Whether you have just a passing interest in geocaching or you seek every new cache with passion and fervor, there’s no denying that this outdoor recreational activity is capturing the hearts and minds of millions of people around the world. Even when the hype surrounding it seemed to wane, as far as hobbies are concerned this one isn’t going away any time soon. So what’s the deal with it and is geocaching safe?
When it comes to outdoor activities, the risks involved are pretty much the same. But since geocaching is all about hunting for hidden caches in exotic, outlandish or untoward places, there is a high element of danger especially for those who don’t bother with safety precautions. However, you can still enjoy your hobby without putting yourself at risk by making a plan, checking the weather, avoiding unnecessary risks, and safeguarding yourself and your equipment. In other words, it’s perfectly safe if you know what you’re doing.
To say that geocaching is less safe than kayaking or shell collecting couldn’t be further from the truth. Granted, there are dangers involved that we’ll discuss here, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t make this delightful hobby safe in every way possible. Read on to find out how.
How Safe is Geocaching?
At the risk of stating the obvious, geocaching can be as safe as you’d want it to be. Any time you leave your home you’re exposing yourself to dangers and risks. That doesn’t stop people from going to work and socializing.
Just as you wouldn’t cross the road unless you get the green light, geocaching also requires a certain degree of caution and applying common sense to make it as safe and pleasurable as possible. As we will explain later, you need to know your limitations and let your brain rein in your passion.
Rather than blindly following your GPS device as it guides you toward the hidden cache, you need to be aware of your surroundings at all times. This will keep you from wandering into a dangerous area or finding yourself in a sticky situation that puts your life or well being in danger. And just as it pays to be persistent, sometimes you need to give up on that cache and go chasing another treasure that is more accessible.
There’s also another risk related to the cached data itself. As you plug the thumb drive in your device, you don’t know whether you’re getting a lost manuscript or malware that hacks in your device and exposes your sensitive data to hackers.
Is Geocaching Safe for Kids?
If you have been paying attention, you no doubt have noticed words like passion, hunger, and thrill being associated with geocaching and the hunt related to that activity. In many cases, it’s the lack of sound judgment and common sense that land the participants of geocaching in trouble.
So how about kids? Well, children are notoriously impulsive and go after their goal with little regard to their physical safety or the lurking dangers surrounding them. This makes it mandatory for a supervising adult to accompany the child at all times. Not only to ensure the child doesn’t get into trouble but also to protect them from what they might find.
Not all data hidden in caches is safe for children. Pranks are common in this recreational hobby and sometimes unsavory materials might be stored in a cache that children shouldn’t be exposed to. Graphic images and adult topics are just two examples of digital data you’d want to protect your child from.
Muggles as a Safety Hazard
As you can imagine not everyone is a geocacher. In geocaching parlance, a muggle is a person who is not involved in geocaching. A muggle can be a safety hazard. From the muggles point of view someone snooping around using a navigation device is suspicious. So how to deal with muggles?
In its simplest form, geocaching is the practice of hiding caches of data stored in thumb drives in out of reach places and waiting for others to find them. The cache will be marked with coordinates and you can use a mobile app or a navigation device to find it. You might find one in the back wall of the building around the corner or it might be hidden in a rock miles away in the middle of nowhere.
When you’re in the middle of nowhere and a muggle approaches you, make sure to explain to them as plainly as you can what you’re doing and the reason you’re in this place. You might need to show them the cache if you have already found it, or simply point out the coordinates and ask for their help.
The best case scenario, you’ll make a new friend and turn the muggle into a fellow geocacher. However if the muggle refuses your explanation or becomes belligerent, you’ll just have to call off the hunt and go seek another cache.
Staying Safe with Swag
Swag is the kind of trinkets or memorabilia that geocachers leave for each other. They’re like little gifts that total strangers leave in the cache. The geocaching etiquette mandates that you shouldn’t take swag without leaving something in its place. But in this day and age of being health-conscious, how do you stay safe when handling swag?
You should treat swag with the same caution you would when you find something you are not sure about its source. You might have to handle the swag with a pair of gloves. Or you may opt to leave the swag in its place if you’re not comfortable with it.
Needless to say you should always use gloves when searching for caches.
It’s a health precaution that keeps both you and other geocachers from catching or transmitting diseases.
That said, you need to make sure that any trinkets or coins you leave are clean and sanitized. A recent fad that is growing among geocachers is to leave hand sanitizers as swag. It’s a thoughtful gesture that not only means the rest of the swag in the cache is clean, but also helps you sanitize your hands and your equipment on the go.
Common Dangers Associated with Geocaching
No matter how experienced, fearless, and skilled you are at deciphering the geo-coordinates of the hidden treasure beckoning to you, there are dangers lurking and before you know it you might find yourself facing the same fate as Aron Ralston in the movie 127 Hours.
True, that was a rare situation that required drastic measures on the part of the protagonist to save his life, still you must have heard of other adventurers who lost their lives while pursuing one form of adventure or another. So what dangers are waiting for geocaching participants out there? Here are the main ones:
- Weather: Love it or hate it, the weather is by far a formidable foe that can overwhelm you and land you in hot soup in the blink of an eye. From heavy rains that can turn the easiest terrain to a risky and slippery path to the fog that reduces visibility, experienced geocachers always check the weather before setting out on their quests. You also need to dress for the right kind of weather. Extreme heat or cold temperatures can put your life at risk.
