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Backpacker Magazine – April 2008

Does Geocaching Violate Leave No Trace?

Are these hidden containers harmless, or do they flout low-impact ethics?

by: Nicole Blouin

A typical stash uncovered near Pittsburgh, Steve Gengler
A typical stash uncovered near Pittsburgh, Steve Gengler

For most hikers, "pack it in, pack it out" is instinctive. But for geocachers–treasure hunters guided by Internet directions and GPS coordinates–leaving behind boxes containing pins and patches for others to find and swap is part of the fun. Strong sales of handheld GPS units have fueled the sport's popularity, boosting the number of caches worldwide from 75 in 2000 to more than 475,000 today. As a result of the rapid growth, land managers from Colorado's San Juan National Forest to North Carolina's state parks are restricting geocaching on public lands, generating a backlash from this passionate hiking subculture. But the question remains: Are these hidden containers harmless, or do they flout low-impact ethics?

Whether you consider a geocache box as litter or a semi-permanent stash, the practice is against national park and forest regulations, even if some land managers choose to bend the rules. "Cache In, Trash Out" is merely a public-relations campaign to overlook the sport's clear-cut violation of many LNT principles. Even if every geocacher removed a ton of trash from wilderness areas, it doesn't erase the fact that they deliberately left a box filled with toys behind. No individual has the right to lay special claim to any portion of our public land. Hiking should be a personal exploration, and any reward, if there is one, should be chanced upon and not tracked down by technology.
Scott Silver, Executive Director Wild Wilderness

The geocaching community strongly promotes "Cache In, Trash Out." We try to leave an area in better shape than we found it, which can't be said of all hikers. A well-maintained and hidden cache is not trash, but rather a place that has frequent visitors and is maintained by a specific person in the region. Geocaching is a great activity for all ages that attracts people to parks and forests who wouldn't otherwise visit them. We would love to see all public land open to geocaching, but we recognize that sensitive areas need more protection. As a result, we work with local managers to set limits on cache locations. After all, we want to encourage the growth of this sport while also preserving where we play.
Allen Waterman President, Iowa Geocachers Organization

Yes 42%
No 58%
Results of a poll

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Desert rat,
Apr 02, 2012

First. I love the outdoors and think that everyone should get out and enjoy it responsibly. The concern I have is the high concentration of traffic brought in by geocashing. Especially within the DESERT. The desert is much more sensitive due to lack of water and it cannot recover. I've noticed when people get off the beaten path to find the "box", increased trampled areas of plants and cryptobiotic soils. This leads to spreading desertification. This is very bad!
Many don't even know what Cryptobiotic soil is and that it is a very important piece of the desert ecosystem.
Just one footprint off the trail can destroy the crust and it will take decades or longer to grow back if at all.
Please learn about these desert soils and stay on the trails within the fragile desert ecosystems. Get out there and enjoy the outdoors & preserve it for future outdoor enthusiast.

Mar 30, 2012

I love geocaching. It gets me outdoors and excited in a way that mountain biking and even hiking (which I greatly enjoy) couldn't. Another great thing about it is that there are so many caches for so many different types of outdoor experiences. With over 1.6 MILLION caches listed on, you can cache in the deep woods, on mountaintops, city, state and county parks, and the heart of any major city. MN state parks originally banned caching, realized their error soon after and instituted a cache collectible program of their own. Visitors DOUBLED last year, according to MN park reps. Great hobby, and here to stay, despite the elitist snobs!

Caroline Q
Sep 06, 2011

One thing that is interesting about this discussion are the assumptions that people know what Leave No Trace is. As a LNT Trainer, I have different questions. For me it's not about "tupperware" (the geocaches I've seen tend to be reused steel ammunition boxes) but about concentrations of people into one area. Are we talking about front country parks? Maybe a cache that can be found by walking on a durable surface is a good idea (100' walk from a parking lot----valuable to get people out and have some fun) Maybe not in a wilderness situation already being regulated for the number of people entering, and where you're asking people to hike and camp disbursed to avoid concentrations of humans. Leave No Trace and it's sister program Tread Lightly are about responsible use of our resources. They are not about rules and regulations, but about each of us thinking about how we can visit and enjoy our special places, while leaving as little destruction behind as possible----Because we care and want to be responsible, and because we want the places we love to be around for others to love too.

