The following is a collection of handy tips for hiding your first (or 50th) geocache, written by Mississippi Gulf Coast cacher, drat19. Reprinted with permission.
After finding a pretty fair number of Geocaches in 52 different U.S. states and Canadian provinces (as of this writing/update), of widely varying degrees of terrain and difficulty levels, and after hiding over 50 Geocaches of my own (and having received (and acted on) both positive and negative feedback on them from other Geocachers as I've gone along), I feel qualified to at least have a few opinions on the characteristics of what makes for a positive caching experience for Geocachers who might choose to target one of your Geocaches for a search.
One of the great things about opinions is that "everyone's got one", so readers of this document may choose to agree or disagree with them as they might see fit. Furthermore, one of the great things about our game is that it's ever-changing - someone is always coming up with a new idea on how to improve what many of us are already doing. So, this isn't "the Geocaching gospel". It's just one person's set of ideas, based on the experience and credentials I've listed in the first paragraph above.
There are 6 characteristics to consider when preparing to hide a "good" Geocache that others will look back upon positively after the completion of their search. These are: (1) Location, (2) Container, (3) Hide Quality, (4) Contents, (5) Cache Page, and (6) Cache Hider. (Click the "Read More" button below for the rest of the article.)
(1) Location: Have you chosen a location to which people will enjoy traveling? Is the actual hide spot/area enjoyable? Will the location be good for Geocachers to find, while still being unlikely to be plundered by non-Geocachers? Are there any concerns about proximity to trash, broken glass, crime, dangerous traffic conditions, or other undesirable characteristics? Are there any concerns in the location about law enforcement or private security personnel (or concerned fellow citizens) having suspicions that mistake Geocaching for illegal or dangerous activity (this is, after all, post-9/11 America)?
Let's be frank here: Just because a location CAN support a Geocache hide doesn't necessarily mean that it SHOULD support one. Many "green spots on the side of the road with easy parking", or yet another "under a lamppost base in the WalMart parking lot in plain view of police/security near the trash dumpster", might at first glance look great for a Geocache, especially if you're hiding with the intent that Geocachers who enjoy "caching for Find stat numbers" will praise you on-line for providing them "yet another stat", or if you're specifically hiding an "easy" cache because you "hide 'em the way you like to find 'em". (By the way, there's NOTHING WRONG with playing the "Geocaching for numbers" game - I'll be the first to admit that I often play this way!).
Problem is, many of these "easy green spots" are very often also local hot spots for trash dumping, dead animal carcass drops, drug activity, drinking (with the resultant broken glass beer bottles). and other unpleasant and often-illegal situations, and the proliferation of "parking lot lamppost base","just tucked in any ol' road guardrail", and "just tossed in any ol' bush" hides are a big reason why certain metro areas now have the "lame caches / just go here to get your stats" reputation (and a big reason why hiders of THOUGHTFUL caches with WELL-CHOSEN locations in those areas find their caches getting far fewer visits, because of the "white noise" generated by the above proliferation, and why out-of-town-based visitors to these areas miss out on experiencing these well-chosen locations).
What about the increasingly-popular "under a rock in a pile or field of hundreds of other rocks" technique? Well, I have yet to meet a Geocacher who arrived at such a location and said to him/herself, "Oh neat! Won't it be fun to climb and crawl all over this 'haystack' looking for the 'needle', while challenging my balance and hurting the soles of my feet?" Not to mention that if the hider didn't get a REALLY accurate sat reading during placement (see the "Hide Quality" section below for more), it truly becomes an exercise in frustration. While a rock field may look like the perfect cache hide location, the fact is that it shows no creativity to choose a rock in a field of rocks, and is proven to be another hide technique that infuriates most Geocachers.
Even for "numbers players", it is NEVER GOOD to have to navigate smelly, trash-strewn, dangerous, or "suspicious to concerned/paranoid locals" locations just to "get a stat". It is possible to hide a cache in a DESIRABLE or INTERESTING location that is just as "easy" as a "lamppost/dumpster/guardrail/bush/rockpile" or "green spot on the side of the road", with just a little more investment of time and thought.
The best way I can think of to evaluate the quality of the location you've chosen: Imagine the first impression you would be leaving to a first-time Geocacher in your area, who brought his/her 6-year-old child for their first search, who happened to choose your cache because it was close to their home zip code.
