Geocaching as a Family Day Out

Geek Culture

photo: Greig Chisholmphoto: Greig Chisholm

photo: Greig Chisholm

Here in Scotland, spring is now firmly upon us and it is time to get out of the house and enjoy some of the legendary Scottish scenery and history that we have on our doorstep. Of course being geeks, we can’t just simply visit a castle and go for a stroll in the country. Enter geocaching – the best excuse for a day out I’ve ever found.

Geocaching bills itself as the sport where you are the search engine. Basically it is a treasure hunt where you search for hidden containers called geocaches using a GPS device. You then share your finds with the online community, tracking all your finds (and didn’t finds!). Geocaching can be a great family day out, but in our experience it takes a little planning to get the most out of it. As much as possible you want to mitigate against the effects of the weather and the attention span of the younger members of your party.

Normally our first step is to establish our base for the day. This isn’t necessarily where we plan on spending a great deal of time. Depending on the length of the day we have planned then we can set more than one of these bases, preferably one for the earlier part of the day (lunchtime) and one for the later (dinner time). What we are looking for is somewhere that is worth visiting in its own right, has toilets and has somewhere where we can have a picnic. For us this is normally Historic Scotland or National Trust sites, but I’m sure you have your own local equivalents. Setting a base like this serves a few practical purposes. It means everyone gets something out of the day even if we don’t have any luck finding the caches, there is somewhere everyone can make a toilet stop and given the capricious nature of the Scottish weather, it gives us a “plan B” should Mother Nature intervene on our plans.

Once we have set a base or bases, then it is usually over to Google Earth and the geocaching overlay (available form your profile page, but beware its accuracy) to look for caches that are within a reasonably short drive of the base. Normally we are looking for caches that are no more than 2 difficulty for both terrain and ease of finding (the scale goes to 5). Also we don’t want to be walking for more than a 1 hour round trip from where we park the car. Normally we don’t have any trouble finding half a dozen or so caches that fit the bill. I usually check these in advance to make sure they have been found recently and haven’t logged a batch of “did not finds”. A quick scan of the logs lets us know if there is anything else we should be aware of. After that it is a simple matter of transferring the GPX data to our GPS and we are just about ready to leave.

The last thing we need to do is to pack a bag. I think over the few years we have been doing this we have arrived at the optimum rucksack contents: a good balance between the kitchen sink and light enough to carry. We always pack: our GPS, spare batteries, small swaps for the cache, thick rigger gloves (handy for retrieving a cache from a site overgrown with thorns), small first aid kit (plasters, antiseptic wipes), antibacterial hand wipes, binoculars (for admiring the view), camera, pencils and insect bite cream.

The last thing to say is that after the initial expenditure on a GPS device geocaching is not an expensive day out. In fact depending on your phone you may already have a suitable device-though beware of using an expensive phone when out in the wilderness, rain and accidental drops can normally be withstood by dedicated devices, but not by phones! Packed lunches keep the costs down and you could consider joining the organisations looking after local historic sites as they often offer extremely cost effective memberships that after you join allow you free entry to their properties. On the day itself, your only significant cost can be the petrol. Happy caching!

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