Geocaching Merit Badge – Geocaching is great for fun and exercise. You can use this sport to liven up troop meetings, to encourage others to join Scouting, and for public service.
It’s a sport that’s a perfect fit for Scouting, and it’s a great way for Scouts and non-Scouts to share their enjoyment of the outdoors. Use your Scout skills and follow the Scout Oath and Scout Law as you embark on this new pastime.
The word geocache is a combination of “geo,” which means “earth,” and “cache,” which means “a hiding place.” Geocaching describes a hiding place on planet Earth a hiding place you can find using a GPS unit.
A GPS (Global Positioning System) unit is an electronic tool that shows you where to go based on the information it gets from satellites in space.
Geocaching Merit Badge Requirements
- Do the following:
- Explain to your counselor the most likely hazards you may encounter while participating in geocaching activities, and what you should do to anticipate, help prevent, mitigate, and respond to these hazards.
- Discuss first aid and prevention for the types of injuries or illnesses that could occur while participating in geocaching activities, including cuts, scrapes, snakebite, insect stings, tick bites, exposure to poisonous plants, heat and cold reactions (sunburn, heatstroke, heat exhaustion, hypothermia), and dehydration.
- Discuss how to properly plan an activity that uses GPS, including using the buddy system, sharing your plan with others, and considering the weather, route, and proper attire.
- Discuss the following with your counselor:
- Why you should never bury a cache.
- How to use proper geocaching etiquette when hiding or seeking a cache, and how to properly hide, post, maintain and dismantle a geocache.
- The principles of Leave No Trace as they apply to geocache.
- Explain the following terms used in geocaching: waypoint, log, cache, accuracy, difficulty and terrain ratings, attributes, trackable. Choose five additional terms to explain to your counselor.
- Explain how the Global Positioning System (GPS) works. Then, using Scouting’s Teaching EDGE, demonstrate to your counselor the use of a GPS unit. Include marking and editing a waypoint, changing field functions, and changing the coordinate system in the unit.
- Do the following:
- Show you know how to use a map and compass and explain why this is important for geocaching.
- Explain the similarities and differences between GPS navigation and standard map-reading skills and describe the benefits of each.
- Describe to your counselor the four steps to finding your first cache. Then mark and edit a waypoint.
- With your parent’s permission*, go to www.geocaching.com. Type in your city and state to locate public geocaches in your area. Share with your counselor the posted information about three of those geocaches. Then, pick one of the three and find the cache.
- Do ONE of the following:
- If a Cache to Eagle® series exists in your council, visit at least three of the locations in the series. Describe the projects that each cache you visit highlights, and explain how the Cache to Eagle® program helps share our Scouting service with the public.
- Create a Scouting-related Travel Bug® that promotes one of the values of Scouting. “Release” your Travel Bug into a public geocache and, with your parent’s permission, monitor its progress at www.geocaching.com for 30 days. Keep a log, and share this with your counselor at the end of the 30-day period.
- Set up and hide a public geocache, following the guidelines in the Geocaching merit badge pamphlet. Before doing so, share with your counselor a three-month maintenance plan for the geocache where you are personally responsible for those three months. After setting up the geocache, with your parent’s permission, follow the logs online for 30 days, and share them with your counselor. You must archive the geocache when you are no longer maintaining it.
- Explain what Cache In Trash Out (CITO) means, and describe how you have practiced CITO at public geocaches or at a CITO event. Then, either create CITO containers to leave at public caches or host a CITO event for your unit or for the public.
- Plan a geo hunt for a youth group such as your troop or a neighboring pack, at school, or your place of worship. Choose a theme, set up a course with at least four waypoints, teach the players how to use a GPS unit, and play the game. Tell your counselor about your experience, and share the materials you used and developed for this event.
The History of Geocaching
On May 1, 2000, President Bill Clinton announced that a limitation called “Selective Availability” would be removed from the U.S. sponsored GPS satellite system.
This meant that civilian users of the Global Positioning System would be able to pinpoint locations up to 10 times more accurately than they did before.
GPS enthusiasts celebrated, because now anyone with a GPS receiver could, as the White House put it, “precisely pinpoint their location or the location of items left behind for later recovery.”
Two days later, on May 3, a GPS enthusiast named Dave Ulmer set out to test the accuracy of the upgraded navigational technology. He hid a bucket of trinkets in the woods outside
Portland, Oregon, and announced the bucket’s location in an Internet posting.
