Introduction to Outdoor Compass Games: Orienteering and Geocaching

Americans are more sedentary than ever, and it seems like every day brings a new study showing the health impact of sitting for long stretches. For example, research from Louisiana’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center found that people who sit for a majority of the day are 54 percent more likely to die from a heart attack.

Fortunately for gadget lovers, there are a few activities that use technology to get people off their couches and exploring the outside world. Orienteering and geocaching are compass games in which players use GPS devices or maps to find checkpoints or hidden treasures. Read on to learn about these navigation games and discover what you’ll need to bring if you hope to take part in them.

Orienteering: What it is, and what you need to play

Orienteering is a new kind of game that families across the world are enjoying. To play this compass game, a participant first signs up for a certain orienteering club event. As orienteering enthusiasts arrive at the event, organizers hand out tickets, which are like mini game boards. Each orienteer’s goal is to get as many “clips” on their ticket as possible. (Americans might think of a “clip” as a hole punch.) The tickets are clipped by “controls” set up all over the surrounding area.

During the staging process, the participants are split into different groups according to fitness level. Long-distance runners, for example, might choose the map showing where to get 18 clips, while those who are not as fit could go for only six or 10 clips. (This kind of flexibility is appealing for many families; after all, it can be difficult enough to get a couple of toddlers to point their LED flashlights in the right direction.) Often, orienteering maps do not include street names, so participants may be tempted to pull out a digital multi-tool for clues.

One of the most thrilling parts of orienteering is walking around in a big group at night. The darkness makes orienteering more challenging and fun. Most orienteering fans wear headlamps as they look for controls. An LED headlamp is ideal, since it’s bright enough to be seen by passing cars. Another more general advantage of an LED headlamp is that its long-lasting bulb requires very few batteries. Other than their trusty headlamps, would-be orienteer participants need very few items: a comfortable outfit and supportive pair of sneakers should do.

Geocaching: How to do it, and what to bring

Compared to orienteering, geocaching (pronounced gee-oh-cashing) is far more reliant on technology. However, because you’ll be using your smart phone or other GPS-enabled device to play, you’ll still be avoiding the risks of a sedentary lifestyle. In general, geocaching is like a modern-day treasure hunt. You can play two roles in this navigation hobby: either setting up the treasure chests, called caches, or finding them using your GPS coordinates and perhaps a set of cleverly written clues. Most participants start as cache hunters.

What might you find inside a cache? Nothing too pricey: a disposable camera, a log book, maybe a few quirky trinkets. However, the simple joy that comes with finding something that a complete stranger has hidden is usually enough to make any geocacher smile. Moreover, the clues that cache hiders provide often lead cache hunters on a beautiful journey. You may discover a new natural area that you never knew existed. Or you might enjoy a gorgeous hike in a town that you thought you knew inside-out. (There are even urban geocaches, which may be no larger than a film canister!)

Regardless, there are a few tools you’ll need for any geocaching expedition: a GPS-enabled device, an LED headlamp or a couple of LED flashlights for your group, a multi-tool, and access to geocaching.com, where you’ll find the clues for each cache. The LED flashlights and headlamps are excellent tools for finding caches hidden in bushes or in trees. Additionally, it’s smart to carry an LED headlamp or flashlight whenever you’re taking a hike – after all, if you lose track of time and it starts to get dark, you’ll want to be sure you can find your way back to your car. A multi-tool is also a handy tool to take with you on any outdoor adventure.

So if you’re feeling a little sluggish, why not give orienteering or geocaching a try? All you have to lose is that headache you’re getting from staring at your computer screen.

[ photo by: Glutnix ]

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