Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Geocaching Tools of the Trade

I've been geocaching for about three months now, but technically speaking I've been geocaching for over eight years.  I started in August of 2002 with about five finds and then dropped the pursuit almost entirely.  The only things I did that pertained to geocaching in those intervening eight years were to keep up my premium membership and to visit the website from time to time.  I think one of the reasons why I dropped geocaching was that I was frustrated with some of the "did not finds" (DNFs) I had, and I believe also that one of my last finds was muggled shortly after I recorded the find.  I always had some guilt that I hadn't been stealthy enough.  I realize now that geocaches do get muggled from time to time, and somebody has to be the last one to find it before the muggling occurs.  I also realize that DNFs will occur for various reasons and the only way to counteract that is to have many more fnds than DNFs.  I now have 126 finds total, so I'm actually averaging about 40 per geocaching month.  I'm enjoying the hobby more than ever.

In the past three months I've collected or purchased various tools to help me during my trips.  I'll try to list some of those tools here and the reasons that I have them.

  • an advanced GPS receiver (GPSr):  I have the Garmin Oregon 550t.  This GPSr supports paperless geocaching, which I absolutely love.  The only geocaches that I print out now are some of the puzzle caches that I want to solve.  This GPSr also has a 3.2 megapixel digital camera.  I normally use a Canon PowerShot digital camera (since I like to take pictures of my finds), but it is nice to have this camera as a spare.  I've used it on at least two different geocaches.
  • a digital camera:  as I indicated earlier, I like to take pictures of my finds, but I also like to take pictures of the interesting and beautiful areas that geocaching has taken me to.  On at least one geocache a camera was required.  I found an earthcache that required me to be in the picture along with my GPSr.  I have two digital cameras, but my primary geocaching one is a Canon PowerShot SX210IS.  It has 14 megapixels.
  • a flashlight:  I now have three for geocaching.  One is a high-power (3-watt) white LED flashlight, another is a lower-power (1-watt) LED flashlight that also has a red mode and a green mode, besides the white mode.  Finally, I have a UV LED flashlight.  I've been reading about some of the geocaches that require a UV light to read clues or the final coordinates.  I have yet to use this flashlight for any actual caches, though.  The "lower power" flashlight is my favorite at the present time.  Most of the time I use the white light, but I've had a couple of night caches where I wanted to be a little more discreet, so I switched to red or green.  One of these geocaches was near a bike path and the red light was bright enough to find the micro hidden in the pine tree.
  • a small mirror:  I had never thought much about this item, but I had read about other geocachers using them, so I bought one.  About a week and a half or two weeks ago, I used it for the first time (in conjunction with my flashlight).  I suspected that the cache was hidden in the rafters of a picnic shelter at a local park, so I used the mirror to help look in the cracks and crevices.  Unfortunately that cache was logged as a DNF by me, at least for now.
  • tweezers:  this was another item I hadn't thought much about, but I picked them up at a Wal-mart or some other grocery store for about $1.25.  I picked them up shortly after I had to borrow a set from some geocachers that I ran into at a cemetery cache.  Now I had one or two solo finds where I have needed them as well, including one magnetic nano.
  • a magnetic pickup tool:  I haven't used this yet, but I carry one as it could come in handy on a future geocache.  I bought one because I read a fellow geocacher's blog, or saw a picture where the geocacher had one of these in his bag.  Maybe I'll need to use it in the future.
  • a lanyard:  My GPSr has a lanyard attachment.  It sure is convenient to hang the GPSr around my neck.  There have been a number of times when I've parked a ways from the geocache and then have to walk across a field to get close the cache site.  I can get my heading every so often and then let go of the GPSr knowing that it is really easy to get to.
  • walking stick or trekking pole:  I recently bought a pair of Leki hiking poles but I have yet to use them.  I suspect that they will come in handy on some of the higher terrain geocaches.  But lately, after reading some blogs and watching some YouTube videos, and on advice (regarding geocaching in Florida) from my parents, I may start bringing one of the trekking poles with me, just to poke around as I look for the hidden caches.  I've never given much thought to snakes, spiders, and other creatures, but it is probably better that I stick my hiking pole in a hole rather than my hand if there is a creature waiting for me.
  • Gloves and a hat:  I would like to continue geocaching in the winter.  I realize that it will be at a slower pace, but in Ohio it can get quite cold in the winter, so I'll protect myself by wearing a hat and gloves.
  • a pack to carry the gear in:  I used to call them fanny packs, but I guess the proper term is a lumbar pack.  That is what I carry my geocaching gear in.
  • a pen:  I carry several pens, but the kind that I like is a Rite-in-the-Rain pen.  It isn't cheap, but it works every time.  I will use the pen that the cache owner has left from time to time, but many times I use my pen anyway.  Of course, many caches are of the "bring your own pen" (BYOP) variety.
  • a notepad:  I carry a couple of these.  They are useful for writing the answers during a puzzle cache or the coordinates to the next stage on a multi cache.
  • my Blackberry:  whether I need it for the cellphone or whether I want to use the Geocache Navigator application, it is handy to have in the field.  One thing I have learned though:  leave the Bluetooth headset in the car.  I lost one on an attempted find about six weeks ago.  My headset is so small and with the leaves on the ground, and knowing that I had already over the area many times, I did not even attempt to look for it.  I just wrote it off, and ordered a replacement. 
  • tape measure:  I've run across at least one geocache (a multi) that required me to measure a memorial plaque, and use the measurements to solve the coordinates.  I guess that one would not need an actual tape measure but a tape such as the kind to measure your waistline could be used too.
  • the StickPic:  this is a teflon or similar material that has been machined so that one part of it fits on the end of a hiking pole, and the other end has a plastic bolt that screws into the tripod socket of a pocket digital camera.  With the StickPic you can then extend the hiking pole to its full length, and get yourself in a picture.  I've been on one Earthcache that required me to be in the photo along with the waterfowl blind that was near the Earthcache, and also show my GPS receiver in the picture.  At the time, I just held the camera and arm's length and got the picture, but the StickPic is more elegant.
  • hiking boots:  I used to have a pair of hiking boots, but they were worn out and I threw them away a few years ago.  I'm in the market for a new pair.  With a good pair of boots, I should be to tackle some of the higher terrain geocaches, but you still won't catch me climbing up a tree.
I do carry a couple of other things on my hunts, but they stay in the car while I'm out.  I carry an iPad.  I've only had it a short time, but I like to record my field notes right after I make the find.  With the Geocaching application on my iPad and having 3G, I'm able to record those finds right away.  Before I bought the iPad, I used my iPod Touch and a Verizon Wireless MiFi mobile hotspot to connect to the website from the field and post the field notes.  I also keep various adapters in the car to keep the various electronics charged up.