Dave called the idea the “Great American GPS Stash Hunt.” The idea was simple: Hide a container outdoors and note the coordinates with a GPS unit.
Then invite people to locate the container, using only their GPS receivers. The rules for the finders were equally simple: “Take some stuff, leave some stuff.”
This first high-tech treasure hunt began a hobby that is still active today, including the basic parts of geocaching: a container, a logbook for the finders to sign, and the concept of a prize with the “take something–leave something” guideline.
The original cache (then called a “stash”) was quickly found, and more caches were hidden in California, Kansas, and Illinois that same week. Within a month, a cache had been hidden as far away as Australia, and geocaching was soon a worldwide sport.
Today there are more than a million caches hidden around the world in over 200 countries.
Using GPS Receiver
To list all the functions of every GPS receiver on the market would be impossible. The overview in this section covers the basic functions of a generic GPSr.
Each GPS unit comes with detailed instructions to help you, but much of your knowledge will come from giving the various screens and buttons a try.
With so many different kinds of GPS units available, it is impossible to describe how to program and use each brand and model. This section details one basic model that is a common entry-level unit for geocaching and other outdoor use.
Directions for the Garmin eTrex®
- Turn it on. The power button is on the right side of the unit. Be sure you have installed good batteries.
- Locate the enter button and the up and down buttons on the left side. These are used to change the menus and screens.
- Push the page button repeatedly to get to the “menu” page. The page button is on the right side of the unit.
- Press the down button and highlight waypoints.
- Press enter. The “waypoints” page appears.
- Press enter and the highlight should move to a waypoint. You may need to enter a few waypoints if your unit is brand new. You can do this using the “mark” function. Read your unit’s instruction manual for more information on your specific unit.
- Press enter again and then highlight goto.
- Press enter again and the “pointer” page should appear for the waypoint.
the following information might help you to answering the fifth requirement of the geocaching merit badge.
Using Map and Compass
Why do you need to know how to use a map and compass when the GPS receiver’s arrow tells you where to go? Because your GPS unit can and will fail, and it won’t tell you what is between you and your objective.
Many things can go wrong. Your batteries may die. You may be in a location where you can’t get good satellite reception.
Heavy tree cover, nearby power lines, tall buildings, a narrow canyon all of these can reduce your satellite reception to such an extent that your GPS unit simply does not work.
Or you might accidentally program in the wrong coordinates and be heading in the wrong direction entirely. To use a map and compass together you can watch the following video, or can read my article about orienteering merit badge.
Geocaching and the Internet
Since the very first geocache in May 2000, the Internet has played a major role in the sport. Several websites offer information about geocaching, and you can search for a wide variety of public geocaches.
Just remember that no one controls the information put onto the World Wide Web. Much of what you see posted there may be incorrect or misleading.
You should always consider the source of the information to help you evaluate how accurate it might be.
Here are some different types of GPS-related activities and websites where you can find more information.
Geocaching.com is the most popular website for the public sport of geocaching. The site lists more than a million active caches and has hundreds of thousands of users worldwide.
Basic membership is free. For a small yearly fee, you can get the bonus features of a premium membership.
While all of the site’s pages are informative and worth exploring, the “Getting Started” and “Hide & Seek a Cache” pages are must-reads for beginning geocachers.
Note that all caches posted on Geocaching.com must adhere to the guidelines of Groundspeak Inc. This includes where the cache is hidden, as well as what geocachers can and cannot say in their public postings.
Volunteer reviewers ensure that caches are hidden according to the rules, and follow up on any issues with a cache.
Letterboxing is a form of treasure hunting that uses clues to direct the seekers to a hidden container.
Each container has a unique stamp that you use to mark your logbook, and you leave your own unique stamp in the letterbox logbook. Letterboxes may also be geocaches (a letterbox-hybrid cache).
The coordinates of some letterbox-hybrid caches take you to a spot where clues to the final container may be hidden or will become obvious (“under the second big tree to the west of where you are standing,” for example).
A common mistake is for geocachers to think the stamp is a trading item; it is not. Leave the stamp in a letterbox-hybrid cache.
Geoscouting is a resource for the Scouting community that strives to combine the usefulness of Geocaching.com with ideas that can be included in Scouting activities.
The Geoscouting website focuses on Scout-related interests and discussions of
ways to use the sport for the Scouting community.
Wherigo combines an adventure game with a geocache search. The website includes tools to build location-based game “cartridges” (interactive tours, adventure games, puzzles) on your computer that can be played with a Wherigo-compatible GPS unit.
