Helpful hints for hiding a cache

Ah, Minnesota. We have Over 10,000 beautiful lakes, 86,943 square miles, 5.3 million residents, 4 individually diverse seasons, and over 18,000 active geocaches. Minnesotans take pride in their state and the recreation opportunities it provides, and geocaching is rapidly becoming a popular activity by and for Minnesotans, and those who visit us. We take pride in our parks and wild lands, and the MnGCA strives to improve the credibility of the sport of geocaching, protect our natural resources, and strengthen the community of geocachers in the state of Minnesota. Visitors and residents alike have an amazing opportunity to explore Minnesota through our active geocaching community.

There are many geocaches that have shown you to a place you may have never visited before, left you with a fun story to tell, been creative hides, or that were just plain fun. However, we may be able to identify cache experiences that were confusing or frustrating. Perhaps you could use a hint, but there is none. Or, you realize that there might be concerns about permissions and safer hides. While creating, maintaining and seeking geocaches, using available rating tools and some helpful hints can make the experience great for every cache you hide and seek.

In the early days of geocaching (summer 2001), quite a few people who were active in the forums came up with explanations of the rating system over a great deal of discussion. In the end, that group came to a consensus of suggested definitions of ratings, which is the best they could do. Ultimately, you alone are the best judge for rating your cache. An important key to improving and maintaining high cache quality here in Minnesota is to think about how and why we are placing our caches. Carefully considering factors like actual and seasonally-affected difficulty/terrain levels, as well as the question "Who am I hiding this from?" can give you a better perspective while hiding your geocache. Use of the “Clayjar” rating system, careful consideration for the location, and being aware of how your cache is described can make the hunt, and hide more enjoyable for all visitors to the geocaches in our great State.

An important tool in determining your cache’s difficulty and terrain, the “Clayjar system” was created to help each geocacher create and use a rating that was nearly universal across borders. Found at, the rating system allows you to look carefully at the scenarios involved with finding your geocache once it is listed. The key here is to use the system to thoughtfully help determine the “D/T” rating for your geocache. Once you have entered your answers to the question, you can see the correlation more clearly of how a cache can be rated based on the whole context of the hide and seeking, versus simply choosing a rating off of the chart without considering the whole hide. Remember: The chart describes the hide AFTER you have considered all factors of the hunt as determined on the Clayjar system survey.

In plain sight or can be found in a few minutes of searching.
Handicapped accessible
Terrain is likely to be paved, is relatively flat, and less than a ½ mile hike is required.
The average cache hunter would be able to find this in less than 30 minutes of hunting.
Suitable for small children
Terrain is generally along marked trails, there are no steep elevation changes or heavy overgrowth. Less than a 2 mile hike required.
An experienced cache hunter will find this challenging, and it could take up a good portion of an afternoon.
Not suitable for small children
The average adult or older child should be OK depending on physical condition. Terrain is likely off-trail. May have one or more of the following: some overgrowth, some steep elevation changes, or more than a 2 mile hike.
A real challenge for the experienced cache hunter - may require special skills or knowledge, or in-depth preparation to find. May require multiple days / trips to complete.
Experienced outdoor enthusiasts only
Terrain is probably off-trail. Will have one or more of the following: very heavy overgrowth, very steep elevation (requiring use of hands), or more than a 10 mile hike. May require an overnight stay.
A serious mental or physical challenge. Requires specialized knowledge, skills, or equipment to find cache.
Requires specialized equipment and knowledge or experience (boat, 4WD, rock climbing, SCUBA, etc.) or is otherwise extremely difficult.

Careful, honest and regular use of the Clayjar rating system will certainly help all geocachers better understand the rationale behind the D/T ratings for a cache listing. Simply using the above chart to rate your cache will rely on your interpretation of the rating. Using the full questionnaire to determine your cache’s rating will take many factors into consideration. It is important to understand that your cache hide involves more than just the immediate “ground zero”—a cache hunt will include the terrain on the hike in, how much bushwhacking is involved, and how difficult it might be to see your cache once you get to “ground zero” in full leaf-cover.

To aid in the hunt, cache descriptions can include a “hint”. A hint is meant to be decrypted at the cache site, after a search has failed and a further clue is needed. It should give additional information about the cache or its location. Many cachers appreciate a good hint when a cache may be difficult to locate for many reasons. Perhaps there are many rocks or trees it could be hidden under, or stealthy behavior may be difficult, and a hint can make the find less intrusive or alarming to muggles. An effective hint should narrow the search area. The examples below will likely help with the search:

• "low" (ybj)
• "reach up" (ernpu hc)
• "not in wall" (abg va jnyy)
• "rock" (ebpx) or "tree" (gerr) might be useful, but NOT if the area is full of rocks or trees.

Finding a balance between too specific and not enough information will likely take some thought or cunning. Some hints are fun, little riddles. A “spoiler” hint is appropriate in an area where you want to protect the surroundings or definitely shorten the search. (A “spoiler” is information that can give details away and ruin the experience of something. For example, telling someone the end of a movie before they see it is a “spoiler”.) Remember, there IS such a thing as a “Bad hint”. Parking instructions and driving directions are bad hints. Those should be listed as Additional Waypoints or simply displayed in the Long Description. Hints like "too easy for a hint", "hint will be provided after DNF," or "email me for a hint" do not help. Remember, the hint is decrypted on site after a search has begun and failed. The cacher is seeking useful information for the hunt at that moment. Groundspeak reminds us that none of these examples are useful in the field, and it would be better to leave the hint field blank rather than using any of them.

