Can geocaching be dangerous?

Is geocaching safe?

Geocaching is an activity that you do “at your own” risk. Some people enjoy difficult geocaches and challenges, and some don’t. If you find a geocache too dangerous, feel free to move onto the next one.

There are some risks geocachers face, but generally, geocaching is a safe activity. The risks are similar to risks people face in other common activities. For example, when geocaching in nature, geocachers will face risks as any other hiker. Or, when geocaching in the city, geocachers should be aware of the traffic as any other traffic participants.

How do you geocache safely and what are safety precautions to take when geocaching?

There are certain things geocachers can do to prepare themselves and minimize dangers when geocaching.

Use the attributes fields, it’s a start to tell you if it’s “dangerous” or not

Attributes give information about geocache location. like permissions. An example of a permission attribute is Dogs Allowed, which means you are allowed to take your dog to a geocache location. There are also attributes about various conditions (like a cache being recommended for kinds or having a scenic view nearby), special equipment needed, and, most importantly, possible hazards. All geocachers should click on certain geocache attributes before geocaching to inform themselves about potential risks. You can find attributes when clicking on geocache info both on websites and apps. You can also find a full list of attributes here. Then, you can always use a search engine to find out what every attribute means if the meaning is unclear.

Premium Geocaching users can also use Pocket Query to search caches by attribute fields. This can also be a neat functionality to find a geocache to suit your capabilities.

You can check Difficulty and Terrain rating, often abbreviated as D/T rating

There is a Difficulty rating in every geocache info that tells how hard it is to solve and find a geocache and the logbook. It’s graded on a scale from 1 to 5. Rating 1 will mean the geocache is findable within minutes, while Rating 5 will mean it requires special tools, knowledge, or skills to solve.

There is also a Terrain rating on a scale from 1 to 5 that tells about the physical effort needed to arrive at a geocache location. Rating 1 will mean very little hiking on a flat surface, while rating 4.5 will mean potentially hazardous terrain. The highest rating of 5 means that special equipment will be necessary, like climbing gear or a boat.

Check the full meaning of the Difficulty/Terrain rating here.

Inform yourself about weather, nature, and other conditions before geocaching

If you are going to geocache in the city, you should probably check the forecast to see whether to take an umbrella. Inform yourself about necessary transportation to get to the geocaching area, and how to get back. Also, remember to be vigilant and pay attention to the traffic around you because you will spend a lot of time looking at your phone when geocaching.

If you are going to geocache in nature, inform yourself as you would before going hiking or any other outdoor activity. Check the weather, potentially dangerous wildlife and natural hazards. Make sure you know how to navigate to your desired location to not get lost. Learn about the risks of injuries from falls, animals, or plants in that area, and what to do when it happens.

Check and pay respect to the customs and traditions of people living in the geocaching area

Inform yourself about the customs, expected public behavior, permissions, and bans at a certain place. For example, it may still be inappropriate to wear a swimsuit near churches, even though you are geocaching in a tourist place popular for a summer beach vacation. Also, check the crime stats about a geocaching area to see whether it’s safe to go geocaching there.

Take the necessary equipment when you go geocaching

If you plan to go geocaching for a longer period of time, try to dress appropriately for the weather. Also, take enough drinks and snacks, a pen for signing logs, and a fully charged phone.

Check the geocache info for attributes, D/T rating, photos and activity of a target geocache to see if special equipment like ladders, probes, or others might be necessary.

If you plan to search for more difficult geocaches, especially the ones in nature, check the equipment that hikers or other outdoors enthusiasts of that area use and find out what to bring yourself.

Feel free to give up if a cache seems too difficult. Try to gradually increase the difficulty of a geocache you want to find

If you feel like a search for a geocache has become too dangerous, feel free to stop and go search for an easier one. A good tip is to gradually increase the difficulty of the geocache.  Start with the geocache with a Difficulty/Terrain rating of 1. Then, when you become comfortable with easier geocaches, feel free to gradually increase the geocache difficulty and go for the more challenging ones. 

Also, use your common sense and adhere to the same advice for similar activities like hiking. Remember the most important tip when geocaching is to have fun but also to be safe.

What are the hazards of geocaching?

There are some hazards of geocaching that geocachers may encounter. They are rare, but they may occur if you geocache often. Here are some of the more common situations:

Encountering various insects

Sometimes, you may encounter various insects when geocaching. A great example is encountering nests of dangerous wasps and hornets. They make their nests in various holes and eaves of the buildings, trees, tree branches, holes in the ground, spaces under stairs, etc. Those nests can be surprising, as you may encounter them only when reaching for a geocache.

Common are also ant colonies, various bugs, and maggots living near or even inside a geocache, especially if it’s in someplace hidden.

Another possibility is encountering spiders and many other insects or bugs from which some may be poisonous.

A good idea is to always expect some bugs or insects to be near a geocache, especially if you have to search for it in some hidden area and not in plain sight. If the geocache is buried in the ground, then those are almost guaranteed to be encountered.

A good idea is to use gloves to handle possible disgusting geocaches. Or to use a branch or a magnetic probe/extraction tool to rummage for a geocache instead of using hands.

Also, inform yourself about possible poisonous insects in the geocaching area, how to handle them and what to do if they poison you.

Encountering snakes

In areas famous for snakes, there were occurrences when geocachers couldn’t get the geocache because there was a rattlesnake next to it. Geocaches are often hidden among rocks, in the bushes, holes, and other sheltered spaces where snakes also like to be.

