Geocaching For Beginners: How To Start Geocaching For Free

I’ve been Geocaching on and off four eight years now, since 2010.  I tend to go through phases of it, at least I used to I think because of where I was, but now I travel a lot more so I stop for them along the way.

It’s a great way to get outside and see some new things in your hometown.  It’s also a great way to see cool and unexpected things while you’re traveling.  It can be a little confusing at first figuring out what it is, how it works, and not to mention all the lingo, so I decided to make a little guide to Geocaching for beginners!

What is Geocaching?

Geocaching is an outdoor (mostly) game where you use a handheld GPS or phone to go to marked coordinates to find the hidden caches.  It’s basically a big treasure hunt and it’s super fun.  Caches always have a log and some have swag if they’re big enough.

Types of caches

There are quite a few types of caches, but I’ve only included the most common ones.  There are also event caches of different sorts.


  • Nano – pencil eraser size, smallest unofficial size
  • Micro – film cannister or smaller, smallest official size
  • Small – 100mL to 1L, can hold a log, pencil, and small swag
  • Medium – 1L to 20L, can hold swag, pencil, and log
  • Large – 20L or more, these are rare and can hold lots of swag, a pencil, and log


  • Traditional – This is the most common and is a container at the posted coordinates.
  • Mystery/Puzzle – This is the “catch-all” of cache types and may require solving a complicated puzzle to find the coordinates.
  • MultiCache – These involve two or more locations with clues to find the final location, which will have a physical cache.
  • EarthCache – A geological location you visit.  You will most likely have to email the owner answers to a question(s) about the location.
  • Letterbox Hybrid – I won’t lie, I don’t understand this one, so here’s the official definition from the Geocaching website: “Letterboxing is another form of treasure hunting that uses clues instead of coordinates. In some cases, the letterbox owner has made their container both a letterbox and a geocache and posted its coordinates on These types of geocaches will contain a stamp that is meant to remain in the box and is used by letterboxers to record their visit.”
  • Virtual Cache – Similar to EarthCaches, but aren’t necessarily geological formations.  It should be at a place out of the ordinary enough to warrant a visit and will be logged by answering questions, posting pictures, or completing a task.  You must visit the location before logging.

Geocaching lingo

There are some terms that you can eventually figure out and others that less obvious, so here is a quick list of some of the more common ones.

  • Attributes – Characteristics of the cache (dangerous wildlife, pet-friendly, requires a flashlight, etc.)
  • Ammo can – An old ammunition box.  They are usually army green and used for bigger caches.
  • Bison tube – A small waterproof metal tube usually used for micro caches.
  • Bug – A travel Bug or trackable goodie with a unique code you can log and move from cache to cache.
  • Swag – Goodies found in bigger containers.  Stuff We All Get (apparently)
  • BYOP – Bring your own pen.
  • CITO – Cache in trash out (I couldn’t figure this one out, I had to look it up).  Pick up garbage when you’re caching.
  • D/T – Difficulty and terrain.
  • DNF – Did not find.
  • Dipping – Logging a trackable into a cache, then immediately logging it back into your possession.
  • FTF – First to find.
  • GC Code – A unique code for each cache starting with GC followed by letters and numbers.
  • GZ – Ground Zero, the point where your GPS shows you’ve reached your destination.  I thought this stood for GeoZone (which I like more) until like, two days ago.
  • Groundspeak – This is the company that owns Geocaching.
  • LN – Left nothing.
  • Log – the paper or logbook in the cache signed by everyone that finds it.
  • LPC – Lamp post cache.
  • Muggle – Non-Geocachers.
  • Muggled – When a cache is found by muggles, usually dismantled or removed.
  • Power Trail – A path with a lot of caches close to each other making it easy to increase find count.
  • SL – Signed log.
  • TFTC – Thanks for the cache.
  • TFTH – Thanks for the hide.
  • TNLN – Took nothing, left nothing.

How to Geocache

Traditionally, you get the coordinates from the website and plug them into a handheld GPS.  Then you go to the location, or the GZ, and start searching.  They are usually pretty accurate and get you within a few feet of the cache.  Some are really off, if they are, record the correct ones and let the owner know.  This was how I got started.

Now, I have the app on my phone and use that instead of a GPS.  It’s much more convenient for me and you can see the cache page with all the information and hints if needed.  Some caches have hints, others don’t.  If you’re really stumped you can always ask the owner for a hint.

Who can do Geocaching?

Anyone with access to a computer and GPS or smartphone.

