Geocaching and Letterboxing

by Wendy Copley on September 28, 2011

In the last fews months, our family has picked up two new hobbies: geocaching and letterboxing! Wyatt and I tried letterboxing once a few years ago and though we had fun we didn’t manage to make it a habit. I was determined to try it again this summer as part of our summer fun list. While I was getting my act together to go on a letterboxing excursion, some good friends of ours started geocaching and their enthusiasm inspired us to try that too. While these two activities are similar — hunting for boxes hidden around our community — there are a couple of small differences.

Geocaching

Geocache

Geocaching seems to be the more common of the two hobbies. To get started, we joined an online geocaching community and Zach and I each bought geocaching apps for our phones. We were reluctant to pay for the apps at first because they were priced fairly high for phone apps, but when we realized that the cost for both of them was less than what we’d pay to take our whole family to the movies, we decided it was well worth the money. Fun, active, whole-family activity that we can do for years vs. one movie and junky food? Sold!

Zach and Wyatt Swinging

Geocaches range dramatically in size from micro-caches the size of a film canister, to huge caches that hold books and other large objects. Most of the ones we’ve found are about the size of a food storage container. To find a cache we log into the the geocaching website and look for caches in our neighborhood or an area we would like to explore. Or if we are already out and about, we look for something nearby using our phones. There are geocaches just about everywhere in the world and one thing we are really excited to try is looking for caches when we travel.

Usually the listing for the cache will get us pretty close to the cache site by specifying a park or an intersection or something along those lines. Once we arrive at the big landmark, we pull out our phones and start trying to pinpoint the location of the box using the GPS and compasses in the geocaching apps. So far I’m not particularly thrilled with the accuracy of the GPS on my phone. It will get me to the general vicinity of the cache but when we are within a few feet it goes all wonky and it’s pretty much useless. I’ve also had problems with the phone’s connectivity cutting out because of dense trees or bad signals. When that happens it’s almost impossible to find a cache without some pretty good clues. If we keep going with this I think we’re probably going to invest in a dedicated handheld GPS unit.

Augie Swinging

While you’re looking for the cache, you’re supposed to play it cool so that people who aren’t in on the secret don’t find the cache and remove it or damage it. I am really bad at this! I start off all sly, but after about five minutes of looking I get distracted and start shouting, “Did you find it? ANY LUCK?” to my companions. Even Wyatt and Augie are more subtle than I am!

When you find a cache, it has a log book for you to sign and it often has a few trinkets inside too. If you take something out of the cache it’s good form to put something in to replace it. This is probably the kids’ favorite part.

My favorite part is all of the cool places we visit when we’re geocaching. Since we’ve started we’ve found areas of our neighborhood we didn’t know about. For example there was a cache very close to this neat rope swing high up on a hill with amazing views of the San Francisco Bay and the hills of the east bay.

View from the Geocache

Letterboxing

Stamping a Letterbox booklet

Letterboxing is similar to geocaching in that you search for boxes, but the approach is pretty different. Again, you look up boxes to find on a website — the two main ones are atlasquest.com and letterboxing.org — but instead of using technology to find the boxes, you follow clues of the sort that you’d find on a treasure map or in an adventure comic. Stuff like: “Walk to the end of the fence and look in the hollow of the ivy covered tree.”

I like that adventuring quality, but the coolest thing about letterboxing is the rubber stamps! Each letterbox has its own stamp and each letterboxer or letterboxing team has a signature stamp as well. Once you find the box there is a little booklet inside along with the box’s stamp. You stamp the letterbox stamp in your notebook and write down any notes about your experience. Then you stamp your signature stamp in the booklet in the box. A lot of people use purchased rubber stamps, but a fun part of the hobby is that most of the stamps are hand-carved.

Letterboxing Stamps

When my parents were visiting us this summer, my dad and I were talking about letterboxing and he has since taken it up with great enthusiasm.  A few weeks ago, he offered to carve a stamp for each member of our family since we hadn’t gotten around to making or purchasing stamps for ourselves. I was thrilled to take him up on the offer because as you can see by looking at our stamps (pictured above), my dad kicks butt at this sort of thing.  They are related to our trail names which are:

  • Bentolonia (me) — the stamp is based on one of my all time favorite bento boxes
  • Augie Bear (Augie) — our nickname for Augie
  • MegaMegaCraft (Wyatt) — this is related to a game he likes to play called Minecraft
  • Mr. Salad (Zach) — Zach really likes salad

I really like that my dad carved these for us, because we think of him every time we stamp them and it’s kind of like he’s right there letterboxing with us. As a crafty lady I feel a little bit dumb because I didn’t carve them myself, but I’m looking forward to carving some of my own when we get to the point where we start planting boxes.

Fairy Tunnel

Again, exploring cool spots is a big part of the fun. For example, we found this “fairy tunnel” (Wyatt’s description) while looking for a box. The branches across the path were low enough that Wyatt could jump up and swing on them. We’ve also been enjoying the boxes that some friends of ours have planted.

One downside of both letterboxing and geocaching is that we don’t always find what we’re looking for. We currently find about half of the boxes we set out to find. This is frustrating for all of us, but I do try to remind myself (and the kids) that most of the adventure is in the search.

