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The Truth About Trackables

Ah, trackables! Trackable items can be the Holy Grail for some geocachers. But, what exactly are they? This article is about that a trackable IS; next week’s will be about what to do with one once you find it.

Put simply, a trackable is an item that is moved from cache to cache, around the world, and its movements are recorded on geocaching.com.

But, if you’ve ever tried to explain that concept to a Muggle, then you know the most common question is: “Where does it keep the tracking chip?”

The first time I was asked this, I honestly didn’t understand. I mean you TRACK it at geocaching.com… Then I realized that with GPS technology, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that the trackable item itself can be read and registered from a satellite. While that’d be really cool, it’s not the case.

(Although, if they can microchip a dog, it does make a next-step type of logic!)

Trackables, also called travel bugs, TBs, or hitchhikers can be a variety of items. Each trackable has a unique code that has been registered with geocaching.com.

So, just what IS a trackable item?

A travel bug is a “dogtag” imprinted with the image of a bug made from a barcode and a unique tracking code. These are produced by geocaching.com and available from the website directly or a variety of retailers. These “dogtags” are typically attached to an item like a small toy.

Image courtesy of geocaching.com; travel bug dog tags

Trackables can also be trackable geocoins. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes but are typically metal. They also have a unique code that is registered with geocaching.com.

EatStayPlay.com geocoin

How do they work?

With most aspects of geocaching, there are two sides to a trackable item: the online and the real world.

Real World Trackables

In the real world, a trackable is placed into a cache, ready for another geocacher to come find it and move it along. Once it has been placed (or picked up) the online aspect of the item gets updated.

Online Trackables

If you’ve ever found a geocache and logged it online, then you’re familiar with the online aspect of geocaching. The rules are very similar for the online life of a trackable item. Once and item has been placed into a geocache, the cacher logs into their account on geocaching.com and records the trackable is now in the cache, using the unique tracking code.

Once the trackable has been logged into a geocache, it appears in the cache’s inventory. When a trackable is removed from a cache in the real world, the finder should also log online that they now have the trackable. Once that happens, the trackable is removed from the online inventory of the cache and is listed as “In the hands of” the geocacher who has it at the moment.

Example of the inventory on a geocache.

Why?

Most trackable items have a goal or purpose. Some are in a race with another trackable to reach certain destination, others want to be placed in caches with a theme, etc.

ESP Boss has a trackable geocoin dedicated to his final Search & Rescue dog, Kodak. I have a trackable that wants to visit campgrounds.

Some Of What I’ve Encountered

Our very first encounter with trackables actually was a pair of them. They had been in the cache for MONTHS. We were very excited to pick them up and take them along for the ride.

The first trackable items my family & I ever found.

This little guy, (technically found by ESP Boss) wants to have its picture taken at different caches. Boy, is THAT ever easy since he’s very photogenic! He is the Mechanical Man travel bug.

Mechanical Man travel bug in the spine of a saguaro cactus.

Once, while out for a day of geocaching, I placed a trackable. By the time I logged our cache finds the next day (I got home VERY late) the trackable had already been scooped out of the cache and had been re-hid. Very cool!

For all you experienced geocachers:

What is your favorite trackable item you’ve ever encountered? What happened when you found your first-ever trackable?

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