May 12, 2005

Geocaching: Trade Items

Time for a geocaching gripe. Yep, that’s where I express my opinion and you either read it and say “what’s James got a bug up his but about? He needs some Valium.” or you say “Yeah, I can see why he finds that annoying.”

I’m annoyed because of how some geocachers will take trade items from a cache and not make much of an effort to place something halfway cool back in the cache. Folks, we’re not talking rocket science here, and we’re not talking about saving up several months pay to get just the right emerald-encrusted nose ring so you can leave it as a trade item. I’m talking about experienced cachers showing some courtesy for the next person and the cache owner.

Details and advice follow.

I think trade items are cool. What I’m talking about are little trinkets and objects that are placed in geocaches for other cachers to find. A geocache usually starts with a number of trade items in it. The owner wants people to say “Cool!” when they open the cache. Hidden treasure adds to the whole experience.

Cachers are supposed to find these items and make some small trades. A trade is when you take something and you leave something.

Over time, a cache usually becomes more and more pathetic in the trade items it offers. People don’t always make even trades, and it only takes a few people placing junk in a cache before it really goes downhill. Cache owners will sometimes replenish a cache. Or a cache owner will be forced to remove a bunch of undesirable junk from a cache. In my short experience caching, I have seen the opposite happen - a cache increase in trade item wealth over a few weeks. But it’s been the rare case. As a rule, if you see a cache was placed 2 years ago, it’s full of junk.

The real fun is in the hunt, but i recognize the role trade items play. I’ll replenish a cache a little bit if I can sometimes. I carry trinkets with me but usually not enough to really rehabilitate a seriously paltry cache. And when I cache with my kids, each kid wants to take something. They don’t tend to bring trade items with them, so I end up putting a bunch of things in there anyway, because they are each taking something.

Bear in mind, my peeves do not apply to new cachers. If you’ve found fewer than 10 caches, I expect you don’t really know what’s going on yet and you might have never even heard the term “McToy” (that’s a derogatory term for a toy from McDonalds or the like left in a cache). I left my share of McToys in my first few finds before realizing that they were considered a scourge. Live and learn. If you’re finding 10 caches in one day, or you’re an adult whose number of cache conquests exceeds half your age, I expect you to know better. Here we go.