Jun 25, 2011

OLD TOPIC_Needs Reassessment.
Best Practices apply to everything!!!!!
Geocachers, campers, day-hikers and backpackers all are prone to negative impact.
The benefits and draw-backs of each can be argued ad nausuem.

Feb 09, 2011

I've geocached for about 5 yrs now. my kids love to go with me as often as they can and when they do I try to teach them the importance of cito. we have removed more trash in pounds than ALL the caches we have found. LNT is unrealistic unless people just don't go anywhere outside. geocaching promotes good family time spent outside, not in front of a tv, good exercise walking to and from gz, teaches good habits like cito. this is everyone world, people need to understand that

May 08, 2010

Outdoor enthusist for 5 decades. Just started geocaching yesterday. Found nine, but they were all well hidden, Carried out a back pack full of trash. All forest circus land. I agree, no caches in the wilderness, including climbers caches and hunters caches. I live in an area where the biggest impacts are timber harvest, and grazing. My house in built from wood, and I eat beef regularly. Are we getting fair compensation, ie, is industry paying market value for use of public lands? Solve that issue first. I have to say that geocaching impacts are microscopic compared cow patties, stumps, and logging roads. But, I believe in multiple use and wise management of resources. That might mean more Canadian lumber and South American beef and a poorer America. What makes sense? I am glad this site supports the discussion.

Apr 26, 2010

What part of Leave No Trace don't you people understand? As for coming to blows Ray, I'll happily oblige you. I am sick of nerds with little boxes and NO actual outdoor skills leaving their tupperware where they are not supposed to (looking on the site, I found lots of caches listed on NPS and NFS property). Do that crap in the city DORK. I wish the government would start charging GPS subscription fees. Why should tax dollars help you guys litter? Groundspeak should be sued for encouraging this B.S.

Feb 04, 2010

As a outdoors enthusiast and Geocacher I see the sport as great tool to get people out in the woods and away from their T.V. and computer and kids away from facebook and their wii. when I was a kid we played outdoors all the time and now you hardly ever see any kids outside let alone in the woods. We are raising generations that well never grow to love the outdoors and will have no problem clearing it to put up another strip mall , a bulldozer leaves a much larger trace than a horde of geocachers. In Virginia the state parks have to approve a geocache and this controls the impact and the Federal parks could do the same.

Andrew Langley
Sep 18, 2009

As a geocacher I have to admit to being ashamed of what the sport has become. The vast majority of folks who enjoy the sport do so because they need the exercise... from their car to the cache site 100 ft away and back to the car. These are not hikers. The majority of caches are park and grabs that leave a trail of vegetation devastation (a cachers' trail) pointing diretly to the cache hide spot. I'm sorry to say the purists are long gone. It's all about the numbers, baby.

Feb 18, 2009

It seems that the point Nevets makes would be valid if the idea behind the sport wasn't to find the proverbial buried treasure. I have gone geocacheing several times and even have several caches on land sites that I monitor. None of which could be found without exact UTMs even then they seem to be hard to find. I find it difficult to believe that someone can just "stumble" upon them.
LNT is a philosophy that is up to constant interpretation. Yes the basic principals are in stone but with the advent of new recreation methods are we just supposed to say no to them because they don't fall into one or another rule category that has already been written and enacted. I think that there are the same amount of Geocahers, mtn bikers, climber, backpackers, hikers, etc. that have a vast respect for nature and the way she should be treated. The bottom line is that these are multi-use areas no one user type is to blame for all the problems that an area has (Yes there are some areas where that is true but those areas are not the norm.). If you have issues with a recreation type call your local land manager and find out the exact rules on the area. If someone is breaking those rules then monitor and report. The environment already has enough enemies; we don't need to have all of us that enjoy nature infighting. It helps nothing. Go out and tread lightly enjoy our public lands and be very very careful about what trace you leave if you leave any.
LNT Master Trainer
BLM Recreation Technician
Conservation Corps Supervisor
BSA Eagle Scout
Land Lover

