In this section you will be provided with background information on Treasure Hiking in preparation for planning your own Pack program and running successful hikes.

 The first section provides the basics of Geocaching, an existing "sport" that Treasure Hiking is built on.  The second section details Treasure Hiking - geocaching for younger scouts.


In the year 2000, the US Government enabled their Global Positioning System (GPS) of satellites to provide location accuracy up to 6-20 feet.  For the first time  individuals could accurately record the location of an object via GPS technology so that another might find it easily.  This event launched the sport of Geocaching.

Throughout the world "caches" (pronounced cash-es - as in money) are hidden in publicly accessible locations.  These caches take the form of ammunition (ammo) boxes, plastic containers, and 35mm film canisters.  Their locations are defined by longitude and latitude (co-ordinates) readings and then recorded on the website

An electronics device called a GPS unit (or receiver) is used to help you find these hidden caches.  You enter the coordiantes into the unit and it will show you on an electronic map how far away from the cache you are and in which direction.  Given a GPS unit will only get you to within 6-20 feet of the cache, additional hints may be given on locating the hidden spot.


Orbiting above the earth are 24 satellites (21 active, 3 spare) that provide global positing information to those on land.  These satellites were originally put in place for military use.  In 2006, public access to these satellites was enabled.

Each of these satellites beams information down to earth.  Through the combination of signals from multiple satellites an accurate position can be calculated.

A handheld electronics device called a GPS unit is used to receive these signals and calculate your current location.  To calculate location, signals from a minimum of 3 satellites is required.  The more satellite signals your unit receives, the greater the accuracy of location reported.  Some GPS units can also report your current altitude if enough satellites are being received.

The accuracy of your GPS unit can also be affected by

  • Lines of sight - objects between you and the satellite such as trees, buildings, mountains, clouds, etc..
  • Weather - rain or snow may affect satellite signals

GPS units can than show your location on their electronic screen along with maps that are stored on the unit.  Topographical maps showing elevation contours, streets, and public points of interest are options on most units today.  These are extremely useful for geocaching.

Longitude & Latitude

Longitude and Latitude combined make up coordinates that can be used to locate an object anywhere on the earth.  There are different representations for these numbers.  This section will describe the different formats, how to convert between them, and which ones you should be using.

WGS-84 is the "datum" definition that is standard to all current GPS units.  It was developed globally in 1984.  The North American standard NAD83 is for all intensive purposes an equivalent.  For the most part you should not have to worry about what "datum" type a set of coordinates are in.  It is helpful to understand that there is more than one though.

On the other hand, you will most likely need to deal with coordinate "formats".  These are the most common formats.

  • Degrees  & Minutes (MinDec)
    • This is the format you will want to use for all GPS applications
    • It breaks a coordinate down into two numbers: (1) degrees; (2) minutes.
    • Minutes include a decimal representation for seconds
    • Example:   N 43° 08.156  W 077°  26.652
    • See how there are two numbers (one with a decimal place) for each coordinate?
  • Decimal Degrees (DegDec)
    • This format uses a single number which includes minutes and seconds as a decimal part of degrees.
    • Example:  43.135933  -77.4442
    • See how there is only a single number for each coordiante?
  • Degrees, Minutes, Seconds (DMS)
    • This format represents each component of a coordiante (degrees, minutes, seconds) as a separate number
    • Example: N 43 08 09  W 77 26 39
    • See how there are three numbers for each coordinate?
  • Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM)
    • The previous three formats all used the same reference model for describing a location, only varying by the format in which the location is written.
    • UTM is a completely different reference model for location.
    • You will probably never have to use it, but you will see it and it helps to understand what it is.
    • Example: 18T E 301213  N 477810

Many GPS units have tools to convert between the above formats.  Here are a few online resources for datum/format conversions.

Selecing a GPS Unit

First see if you can find a GPS unit to use initially for getting your feet wet.   Here are common ways to find one to borrow.

  • Your own Pack - Most likely an adult (or two) in your Pack has a GPS unit and would be more than willing to help out with this program.
  • Your Troop - The Scoutmaster of your associated Troop is sure to know if they have one, or could probably point you in the right direction of an adult that does.
  • Contact your local orienteering club

Here are some guidelines if you would like to purchase one because you can't find one to borrow or you are already addicted to the sport without having been out to try it !