  1. For the record, I don’t mind seeing McToys in caches. Yeah, they’re trashy, but the kids like them. Especially if the cache is fairly well stocked, a McToy or two is not a big deal. So this is really a “use your discretion” type situation.However, if a cache is full of “McToys” don’t add more. Put something neat in there for the adults. A light stick, key chain, hand warmer or whatever — maybe some craft you made yourself which is unique.
  2. A travel bug is not a trade item. If you leave a travel bug, yes it’s going to be nice for the next person to find, but he can’t keep it. If you leave a travel bug and take a trade item, that’s a net loss for the cache, since people generally take travel bugs to move them along in their missions, not as trades.
  3. If you don’t have anything to trade “TNLNSL” is a fine thing to write. It means “took nothing, left nothing, signed logbook.” You found a cache, not a general store. Just be happy you found it. Maybe take a picture of yourself with the cache if you want something to remember it by. Don’t be a trade item vampire and suck the life out of the cache.
  4. Nobody is asking you to spend a fortune. You want to get off really cheaply? Buy a box of zip lock bags, some twist ties, some supermarket plastic bags and maybe some old pencil stubs or golf pencils. Cut up pages of lined paper and staple them together to form small books.
    1. Many of the older caches you encounter will be full of mostly junk and at the same time (coincidentally!) they will be in need of maintenance. Replace the zip lock bag in a cache that’s deteriorating in a wet area.
    2. Replace worn pencils.
    3. Roll up the supermarket bag, fasten it with a twist-tie and call it a CITO bag in the logbook. Use another one of your plastic bags to pick up trash in the area, hike out with it and dispose of it properly. You’ve just “Cached-In and Trashed-Out.” When you log your find on the website, mention how much trash you removed and note that you left a plastic bag there for the next person to do likewise and keep the cache site clean. You’re not leaving a fun trade item, but at least you’re encouraging good treatment of the environment.
    4. Replace a worn or full logbook with your stapled pages.
    5. Alternately, put the stapled pages and pencil in the zip lock and call it a “cache starter kit.” Either someone will take it and use it as the logbook for their own cache hide, or they might use it to rehabilitate this cache at some time in the future. Or, who knows, they could take it and use it to do maintenance on the next cache they find.
    6. If you leave one of these useful but cheap items, take something of low value in trade. You’re getting off cheaply to participate, not to exploit. But if you’re working to rehabilitate a cache, you’ll have the respect and gratitude of the cache owner and subsequent cache hunters. No one will care if you take a trade item after doing all that work.
  5. You’d be surprised what you can find at the dollar store that can go in a cache. I’ve gotten dice, neat toys, DVDs of old cartoons, radios, glow-in-the-dark skeletons and the like.
  6. Sometimes it’s just fun to carry a neat item for a while. If you make an uneven trade just because you see something you can’t resist, why not trade it back into another cache later. This way, it reenters the cachosphere and you got to play with it for a while. I re-cache items quite a bit. Some items are just too much fun to not take a prolonged closer look at.After a while, back they go. I’ve even returned items back to their original cache.
  7. I tied some monkey’s fist knots and left those in a few caches. People like those. Do you do something that is unusual, or that other people appreciate? Make something cool and leave it for other people. No one cares if an item is cheap if you made it yourself with sincere effort. Just like when you hand-made a greeting card for your mom. Really. People recognize sincere effort.
  8. Don’t complain about what’s in the cache. You found it. You won. Go have a beer and relax. No one cares that you don’t like the prizes. Presumably, you’re an adult. Drop a quarter in a gum ball machine if you need to drown your sorrows.

This is turning more into advice than griping. Which, I guess, could actually be productive if I turned this into an article on “trading for fun, not profit.” For now, it’s late, I’m tired and I’ll end this just saying: your trades aren’t always going to be even. No big deal. But make a teeny bit of effort to prevent the caches you visit from looking like the inside of the glove compartment of a car in a junkyard. If TNLNSL isn’t your style, keep your eyes peeled for cool stuff on those days you can’t be out actually geocaching.

Have fun, and help other people keep having fun!

Posted by James at May 12, 2005 2:15 AM
Create Social Bookmark Links

I've only found 7 so far, and about half of them I've not found anything of value that Id want. The rest were full of junk, broken stuff, and the logbook. I generally only takek stuff equal "value" to me. I've left various windup bugs, space alien armies, astronauts, that kind of thing. Once I get my coin token thingy squared away, those'll go in, too.

I wish I had a baggie on yesterday's cache, it was wet and a mess. If I had brought a pocket full of schwag, I would have taken half of what was in there. Since I need to go back there and try and find my compass I lost, maybe Ill scrounge in my stuff box and refurb the cache.

Posted by: Bob McCown at May 12, 2005 9:33 AM

I've never done Geocaching (and have to admit I tend to skip reading blog entries about it) but this whole aspect of it seems kind of interesting. One more study of the real application of mutual aid.

Anyway, I think that if you bring your kids with you that they *should* be bringing their own trade items. If they're old enough to understand the concept of it (which I'm sure they are) then do a little prep work with them, have them pick something to bring to trade, even if its a trade-item from a previous cache.

Its good to start them learning that behavior when young, so they don't grow up to be selfish jerks.

Posted by: David Grenier at May 12, 2005 9:44 AM

This is a valuable geocashing etiquette post, James. Thanks. Your mention of home-made items has given me some ideas...

Posted by: Patti M. at May 12, 2005 10:31 AM

I haven't gotten to find a cache yet, but I agree with you on this. The one time I went out on an unsuccessful hunt, I had a variety of things with me so that I could make fair trades. Most amusing was the bar of perfumed soap from Bath and Body works. A hint for the sweaty cacher?

