Caching On?

Ok, I admit it.  I’m on the cusp, I’ve reached the change.  This must happen to most geocachers at some point.

What change is that?  It’s the point when you have found all the caches near where you live.  It brings on a change of attitude.

We live on the very northern edge of London.  By city dweller standards we’re pretty lucky.  The end of our road sees the start of the green belt.  There are woods with walks, the London Loop, a walk along the New River, 15 minute drive to the wilds of Epping Forest.

So, although we’re not ‘walkers’ of the 20 miles a day, map ‘n compass brigade, by city standards we’re considered to be ‘outdoors’ people.  We actually own walking boots and waterproofs and are not terrified of Millets.

caching on

We are quite used to spur of the moment ‘fancy a walk’ 2 or 3 miles around areas we know well.  Holidays always involve a walk or two.  The kids would say that we spend all our time walking, but the truth is it’s usually about a 4 mile walk, following coloured markers or a guide book.  I’ve got books with walks for just about everywhere in the country, but probably only done one or two from each of these books.

We live in a ‘cache-rich’ area.  There are 70 caches within a 10 mile radius of our house.  Some are of the type we like, forest or country walks, real caches, that sort of thing.  Others we’re not so keen on, virtuals, or city centre micros.

So caching, till now, has fallen into that pattern.  Fancy a quick cache?  No need to really plan; I know where the roads go, I know the parking places, the general area.    Even though many caches are in areas we have walked many times, each one has taken us to a part that we hadn’t been to before or with a story we hadn’t known.

But now we’re at the point where we have to plan a route and devote a half day or more to a get there and back.  We are getting to areas we don’t know.  Following the arrow when on foot is all very well, but sometimes finding the way in to an area and avoiding dead ends is more of a challenge than finding the cache.  So it looks like we might need to start looking at maps.

And that’s a major change of attitude.    At the very least we need to sort out a driving route.  An arrow pointing directly to a point 7 miles away on London roads is useless.

But can you be over-planned?  Does having an OS map, particularly on a PDA with GPS link showing you your exact position and that of the cache take away some of the pleasure?  I suppose it depends on why you are into caching.

I discovered geocaching about 4 months ago.  I was looking for a SatNav product for my PDA for driving.  I ended up buying a product that gave me a bluetooth GPS and the usual route finding, 3d view, voice instruction solution.  (The voice is called Hillary in our house.  Something to do with her tone of voice when she tells you to ‘perform a legal U-turn’).  The system relies on postcodes and has no way of dealing with co-ordinates either long/lat or OS.  I hadn’t realised the significance of this until I discovered geocaching.

caching on Geocache

 There was a link on  for geocaching.  I read the description but thought little more about it as I couldn’t deal with co-ordinates.  Then a friend told me about a piece of shareware that he had been playing with that turned the PDA into the compass rose, arrow pointing to a waypoint that we all know and love.  So I thought I would give it a go.

I hadn’t realised what I was taking on.  I persuaded the other half of the team to give it a go. ‘Cm’on, you like walking round the park, and it’s like a treasure hunt.’  But we started out with a 10 stage multi cache, in a forest, in the rain, with my brand new HP 5500 (check the price for yourself), with a piece of software that was at version 1.  The main problem was that it didn’t give you ‘distance to go’.  It does now, but not then.  I also didn’t really appreciate the, ‘GPS only points when you move’ problem.  As you can guess, we didn’t get very far, as she was not impressed.

This brought out the ‘I will not be beaten’ mode.  So, back to the website and looked at the hand held, designed for outdoors, units.  Here comes the tricky part.  How do you persuade yourself to part with cash so you can find plastic boxes in forests?  Even worse, I always have the philosophy of never buying the lowest in the range.  There’s always a feature missing on the cheapest model you will regret.  I was sure that one with an electronic compass would better.  (4 months on and I’m glad I made that choice).

