Frugal Tip: Geocaching

If you’re looking for a hobby that doesn’t involve a huge money sink or getting the latest and greatest equipment, look no further than…geocaching! If you have never heard of geocaching and are thinking “what the heck is that?”, it’s a fairly simple concept. If you ever did a treasure hunt or scavenger hunt as a kid, geocaching is essentially a worldwide scavenger hunt using the help of GPS to find them. To get started all you will need is a smartphone that has GPS functionally, and then a free account at And while you can buy a handheld GPS to help you on your search, it’s not required to enjoy the hobby.

In order to get started with geocaching, the easiest way is going to the website and hitting “play” then viewing the map near you to see what is around. I would recommend that you start on caches with low difficulty and terrain ratings, and also avoiding micro sized caches to start. Higher difficulties and smaller sized caches can be a pain to find until you get the hang of what exactly you are searching for. After you find a few caches you would like to target, you can then grab your phone and download either the official geocaching app (start with the free version) or c:geo. While c:geo is not an officially supported app, if you have an Android phone I personally prefer using this version for caching. You can’t go wrong with the official geocaching app either though!

Once you have your smartphone’s GPS locked in on the cache and come within range (your GPS will tell you how accurate it is), is when the fun part comes in. Now you must use your detective skills to figure out where the cache is actually hidden. Try to find something that looks out-of-place or try to think of where you would hide something. Most likely you will be looking for a small plastic box if you are searching for a “traditional” sized cache.

After you finally find the cache, it’s important to sign both the physical and the electronic log books to let other users and the cache owner know that you found it. In the electronic log (using your app or later on at you should leave a short summary of your find. This is also where you can log if you weren’t able to find the cache or whether something is wrong with the cache. You can also say whether you took or dropped off some items in the actual cache. Hopefully this will be the first of many ‘finds’ for you, and soon you will start to gain a sense of where they may be hidden.

If you start to get really involved in geocaching, you may also want to place a cache of your own. Most of the guides and websites dedicated to geocaching recommend that you have at least 50 finds before you place your own, and to make sure that you are ready to take responsibility for it. You will need to keep up with the maintenance of the cache itself and be thorough when placing the actual cache. I’ve found over 50 caches and still haven’t placed one of my own. Take a look at this guide before placing one of your own.

The only two monetary investments that can be spent on this hobby are a premium membership. This allows you to view premium only caches, have advancing filtering abilities, ability to download queries easily, and advanced statistics. The membership costs $30 a year, and I personally have not seen the need to pay for it.

Another “upgrade” that can be purchased is a dedicated GPSr (GPS receiver) instead of relying on your phone. I have purchased a Garmin eTrex 30x for geocaching while hiking and for finding caches in the woods. Then I don’t have to worry about dropping or getting my phone wet. I’ve also found the GPSr to have slightly better reception and sometimes enabling me to get within +/- 10 feet of a cache, while the best my phone seems to be able to do is around +/- 16 feet. I still just use my phone when finding caches in urban and suburban areas and it works just as well. You can just as easily continue geocaching without either of these upgrades.

I hope that you are able to give this hobby a try to you grow to enjoy it as much as me! If you are already someone who loves the outdoors, Geocaching is a great compliment to most outdoor activities.. If you already have a smartphone it’s a cheap and fun hobby that anyone can enjoy.

photo credit: Geocaching im Wald via photopin (license)

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