Geocaching and Letterboxing: Finding Hidden Treasures
Two Great Ways to Explore
There are two exciting forms of modern-day treasure hunts that are becoming increasingly popular - and with good reason.
Geocaching and letterboxing are compelling both for the thrill of the hunt and as a means of getting outdoors and seeing places you might otherwise miss. Both are fun activities for individuals, families, and small groups.
Through geocaching and letterboxing, treasure hunters explore a number of places in search of stashed objects. Geocaches and letterboxes can be hidden anywhere - from city streets to suburban parks to deep in wilderness areas.
Geocaching (pronounced jee-oh-kash'-ing) has gained a huge following in the last few years. The name combines "geography" with "cache." Cache has a double meaning, referring to both supplies that are hidden and computer data storage.
Using modern technology as a tool, geocachers go outdoors to find hidden containers that have been placed by other geocachers.
In order to find a geocache, treasure hunters need to have a handheld GPS device. Basic GPS models can be purchased for less than $100, while those with advanced features can cost several hundred dollars. There are also geocaching apps available to use cell phones as GPS units.
Geographic coordinates for cache locations are found online and entered into the GPS device; then geocachers set out to find the treasure. While the coordinates get a treasure hunter close to the cache, there's a lot of poking and peeking around that is necessary to find the small, hidden geocache container.
The Search for Swag
The treasure may be in the form of a plastic container with "swag," or small trinkets. If you take a trinket out, you must replace it with another item of equal or greater value.
Some containers, called micros, are so small that they only contain a slip of paper for geocachers to sign, letting the cache owner know that the treasure was found.
There are an estimated 1.6 million caches hidden worldwide, and the number is continuing to grow!
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Supplies for Geocaching
Geocaching requires a handheld GPS device, and there are a wide variety of models and features available. There are also geocaching apps available for smart phones. (See below for a link to apps on the official geocaching website.)
I also recommend "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Geocaching" as an excellent source of information for everything you need to know about geocaching.
An orienteering compass may also be useful, as there are some cases in which the GPS gets you close to the cache and a compass is needed to get to the precise location.
And, finally, you'll need a pen to note in the geocache log that you found the treasure!
Excellent information and how-to guide that is fun to read and easy to understand. This book was extremely helpful for me when I was learning how to geocache.
Find Geocaching Coordinates and Information on This Website
- Geocaching - The Official Global GPS Cache Hunt Site
Geocaching is a treasure hunting game where you use a GPS to hide and seek containers with other participants in the activity. Geocaching.com is the listing service for geocaches around the world.
- Geocaching > Geocaching Apps for iPhone and Android
Download the Official Geocaching app. Find millions of geocaches worldwide with the Geocaching iPhone app and Geocaching Android app.
Have you tried geocaching and/or letterboxing?
Letterboxing has been around much longer than geocaching. Its history dates back to 1854 in Dartmoor, England, though its popularity in the United States started in the late 1990s.
The letterbox treasure is a unique, hand-carved rubber stamp, hidden in a small plastic container.
Each letterboxer has their own hand-carved personal stamp that they take with them on their quests. (I carry mine in a small tupperware container, padded by a paper towel.) Letterboxers also carry an ink pad, a pen, and a small log book in which to make an impression of the stamp they hope to find.
There are no items to physically take home from the letterbox; it's all about making stamp impressions as a "calling card."
Get a Clue!
Geographic coordinates aren't utilized in letterboxing, so a handheld GPS device is not necessary for this activity. Instead, treasure hunters follow clues written by the letterbox owner to figure out where the box is hidden. Often, there are stories woven into the clues, adding another layer of interest to the activity.
The clues may be very simple-to-follow directions; they may entail a bit of puzzle-solving; they may require reading an orienteering compass; or they may be extremely cryptic.
Once the letterbox is found, the letterboxer places an impression of their personal stamp in the log book that is stored in the treasure container, adding the date and perhaps a brief note. They then make an impression of the stamp they have found in the treasure container in their own log book, along with any memos they would like to make. Then the letterbox is re-packed and placed back where it was found.
Supplies for Letterboxing
You'll need to carve your own personal stamp from a carving block.
I've found that a basic X-Acto knife does a fine job carving the block, though you could opt for a fancier tool, such as a Speedball.
You'll also need a logbook with heavy enough paper to hold ink impressions. A good sketch book is ideal.
Your inkpad can be any color. Acid-free dye is recommended.
Find Letterboxing Clues and Information About Letterboxing on These Websites
- Letterboxing North America
This is the original website for Letterboxing in North America. Here you'll find clues as well as information about creating your own stamp and other items of interest.
- Atlas Quest: A Letterboxing Community
This is another excellent web site, filled with letterboxing clues and other information.
Both Geocaching and Letterboxing Are Great Activities
Two different ways to get out and explore
Some people prefer letterboxing and some prefer geocaching. There are many more geocaches than letterboxes, so chances are that you have access to a number of geocaches in your area or places you may visit.
Geocaching is particularly appealing to people who are fond of electronic gadgets.
Letterboxing has a much more personal, less technological, and delightfully artistic feel.
Fortunately, there is no need to choose between the two activities, and many people enjoy both equally!
5 Things I Particularly Enjoy About Geocaching and Letterboxing
- Having a "reason" to get out and explore
- "Discovering" places I never knew about, many of which are close to where I live
- The thrill of deciphering clues and searching for treasure
- Having fun, go-to activities to enjoy with my sons
- They are ways to have simple and inexpensive adventures
So, What's It All About?
Having a little adventure!
Letterboxing and geocaching achieve the same goal through somewhat different means. The purpose of both is simply for people to get outdoors and experience the world around them.
Having the specific mission of finding hidden treasure provides direction and motivation to many people who are eager to explore but may not know where to begin.
Once you get started, it's easy to get hooked!
Other Supplies to Bring Along on Your Treasure Hunting Adventure
- Hand Wipes (particularly important when letterboxing, since you're apt to get ink on your hands)
- First-Aid Kit
- DEET-free insect repellent (if you're out in bug season)
- Water and Snacks, if your treasure hunt is not a "quick find."