Much like triathlon, geo-caching can be as simple or as complicated as you want. It can take you on- or off-trail, via mountain biking, running, or even kayaking. If done right, this modern day, GPS-based treasure hunt can add a thrilling new element to your workouts.
“Things can meld really well,” says Chris Ronan, the community relations manager for Geocaching.com. When he ran marathons, the extra motivation of geo-caching on his training runs and bike rides added a little push to his workouts. “It’s a fun diversion.” Geo-caching started in the early 2000s, as people hid “caches,” then left coordinates or clues for others to find them. Caches are generally waterproof containers, which can be big, foot-long boxes, or tiny, even just an inch. According to Ronan, there are now three million stashed around the world. Once you find a cache, you generally leave your name or initials in the log book—sometimes there are even little toys to trade for a trinket you bring—and then put it back where you found it for the next person. There aren’t really competitions, but there are challenging caches and stats that serious geo-cachers track.
“I stopped counting after 7,000 [caches],” says Steve Wood, who taught geo-caching classes for REI and is now the REI outdoor programs manager for the San Francisco Bay Area. Geo-caching has lots of benefits, says Wood. It adds fun and motivation to your workouts. It’s easy to incorporate: Simply ride to a trailhead, run to the caches, or mountain bike the trails, and then run through the woods.
Sometimes going after a cache can even push you farther than you expect. Wood actually took up kayaking to reach caches out on the bay. Plus, the puzzles “get your brain going,” he says. Plenty of caches involve solving some puzzle or trivia to find them.
To get started, go to Geocaching.com, which has a database of caches. You can filter by location, degree of difficulty, and what kinds of activities are involved (for example, if it requires a mountain bike or a kayak). The one thing you’ll need is some kind of GPS device, says Wood (see below). Geocaching.com has an app for that, and you can start by using your smartphone, but be forewarned that often a phone’s GPS might not work in the middle of the woods.
Beyond that, just use whatever equipment you would regularly use for your ride, run, or scramble, and prepare for however long it will take you. “Don’t let the GPS draw you deeper than you’re prepared to go,” Wood says. And follow the number one rule: Leave the cache better for the next cacher than you found it.
1. Plan your route in advance, set waypoints before you go.
2. Check the cache description and difficulty so you know what you’re in for.
3. Bring a lock for your bike when you hit the trails.
4. For a good fartlek workout, ride easy to where the road ends, run hard to the point, once you get close, use the time spent searching as your rest. Repeat.
Geo-caching By the Numbers
The number of geo-caches hidden as of 2017, worldwide
People “own” geo-caches worldwide
The year that the oldest “unfound” geo-cache was placed (in Venezuela)
The number of geo-caches hidden on Antarctica
The average number of times a geo-cache is found per year
Our Favorite GPS Watch for Geo-Caching Workouts
Garmin Fenix 5X
Though most Garmin smartwatches now work well work with a Geocaching.com premium membership linked to Garmin Express, the Fenix 5X is the best wrist-based multisport option—its large screen supports super helpful maps and still works for all tri-training needs.