These three basic rules of geocaching are only the start of safe and responsible geocaching:

  • Take something
  • Leave something
  • Enter a written log in the log book


There are other essentials to consider as you go out an a cache hunting adventure:

Know where you’re going before you go. Discretion is the better part of valor: use a map. Maps will show you likely trailheads, possible dangers and will keep you from going across private property. If you were driving from NC to Florida, it wouldn’t make much sense to just get in the car and start driving on the back roads (in the South you never know what you might encounter on these rural road and some small towns base their budget on ticketing foreign cars). At least you would need to know what direction was south, and you’d probably do even better if you knew the numbers of the major interstate highways. You don’t have to plot out every detail of the trail you intend to hike, but a little knowledge in advance can save you lots of hassles later on. Topo maps can also give you critical details about the cache location.

Print out the cache description before you go or download the cache description into your PDA. While only using the coordinates is macho not finding the cache for lack of the cache description is stupid. There is often important information in the clues, which is not a spoiler, but is required to find the cache. Go ahead decrypt and print out the spoilers too; you may decide you need them once you get in the area of the cache. Read the cache description before you leave – there may be some critical information you need before you leave or there may be some parking coordinates or even some log entries that contain critical information.

Take a waypoint at your car or the trailhead. It makes it easier to find your way back if you get disoriented wandering around. You’ve got the GPS; why not use it to help you out?

Take the appropriate gear: water, map, spare batteries, bug spray, cell phone, sun block, Tecnu, etc. Cache hunts can often take more time than you expect. Do you have a flashlight if it gets dark? Will you be prepared if it starts to rain? Do you have enough water on hot days? Can you find your way back if your batteries die? Does someone know where you are and when you will be back? Many cachers carry a bag with their extra geocaching gear in their car. On the other hand, stay as light as possible.

Try not to ‘bushwhack’ straight from a trailhead to the cache unless you know what the terrain, undergrowth or soil conditions are like. Stay on the trail. Most caches are typically close to an established trail. In most locations you’re only going to take more time and suffer more scratches by trying to take the straight-line approach. In locations where off trail hiking is clearly prohibited you’re likely to anger land management officials and give geocaching a bad public image, not to mention the increased chances for more serious personal injuries or destruction of “environmentally sensitive” areas. Consider making the “Leave No Trace” principles part of your approach to geocaching activities.

Pay attention to your surroundings and not just to the screen of your GPS or you might end up hopelessly lost or worse step over a cliff or even horse or dog dung. Enjoy your hike and the scenery.

Take bearings and note potential cache locations before heading off trail. Some geocachers take a compass to use as an aid in finding the cache.

If the trail curves away from the direction your GPS receiver indicates, be patient, it while likely to curve back. Remember many geocachers are lazy – they will not go too far form an established trail or open area to hide a cache.

If you’ve been moving quickly along the trail, allow your GPS receiver to settle down by standing still before bushwhacking out into the woods. Garmins are quicker at this than Magellans. The coordinates will often stabilize pointing to a slightly different direction than when you were moving. You may save yourself the trouble of searching the wrong side of the trail for 30 minutes.

Avoid blazing a new trail to the cache. This makes the cache more vulnerable to vandalism or theft and will anger the land managers. Stow the machete! If there is already a geo-trail, try another approach.

Avoid vandalizing the area by turning over every rock and log. Try to think like the cache hider and look for manmade hiding locations or natural hiding places. Geocaches are not supposed to be buried but they can be hidden in a low spot or in a hole. Caches may be hidden under leaves, limbs, rocks, bark – and then make sure you’ve got the right spot before you start moving any covering. Avoid destroying something just to look for a clever hide. Reassemble anything you take apart.

Try not to trample the vegetation or root in animal burrows. It’s not likely that the cache is in the center of an impenetrable bramble patch. The person who hid the cache likely took a fairly easy path to the hiding spot. You should try to find that path before you start snapping tree limbs.

Pay attention to the accuracy your GPS receiver is showing and don’t follow it mindlessly around trying to get to the exact location of the coordinates. Even in the best circumstances coordinates can vary easily within 40′ or so. Save yourself and the cache area some stress and start cache hunting once you get close. Just look for typical hiding places first.

Pay attention to how the cache was concealed before you pull it out of it’s hiding spot.

