A brief conversation about Geocaching Etiquette


I have been working on this post for several months now but could never quite get it completed.  In a previous post I mentioned that I had several “sort of” run-ins with security at a couple GZs.  I had mentioned this also in a Facebook geocaching group and the feedback was shocking.  Almost everyone that I had spoken with had something negative to say about my adventures.  What I had thought was a rather comical, innocent moment had actually been deemed as damaging for the game as a whole and bad form.  I was quite shocked, to say the least, and was actually a little offended by the outrage I felt was misguided.  Nothing I did was what could be considered illegal or dangerous.  But I heard them out and had a couple conversations and realized what they were saying made a lot of sense.  So, as a testament to my willingness to learn, I present before you a rough guide to etiquette.  This is by no means complete, so if you have any other suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

1. Obey all laws and policies

I can’t stress this enough.  DO NOT BREAK THE LAW TO FIND A CACHE.  I know there are FTF hounds out there that make it their mission to get every FTF possible, but if the speed limit is 25, don’t do 50.  If the cache is in a city park or a cemetery and there are posted times when you cannot be there, do not ignore them.  The cache will be there tomorrow.  If cachers break the rules and are caught, and it is found out that it’s the cache itself that was the cause for this, chances are the property owners will decide they don’t want the temptation of a cache to have people sneak in when they shouldn’t and ask for it to be removed.  This hurts the game for everyone.

2. Do not run when approached by law enforcement/private security/property owner/management of property

This is the issue that got me into hot water with my fellow cachers.  While I feel what I did wasn’t really running away as I was never approached, it is no less suspicious.  If you’re approached by a LEO or security guard asking what you’re doing, jumping into your car and taking off will obviously draw attention to yourself that you’re possibly doing something illegal.  If the cache owners are doing their jobs properly, they have already sought out permission to have their cache there so you wouldn’t get into any trouble.  If it turns out the cache really shouldn’t be there or the officer asks you to remove the cache, you should comply with their direction and notify the cache owner immediately on the cache page as to what happened.  A lot of times it’s a simple misunderstanding where the officer had not been made aware of the cache placement and it’ll get worked out.  Other times, however, it’ll turn out that the cache was not properly placed and it’s archival is necessary.  At the same time, this also applies to either the owner of the property or, in the case of a business or public space, management of the property.  If they see you and question why you are there, don’t run or become combative.  This will only result in a call to the police and a whole lot more trouble for yourself.  And, once again, you’ve given geocaching a black eye that could have lasting repercussions if the particular owner/manager has a lot of properties that could be prime caching spots.

3. Practice CITO

It should already be a given that a cache in/trash out mentality should exist whenever we are at a GZ and there is a lot of trash around, but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve happened upon a trashed GZ and there is proof of recent finds.  I’m not suggesting always carrying around a pair of latex gloves and trash bag whenever you do an impromptu cache run, but even if you grab 1 thing while you’re there, you’re making a difference.  PLUS, local property owners/managers may take kindly to your diligence to clean up the mess and reward us with more areas of caching becoming available.  There have been some CITO events setup here recently to cleanup various parks and green spaces, and the owners/managers have made it known that they appreciate the efforts made by us to keep the public spaces clean and safe, which only makes caching look that much more appealing.  So if you’re on the hunt and you see some trash, don’t just ignore it…pick it up!

4. Notify cache owners of any issues immediately

Cache owners rely on us to inform them of when a cache has gone missing or is destroyed/faulty.  Not every container can be 100% waterproof when it comes into contact with so many people.  All it takes is one time for someone to not properly secure a lid to cause damage to the contents of the cache.  I came across a container this past February that hadn’t been found since before the winter months and it had apparently not been properly sealed as the log and the swag had become encased in a block of ice.  Luckily the log was in a zip-lock bag and was spared the worst, but the various business cards and cardboard nicknacks had become a slurry of mush that had to be disposed of.  It turns out at some point one of the locks on the lock-n-lock had been damaged and would no longer properly close.  This meant that water was bound to enter this container once again, especially as our notoriously wet Spring was approaching. I notified the owners and they have since replaced the container.  Allowing it to be the next finder’s problem is poor form and, in my opinion, rather rude.  It takes but a moment to either post a note or a “Needs Maintenance” log on GC.com.  If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, you can always email the CO on the site itself and tell them of your discovery.  They’ll thank you for the courtesy and the container will be replaced, resulting in future quality finds for all the subsequent cachers after you.

**BONUS – Be social**

This is a bit of a tough subject for me, seeing as I am fairly introverted, but it does go without saying that geocaching can be a very social game.  During the Midwest GeoBash we ran into a lot of cachers at various GZs and, if not for my wife, I most likely would have just sat in my car and waited from them to leave before scoring the find.  But by going out and socializing, we got to meet some very interesting people and actually managed to make a couple friends in the process.  While the game can be played solo, the social aspect can actually improve the experience.  In our area there are several notoriously difficult shelter hides.  I’m talking less finds than the number of years they have been hidden on some of them.  There are some cachers who have literally spent hours searching for the caches to no avail.  But, in recent weeks, several groups of cachers have joined up to tackle the hides and, usually within 90 minutes, are scoring the elusive finds. I’ll touch on this subject in another post as there are more examples of socializing helping your game as well as other rewards and ways to get connected with other cachers.

There are probably 20 more items that could be listed for caching etiquette, but what I’ve outlined is what I feel are the basics that everyone, from veteran to newbie, needs to know.  If you have a suggestion, feel free to post it in the comments.

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Categories: Random talking | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “A brief conversation about Geocaching Etiquette

  1. Dawn

    It would also be a good idea when posting a cache to let everyone know that the owner has given permission to place the cache. It need not be elaborate or “spoiling” for the cache its self, just a litlte heads up that it was approved for the location.

  2. Great thoughts. I never even thought of people “running away” from a LEO. Silly of me, since I actually used to work for a police department. Have you ever heard of the Geocachers’ Creed? The main website seems to be down at the moment, but it’s mirrored here: http://support.groundspeak.com/index.php?pg=kb.page&id=46

    I personally think that hides that potentially encourage vandalism or dangerous behavior (containers that mimic electrical boxes, for example) are very poor etiquette, as are caches that look like dog poop (a potential health hazard). I’ve never come across these (I mainly play in the Houston area), but have seen them for sale online. I don’t mind ones that look like bugs and such, but then again I like bugs… maybe someone who is afraid of touching bugs would care more, LOL.

    I also think it’s good etiquette to do *minimal* cache maintenance if necessary and possible. But on Groundspeak’s forums, it has been pointed out that major maintenance should be avoided. If the CO doesn’t respond timely to a “Needs Maintenance” tag, the cache should just be archived. There’s a cache in my area, on the other hand, that seems to be maintained by the community, up to and including complete replacement of the cache when it’s gone missing, when the CO didn’t respond. It has like 10 favorite points so I guess everyone is loathe to see it go.

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