  • Consider a used one.  Look on eBay or in the local paper.  While the starting price for a new GPS unit is $100, the cost quickly increases as you add features.  You can probably get a 1-2 year old unit with lots of features and mapping software for $100.
  • Color is not necessary unless you have another GPS application in mind, like boating.  A gray-scale display is nice though.
  • Make sure the unit has 12+ channels, meaning it can process 12+ satellite signals at the same time.
  • The unit should have some level of waterproof rating.  It does not need to have a rating for being under 10 feet of water though....
  • A connection to our PC or Mac for uploading/downloading information
  • If you unit supports Maps, make sure to check how much the Map Software is and add that to your total for comparison purposes.  This is the one feature you might want to pay more for.  Maps are invaluable out in the wilderness, especially electronic topographical maps!
  • The unit should support at a minimum
    • Points of Interest (POI) - The ability to mark a location for later use.  These are also sometimes called Waypoints.  Some units have a special version of these for geocaches
    • Routes - Plotting of a number of Waypoints in series to form a hike route
    • Track Logs - Keeps track of where you have been.

 The two larger manufacturers of GPS units are:

The website is the online home for the Geocaching sport.  You will use this website to find and select "caches" to look for on your hikes.  After your hikes are completed you can also keep track of which caches you have found.  There are also forums where you can ask geocaching related questions.

Lets take a look at the website and show you how to use it.  Start off by opening a web browser and going to  Next, type in your zip code in the appropriate box in the upper right of the screen.  A listing of caches in your area will now be shown.


Starting from the left and working to the right.

  • Location - How far from the search parameters is the cache
  • Icons - Why type of cache is it and are there special items in it - see below
  • (D/T) - The difficulty/terrain ratings as well as the size of the cache - see below
  • Placed - When was the cache originally hidden
  • Description - The name of the cache, who placed it, its "serial number" (example GCWWNY) and the state it resides in
  • Last Found - The last time someone found this cache and the last time you found it

You can also place the caches found onto a map to get a better idea of their "grouping" or see which are inside public parks by clicking on the Map icon in the upper right of the search results screen.

Cache Icons

The Icons section shows you three things.

  1. Have you ever found this cache? 
    • If so, a check mark will be displayed in this section and the cache will be highlighted.
  2. What type of cache is this? 
  3. Are there any special items in this cache?

Cache Types

These are the most common types of caches that you will run across.

  Standard - This is the most common type of cache.  The coordinates provided will take you directly to this cache.

Multi-Cache - This is a series of caches that leads to a final larger cache.  The initial cache (the posted coordinates) is usually a small size cache like a film cannister that contains coordinates to the next in the series.  The series is usually all contained within the same park, but could have a wider area.  These caches are a Treasure Hunt all by themselves.

Mystery - The posted coordinates for this type of cache is usually a parking spot.  When you get to the location, the cache details contains a series of clues that will lead you to a set of coordinates that are the actually location of the cache.  

Letterbox - These are very simplistic caches that usually contain only a logbook.  Most do not have "treasures" contained in them.

 Event - This is the location of an event where geocachers get together to share stories and look for caches in groups.

Special Items

In the geocaching world there a number of items that are "trackable", meaning their movement from cache to cache is logged at  An upcoming section will talk more about these.  For now you need to know that as you are looking at cache listing, you can see if any of these items are contained in an individual cache.

 Travel Bugs - A "dog tag" with a serial number that can be attached to almost any item for tracking purposes.

 Geocoins - Metal coins that have a serial number for tracking purposes.

Difficulty & Terrain

Difficulty Rating

This rating is always displayed first and represents the level of "brain power" required to find the cache.  The rating scale goes from 1 to 5 in increments of 1/2 points with 5 being the most difficult.

  • Level 1 is most likely a straight forward cache.  Get to the locations, search around
  • Level 3 probably requires some thought.  The cache might not be in an obvious place and may require more searching. 
  • Level 5 could require a lot of "homework" beforehand or solving of puzzles.  It also might require special tools to retrieve. 

Terrain Rating

This rating is displayed second and describes the path that you will be required to take to find the cache.  Again, the rating scales goes from 1 to 5 in increments of 1/2 points with 5 being the most difficulty.

  • Level 1 is probably an easy walk that could be done with small children.
  • Level 3 is a reasonable hike with some grade to it and may require some thought about how to get to the cache area.
  • Level 5 could mean hanging off the side of a cliff, leave the kids at home because they would never make it through the ups/downs of the trail and the thorn bushes.

Reading the cache details will usually provide additional clues about the obstacles that led to the ratings.

Cache Size

It is helpful to understand exactly what it is your are looking for.  The cache size will let you know in general how large the cache container is to be found.  Here are some guidelines for the icons that appear on the search page.


 Micro - This is a very small container you are looking for.  It could be a film cannister or a specially designed key ring cache container.  Either way, you need to stand still and slowly look around for these.  Be aware, they also make hollow rocks now !