- Environment: Despite what fairy tales have impressed on us about how sweet and harmless nature is, as a grown-up you undoubtedly know that some things Mother Nature created are out to get you. From poisonous plants to insects, snakes, and wild animals, your path is usually fraught with dangers every step of the way. This is even more evident if the cache you seek is located in a remote area. The chances of your losing your way and being cut off from the nearest highway multiply. And if something bad does happen and you’re stranded somewhere without a phone signal, your chances of survival diminish considerably.
- Taking Risks: We get it. You’re chasing the next cache, the coordinates show you’re getting closer and closer, your eyes are glued to the screen of your navigation device or mobile, your heart is beating faster and you’re hardly paying attention to what’s around you. Then you look up. You see the cache secured to a boulder. But to reach it you’ll need to cross a ravine or wade through whitewater. But let’s face it, you’re neither fit to jump nor have the experience to make it to the other side. Yet the desire to get your prize blinds you to the dangers in your path and you go ahead anyway. These types of risk-taking are common among novices and they account for a large portion of the accidents associated with geocaching.
- Physical Fitness: Or to be accurate, the lack of physical fitness. You have a heart condition or suffer from respiratory disease, yet you don’t take the right precautions to avoid getting into a situation that triggers that health condition or causes complications. This involves plunging into an insect-infested area, pushing your body too hard, or even falling. When your body is not used to strenuous activity, you might inadvertently get a heart attack because you’re too busy with your treasure hunt to pay attention to the signs of high blood pressure.
- Unsafe Data: Not all the data you seek is gold. Some data is pure junk, while other caches have more sinister intent. Hackers have found that storing infected files in a geocache is the easiest way to find willing victims that they can exploit. Aside from the malware hidden in some caches, you might also expose yourself to some graphic content that causes you discomfort or worse, triggers a mental or psychological reaction.
Needless to say, some of these dangers are common among all outdoor activities. Even a hobby as harmless as going on a hike will expose you to many of these risks as well. So just as you’d do with hiking, you need to take precautions to ensure your safety before you go geocaching. We’ll elaborate on these precautions next.
The dilemma that every geocaching enthusiast faces is how to enjoy their thrilling hobby without facing the dangers that we often hear about. It all comes down to planning, playing it safe, and exercising a good deal of caution and common sense. You also need to
- Keep your family and friends informed of your plans and destination in advance. You can’t always put your faith in your cell phone to be able to call for help. Some geocaches are deliberately placed in remote areas off the grid to make them more challenging. Having a friend or member of the family aware of your destination makes it easier for help to reach you in case something happens.
- Since you’re relying on your devices to guide you toward your cache and back, it is always worth it to check these devices in advance. Make sure your smart phone’s battery is fully charged as well as your other navigation devices. Another good precaution is to check the reception in your location. A phone that has no signal is practically useless in these situations.
- Always pay attention to where you are at all times. Don’t let the thrill of the hunt blind you to the dangers surrounding you. The geocache won’t go anywhere and you can always come back to look for it another time.
- Exercise caution and know when to call it a day. If it gets dark or you fear that you won’t make it before the sun sets, you would have to call off the search and head home.
- Always be prepared for incidents. Don’t leave home without a first aid kit that might save your life if something bad happens. You also need to know how to use a first aid kit and how to apply bandages and stop bleeding among other skills.
- Bring your medicine with you. If you have a condition that needs medication, make sure you pack your medicine with you.
- Watch out for allergies and take all precautions against them.
- Pay attention to the weather forecast before you leave home. This should be the first thing you do as you plan for your hunt.
- Dress for the occasion. Clothes protect you not just against the cold but hot temperatures as well.
- Don’t take unnecessary risks. In fact, you shouldn’t take risks at all. There are always other geocaches that are more accessible than one placed beside an actual hornet’s nest.
- Come to appreciate your physical limitations. If you lack the necessary fitness prowess to go jumping over rocks like a mountain goat, then avoid hunting in rocky areas.
- Plan every step of the way from the moment you leave your home until you come back. Try to predict anything that might come up and take precautions against it.
Making Geocaching Safer
Let’s face it, you’re not going geocaching because it’s easy. The thrill is in the hunt not in the digital data you acquire. The more challenging the cache the more satisfied you get when you finally transfer it to your laptop. So what do you need to do to ensure that your quests are full of thrills but not dangers?
- Skill: You need to have a lot of skill. From how to read coordinates to how to find your way in an unfamiliar area. Reading maps is also another important skill that you must have. You don’t know, but it might literally save your life one day. Other skills involve using first aid kits, reading the weather, and finding shelter.
- Equipment: Because geocaches are marked by GPS coordinates, you’ll need an electronic device to help you find the spot. Some mobile apps are available to mark and locate hidden geocaches in your area. A smartphone and a GPS navigator are the right equipment to carry with you.
- Knowledge: Now you don’t have to be Bear Grylls and find water where there’s none, but you still need to have a decent knowledge of how to navigate the land, protect yourself against a hostile environment, and get home safe without any serious incidents. In case you have poor reception, you’d need to know how to use the sun or stars to find direction.
- Experience: Being out on your own in an unfamiliar area is challenging enough. So you need to have experience before you venture out into the unknown. If you’re just starting, then you might have to limit your quests to geocaches in your neighborhood or at least within urban areas.
- Psychological Toughness: Not many people can handle the stress of realizing they’re all alone facing the dangers of the wild. But this can often happen if your hunt takes you away from the town or city.
- Physical Challenge: Geocaching can be a demanding hobby. One minute you’re climbing rocks, the next you’re navigating a treacherous stream or snake-infested area. Being nimble and fit will keep you one step ahead of the dangers they lie in wait.