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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