(2) Container: characteristic of a Geocache container is its ability to prevent the penetration of water and moisture. Soggy contents are not only unpleasant, but they can represent a health and safety hazard to finders (think: bacteria, insects, snakes, etc.). Have you chosen a container that not only is watertight at the start, but that will STAY watertight after the ravages of time, the elements, and handling by repeated visits of Geocachers?
Let's be frank here: Disposable Gladware/Ziploc storage containers may seem like a good and durable idea at first, but they do NOT stand up to the test of time and elements, period. Cookie tins may also seem like a good and durable idea at first, but these will rust quickly, and when the seal is inevitably bent through repeated handling, will also leak. Furthermore, an additional plastic garbage bag OVER or AROUND *any* container is NEVER a good idea, and will only get ripped and mildewed over time...if you feel your container needs additional protection beyond its own seal or closure, then it's probably not waterproof enough to begin with.
Have you chosen a container appropriate to the location? Micro containers (film canisters, storage capsules, pill bottles, etc.) are a great way to make a quick, cheap, and often very challenging hide, especially in urban or roadside locations, but if the location will support a standard-size container instead, these should be chosen whenever possible. Geocachers will generally appreciate a standard-size container better, especially those who bring their kids and/or like to trade cache content items rather than just sign a logbook. (One nifty compromise I've seen: A micro container hidden "on the way" to a standard-size container (like maybe at or near the trailhead or parking area), which gives searchers an opportunity for a "2-fer", or at least a "consolation prize" in case they have a No Find on one of them.)
(3) Hide Quality: Is the cache well-concealed (or effectively urban-camouflaged, if applicable) so that only Geocachers are likely to find it? If adhesive is involved, will the adhesive survive the elements over time? (And let's be frank here: By default, the adhesive on stick-on velcro does NOT stand up to any kind of moisture over time...and ambient moisture happens even if the velcro is not out in the open. If velcro is part of your hide equation, the "base" adhesive needs to be supplemented with something more resistant to the elements.)
Will the cache hide remain viable after many Geocachers remove and replace the container (i.e., can it still be re-covered, re-wedged, or "re-whatever'd", or does the hide "wear down" over time?)? Have you taken good care to get an accurate set of hide coordinates, and if the cache is a multi-stage or "offset" cache, have you taken similar care at all stages and/or at all compass bearings? If your GPS has an "average location" function, have you left it in place for at least 200-300 or more "pings", especially if tree or other canopy results in a compromised satellite signal? If you don't have an "average location" function, have you taken at least 15-20 or more readings, while observing your sat signal strength to be as strong as possible during each reading, so that you can derive as accurate a "manual average" as possible?
Let's be frank here: Unless you have perfectly clear skies and a completely unobstructed view of the sky and at least 6 satellites from your hide location, an average location from just "2 or 3 readings" just doesn't cut it. Unless tree or other canopy is just insurmountable, or unless you want to intentionally include a "margin of error" as part of the cache challenge, nothing infuriates Geocachers more than poorly captured cache coordinates by the hider. Remember, our game started as a result of SA ("selective availability") being turned off on the GPS array in space by the Government, thus making handheld GPS receivers geometrically/exponentially (take your pick) more accurate. Make the effort to live up to this fundamental aspect of our game.
(4) Contents: Regardless of how "nifty" or valuable you make the initial contents of any Geocache you place, as a result of the trades of finders who don't practice the doctrine of "if you take something, leave something of equal or greater value", your Geocache contents will deteriorate in condition and quality over time. This is a fact of Geocaching life, and only regular hider maintenance can overcome this (see the "Cache Hider" section below). However, have you enclosed ALL the contents of your Geocache in Ziploc FREEZER bags (or the equivalent), to protect them from the elements, in case moisture penetrates even your well-chosen container (as documented in the "Container" section above)?
Let's be frank here: The "conventional" Ziploc/Glad Zip bags don't stand up to the test of time, period. The "Freezer" style Ziplocs cost very little more, and make ALL the difference in protecting your cache contents and making for a positive item-trading experience for those who engage in this part of our game.