You physically move from one location to the next to advance the story, then log the results at Wherigo.com and Geocaching.com.
Are you ready to find a cache? Before you go search for it, you need to prepare. Geocaching.com lists four basic steps to finding your first public geocache. The four steps are summarized here, more details are available online.
At www.geocaching.com, register for a free basic membership. Then click “Hide & Seek a Cache.” To locate the geocaches nearest you, enter your zip code and click “search” or “go.”
The list that appears will give you information on how far away a cache is, what type it is, how difficult it is to find, and how difficult the terrain is (how hard the cache is to get to).
Choose a geocache from the list and click on its name. Enter the coordinates of the geocache into your GPS device. Also study maps of the area. You will need the right maps to help you search.
If you choose an urban cache to hunt for, a road map may be all you will need. For a rural cache, however, you may need a topographical map that will tell you what terrain you will encounter.
Before you head out, be sure to tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return. Use the buddy system. Pack your pack. Bring a personal first-aid kit, a compass, maps, and extra batteries for your GPS receiver.
Bring water. It is always a good idea to pack along with food and extra clothing, too.
3. The Hunt
Your starting point may take you beyond walking distance. If you must drive to the location, as you leave your car or a well-marked trail or trailhead, be sure to mark its location as a waypoint.
Once you are focused on the hunt for the cache, you can easily get disoriented. Mark your starting place as a waypoint to guide your return.
Use your GPS device to help you find the hidden geocache. From the research you did before you set out, you should know the best approach for getting near the cache location.
When you get within 300 feet or so (the length of a football field), check your GPS receiver’s signal strength and accuracy.
The accuracy may be low. As you get closer to the final location, don’t rely too much on the GPS receiver’s pointer arrow. Concentrate more on the overall distance decreasing.
4. The Actual Find
You’ve found it! But you’re not done yet. Sign the cache’s logbook with your name or “handle,” the date, and a few words about your experience.
Along with the logbook, caches often have “swag” inside prizes to be traded. If you trade for items, the proper etiquette is to leave an item of at least equal value to what you take.
Remember, Scouts always leave it better than we find it! Use the waypoint you created to guide your return. When you get home, log your visit online by going back to the cache’s page at Geocaching.com.
Share your geocaching stories. The cache owner will enjoy hearing about your adventure, the condition of the cache, and any special challenges you may have met along the way.
- Practice Cache In Trash Out (CITO). Always carry a trash bag and remove litter along your route.
- Follow Leave No Trace guidelines in the natural environment.
- Be careful of the area around the cache don’t trample the grounds, rip up sprinkler heads, etc., in your frenzy to find the cache.
- Follow all laws and regulations. Never enter private property without permission.
- Write an entry in the logbook at the cache.
- Cache items are there for fun and for trade. Try to leave something of equal value to what you take for yourself.
- Respect other visitors around the area.
Setting Up Your Own Geocaches
When you place your own caches, it is important to follow the rules. Complete geocaching guidelines are on Geocaching.com (www.geocaching.com/about/guidelines.aspx).
The guidelines cover the safety rules as well as environmental concerns. Geocaching.com also has a quick guide to hiding your first geocache (www.geocaching.com/about/hiding.aspx).
1. The Four Steps
Think of the four steps to finding a cache, and use those steps to guide you in hiding a geocache.
|Research. Carefully research where you want to place your cache. Are there adequate places to hide your caches without risk to the environment when people are seeking them? Are there too many other caches nearby? Geocachers are encouraged to seek out new places to hide caches rather than put them where others already exist.|
|Safety. Your cache must be in a location that is safe to get to. It’s essential to get permission from the landowner or land manager and to avoid placing caches anywhere the seekers might encounter danger. Don’t put caches near busy intersections, near railroad tracks, on electric utility boxes, or up high in trees. Avoid places overgrown with poisonous plants.|
|The hunt. Make sure geocachers can find your cache. Post a hint online. When you place the cache, can you get a good satellite signal so that you are posting accurate coordinates for others to follow? Also, be sure your cache can easily be identified as a geocache. Write “Geocache” on the outside of the container. Consider using a clear plastic container so the|
contents are easily identifiable.
|The Actual Find. Put your logbook in a waterproof bag along with a pencil and a note to welcome the cache finder. Preload the cache with enough prizes (small toys, perhaps, or trackable items) for the first few people to find. Geocaching is a family activity, and cache contents should be suitable for all ages. Do not include food items.|
2. Submitting Your Cache
When you have your cache in place and you are certain it meets all the requirements for placement, log on to www.geocaching.com and fill out the online form on the “Hide & Seek a Cache” page.