So geocachers will search for the geocache among the rocks but may encounter a snake. Or, they will be bushwacking or going off the beaten path while staring at their phone and then encounter a snake.

The main tip is to inform yourself about snakes in your geocaching area. Find out which snakes are dangerous and poisonous. Also, inform yourself about dealing with snake bites.

The most important thing is to be vigilant when geocaching. Be careful not to step on a snake. Don’t look into your phone the whole time. Also, expect a snake when searching for a geocache in a hidden or rocky place. Here is some reliable info about dealing with snake bites.

Encountering big animals like bears

Inform yourself about the big animals in the geocaching area you plan to visit. The best advice for preventing dangerous animals is to be vigilant of your surroundings. If you spot a wild animal, do not approach it and don’t pet it. Here are some more tips about dealing with larger animals.

Geocaches hidden in dangerous locations

There may be geocaches that have the potential to be dangerous due to being hidden in dangerous locations.

To check the difficulty of a geocache, always read the geocache description and D/T rating. It will tell you about the difficulty of a geocache and whether you need special equipment to reach it. Also, check geocache’s activity with comments left by geocachers who previously found that geocache. It often contains helpful tips about what to expect when finding a geocache.

There are also difficult T5 geocaches that have the potential to be dangerous. It’s up to the individual to calculate their capabilities and whether they can reach them. These are caches that require specialized equipment such as scuba gear, a boat, rock climbing gear, or similar. For example, those will be geocaches hidden in trees, under bridges, underwater, etc.

If you, however, reach the destination of a cache and find out it’s too difficult to retrieve it, feel free to give up and search for an easier one. As you gain geocaching experience, you can go find more difficult caches.

Also, you will reach a geocache location, and then find out that retrieving the geocache is hard. It’s more difficult than it would have seemed from the attributes and ratings. Or sometimes, attributes can be wrong. Or the circumstances of a geocache have changed. 

For example, it says in the geocache info that the geocache is hanging on the tree and. It also says it can be retrieved by climbing a few branches. Then, you actually reach a geocache location and find out that the tree branches are broken by previous geocachers trying to climb the tree. It’s impossible to retrieve a geocache in the way described in geocache info. That makes a geocache more difficult. A good idea then would be to give up a geocache if you don’t have special equipment. And it’s also a good idea to inform a geocache owner that the geocache info is wrong, and to raise the difficulty of a geocache.

Here are some of the most common examples of geocaches hidden in dangerous locations: 

  1. If you encounter geocaches hidden in or near electrical boxes of the fuse boxes, or caches on utility poles, avoid that to prevent electric shock. Avoid anything with metal wires.
  2. Also avoid geocaches on difficult locations that may involve climbing like the edge of the cliffs, steep hills, but also lack proper attributes for climbing in geocache info. Sometimes, the ground can also be a landslide and you may slip away.
  3. Common are also geocaches on top of the trees. Those should have attributes for tree climbing, and may also sometimes require a ladder. Avoid those if you can’t climb trees.
  4. Also, the are some geocaches that are only accessible by boat, by diving or with some other special equipment. Only go for those if you have experience and special equipment/knowledge.

Encountering weird stuff people leave in a geocache or around it

There will always be geocachers that leave weird and gross stuff in geocache on purpose. There are also unintentional disgusting geocaches e.g. like a wild animal urinating or dying near it.

For some reason, there are also some geocaches hidden in a fake nest, fake rats, or skunks. Or containing some kind of a fake animal, probably left by irresponsible geocachers as a prank.

If you encounter those kinds of geocaches, log them by writing DNF. This means Did not find. This will discourage other geocachers from searching for that geocache.

Paying attention to traffic

It’s important to pay attention to the traffic around you when geocaching. Some geocachers like to stare at their phone, and not pay attention to traffic. 

Also, some geocaches may be located in places with many cars, pedestrians, or other traffic participants. This might make geocaching impractical or dangerous. Besides, muggles might look at you weirdly if you are searching for a geocache. You may also be geocaching with small children in tow at the moment, which makes a situation even more difficult.

A good piece of advice is to come back when there is not much traffic, like early morning or evening. Also, it’s good to check attributes like Stealth Required, which signifies there are lots of muggles nearby the cache.

There are also parking attributes in geocache info, which means there is parking available near the cache. But if there are crowds near that location, finding parking might be difficult or very expensive to pay. In that case, it’s best to research places to park and parking prices in advance. Then you may also have to research how to reach the geocache on foot.

Geocaching in private properties

Some geocaches are located on someone’s private property like a backyard. Those geocaches often have attributes like Yard (private residence). To place a geocache on private property, geocachers need to have permission from the owner. Sometimes, the geocache is placed there by the owners themselves.

Geocaches that are on a large private field or forest in the middle of nowhere are mostly fine.  But some geocachers find geocaches located in someone’s backyard in a residential area weird and creepy. They find it suspicious that owners would want geocachers coming to their backyard for a geocache. Therefore, you might want to avoid geocaches placed on private property if you also find them weird.

What to do when you find a dangerous geocache?

You may find a geocache that has degraded. Or circumstances described in geocache info have changed (e.g. a tree where the geocache was hanged has collapsed). So, now, a geocache is more difficult. You can message the owner about changes on geocache or label it as Needs maintenance. Now the owner will know that geocache needs to be checked and repaired.

If you find a dangerous geocache that may threaten someone’s safety, and that geocache doesn’t have adequate warnings, or that it breaks the geocaching rules,  log it as DNF and put Needs to be archived. Then the reviewer can archive a cache so that people won’t be looking for it again.