 Small - While these containers are larger than the Micro they are still easy to miss.  A good example of this size container is a waterproof match casing or a small tupperware container.

 Regular - These size containers should be easier to see with the naked eye.  Typically they are ammo boxes or "decon" containers.  Given the size of these containers, there is usually some thought as to the placement of the cache.

 Large - These size containers are not that common.  Just think larger than an ammo box.  Maybe an entire tree stump that has been carved out?

 Unknown - This "size" container is usually associated with the Mystery type cache because the owner does not want to give away the size of the final container.

Always read the cache details which will often specify exactly what the container looks like, including its color.

Cache Details

Now lets take a look at one of the cache details pages.  After typing in your zip code into the top right box of, click on the names of one the caches.

This is the "home page" for the cache and will provide you will all the information you need to make a decision about the if this is an appropriate cache and how to find it.  The cache "owner", the person that hid it and maintains it, will leave more information about cache. You can usually find the purpose of the cache, the type of container you are looking for,  clues on how to get to it, and maybe even a few pictures.  This page should be printed and brought with you while out looking for the cache.

The cache type icon, cache name, and the owner of the cache  it listed at the top of the page.  Next comes the location of the cache in WGS-84 MinDec format for use with your GPS unit.  Because we have the WGS-84 MinDec format, we can ignore the UTM format listed.  There is also an indication of how far and in what direction this cache is from the search location.

For those that have the ability to download cache information and location coordinates to their GPS units, there are two formats available to download. 

On the right hand side of the screen you may find an Attributes box which will list additional informational icons about the cache that will be useful in your decision making process.  Hold your mouse over one of these icons to interpret its meaning.  From the example on the right we can see that our example cache is not appropriate for strollers or dogs, has parking, is kid friendly, is accessible in the winter, should take less than an hour, and has parking nearby.

Also shown on the right hand side of the screen is the Inventory box.  If there are any trackable special items currently in the cache, they will be listed here.  You can click on the name of the special item to find out more about it, where it came from, and where it has been since. 

Some cache owners will also provide additional hints if you get stuck.  These hints are encrypted using the key on the right side of the page.  If  you bring a printed sheet with you, you can use them in a pinch.  You should always try to find the cache first, before using the hints.

The last section of a cache page logs the visits of others to the cache.  Please be careful in reading this logs as sometimes you will find "spoilers" - details about how to find the cache that you would not have normally had before looking for it.  Part of the adventure of Geocaching is the hunt for the cache.  If you know exactly how to find it before leaving your house, where is the fun in it?


There are a number of acronyms and slang used in the Geocaching world.  Here are some of the more common ones that you will come across.

  • Muggles - These are people who do not know what geocaching is and will usually be looking at your funny while you look under bushes for the cache.  Case should be taken not to reveal cache locations to Muggles as they may mistakenly move the cache or throw it away.
  • FTF - First Time Find - The person who has the honor of saying they were the first person to find a cache after it was hidden.
  • DNF - Did Not Find - You searched for the cache but were unable to find it.
  • TFTC - Thank you For The Cache - This acronym is usually used when signing the logbook of the cache, as space inside a cache is limited and logbooks are small.  This is your way of thanking the owner of the cache for taking the time to find a good hiding spot and maintain it.
  • TNLN - Took Nothing Left Nothing - You did not "trade" at this cache.  It is proper cache etiquette to document in the cache logs if you traded items or did not.
  • TNLNSL - An extension of the above indicating you Signed the Logbook.
  • XNSL - A variation on the above.
  • CITO - Cache In Trash Out - A geocaching campaign similar to Leave No Trace.
  • YAPIDKA - Yet Another Park I Did not Know About.
  • BYOP - Bring Your Own Pen - Many caches are not large enough to be able to include a pen for you to sign the logbook with.  These are usually noted with BYOP.
  • Swag - Treasure and trinkets found inside a cache.
  • TB - Travel Bug - a registered trackable item that moves from cache to cache.


We've covered the technology used in geocaching and how to select a cache to find at  So.... what can you expect to find inside a cache?

What you find in a cache is directly related to the size of the cache.  A micro cache does not have much room for anything other than a few pieces of paper or a message to the cache finder.  Regular size caches have lots of room for "swag" however.  FYI - swag is a term used to describe the treasures found inside a cache.  The cache details page on will often define a theme for the cache and ask those visiting the cache to leave theme related items.

Here is a list of items you may find.

  • Logbook - A place for you to write a message to the cache owner.  Usually the logbook is contained inside a plastic bag to protect it from the elements.
  • Treasure - Also called swag.  These are small items that may be traded for.
  • Special Items - See the next section on Travel Bugs and GeoCoins.
  • Messages - Some caches are part of a series and will contain the location or clues to the next location.