Another helpful hint is to be sure to use the description of your cache listing as a way to keep cachers up-to-date on changing circumstances, and important information about the area or access to the hide. Your listing and hint should be used as a tool to keep caches safe from muggles, cachers safe from harm or breaking the law, and to keep geocaching out of the local police reports. While considering your geocache hide, It is important to ask yourself some questions about your hide as you prepare your listing. Remember, you can always update/change your Difficulty/Terrain ratings, or include relevant information in your descriptions.

One of the principle considerations behind hiding a cache is who you are trying to hide it from: Are you hiding it from the cache seeker? (a “sneaky hide”) Or, are you hiding it from muggles? (a well-hidden hide) If hiding from a cache seeker, consider increasing the difficulty for the cache. Are you hiding your cache from muggles? Be sure to give a hint or clear description to make sure the cache is located with minimal damage to the surrounding area. (Remember, Difficulty and Terrain are not necessarily related.) Are you hiding your cache from both seekers and muggles? Be sure to think about how your listing, hint and placement might impact the surrounding area, or how a lingering seeker might raise an alarm with muggles. Remember that one person’s Difficulty “2” is another person’s Difficulty “4”, and be considerate with your listing and hints. When you might be in doubt, it never hurts to round up, and use feedback from geocachers’ logs to adjust as time goes on.

In addition to the tools provided by Groundspeak at, we can use a helpful list of questions to ask as you prepare your hide. This list is by no means all-inclusive, a requirement, or endorsement—Rather, think of these questions as a way to improve the image of geocaching in Minnesota, and to make your caches really stand out as excellent examples of what this activity can provide.

Start by asking: “How will your geocache improve the credibility of the sport, protect our natural resources and strengthen the community of geocachers in the state of Minnesota, and those who visit us?”

• Why would I bring someone here?
• Can I get permissions?
• What is the best spot in this location to hide a cache?
• What is the best container for that spot?
• Can I maintain this cache as necessary if I place it here?
• Who am I hiding it from?
• What will this area look like after 6 months of cache-seeking traffic?
• Can the cache last without being detected by muggles?
• When it IS detected by muggles, do they have good reason to suspect it's a bomb or trash?

After answering these questions, get permissions, make your cache to suit the spot (instead of using a cache you already have out of convenience) and make a good cache page. Be sure to use Reviewer notes to have a discussion with your reviewer about your hide, and cache description. Then, come back and ask yourself all those above questions again, and add a few more:

• Have I taken into account the seasonal differences of Minnesota for the ratings of my cache?
• Have I accurately rated the difficulty of this cache for a "novice" cacher?
• Have I accurately rated the terrain for Minnesota’s seasons, or otherwise?
• Does my description address any seasonal differences in difficulty or terrain?
• Would a good hint address the seasonal differences or Difficulty/Terrain ratings I have chosen?
• Have I chosen applicable attributes to guide seekers in planning for their hunt?
• Can I easily do a little better?
• Have a communicated permissions and other relevant information about my hide to the reviewer?
• Is my listing ready to be published?

When hiding a cache, we can suggest asking if the hide can in any way affect geocaching in a negative way or draw negative attention to the sport. When seeking a cache, we might suggest asking if your search will draw negative attention to the sport, cause damage to the area or possibly destroy the hide. Be sure to think carefully about these, and other questions, as you consider how your geocache improves the credibility of the sport, protects our natural resources and strengthens the community of geocachers in the state of Minnesota.

The list is a great start, but is far from complete. As RudeRat said in the MnGCA forums, “We all cache differently, and because of that, there is no right answer to how to place a cache. ‘Numbers cachers’ may place a skirt lifter, which fits within their definition of a worthy cache, while hikers and bikers may place a cache a mile down the trail. You may have ‘evil’ cache hides vs. kid friendly, cliff hangers vs. wheel chair accessible; some caches are hidden from muggles while others are hidden from cachers.”

Above all else, we are all aware of the Groundspeak guidelines about cache placement:

1. All local laws apply.
2. Obtain the landowner's and/or land manager's permission before you hide any geocache, whether placed on private or public property.
3. Geocaches are never buried.
4. Geocache placements do not deface or destroy public or private property.
5. Geocaches are not placed on school property or military bases.
6. Physical elements of different geocaches should generally be at least 0.10 miles apart.

By using the suggested list of questions, we have the opportunity to raise the bar of our geocaches here in Minnesota. Take pride in what we do! With the MnGCA, we can each strive to improve the credibility of the sport, protect our natural resources and strengthen the community of geocachers in the state of Minnesota, and those who visit us.


Written by Joel, aka “NeverSummer”. Minnesota-born, and “GPS-stash hunting” since 2001, “officially” on since 2005. He lived near the “Original Stash” in Oregon for 5 years before returning to Minnesota, where he continues to geocache around the Duluth area.