Note," and you'll get to record if you found it, a message (if you like), even attach a photo. Then you Save & Close and feel great that you are a master Geocacher! Rinse and repeat (because it's very addicting)!

As you can see from the screen shots, there are TONS of features that I haven't even talked about, but you can have a lot of fun just going this far!

Involving the Family/Husband/Friends

Kids really love to participate in this activity. I like to hype it up and talk about going on a treasure hunt. :-) As I mentioned earlier, many of the larger caches have small items inside that you can trade, so be sure to bring something that another kiddo (or adult) would like to find (small toys, keychains, etc.). The general guidelines are to only put in items that are of equal or greater value than what you are taking, and do not put in any food or heavily scented items.

Geocaching is a great activity for a group of friends, since it's kind of like a scavenger hunt - split your group into teams, give each team the same list of caches to find, and see who can get them all first or the most in a certain time period.

This activity also makes a fabulous date activity. You can even spice it up by looking for caches that are a little bit out of the way.... *wink wink*

So make a day, afternoon, or evening out of it, or simply stop by one on your way somewhere! Have a wonderful time!!

Have you ever tried geocaching? If you try it, do me a favor and let me know what you think!!

Disclaimer: I have written this tutorial and review without the knowledge of or compensation from Geocaching.com or any other related company.

I'm also linking up at Tutorials and Tips Tuesday at Home Stories A2Z, Works for Me Wednesdays at We are THAT Family, and TipJunkie.

Tip Junkie handmade projects


  1. I can't wait to try this! My boys are just getting to the age where we can do this. They'll love it! Thanks for the great tutorial.

  2. This seriously looks so fun!! We will be trying it soon for sure.