Posted by: briwei at May 12, 2005 11:41 AM

I'm guessing you've got somewhere between 0 and 0 kids of your own.

Posted by: Maggie at May 12, 2005 11:50 AM

If they're old enough to understand the concept of it (which I'm sure they are) then do a little prep work with them, have them pick something to bring to trade, even if its a trade-item from a previous cache.

Ha! I laughed out loud at this. It's not that I haven't done that on one of my outings. The kids have brought their own trade items in the past, but it's tough enough to get the kids organized to leave the house, never mind have them gather 6 trade items. Trust me when I say there's a good chance we would never get out of the house if that were a requirement. And it has nothing to do with selfishness.

If I were more organized, I guess I could nag them days in advance and make it really fun. And I could make them earn the money used to pay for rented DVDs, theatre tickets, and piano lessons. And that riding-the-bike thing to generate electricity for watching TV.

I don't disagree; ideally I would like them to gather their own trade items. And I will remind them to get stuff together. But it's more important to me that we get out there. Believe me, there are many other important lessons to be learned than that of even trades, but I will leave that for a future geocaching article. And three huge factors apply here:

1) All kids are different. It is possible for a kid to be old enough to understand geocachine, understand fair trades, and not be able to get organized leaving the house. Hell, I can barely do it. Ask my wife.
2) You never know how small star of geocaching fits into the constellation of a child's world.
3) A lot of their small stuff is crap, and other geocachers don't really want to see it in a cache.

I have to admit that, early on, I was afraid the kids would mostly be in it for the trade items. And last year it sometimes seemed that they would groan if we were looking for a microcache (a geocache that has only the bare minimum requirements: a container and a logbook -- no trade items). But I am happy to say that they really seem to have developed more of an enjoyment of the hunt itself.

I guess I'd be worried if they were really focused on the swag. But they're really not -- especially when I have them alone. Together it becomes a bit of a rivalry thing (I let the finder make the first trade). Among other kids they act more like kids. Funny how that works.

Posted by: James at May 12, 2005 11:57 AM

"If I were more organized, I guess I could nag them days in advance and make it really fun."

You know those Ziploc bags you mention frequently in your post? Have the young 'uns keep those at the ready with their geocash swag. If they each have fanny packs or backpacks they tote whilst on a geocashing trek, have them keep these Ziploc swag bags in there.

Hope this helps!

Posted by: Patti M. at May 12, 2005 12:09 PM

Since it was late, I'm sure I was more ranty and less clear.

I'm not some high-and-mighty equal trade geocacher who knows the exact value of everything I trade. I have not always left a cache richer than when I arrived.

AND many cache hiders intentionally put expensive, cool stuf in a cache for the first few finders, and they don't expect the trades to be at all close to even for those. I have a geocache getting ready for a hide, and it is prepeared in just such a way (now I only have to decide where to hide it. )

Something I read in a log set me off, and I felt the need to vent and get some of my ideas down, as much for my own thought processes as anything else. I can only hope that my rants are at least slightly informative. At the very least, they reveal my fragile state of mind.

Posted by: James at May 12, 2005 12:15 PM

I didn't find your post ranty; I found it informative. Buck up, bunky!

Posted by: Patti M. at May 12, 2005 12:31 PM

As far as I know, the girls have backpacks specifically for geocaching, and they include little pieces of junk. As James said, there is always the issue of a fair trade, which a child might not be equipped to perceive. I have seen him negotiate what they will put in with them, and then supplement. That is on trips that I did attend. I often don't, because the lawn just keeps growing.

It's possible that the children do not grab these backpacks when it's time to go geocaching. I've seen that exodus process, and I can tell you, it's a messy one. The disorganized leading the distracted.

Posted by: Maggie at May 12, 2005 2:25 PM

Copyright © 1999-2007 James P. Burke. All Rights Reserved