So I tried to justify it.  As I said previously, our walking career, even when we are in the wilder areas such as Cornwall, is over well trod and sign-posted guided walks.  The GPS will allow us to try widening our horizons, putting in our own route.  We can walk with no fear of getting lost.  Lots of people have them, they weren’t invented just for caching.

I did it, I parted with money.  The unit gets used for caching of course.  It gets used to mark where the car is parked, sometimes.  I can’t tell you how many times I have forgotten to set it.  I then look at the snail trail track and often found I had it switched on in the car so I have 30 miles of car track and have to work out which is the 2 miles we have been on foot.  Oh, and the other half of the team enjoys it.  She still prefers me to use the gadgets, so she is free to race ahead and claim the find.

It has been used as a ‘how far have we gone?’ meter.  If the guide book tells us the length of the walk it becomes an ‘are we nearly there yet?’ meter.  However, I have yet to find a walk that was within 25% of the estimated length given in the book.  I still haven’t really used it for all the other reasons I used in my self-persuasion.  Perhaps a holiday in October in Cornwall will sort that out? But then again, there are caches down there to be found.

Recently I thought GPS had come of age.  At last it would prove its worth!  We planned this year to do a driving tour of France and Italy using campsites.  Each campsite description came with GPS co-ordinates.  So this combined with the road-based GPS means we should be able to get to each campsite with no problems.  The road GPS did a good job of getting us near enough to follow local signs.  Thank goodness I was not relying on the GPS co-ordinates.  Each one was between 4 and 20 miles out.  I tried changing map datums, co-ordinate systems, everything.  Nothing can account for the difference.

However, we did plan to cache while there.  I had downloaded about 400 cache details into the PDA, taken the laptop with even more maps and details on, but perhaps there was something strange about the continental co-ordinates that I didn’t understand.  Was this to be a disaster? No, everything was fine.  GPS co-ordinates from the GC website were spot on and some very fine caches too.

So back to the UK.  What am I looking for from caching?  I like the way it takes you to places that someone else has deemed interesting and safe(ish).  Finding the cache is important.  We didn’t admit that until we had a DNF.  The sense of disappointment confirmed it.  We need to find a cache.

caching on Geocache woods

Is it the contents?  I don’t think so.  After about 20 finds you know what to expect, when will people learn?  Sea shells are not good cache swaps!  Seriously, no grown-up can really be motivated solely by the thought of a trade.  We are pleased when we find a book we fancy, and actually found a good DVD once, and these can be read/watched and passed on.  But on the whole, although we claim we don’t like micros, they might as well be.

I then got to wondering, is this the turning point for people?  How many people give up once they have found the local ones?

We’re not short of data and statistics in this game.  Thanks to the UK website I pulled down a table and stuck it into excel and started to play.

On 1st September 2004 there were 5757 cachers in the UK.  Let’s forget the 89 people that have set a cache but never found one! (How can that be?)  There’s still 5668 people that have found at least one cache.

In fact 1399 people have found only one cache.  That’s 25% of all cache finders. These could be people right at the start of their caching career.  It could be a really healthy situation.  So how many are still active?  Well, define active.  How about someone who had found a cache but not been out again and found another one 3 months later?  Well, 1184 people have found one over 3 months ago but not found another.  That’s 82% of all the ‘one cachers’ appear to have dropped out!

Perhaps 3 months is too harsh?  Let’s try looking at the people that found a cache before 2004 and haven’t found a second by 1st September 2004.  That’s still 58% people that have found a cache but not a second this year, that’s 8 months.

I find that hard to believe that someone will invest in a GPS unit, find a cache and not be motivated to find a second.  Perhaps these are people that found one by chance and logged it?  Or already had a GPS for another reason, tried caching, but it wasn’t too much of a wrench to not go on.  How about went caching with a friend and logged it in case they got into it but somehow not got going (yet)?

So I went on to look at the drop out rates for those that have found various numbers of caches.  I’ll stick to my 3 month rule.  If you have found caches previously but not in June, July or August I’ll consider you inactive.  After all, according to other stats on the site, these are the most active months of the year.

