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Published on April 3rd, 2013 | by Rachel


Geocaching without the GPS… It CAN Be Done!

Geocaching combines treasure hunting and GPS

In the age of GPS, it’s hard to imagine not having directions from point A to point B at the ready. Geocaching, a growing form of outdoor leisure, is one of the most playful uses of GPS at work today, where individuals or groups hide caches all over the world and then share the geographic coordinates online. It takes the map out of the treasure hunt, and uses global positioning instead. It’s a fun way to hone your navigational and orienteering skills, with the added bonus of discovering (and, if you wish, adding to) a time-capsule at the end.

Don’t have a GPS?

No problem. Lucky for you, geocaching existed before GPS, in the form of letterboxing.

Very much like geocaching, the object of letterboxing is to follow a set of clues in order to locate a “letterbox,” hidden in the great outdoors. Letterboxing North America maintains an online database with clues to finding letterboxes hidden in every U.S. state. A typical letterbox contains a notebook, a rubber stamp, unique to that letterbox, and an ink pad. You — if you come prepared, that is — will have your own letterboxing notebook and your own, unique rubber stamp. Once you find a letterbox, open it, stamp the box’s notebook with your stamp, and stamp your notebook with the box’s stamp. Then return the letterbox to the exact spot you found it.

Typical letterbox.

Some organizations, like hiking or nature clubs, publish their own lists of letterbox clues.

What’s great about letterboxing is how low-tech, low-maintenance it is. Once you’ve compiled your clues, you only need a few, simple tools:

  1. Compass: some clues give compass bearings or use cardinal directions.
  2. Personal rubber stamp/pad/notebook: This way you can make a mark that is completely your own when you find a letterbox.
  3. Map: Helps to keep an eye on your larger environment. It can be easy to get fixated on the clues and lose a sense for your more general surroundings.
  4. Hiking Gear: But you’d have all this stuff anyway!

So, if you’re looking for a way to spice up your hikes this Spring, download some local letterbox clues and pack a rubber stamp and notebook. See what you might come across!

Information for this post taken from The Joy of Hiking by John McKinney (Wilderness Press, 2005).

Here’s a full list of the most comprehensive hiking guides, from Wilderness Press and Menasha Ridge Press!



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