What about you? Have you tried geocaching or letterboxing?

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  • Nicole Oandasan

    Love the stamps! I fear I don’t have the patience for letterboxing 🙁

  • Pappy

    I planted my first two letterboxes recently. I wanted my granddaughter Rachel (Wendy’s niece) to be the first one to find them. But after I went live with the first one, another letterboxer was Johnnie on the spot and found the thing that same day. On the second one I sent her the clue privately and after she found it, I registered it and made it open for all.     Pappy

  • Plume

    I had never heard of this, sounds interesting.  Love that your dad carved the stamps for everyone, that’s very special. 

  • Monzie

    We love letterboxing! My son has now requested his own stamp book instead of using the family one. Now that the weather is getting cooler, if the rain ever stops we are hoping to get out and get some more stamps. Haven’t geocached as no gps but would like to try sometime. Amazing stamps! 🙂

  • Jamie

    My husband is a fanatical geocacher, though with 4 kids, his time in the field is limited. He loves taking our oldest, age 5, out for “treasure hunts” though! Glad you’ve found this fun hobby as well!

  • Jessi

    I haven’t tried either of these, but my grandma likes to do things like this with my younger cousins. My cousins are really into a thing called post crossing. You sign up at postcrossing.com, and once you start sending out post cards around the world, you’ll receive some back. Each person has a profile on there, and they can put info about themselves or the things they like so you can tailor your postcard to match their collection. 

  • Karen L

    We love geocaching! A great excuse to take the kids (7 and 3.5) out on longish walks. Last weekend we cached out on Angel Island and logged 5.2 miles (yes, my calfs still hurt from the unexpected steep uphill climb at the start!). Hubby loves to cache early in the morning alone for exercise and always gets caches when he is out of state or on overseas business trips. We’ve enjoyed putting out travel bugs and tracking their progress around the world. One bug Hubby put out in Korea ended up at a US airbase in Afghanistan. What a great way to get kids excited about geography, nature and exploring. Happy Trails!

  • Whitney (RookieMoms.com)

    Hello fellow nerd mom! Do you know how much I love you right now? Here’s what I’m about to do: Paste this whole post into a Word doc and print it for Julian read in a little book form. He is going to LOVE it! I think it’s just the right length with a topic of interest, challenging words, and pictures to intrigue the reader!!

  • OK, this is an idea I *completely* love. I…um…I mean…my *kids* love getting mail. I think I’ll be adding this to our list of fun things to try.

  • I forgot to mention in my post that part of the reason we are doing these things is to get our kids more comfortable and excited about nature. The first time we geocached, Wyatt freaked out because there were butterflies fluttering around him. Oops!

  • Whitney, I love it! Should we try to get the kids together and all go letterboxing in a group some time soon?

  • I am super excited about trying this with my kids! Thanks for all the tips.

  • Adu

    I had never heard of this, but after some research i found out that at home, and in the environment of my university are severeal caches to be found! This weekend, if the weather permits, i will go and try to find my first cache! 😀 

    Thanks so much for this, i was seeking an excuse to force myself to go on bycicle trips to excersise, but i didnt want to go on pointless bike trips, this is a perfect excuse! 

  • margaret sier

    Awesome!  I love geocaching!  The PreK girl and my hugsband?  Not so much (those sticks in the mud)!  🙂   So I’m actually getting out to cache when the little girl is in school schnibbling on what I pack for her.  Sweet!

  • John

    Did some caching a few years ago and had fun, but it was when the boyo had a broken leg, so the fun faded fast. Might have to try it again one of these days!

  • Karen

    My family has been letterboxing for over a year and love to find new cool areas in our community.  We have 7 children and the younger ones get discouraged when we don’t locate a box.  A friend suggested that we celebrate each box with a small treat.  Her family hands out small amounts of M & M’s after logging a box.  We tend to use trail mix as our reward.  Happy hunting!

  • Best parents and grandparent awards #182!

  • I love your Dad’s stamps! He is an excellent stamp carver! As I said on FB, this weekend I hid a box in Beloit, WI. It was a memorial letterbox in honor of a college friend who passed away in March. This weekend was her class 20th reunion weekend and she didn’t make it. I made 2 boxes on a Cure theme, hid one of them in Denver at her memorial service weekend in May and hid the other one near the campus at reunion in a place that was connected to her. I didn’t look for any boxes this weekend bc I drove up to WI last April and my cousin (current student there) and I went and found all the boxes in the area. The best way to make sure the box will be there is usually to go find very new ones, if you can. If it was planted less than a month ago, it’s hopefully still there.

  • PS My friends and I sometimes run into families with little kids on the trail, and the kids and moms especially are very bad about being discreet. 🙂 If we’re in a quiet cemetary and a large mini van comes screeching in and a whole passel of little kids piles out, and then the kids start running around, while thye are call out to each other, well we know what they are there for. Happened last weekend too so we just hung back until they were gone. 

  • What?! No more Team Kittypants?!! I loved that name! I think of it everytime I stamp while letterboxing! 🙂

  • The Point

    Students at Fitchburg State University are getting their first taste of letterboxing this month. Check out the article in the student newspaper, at http://thepointfitchburgstate.wordpress.com/2011/10/07/letterboxing-challenges-fitchburg-state-students/  

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