Write a description and add descriptive attributes to tell others about your cache.
Before your cache is posted on Geocaching.com, a volunteer will review the cache to make sure the GPS coordinates are correct and it meets the requirements for listing.
If your cache passes review, it will be posted for the general public to seek.
3. Maintaining Your Cache
Once you place a public geocache, you have an obligation to maintain the cache and the area around it. Monitor the online logs that are sent to you, the cache owner, and act on any reports that your cache needs maintenance.
You will need to return to the site as often as you can to check that the container is in good condition and to be sure visitors to your cache are not harming the area.
Does the area look disturbed? Are visitors damaging the landscape? If so and you need to change the cache’s location, be sure to also change your online listing.
Cache to Eagle
You can visit or set up caches, called “Cache to Eagle” geocaches, at the sites of Eagle Scout service projects. (Cache to Eagle® has been rolled out nationwide and was a part of the 100th Anniversary Get in the Game! activities.)
When Cache to Eagle geocaches are posted on the Internet, other geocaching enthusiasts read about our Eagle service projects and go to visit them in person.
This is a great way to let people know how much service Scouts provide to the community. Tips on how to set up a Cache to Eagle series are available on Geoscouting.com.
Cache In Trash Out (CITO)
The Cache In Trash Out program gives geocachers a way to repay the public parks and other locations that have allowed us to place geocaches on their property.
The easiest way to use CITO is to simply carry a trash bag with you whenever you geocache and use it to clean up the areas where the caches are located.
You can even make small containers with trash bags inside them to leave in geocaches. These containers move from cache to cache.
People pick up the container, use the bag inside to clean up the immediate area, and then replace the bag with a clean one from home and drop off the container at the next cache they find.
Old film canisters make great CITO containers. You can create customdecorated CITO labels for the containers by yourself or with your patrol or troop.
You can also hold a larger community CITO event a community service project in which public geocachers work side by side with Scouts.
Work with an agency or a community organization to decide on a good service project. Then create an event listing on Geocaching.com.
Here are some common words and acronyms in the world of geocaching.
|Waypoint. A reference point for a physical location on Earth. It may be a landmark, a destination, or a point along a route on the way to reaching the destination (hence its name). Waypoints are defined by a set of coordinates that typically include latitude and longitude (or UTM coordinates), and sometimes altitude.|
|Marking a waypoint. This is how you put a location into your personal GPS unit. If you are standing still, you will be at a specific latitude and longitude. Go to the screen that says mark or mark waypoint to add those coordinates into the list in your GPS device’s memory. That way, you can come back to the same exact spot later.|
|Log. The logbook, notebook, or log sheet inside a cache contains information from the cache owner and provides a place for geocachers to write their name and the date they visited the cache. Space may also be available for visitors to write notes or leave comments for the cache owner. A virtual logbook for the cache may be available online.|
|Log-in name (“handle”). When you sign up for a Geocaching.com account to use the public website, you need to create an ID to use as your geocaching name or “handle.” Pick a name you like, and if it’s not already taken, that will be who you are to the rest of the geocaching community.|
|Cache. Short for “geocache.”|
|Accuracy. No civilian GPS receiver has perfect accuracy (freedom from error). The accuracy of a GPSr may be low due to interference from trees, power lines, buildings, cliffs, or other features of the landscape that affect the strength of the satellite signals reaching the receiver.|
|Difficulty. A ranking system to describe how hard the cache is to find. A cache that can be found quickly is ranked 1 (easiest to find); a cache that is exceptionally well hidden is ranked 5 (hardest to find).|
|Terrain. This describes the land features and how hard the cache is to get to. Terrain that can be traversed in a wheelchair has a rating of 1. A 1 rating means “flat and easy and not too far.” A 5 rating probably means you shouldn’t try it, as it will likely require special equipment, like scuba gear or mountaineers’ ropes.|
|Attributes. These icons on a cache detail are intended to provide helpful information to geocachers who wish to find specific types of caches. The icons represent unique cache characteristics, whether the cache is kid-friendly, if it is available 24 hours a day, if you need special equipment, etc.|
|Trackable. Anything with a tracking number or other unique identifier that can be followed as the item travels from cache to cache.|