Part of the fun for children is not only finding the hidden location of the cache, but also the opportunity to trade items found inside the cache.  The generally accepted policy here is "even trading" - replace an item you take with an item of similar "coolness" or value.  Don't take a flashlight and leave a McDonald's toy.

You should also write in the logbook the details of anything you trade, what you took and what you left behind in return.

Travel Bugs / GeoCoins

There are a few special items you will run across in the geocaching world that are "trackable", meaning that the current and past locations of the object are tracked by logging them at the website.

If you find one of these items in a cache there are a few responsibilities that come along with removing it.

  1. Log that you have removed the item from the cache at immediately.
  2. Move the item to another cache in a reasonable time period.  The home page for the item will list an objective for the item.  Please try to follow these objectives.
  3. When you place the item in a new cache, log it immediately at

The trading policy for cache items does not apply to trackable items.  You should not keep them, only move them from one cache to another.

Travel Bugs

 A travel bug can be almost any object.  It always has a "dog tag" attached with a serial number inscribed to help track it.  Travel bugs are very special because they have a life of their own.  They were set free into the wild by their owner and usually represent some characteristic of the owner.  They have an objective.  They also have a past history of the caches they have visited and a future - in you, the person that will take them on the next leg of their journey.  Visit the travel bug's home page to find our more details about it.


These are more compact versions of travel bugs and come in a variety of shapes and designs.  A serial number is always inscribed somewhere on the coin to help track it.

Treasure Hiking

Now that you have learned the basics of Geocaching, lets look at how you can integrate this fun activity with the scouting program.

In addition to helping teach your boys to be responsible citizens while out hiking and to appreciate nature, there are a number of scout programs that you can take advantage of. 

You will also need to make a decision if you want to go Treasure Hiking as Dens or as a Pack. 

The sections below provide more details on this topics of Treasure Hiking.

Dens or Packs?

How will you organize your Treasure Hikes - by Den or Pack?  There are pros/cons for both.  Here is what experience has shown for these different methods.  We also suggest another approach that has proved successful.  Whichever method of Treasure Hiking you select, your boys will love it just the same !

 As a general rule, you should not have more than 8 boys or 15 total people in a hiking group.  Keeping under these numbers will assist your boys in getting the most out the experience and at the same time being aware that you will be sharing public areas with others.  Also remember that two-deep leadership means that each group should have a minimum of 4 adults.


Treasure Hiking as a Den is really easy to organize, just turn your next Den Meeting into a hike.  It is that simple.  It will also meet a variety of rank specific requirements in the process.

The boys will be with their best friends and you can even invite siblings, spouses, and the family dog along.  As the adults most trusted by the boys, you can probably also have more success than a Pack event in teaching them how to treat nature with respect and the ideals of Leave No Trace.

As the Den Leader you will have to plan the hike yourself.  This means you will need to find a GPS unit to use, select a hike location, and identify caches to look for.  Also, Den Treasure Hiking will not qualify your Pack for the National Summertime Pack Award or fulfill that component of the Outdoor Activity Award.

Entire Pack

 A Pack Treasure Hike that is treated as a Pack event will require more organization and planning .  A number of volunteers will need to be recruited and more than one GPS unit will likely be required.  At the same time, this is a great opportunity to hold a Pack picnic and host other outdoor events for the boys.  Holding a Pack event will also qualify the Pack for the National Summertime Pack Award.

You will need to determine how many boys (and accompanying siblings and adults) will be attending.  From this you can divide them into groups to go on Treasure Hikes.  You can then "stage" the groups by incrementing their start times by 30 minutes.  Sequence the group start times by age, having the groups with older boys go first and those with younger boys go last.  This way you will reduce the risk that groups will meet up along the trail and form larger groups.

Pack Optional

This is a great alternative the Den and entire Pack approaches and provides a happy medium between the two. 

Schedule one Treasure Hike per month during the summer.  Make the program "optional" vs. expecting every boy to show up at each event.  Have them sign up for the dates that work best for them.  Get the count of boys/siblings/adults that are expecting to attend and create groups appropriately.  Last minute additions can also be accommodated via this method.

This will provide your boys the opportunity to participate in Pack activities over the summer and qualify for the National Summertime Pack Award while not creating the overhead of 3 full-on Pack events. 

We feel this method holds true to KIS and focuses on getting the boys out into the wilderness hiking and practicing the ideals of scouting. 

Appropriate Caches

Not all caches are created equal. 

