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107. Geocaching fun way to explore

By Andrew D. Wright

A fun way to get out in the fresh air and see new things, geocaching is a past-time that's only been around since 2000.

That's when the United States began allowing accurate civilian use of the Global Positioning System, a network of navigation satellites orbiting the Earth. Using a GPS receiver, anyone can determine their own position on Earth to within a few metres.

The GPS receiver listens for signals from the GPS satellites. There are up to twelve of them in the sky at any time. With three or more satellite signals the GPS receiver can determine your latitude and longitude and with four or more satellite signals it can determine your elevation as well, though this is usually less accurate than the horizontal position.

With geocaching someone hides a waterproof container somewhere and notes the exact position of the container. This is posted to one of several geocaching websites. The waterproof container could be as small as a film canister or be a large box and typically contains a log book and pen or pencil for the successful finder to note the time and date of their find.

The geocache can also contain prizes for the FTF, or First To Find the cache to take with them. There can be other low-value trinkets left behind as well. It is considered good form to replace these with other items of equal or greater value so there is always something for others to find.

Geocaching has a few basic principles meant to keep things running smoothly. Geocaches cannot disrupt their environment and neither can the people looking for them. Geocachers are encouraged to pick up trash from the geocache area and not to make more.

And then there's the muggles. A term from the Harry Potter novels referring to non-magic people, in geocaching it means the regular people not using GPS receivers. A geocacher is not supposed to let muggles see where a geocache is hidden or find it in front of any muggles, giving away its position to them.

Geocaching websites will provide you with a waypoint for a geocache, its exact location. You then use your GPS receiver to find that place. Since there is an error factor of several meters and some geocachers are more exact than others, the upshot is that you and your GPS receiver should be able to find the general area of the cache fairly easily. Finding the cache itself can be more of a challenge - it can be hidden anywhere sometimes up to twenty metres from the waypoint.

When buying a GPS receiver look for one that can connect to your computer so you can easily transfer data like waypoints, routes and maps to and from it. Expandable memory like SD cards can come in handy as well. Prices for a GPS receiver start at just above $100 ranging to several hundred dollars for deluxe models with added features. GPS receivers made since 2001 should use WAAS, Wide Area Augmentation System, for greater accuracy.


Geocaching sites:


Local geocaching groups:



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Originally published 29 April 2007


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