Monday, January 7, 2013


I think it is no surprise that my boys and I love to get outdoors whenever we can.  We have always enjoyed Geocaching but have found ourselves doing it less and less over the years.  I couldn't tell you why, except that perhaps when it comes to getting out of the house it is enough to try to remember bottles, snacks, diapers, hats, jackets, sippy cups, change of clothes, and who knows what else.  Add a GPS and little trinkets to that in addition to the cache clues we just aren't on our A-game it seems.  So I was happy to be introduced to Letterboxing.
C & I open up our found letterbox

Letterboxing is very similar to Geocaching, yet with some differences and with a much longer tradition.  Letterboxing is said to have started in England in 1854.  Through the years over 20,000 letterboxes have been placed around North America.

To find a letterbox you head to the websites below - I prefer the Atlas Quest site as I found it much easier to use.  Find the letterbox you want to hunt for and open the browser to get the location information and your clue.  Using the clue, hunt for your box!  Inside the box there will be a little log book as well as stamp, the vast majority of these stamps are handcarved rubber stamps.  The idea is that you would stamp the image into your own personal log book that you and your family keep to register your successful hunts and you would stamp your own image on to the log book in the letterbox to let folks know you've been there.  You can also write a word or two of thanks and hello.

You don't need a GPS or trinkets.  We also didn't take a stamp or ink pad or logbook with us.  We just found the letterbox, wrote a little note, placed it back, and went on our way.  If we do determine to get seriously in to this, though, I imagine my highly systematic and organized older son will be in to logging these in his personal notebook.

In regards to how this differes from Geocaching, equipment is obviously a big thing.  You need less of it to letterbox.  I pulled up Atlas Quest on my phone on the way to our location, read the information outloud, and we were good to go.  There aren't as many letterboxes as caches to find but the letterboxes are much easier to find, in my opinion.  The clues direct you right there.

Letterboxing also seems really geared towards kids.  There is a whole letterboxing kids website (see below) and all of the entries in the log book we saw were families hunting.  What's not for kids to love, though?  It is a huge outdoor treasure hunt!

So if you needed an excuse to get outside, a way to motivate your kids to enjoy the great outdoors, consider letterboxing.

Letterboxing Kids
Atlas Quest


At January 7, 2013 at 6:09 PM , Blogger Teresa said...

A nice synopsis, but a few points: It's common for people to mistakenly believe letterboxing is geared for kids. It's not, and was originally designed for rugged outdoorsmen. That doesn't mean families with children can't do it, but children need to be very closely supervised. The culture of letterboxing is dominated by adults who are not eager to publicize the hobby for the very reason that too many newbies (and casual families with children) will do things incorrectly and this will cause letterboxes to go missing or stamps to be destroyed. People who hide letterboxes spend hours planning and carving rubber stamps, making hand-bound logbooks, and (hopefully) some clever clues, so there is a very strong etiquette about how to find and rehide boxes (for example, never let anyone see you find or hide a box, carefully reseal baggies and the tupperware, make sure the baggie does not become stuck in the lid, and rehide so that no one walking by could possibly see the box). Letterboxing may sound like a child's game, but so does golf if you think about it. I actually get a little irked when people think it's a children's activity, because a lot of the carving, hiding, and finding is beyond even what most adults can handle, much less children. Also, I find that most young kids prefer geocaching because there are trinkets to trade (never leave a trinket in a letterbox).

In some parts of the country, like Southern New England, there are more letterboxes than geocaches because it started there earlier.

When boxing with kids, it's easy to pick up a pack of crayola markers to color the stamps. They work fine.

At January 7, 2013 at 7:37 PM , Blogger allison c said...

Thank you, Teresa, for such a well thought and clearly experienced comment. I agree that children should never be unsupervised, especially when in the woods. In fact, this website as a whole is designed to encourage families to do things together, to bond. Letterboxing seems a great way to do this but, indeed, not recommending that children do this on their own.

I have found a LOT of geocaches in my day - over 80 on different continents - and personally found letterboxing to be better for kids. Young kids don't tend to enjoy or understand the nuances of using a GPS (ex.s: the arrow directs as the crow flies but you still have to follow the path around and hope it doubles back, it will get you close but not directly on top of it, in thick density trees it will lose signal). Having just a clue and good quality information about how to get the letterbox seems more successful with younger children.

The last quick point I'll make that I saw as the difference between the two is that caches can be in a lot of crazy places, sometimes in places that are flat out dangerous. My parents are geocachers too and have had some alarming experiences with where caches were placed. Again, using common sense makes all the difference and it might just be because the sheer number of geocaches in the world far outweighs the number of letterboxes so it is just the odds game.

The trinkets are very fun for kids but it is really important to use the geocaching website to read the comments from people who most recently found the cache to make sure it is there, in good shape, and okay to find. With letterboxing we didn't seem to be so dependent on user information.

Hopefully by allowing newbies to join in this wonderful treasure hunt it won't cause letterboxes to be ruined or treated poorly (everyone engaging in this pasttime should treat it respectfully of course) but will encourage more and more letterboxes to be placed throughout the world.

My family and I still adore geocaching and the sport that it is. Both sports are great for families and doing either one is way more fun than not doing either! However, I do think families should be prepared and know the differences between the two.

At February 5, 2013 at 8:53 PM , Blogger Abby said...

Just planted my first letterbox yesterday!: # 214312 on the Atlas Quest site. Next time you're on a little hike in the Pump Station area of the Eno River State Park.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home