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Selecting a Geocache to Look For

After you get all your gear together, ready to venture out into the wilds, comes this one small detail: How do you know where to look for a geocache?

Like most other modern-day searches for information, start with the Internet. Many Web sites have listings of geocaching caches.

Geocaching.com is currently the most widely used site and has the largest database of geocaches all over the world. However, if you use another geocaching Web site, you'll find most of the same general techniques described here for selecting a cache also apply to other sites.

You can set up a free user account on Geocaching.com to log caches that you find, as well as to be informed of new caches that are placed in your area. Anyone with Internet access can freely view the cache locations without an account. The site owner also has Premium Member subscription services ($30 per year) and sells products to help keep the site running.

To start, go to the site. Finding caches is as simple as entering the ZIP code for where you're interested in geocaching. You can also search for caches by state, city, country, latitude, longitude, or by street address (only in the United States).

After you enter where you'd like to search for caches, a list of geocaches in that area is displayed. The list is sorted by how far away the cache is from the search criteria you entered; the closest geocaches are displayed first. The name and type of the cache is shown, when it was first placed, when it was found last, and how difficult the cache is to get to and find. You can scroll through the list of geocaches until you find one that looks interesting. Cache names that are lined out are no longer active.

Just click the name of a cache displayed in the list about which you want more information to see a page with the following information.

  • Cache name: The name of the cache (usually the cache name has something to do with the area where it's hidden, who hid it, or a play on words). Bonus: If you hide a cache, you get to name it.
  • Who placed the cache: This is usually a cacher's alias.
  • Cache type: Caches can be traditional (a single container), multicaches (where clues in a single cache point to one or more other caches), or virtual caches (a cool location that doesn't have a container).
  • Cache coordinates: These record where the cache is located in latitude and longitude and UTM coordinates; these coordinates use the WGS 84 datum, so be sure your GPS receiver is set to this datum.
  • When the cache was hidden: The date the cache was originally placed.
  • Cache waypoint name: All caches in the Geocaching.com database have a unique name: for example, GC followed by the numeric order the cache was added to the database. You can use this to name a GPS waypoint for the cache location.
  • Difficulty: The difficulty rating is how hard the cache placer thinks the cache will be to find; 1 is easiest, and 5 is the most difficult. Whoever places the cache decides the difficulty level, based on some general criteria, such as how steep or rocky the terrain is or if you have to go through very much underbrush to reach the cache.
  • Terrain: The terrain rating is how difficult the terrain is. 1 is flat, easy, and level; 5 could be very steep and rocky with lots of underbrush and generally miserable travel conditions. Like with the difficulty rating, it's up to the cache placer to rate the terrain.
  • General description of the cache: Cache descriptions range from a couple of sentences to stories and history lessons about the location. Clues often appear in the description, so check it closely.
  • Map location of the cache: At the top of the page is a small state map from which you can take a general idea of where the cache is. A larger map with more detail appears at the bottom of the page. You can click the larger map and go to the MapQuest Web site, where you can zoom in on the cache site.
  • Hints: The cache placer can optionally add hints to help a geocacher narrow his search. The hints are in code.
  • Logged visits: This is a list of all the comments about the cache from people who have visited it and then logged Web site comments.

Some of these logged visit comments may contain spoilers, which are hints that may make it easier to find the cache. Although most cachers try not to spoil the fun for others, sometimes a clue accidentally appears.

Before heading out to search for a cache, check the last time someone found it. Although Geocaching.com tries to keep track of inactive caches, sometimes caches that have been stolen or kidnapped by space aliens slip through the cracks. If you're just getting started geocaching, go after caches that have had some recent activity. This increases the odds that they'll still be hiding where they're supposed to be when you go looking for them.

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