Have you included a good log book or log sheet in your Geocache, and have you included a writing implement if space permits? Have you enclosed the logbook and writing implement in a separate Ziploc FREEZER bag? (The pointy end of a writing implement will typically compromise a "conventional" Ziploc/Glad Zip bag, but the "Freezer" style Ziploc is generally strong enough to withstand it.)
Let's be frank here: Of course it's true that not everyone writes as well as others. Some of the most brilliant people in the world don't write well; that's not the point here. The fact of the matter is that a poorly-written cache page may also represent to others the potential (poor) quality of your cache. Do you have a family member or friend who can review your cache page for obvious spelling and grammatical mistakes?
Have you correctly transcribed (and double- and triple checked) the coordinates for your cache from your GPS to your cache page? (As suggested the "Hide Quality" section above regarding capturing your hide coordinates, it is UNACCEPTABLE to miss this detail.) Has any puzzle for deriving coordinates of a multi- or offset cache been verified, and double- and triple-checked? Is your cache page typed in mixed-case (not ALL CAPS, which is not only hard to read, but is also commonly known and reviled in the on-line world as "SHOUTING")? Are the Difficulty and Terrain ratings reasonably accurate?
Does the encrypted clue provide the necessary extra hint for Geocachers who like to only use it as a "last resort", while still providing additional help to those who like to decrypt it beforehand - and in either case, is it helpful without "giving it all away"? (And in any case, does the encrypted clue ADD VALUE? The encrypted "wise guy" comment of "You don't need a hint" (or its variations) only infuriates Geocachers, and is just not funny, cute, or otherwise amusing, EVER. (How would YOU feel if you had just bushwhacked 0.5 mile or more, spent 30 or more minutes searching and not finding, and then finally decided to decrypt the clue as a last resort, only to have it read "Haha, no clue for you!"?) If the encrypted clue does not ADD VALUE, leave it blank.)
(6) Cache Hider: This characteristic of Geocache hiding means it's time to look at YOURSELF. Have you gotten so caught up in the excitement of your first Find or two that you rushed out to make your own Hide without taking the above characteristics into good consideration? It's true, some Geocachers "get it" right away and hide GREAT Geocaches from the start, but the fact is, most folks need to experience a good cross-section of types of Geocaches hidden by at least several different Geocachers, in order to develop a feel for "what works" vs. "what doesn't work" in a Geocache Hide. There's no "right number" of Geocaches to find before making your first Hide; for some, it's 10 or less, for others, it's 30 or 40 or more. The point is: This game has now been around long enough that you can (and SHOULD) LEARN from others, and then apply your own creativity to what you've learned.
By the time you're ready to begin making Hides, do you feel "committed" enough to the game that you'll still be playing long enough to perform regular maintenance on any Geocaches you place? Are you ready to get out and promptly verify that your cache is still in place if/when you receive multiple "No Find" logs from searchers? If you are unable to get out to your cache site in a timely fashion in this scenario, will you post a note and then use the "Temp Disable" feature to prevent others from wasting their time searching, until you're able to get out there and verify/replace?
Let's be frank here: "Orphaned" Geocaches, placed by "flash in the pan" Hiders who rushed out to Hide too quickly and then got bored with the game, result in "GeoTrash", which goes directly against one of Geocaching's fundamental sets of principles: Concern for the Environment, "Cache In, Trash Out (CITO)", and leaving any place we go BETTER than how we found it.
Are you ready to accept AND ACT ON any constructive criticism you might receive from fellow Geocachers about your hidden Geocaches? It's true, some Geocachers don't practice diplomacy and make hurtful comments about other Geocachers and/or their Geocaches, but if the comments you receive are CONSTRUCTIVE, are you ready to swallow your pride, look at the comments OBJECTIVELY, and make corrections accordingly? Remember, every Geocacher has a different perspective on his/her Geocaching experience, one that you might not have considered - it's another thing that makes our game great.
Now, it's up to the creativity of the hider to combine any or all of the above characteristics to make up a "good" Geocache. There's no "one right way" to hide a "good" Geocache - again, this is another one of the great things about our game. Even after as many Finds as I've made, I'm still constantly and consistently amazed by the creativity of Geocache hiders to keep our great game fresh and interesting, whether through innovative hide techniques, or by taking me to yet another interesting location I wouldn't have explored otherwise.