I found these at Butler Wash Ruins and saw dinosaur tracks nearby so I had to take that one, and the dragon I left in it when I first found it two years ago and it was still there this year!

How much does Geocaching cost?

Nothing!  At least not right away.  If you get really into it, a premium membership is really nice.  It’s only $30 a year, which is awesome and gives you access to premium caches.  You can also make lists and download them for offline viewing, which is my favorite part.  I make lists for different areas if I’m going on a trip (i.e. Sedona, Salt Lake City, Moab).  This is all on the official app.

There are a couple other apps that are popular in the caching community.  For IOS: Cachly.  For Android: C:geo.  I haven’t used either of these.  I like the official app and it works well enough for me.

So, costs could be a GPS, premium membership, or one of the other apps.  Swag and containers (if you’re hiding them) will also have varying costs.

Where can you Geocache?

Literally everywhere.  Like, millions of them around the world.  According to the website at the time of writing, there are 3,152,792.

What not to do

I think like most activities, there is some etiquette to go along with it, so here are some do’s and don’ts of Geocaching.

  • Litter and leave garbage all over.  This is just in general, too.
  • Leave gross things in the cache, like toiletries, food, bandaids, condoms, garbage, or cigarettes.  You get the idea.
  • Take caches.
  • Go for a cache that’s too difficult or you don’t feel confident in reaching.
  • Don’t be afraid to log a DNF.
  • Don’t log caches you didn’t find as Found.
  • Post spoilers in your log.
  • Hide a cache if you won’t be able to maintain it.  If you do, find someone that can help if you’re unavailable.
  • Hide a cache on private property without permission.
  • Take a trackable if you aren’t going to keep it moving.

What to do

  • Pick up garbage you find (remember CITO?)  I need to start having garbage bags with me because I see SO MUCH GARBAGE when I’m out caching.  Even at the cache sites.
  • If you take swag, leave swag.  I have a bag of stuff in the car to leave in them so I always have it with me.  Some cool things to include: handmade stuff, plastic animal figurines, magnets, keychains, pins, postcards, and stickers.
  • Put the cache back exactly where it was.
  • Let the owner know if it needs a new log, container, or coordinates.
  • Use stealth in busy areas with muggles.
  • Use a watertight container if you do hide a cache.
  • Leave something especially cool for the FTF.
  • Always bring a pen.  Always.
  • Make your caches creative if you hide them.
  • Have fun!

Well, that’s my “little” guide to Geocaching for beginners!  Let me know if you have any other questions or have suggestions on what else should be included in this.  While I may not have been doing this steady for eight years with thousands of logs under my belt (27 when I wrote this) I’ve always loved it and will continue to do it as the years go on.

Have you gone Geocaching?  Had you ever heard of it before?  Do you think you’ll try it now?  What’s the coolest cache you’ve found?

14 thoughts on “Geocaching For Beginners: How To Start Geocaching For Free

  1. This looks really fun!

    I think I did this with my niece and nephew, but I wasn’t really sure what they were up to. They went into a bush to pull out a tiny pot, and write their names in the log (so I *think* it was probably geocaching!) It was a cold wet day, so didn’t look quite as epic as your finds!

    1. It sounds like it! I love doing it, espeically stopping occasionally on long drive to help break it up. I happened to find all the really cool ones (except the little RV) in one day! Usually it’s pill bottles, ammo cans, and tiny bison tubes.

      1. There must be some enthusiastic geocachers that live near where you found all the cool ones!?

      2. I like to think so! There are some really awesome ones I’ve seen (just on the Internet, not in person) that are mazes and puzzles and gadgets and I want to find one of those SO BAD!

  2. We geocache all the time on our travels! It has taken us to some cool views, and we’ve seen some interesting caches as well. 😀 Very thorough guide!

    1. Thank you! It’s such a fun thing to do and it’s easy to add it in to things you already have planned!

  3. I’ve given this a try once! I enjoyed it! I just ended up not doing it as often as I wanted and it slowly drifted off my plate…[insert sad face] But! I plan to start taking it up again! (Hopefully!)

    1. That’s pretty much exactly what happens to me haha! I haven’t done it in two months but I’m excited to do it again!

  4. Oh WOOOOW!!! I completely forgot about this! I used to do this years ago with my family. It was my mom’s way of motivating my sister and I to go on walks on the weekends. I remember how much we loved searching for these treasures. Thanks for sharing this and bringing back all these memories. I guess I’ll have to look up this website once again.

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