So here’s a topic that I’ve been thinking on for a while now…what should I bring with me when I Geocache? I’ve posed this with several veteran cachers and they all have told me pretty much the same thing…the essentials. Now, this is subjective. What would you classify as essential to Geocaching? Being a bit of a novice still, I could argue that the essentials are a pen and a GPS. And I would be correct, if you wanna make something of it. If all I was wanting to do was play the game with the least amount of requirements, I would be all set with these 2 things. But what fun is that? This isn’t merely a game of hide and seek. There is a massive community behind this game and for it to remain a successful game, it requires a lot more than just “the bare essentials”.
So I am amassing a Geocaching kit to take with us on our future runs. After speaking with many cachers and consulting online guides, I have come up with the following list of items that I believe are essential to playing this game properly:
- Bag – This can range in size from a fanny pack all the way up to a shoulder-slung satchel if you like. We most likely will be using a backpack as it distributes the weight evenly on both shoulders, but I have fancied using a canvas messenger bag or even one of these.
- GPSr – While I strictly use an iPhone 4 for my Geocaching purposes, I do want to purchase a real GPSr at some point as I am getting rather nervous caching with my $200 “Jesus Phone”. After seeing the damage a teaspoon of water can inflict on this thing, I don’t want to chance dropping it in a puddle or stream/creek/river/lake.
- Cell phone – At the bare minimum you should carry one of the feature phones you can get for free with a new contract from the carriers. You never know what kind of emergency you may end up in and NOT having a phone handy could be a life or death proposition. If you have a smartphone it could also be used for paperless caching (logging finds, dropping trackables, and solving puzzles) using one of the multitude of apps for Geocaching.
- Digital Camera – This can be fulfilled by the inclusion of the cell phone. All though virtuals and other caches regarding ALRs (alternate logging requirements) have been banned and a precious few virtuals still exist, there are some Earthcaches and the grandfathered virtuals that require a photo of you with your GPSr to prove you were there. Also, with the inclusion of the new Challenges, more and more will require a camera to capture something. Plus, you’ll come across some rare finds and breathtaking views on some caches and you’d be remiss not to capture it.
- Pens AND Pencils – I strongly emphasize bringing both. Sometimes you’ll come across of damp log that a pen just will not write well on. I would suggest bringing at least 5 of each as they have a knack for getting lost. It also goes without saying that you’ll want to have a pencil sharpener, too. Not just for your pencils, but also for those that might be in the cache that are dull or broken. Just because you’re not using it doesn’t mean someone else won’t. Along that same line of thought, bring some small golf pencils for caches you find that don’t have an included writing utensil. These two things will definitely help with your caching karma.
- Magnetic Pick Up tool – This is usually used by auto mechanics to retrieve metal tools and parts that have dropped into places in a car that are out of reach. They are usually retractable and come in various strengths. Here is the one we use. It’s definitely handy for some of the trickier hides.
- Claw Pick Up tool – Another mechanics tool that has been co-opted by Geocachers as a tool of the trade. These tools have a button you press on the handle end that will cause a claw at the head of the tool to open, allowing you to grab an item that is out of reach. They come in various sizes and some, like this one, have a flexible shaft so it can bend for easier reach. You may need to use in conjunction with the magnetic pick up tool to avoid dropping the cache if it is in something like a bison tube that could slip out of the claw.
- Retractable mirror tool – It’s almost like these tools were made for caching. There will come a time when you will need to look somewhere that height or angle-of-view limitations will prevent you from seeing the cache. In cases such as these, you’ll need one of these. Say there is a hole in a tree about a foot higher than your head. You can extend this mirror out and stick it into the hole, allowing you to see inside and determine if the cache is there or not without blindly shoving a hand into what could turn out to be a hornet nest and ruining the rest of your day.
- Tweezers – You will come across a cache from time to time (typically a micro or nano cache) where the log will barely fit into the container and become quite the chore to remove. Tweezers will be your best bet in removing these logs with minimal damage to the log. They also double as a tool to pull the inevitable splinters out of your fingers during your cache run.
- Flashlight – Not only for night caching, but also for looking into dark spaces that a cache could very well be hiding in. I can think of 3 caches in particular that I marked as DNF because I couldn’t find it, only to find it later in the place I looked by using a flashlight.
- Bug spray/sunscreen/anti-itch ointment – For obvious application reasons…you’re going to be out in the sun, there will be bugs, and there may be Poison Ivy/Oak/Sumac.
- Band aids/antibiotic ointment/hand sanitizer or wipes/pain reliever – Because scrapes, cuts, bumps, and nicks happen. I could keep going on with things like butterfly sutures, tourniquets, gauze, and other items but that would be a bit ridiculous to carry.
These next inclusions are all optional. If you want to help contribute to the quality of the game and grab some extra caching karma for yourself, you’d be well-served to include these in your pack:
- Extra log sheets – This is obviously an optional inclusion, but I can’t tell you how many times we’ve come across a cache where either the log was completely full or was destroyed by the elements. Nothing will deflate you more than finding a 4+/4+ cache and having absolutely no way to log your find because the log is either full or destroyed and you have nothing to improvise a log with. You can find log sheets of any size all over the Internet. Here is a site that has a bunch. Of course, make sure you note on the cache page that you’ve replaced the log. You want to make sure that the CO is aware of your replacement as they could potentially invalidate your (and everyone who signed after you) log if they were not aware of it the next time they perform maintenance. It seems nitpicky, but there are some owners out there who are very particular about these things and have no qualms about removing logs if they feel threatened.
- Zip-lock baggies – It helps to have a few sandwich-size zip-lock bags to protect the log books that are in the larger caches. Also, a handful of mini zip-lock bags is good for the smaller log sheets found in the small/micro caches. Again, we’re thinking about improving your caching karma.
- Desiccant packets – These little packets of silica gel beads are used to absorb moisture in a variety of products you buy from the store, so naturally it should also work in a cache. If you find a log that is a little damp from the elements, drop the log into a baggie as well as one of these and it’ll not only dry out the log, but it’ll prevent future issues with humidity.
- Swag – These little trinkets help make the game fun. While I wouldn’t recommend anything of value over dollar store or Happy Meal toys, there are also signature items that people find fun to collect, such as business cards, wooden nickels with your caching name, or even custom-designed Pathtags. The sky really is the limit on what you choose as your signature item. Cyndi had a handful of swaps she had made for her Girl Scout troops that were just collecting dust so we used those as swag.
- Rolls of camo-tape – Sometimes the elements will ravage a camouflaged container to the point that it is no longer quite so camouflaged. While this is optional, I think everyone should do this. The guidelines of Geocaching state that you should rehide the cache in the same or better manner than before. So if it’s a previously camouflaged Pringles can that is now just a can sticking out like a sore thumb amongst its surroundings, it would be much better if you helped restore it to its former condition.
This is by no means the definitive list of what to take with you when Geocaching. This is merely a springboard for you to base your own bag contents on. If there are any veterans lurking about who feel I’ve missed something or should have included something instead of what I have, please feel free to post your ideas in the comments. Happy hunting, everyone!