As you start to plan your Treasure Hiking program you will need to determine which caches are appropriate for your boys and which are not.  As your boys gain experience Treasure Hiking they may be able to tackle more difficult caches - or you may get more comfortable letting them !

Here are recommendations for appropriate caches.

  • Location
    • To start off always pick caches in public parks with know trails.
  • Current
    • Check the cache home page to see when the last time someone found the cache was.  If nobody has been to the cache in 6 months, its possible it may not be there anymore.
  • Cache Type
    • Standard caches. 
    • Over time add in Multi and Mystery caches.
  • Cache Size
    • Small, Regular, and Large caches. 
    • As you gain experience, include the Micros.
  • Difficulty Rating
    • 2.5 or under
  • Terrain Rating
    • 2.5 or under
  • Distance
    • Check on the map to make sure the cache is not too far of a hike for the boys
  • Other
    • Always read the cache home page for important information that should be included in your decision make process. 

National Summertime Pack Award

"The purpose of the National Summertime Pack Award is to encourage packs to provide a year-round program by continuing to meet during the time periods when school is out of session for several weeks or months"

To qualify all you need to do is hold a Pack event during June, July, and August and document what you did and who attended.  In return you will receive a ribbon for you Pack flag and a certificate.  Treasure Hiking is a great way to get started in providing a year round program for your boys that will fulfill the requirements of this award.

For more information refer to

Individual Pin

There is also an individual award that is a part of this program.  Any boy who attends a Pack each month during the summer qualifies for the National Summertime Award Pin.  This pin can be worn on the right pocket flap of his uniform.


The graphics on this page are the trademark property of the Boy Scouts of America.

Outdoor Activity Award

This award encourages boys to get outdoors during the summer and to teach respect for nature.  The award can be earned for each year a boy is in scouting and the requirements vary by rank.  The Treasure Hiking program will take care of almost half the requirements for a boy to achieve this award.

Treasure Hiking will meet the following Outdoor Activity Award requirements

  • (1) Nature hike
  • (3) Buddy system
  • (6) Conservation project - the program includes an activity at the beginning of the hike to clean up the area and also has the boys pick up trash while on the hike
  • (7) Summertime Pack Award - if the Pack holds a Treasure Hiking event in each month of summer.
  • (8) Nature Observation
  • (13) Explore public park

A Treasure Hike can be combined with a picnic for the boys afterwords that would qualify for these requirements

  • (2) Outdoor activity
  • (11) Outdoor sporting event - have the kids play soccer or kickball.

Rank Requirements

The requirements for the Outdoor Activity Award vary by rank.  Here is how Treasure Hiking can meet these requirements.

 All Rank

Rank Specific Requirements 

 # of Activities Required


 Tiger Achievement 5 


  Wolf Elective 23b



 Bear Leave No Trace 


  Webelos Outdoorsman Badge


For more information on the Outdoor Activity Award refer to

The graphics on this page are the trademark property of the Boy Scouts of America.

Leave No Trace

 "Leave No Trace is a plan that helps people to be more concerned about their environment and to help them protect it for future generations."

The Treasure Hiking will meet the following Leave No Trace requirements.

  1. Discuss guidelines
  2. Practice three times - requires three hikes during the summer
  3. Rank Specific
    •  Tiger - Achievement 5
    •  Wolf - Requirement 7
    • Bear - Requirement 12
    • Webelos - Outdoorsman Badge
  4.  Service Project
  5.  Promise to Practice
  6.  Draw a poster

Webelos will need to complete the Outdoorsman Badge separately to qualify for this award.

For more information on Leave No Trace please refer to

The graphics on this page are the trademark property of the Boy Scouts of America.


GeoScouting is another scouting based program built around the use of GPS units. 

It can be used for Packs, but seems to be more geared for Troop use.  It details team based games for Troop Patrols and how to setup larger events that include geocaching.

You can find out more information on this program by visiting

Your GPS Unit

It is difficult to provide detailed instructions on how to use your GPS unit as their operations vary greatly with manufacture an model.

You should read through the GPS unit's manual to learn the following "skills".

  • Locate your current location on the map
  • Move the map around to other locations
  • Zoom the map in/out
  • Add Treasure locations to your unit
    • You can do this manually
    • You can do this by connecting your unit to a computer
  • Create a Waypoint/POI manually
    • You will need to do this at the start of each hike
    • You may want to not special points along your hike for later use
  • Reset the unit's tracking log
  • Find out how many satellites the unit is receiving
  • Find out if the unit displays the current level of accuracy
    • When you get to the Treasure location, this will be useful in determining how large an area you need to cover in your search
  • Change the level of detail shown on the unit's map