Leave the cache covered or hidden just like you found it. The person who placed the cache picked what they thought was a good spot and hid it to the degree they thought appropriate. Just because you had a hard time finding it doesn’t mean that the next person will also. The right thing to do is to never leave a cache more exposed than you found it. The cache is safer the more it is concealed. Nothing is more frustrating than finding the contents of a cache vandalized or stolen because the person before you decided to make the cache more visible.

While searching for a cache in a public area, disguise your activity as something official looking by holding the cache description and GPS. Use or talk into your GPS as if it is a two-way radio or cell phone. Keep an out for non-geocachers and grab the cache while no one is looking. If someone asks what your doing, just say you’re looking for some rare rocks or plants.

Try not to sit at the cache location to log your find if you are likely to be seen by other people. Rooting around with a hidden box of goodies makes you look suspicious or interesting to others who might drop by the spot to see what you were looking at and decide to steal or vandalize the cache.

It is inappropriate to log the cache that you hide as a find just post a note if you need to convey information to other geocachers or if you visit your own cache. Logging your geocache as a “find” makes you look silly and is a sure indication of a rookie geocacher!

Other logging mistakes include logging a geocache find more than once unless it is a geocache that allows multiple logs. Only log a “find” on a “multi” when you actually find the last stage. Log a “find” for an event only after the event occurs – post a note if plan to attend. Cache owners can log a “find” for an event they list if they attend.

Log you DNFs! Especially on new caches. Put your ego aside. Other cachers will likely benefit from knowing there may a problem with a cache. The owner of a cache with several DNFs may realize there is problem with a cache and take corrective action. DNFs are some of the funniest logs to read and become part of the history of the cache. A string of DNFs may alert everyone that a cache may be missing.

You should not use yours or someone else’s cache to promote or advertise. Try to keep the activity fun for everyone. There’s no need to be moralistic or to commercialize a cache that someone else went to the effort of placing.

Avoid being overly critical in your comments in the written or the online log entries. It makes you look like a whiner or complainer and does nothing for other geocachers or the owners of the cache. If you have a critical comment or concern about a cache, privately send an e-mail to the cache owner.


Bragging about your personal life or cache finding achievements in your logs doesn´t do much for anyone either. Having your own personal celebration and gloating about being a First Finder (FTF) in written or online log is a sure sign of immaturity. It really is inappropriate, there are no statistics and after six log entries the First Finder log disappears.

Don’t devalue the cache. Sure that $10 bill would be a nice way to pay for lunch after you’re done caching, just don’t leave a 30 cent trinket in its place. Even if it’s fairly subjective, at least try to match value for value as much as is possible with whatever random objects may be there or in your own pocket. Don’t be afraid to leave something without taking something either. Make sure the treasure stays something worth finding.

If possible, try to find out if geocaching is prohibited in the cache area. Many caches have been hidden without the knowledge of the officials responsible for overseeing the land. Because geocaching is a relatively new activity, Rangers and other park officials are often uncertain of how to respond to cachers. Some have been enthusiastic participants; some have given tickets to geocachers for littering, abandoning property, or failing to observe posted signs (by going off trail). Caches are allowed in National Parks and some State Parks allow caches with a permit. Knowing how local officials are treating the activity could save you a fine. (It may also do nothing more than create problems and bring the sport to the attention of an individual unfamiliar with or perhaps even hostile to geocaching who finds it easier to prohibit the activity than to understand it and develop guidelines for it.)

Keep the cache contents legal and family friendly. Remember that teenagers or even small children may find the cache. No alcohol, tobacco, “adult” materials, explosives, drugs, etc.

Keep the cache contents animal friendly. Food attracts wild animals that may destroy the cache. Even small hard candies create enough odor to entice animals to drag a cache out of its hiding place and turn it into shredded garbage.

If you come across a cache that is inappropriate or violates the policies, report it. (Be sure you log it first before it is archived. 🙂

Don’t litter. This should be obvious but trash has been found that was obviously left by a geocacher. Programs such as’s  “Cache In – Trash Out”  encourage geocachers to carry trash bags with them and pack out trash they find on the trails. Consider leaving the area in better condition than you found it.

Have fun!  Enjoy the adventure!

*These etiquette rules have been adapted. The majority of these rules were originally published by Rich Carlson in a copyrighted article published on August 7, 2001. The original article can be seen at . Please contact him for permission to use parts or all of these rules.


North Carolina Geocachers