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An Introduction to Geocaching

Finding your first geocache

The basic premise of geocaching is that you'll be looking for a hidden container using a GPS to navigate you to a set of coordinates. This often is mistakenly taken as gospel by new geocachers, and it should be pointed out that geocaching is much more involved than blindly following a GPS to a set location. Instead, the GPS should be thought of as a tool to lead you to the appropriate spot for you to begin your search, as there are many factors that can influence the accuracy of a GPS receiver and it will rarely, if ever, take you to the exact spot where a geocache is hidden.

It should be pointed out that you will first need to familiarize yourself with your GPS receiver. Each GPS receiver is different, and although some models share features or even similar firmware, an exercise in learning the basics is in order before proceeding.

The first thing you should familiarize yourself with is the process for loading geocache coordinates onto your device. While this can be done by hand, it is a painstaking process with the potential for mistakes. Thankfully, most modern GPS receiver offer a means to transfer large number of geocaches directly to the GPS from a computer. This is particularly useful in the case of modern GPSs, many of which support the "paperless geocaching" feature, which means that information pertaining to the geocache - such as size, terrain, difficulty, description, logs and hints - will also be stored on your GPS, making geocaching a whole lot less frustrating.

Usually geocache information is stored in either a LOC or GPX file. These files are both similar (being XML, and containing details about the geocache) but differ in that GPX files contain significantly more information than LOC files do and are thus preferred by geocachers. In fact there really is no reason to use LOC files, apart from the fact that the official geocaching website does not offer GPX data to non-paying members.

There are numerous tools to work with GPX and LOC files, but the two most popular tools for geocachers are EasyGPS and GSAK. Both of these utilities are excellent and GSAK in particular is a very powerful tool in the hands of advanced users. EasyGPS is free and simple to use and is recommended if you are just getting started or a casual geocacher. GSAK on the other hand is an extremely powerful tool that can be used for much more than simply loading geocaches onto a GPS receiver. It is however not free (although a free trial is available), but worth the very reasonable cost so definitely worthwhile checking out.

Start by selecting a geocache nearby, and choose one that is a "regular" container type, with a low difficulty and low terrain rating. Review the most recent logs and ensure that it has been found recently. There are several log types including the helpful "DNF" (did not find) logs, and in particular you should avoid finding caches that have not been found recently. Resist the urge to find a difficult or challenging cache initially, instead try a few practise geocaches first.

Once you have familiarized yourself with your GPS, selected a geocaching website, found a suitable geocache nearby and loaded into your GPS, you're ready to begin.

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