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Geocaching and Letterboxing: Finding Hidden Treasures

GPS device for geocaching and a letterboxing logbook

GPS device for geocaching and a letterboxing logbook

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 supplies: GPS device, orienteering compass, and a pen

Geocaching supplies: GPS device, orienteering compass, and a pen

Geocaching

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.

Finding a geocache with swag

Finding a geocache with swag

Geocache Treasure

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!

These Are My Articles about Hiking and Backpacking

  • My Hiking and Backpacking Articles
    These are my articles related to hiking, backpacking, and other outdoor activities. I am an experienced backpacker and thru-hiker, and now enjoy hiking and camping with my children.

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!

Find Geocaching Coordinates and Information on This Website

Letterboxing stamp and its impression in a logbook

Letterboxing stamp and its impression in a logbook

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."

Finding our first letterbox

Finding our first letterbox

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

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.
Geocachers with swag

Geocachers with swag

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

  1. Having a "reason" to get out and explore
  2. "Discovering" places I never knew about, many of which are close to where I live
  3. The thrill of deciphering clues and searching for treasure
  4. Having fun, go-to activities to enjoy with my sons
  5. 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."

© 2012 Valerie Bloom

Give Me a Clue! - Your comments are welcome

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on August 18, 2012:

@Soapmarked: Excellent question! I believe there are some smartphone applications specifically designed for geocaching. (Check geocaching.com.) The built-in GPS would definitely get you close to the cache, but perhaps not as close as a handheld model. I'd advise you test it out on your smartphone to see if it works. Then you can decide whether or not to invest in a handheld GPS!

Soapmarked from TX on August 18, 2012:

I had never heard of letter boxing. It sounds interesting!

You mention a lot of handheld GPS devices for the geocaching, but would the built in GPS on a smartphone work? Or are the regular GPS devices more precise?

Thankfultw on August 16, 2012:

What a great way to get the children (and adults) out and about exploring! Totally cool!

pheonix76 from WNY on August 15, 2012:

I know several people who enjoy geocaching, but had never heard of letterboxing before I read your lens. Thanks for sharing and teaching me more about these fun activities! :)

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on August 15, 2012:

@JoshK47: Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it. These are really fun hobbies, and I hope you get a chance to try them!

JoshK47 on August 15, 2012:

Such an intriguing hobby! Thanks so much for sharing - blessed by a SquidAngel!

Fay from Cornwall, UK on August 15, 2012:

Fantastic lens. Congratulations on your purple star. I never realised that letter-boxing started so long ago.

kgdunst on August 14, 2012:

Great lens! Geocaching and letterboxing when there's a clue, not like the car key's missed in the house LOL

fathomblueEG on August 14, 2012:

This very neat lens and good fun waiting to be had!

Kirsti A. Dyer from Northern California on August 13, 2012:

Looks like a lot of fun especially the letter boxing.

TeacherSerenia on August 13, 2012:

Had never heard of letter boxing before I read this lens. Sounds intriguing. Must look into this. Thanks for an interesting lens.

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on August 13, 2012:

@Zodiacimmortal: I have seen letterboxes that are done through the mail and also a few that are done in person. The analogy to passport stamps is great!

EbooksFreeWeekl1 on August 12, 2012:

You know I've not thought about letterboxing until visiting your lens! Thanks

MrMojo01 on August 12, 2012:

Never heard of either of these before but they sound fun!

Kim from Yonkers, NY on August 12, 2012:

IF you think about it.. letterboxing is also when you get your passport stamped going to or from another country.

Any chance people do this by mail too? anyway I added it to my Pen Plaing... lens

IMKZRNU2 from Pacific Northwest on August 12, 2012:

Well done lens. We have planted and also found hundreds of letterboxes in the more then 10 years we have done this fun activity. Thanks for sharing your take on both letterboxing and geocaching.

MillBucks on July 30, 2012:

What a unique idea for a lens, you have showcased a very interesting topic which many would enjoy. Thanks for sharing.

Valerie Bloom (author) from Pennsylvania, USA on July 29, 2012:

@writerkath: Thank you! I'm sure you'll enjoy it, too!

writerkath on July 29, 2012:

Nice job on this!

robertzimmerman2 on July 29, 2012:

Great information on a fun sport, thanks!

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