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Geocaching - Cheap Hobby or Not?

Geocaching is a great hobby/game/sport that people of any age can participate in.  It's a high-tech scavenger hunt played all over the world.  But, does high-tech need to have a high-price? Not necessarily.  I know some people's eyes may glaze over at the thought of buying a GPS, buying and sending out expensive geocoins, purchasing pathtags, wooden nickels or other signature items.  These are all fun, but not required. There are some necessities like internet access and a sense of adventure.  Beyond that, there are many ways to cut costs.

You will need an account at geocaching.com or opencaching.us or other listing service(s).  You can do basic searches and get info on the caches for free at geocaching.com, which is probably the most popular listing site.  If you want to run pocket queries and set up alerts when new caches are published, then you will need to spend $30 for an annual Premium membership. (About 6 meals at McDonald's).  At opencaching.us, there is no premium membership - everything is free.

Most cachers will need/want a GPSr eventually.  You can get a dedicated unit or you may use a smartphone.  If you are looking for a dedicated unit, look in the geocaching forums for used items.  If you know of anyone that is upgrading to a newer/more powerful unit, you can find a good deal on their old units. I personally began using my Motorola Droid to find caches and I'm still using it over 750 finds later.  This is my personal opinion - and nothing more - but I think the Droid has a better GPS than the iPhone.  If you've already got a smartphone with data plan, you really have all you need.  If you're really on a tight budget and can't afford either of these, you can also print out the cache pages with detailed maps, descriptions and hints and search using that.  Or, for even more fun, find a friend that has a device and go with them.  "Park and Grabs" can easily be found using a printed map.

For the smartphones, there are numerous apps that you can get.  Geocaching.com has their own app that has a one-time cost of $9.99 and is available for Android and iPhone platforms.  It allows you to hunt for caches where you are without having to worry about downloading the pocket queries.  It's great for on-a-whim caching. You do have the capability to load specific queries and/or routes as well.  Want to save $10?  Try c:geo (my personal favorite).  It's free and allows you to find caches without loading queries as well.  It also has the capability to do live searches using the map, which I find handy as I am driving along a route. It will also let you visit/drop trackables in the field so you don't have to do a "Note" later. It seems to have better search options as well.  Both of these only work with geocaching.com listings.  If you want to find opencaching.us caches as well, you can try GeoBeagle or Columbus. Again, these are free apps.  GeoBeagle will require you to download queries from either or both listing services.  There are plenty others, as well as apps for Blackberry, but these are ones that I've tried and are familiar with.  Check the Market or App Store or check with other cachers in your area to see what they like best.

There are a couple of other free Android apps that I recommend in addition to the hunting apps.  GPS Status & Toolbox is a good Radar application that gives you lots of information besides just the location/direction of the cache.  For hiding caches, GPS Averaging is a must.  It allows you take multiple readings of the GPS coordinates of the location and then you can send it to a note app, email, Facebook and more.

Let's talk trackables.  There are all shapes and sizes of geocoins out there and they vary in price from about $6 for micro coins to $15 (or more).  For a little less, you can get travel tags, which look more like a keychain. They are just as trackable and are easily attached to an item.  If you want to make an item that you already have into a trackable, you can do that for free at geokrety.org. You can even make yourself trackable.  Just create (register) a new geokret and print a label. One option is to print it out with a QR Code so that you can scan them with a smartphone. They work the same as geocaching.com trackables in that you log it when you pick it up and you log it where you drop it. If you're dropping it in an opencaching.us cache, all you need is the OU number on the cache.  For geocaching.com caches, you will need the GC number AND the GPS coordinates. They can be used in caches from other sites as well.

What all do you NEED to carry when caching?  Just a pen or pencil. No matter what the size container or what the descriptions say, ALWAYS carry a writing utensil. If you're hunting micros, there's no room for anything else anyway.  If you're hunting larger caches,  you can hit the Dollar stores for cheap SWAG - bags of plastic army men, plastic animals, bouncy balls, little sets of colorful erasers, etc.  Do you have kids?  Check their rooms.  There's normally balls, little cars, small dolls, etc. laying around that they don't play with anymore.  If you go to conferences/trade shows at work or on your own, many have LOTS of swag and they're glad for you to take it.  Don't want to spend money on signature items? Print up some "business cards" with your trail name, tag line, etc through one of the free offers from VistaPrint.  Once you order from them, you'll get emails with offers for free items all the time. Keychains, pens, hats, t-shirts, magnets (also make great signature items to add to ammo cans), mugs.  Many of these are great items to use as door prizes at events.

Which leads me to another item.  Many local geocaching events have little or no charge to attend. Find a group and go hang out, make new friends and have fun. If there's not a group near you - start one!  Caching with others can be fun.  At today's gas prices, it's good to have a friend or two go on a cache run and split the fuel cost.  Need some exercise?  Find a trail to walk or ride a bike.  Sometimes it's better to have more sets of eyes looking or more brains working on a puzzle.

If you're wanting to hide caches, you don't have to spend money buying ammo cans or Lock & Lock containers.  You can use pharmacy pill bottles, aspirin bottles, film canisters (ask your local film processors for their throw-aways), etc.  If you use any containers that once held food or anything scented, thoroughly wash it several times to get rid of any scent.  A hungry squirrel can demolish a peanut butter jar in a matter of seconds.

This hobby is fun and can even be good for you.  It can cost as much or as little as you make it.  Go hit the trails and HaPpY CaChInG!

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