Well, the stats for those that found 1 to 10 caches look like this.

Caches foundNumber of cachersPercentage of all cachersNumber inactivePercentage inactiveCumulative TotalPercentage of all cachersCumulative inactiveCumulative percantage inactive

Interpretation time: The first two columns I think are obvious.  The third column shows that about a quarter of all people that have found a cache have only found one, 12% have found 2, and so on.  The numbers drop quite quickly.  I looked at this all the way up to 1060 finds, which is the highest number found by a UK cacher.  The numbers continue to drop.

The next columns list the number of people who find a particular number of caches and then have stopped.  It shows that most people drop out quite quickly, but as they find more they tend to stay.  However, of those that find as many as 10, over 50% stop.

The cumulative columns work like this.  Rather than just look at those that have found exactly 2 or 3 or whatever, it looks at those that have found up to that number.  By the time we get to the end of this table we have listed all the people that have found 1, 2, 3 up to 10 caches.  We end up accounting for 70% of all cachers.  Only 30% go beyond 10 caches.

Try this table:

Caches foundNumber of peopleNumber Still ActiveActive PercentageInactive percentage
up to 104009108427.0472.96

For example. 490 people have found more than 50 caches. 434 of these are still out there finding more.  That’s only 11% that get to 50 and stop.

Get to 100 caches and only about 4% stop.

It really looks like finding 10 is a magic number.  Once you get to that point you seem to be a hardened cacher prepared to make the commitment.

Finding out why people stop is difficult.  By default those that read the forum are the active committed ones.

I tried to find out how many people had invested in a GPS unit just for caching and how many already had a use for one and had slipped into caching.  I was also interested in finding out if they had bought a unit for caching and then found other uses for it.

Unfortunately I only got about 20 answers, despite the fact that over 380 people had read it.

The results were about 50% of people had one before discovering geocaching.  The most entertaining (in my opinion) reasons for having a GPS include using as a speedo  on a kite buggy, finding friends at Glastonbury and probably the most worthy, keeping track of speed and distance while training for a charity walk.  That’s not to say that other reasons were less worthy.  You can read all the answers at and still contribute your own answer if you like.

All in all, it does seem that there is a point that brings most people to a stop.  The people that get to about 10 finds must have a GPS, but the investment of effort to continue outweighs the financial investment in the unit.  How many are sitting in the back of cupboard and how many are being used for non-caching purposes is difficult to know for sure, but the straw poll points at about 50%.  That’s something  like 1500 that could make their way to e-bay.

Do we want to attract more people to get through the barrier and take it further?  If so how would we do this?  Better cache contents would probably help, we all know how depleted they get.  Better does not always mean more expensive, but more imaginative, quirky, rewarding perhaps.  I’m struggling to find a ‘signature item’ that would interest people.

Better maps available from the main GC website perhaps?  The more experienced cachers seem to know a lot about on-line map sources and often use the links from the UK website.  There are always moans when the UK site is playing up.  Somehow these links seem to be missing from the main site and the UK website is not clearly signposted from the main site.  I found it by seeing it mentioned in a cache description.

An on-line planning tool perhaps?  My technique was firstly, to go to the nearest ‘not found’ to home.  Actually go find it, then look for the nearest to that, then go find it and so on until time to go home.  Of course this can be done on line by using the ‘find nearby caches’ function each time. Perhaps the ability to view a cache description on-line, and if you like it to add it to a list is what’s needed.  At the end you can then gather this all together into an itinerary and perhaps link it to something like multimap to get a route?

My planning improved when I discovered the UK interactive map and I could plan a sort of fruitful direction visually.  Finally I discovered how to import waypoints into Autoroute and plan on this.  I can then put together a route with directions for 4 or so caches in one trip.  Some of the techniques for importing and exporting waypoints etc are a bit tricky.  It seems to be a regular discussion item on the forum.  Perhaps this needs to be pinned at the top of the forum?


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