Health

Learn about geocaching

Burn calories and share quality time on a high-tech family treasure hunt

Having trouble getting motivated to move? Try geocaching, a high-tech spin on the old-fashioned treasure hunt. All you need is a thirst for the out of doors and a hand-held global positioning system (GPS).

Geocaching – “geo” for geography and “cache” for hidden container – has become enormously popular with walkers, hikers and families because it’s a non-competitive outdoor activity that turns ordinary walking into an adventure.

“Being in nature helps to relieve stress and makes me feel calm,” says Janet Ham, of St. Catherines, Ontario, who geocaches with her husband and four young daughters. “And it’s taken us to so many places we never would have seen.”

Like many parents, the Hams try to limit their kids’ TV time and are always looking for activities they can all enjoy as a group. “I love the long hikes that get us all some exercise and out of the house,” says Ham. “We always see something interesting, like a different bug, deer, funny shaped tree or a neat little bridge.”

How it works

The sport is simple. Geocachers log on to geocaching.com and enter the postal code of the area they want to explore. The site provides coordinates and other information, such as the approximate time required and type of terrain, for caches in that area. Geocachers then navigate with their GPSs to find the “cache,” a waterproof container filled with small trinkets and a logbook. Caches are always carefully hidden where they’re not visible to casual passersby.

Hidden treasures are everywhere

Caches are hiding all around us – there were over 450,000 of them in 222 countries at last count. They can be wedged between rocks, tucked under a log or hanging from a tree. They’re also hidden in shopping mall parking lots, attached to telephone poles and even on busy street corners.

But locating a cache isn’t always simple. “Tangled saplings, a stream or a thick forest can present challenges,” says Scott Hewitt of the Manitoba Geocaching Association. “Despite the genius of the GPS, it will only get you within about 20 feet of your destination.”

Ham says that the highlight of all successful hunts is the last frenetic minutes. “When we get to the coordinates and the girls start checking under rocks and logs and then find the cache, I swear the whole world knows!”

How to get started

1. Purchase or borrow a handheld GPS. They’re available at outdoors stores like Canadian Tire and Mountain Equipment Co-op. Prices start at about $100. You’ll also need access to a computer.
2. Log onto geocaching.com to learn about the sport and to register (it’s free). Type in your postal code for coordinates of caches in your area. Paying an optional $30 annual fee gives you access to further information and functions on the website.
3. Start by choosing an easy cache – they’re ranked by difficulty from one to five. Take turns navigating and calling out directions (“We’re 20 metres east of the cache!”).
4. Once you discover the cache, be discreet. Don’t let others nearby (they’re called “geomuggles”) discover it if they’re not part of the fun. Take an item and replace it with one of your own, and sign the logbook.