Dec 07, 2008

I have hiked for years as a boy. Then gave it up after marriage only to re-start when my wife was introduced to GeoCaching. The GeoCaching community often hold CITO events where nothing but trash removal is done. The fact there is a well maintained cache located in a special remote spot only promotes the outdoor experience and if on public land requiring a permit, promotes permit sales. In Nebraska, state parks are off limits and we respect that. If you want to go "anti" on someone, go after mountain bikers who tear the trails with knobby tires and toss their energy drink bottles while flying downhill. GeoCachers have also reported trail problems, lost people, wild-life issues, poachers, pot-growing sites and other issues with extreme precision because they are usually loaded with tech devices making pinpointing these problem sites easy for authorities. LNT is not realistic, as every footprint is a trace. Raising awareness, through "Adults Playing Stupid Games In The Woods" is just another way to push conservation and restoration of natural areas. I was a scout, and meeting people in the woods who are just getting started, they ask me questions and I answer. They say "where did you learn that?". Of course then I give my speech on Scouting. Elite thinking is counter-productive. Think about the big picture.

Big K
Sep 25, 2008

How many of those who so loudly espouse LNT sign peak logs?

I would think a canister left on a peak wouldn't be any different than a box left in the woods.

Sep 19, 2008

If even the thought of a cache detracts from the wilderness experience for some people, then why are they even on the AT? Its a marked trail, that in its own right is a detraction from the wilderness experience.

Sep 07, 2008

To respond to the question - well.. By definition geocache IS leaving a trace - but look at the core reason for LNT - to educate and encourage people who wish to enjoy 'the great outdoors' to do so responsibly. I think the geocache community has responded to the same core requirement of educating it's audience accordingly - through it's own 'CITO' (Cache In, Trash Out) concept.

One could argue that the LNT concept only asks "don't make things worse" where as the CITO concept asks "make things better" so therefore.. a very good thing!

Jun 30, 2008

no they are not hurting anything it all stays in the box

May 31, 2008

Thanks Orion, I too believe in trying to leave no trace, unfortunately in the US, we have a tendency to extremes as the norm. To carry things to the absurd, such as insinuating that a cache box, largely hidden from view, is an abomination is just typical extreme LNT drivel and not what most of us who work for a clean environment actually believe. It’s a shame that those folks are so vocal and so well published when what they’re really doing is turning people off to LNT. Scooter is right, they just want it all to themselves.

May 30, 2008

I am all for the LNT to a certain extent. Personally it feels good to go out and pick up trash and clean up from those who can't pick their own trash (They must be handicaped or something!!) but I think Geocaching is good for people. It gets them out in the wilderness and off the sofa. Now I agree with Ray about leaving an apple core in the's least he didn't leave an entire garbage bag.

May 28, 2008

Wow, its people like Nevets that make the rest of us despise the LNT snobs. Many of us try to leave the woods in better shape than we found them. To have elitists constantly berating others for walking the same earth as they do is getting oh so tiring.

May 28, 2008

I'm so tired of the LNT fanatics who on one trip almost came to blows with me because I left an apple core in the woods. Geocaching is a great way to get people out in to the woods, has almost no negative impact, and actually teaches map and gps skills. If the little box in the picture bothers the fringe LNT elements, perhaps they could turn their head for the 5 feet it might actually be visible. Get off your high horse and stop being so selfish.

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