Night Caches. You may or may not have heard the term before, but often the first thought is “Oh, that’s when you go find caches at night.” Well, that’s partially correct. The partially incorrect view is that you can find them during the day. In almost all cases, night caches are designed to be found at night and only at night. Let’s look at how they are designed, and how you find them.
Before we worry about designing one, let’s look at how you find one. The basic design is that you are given a starting location. At night, you will go out and stand at that starting location. Turning on a flashlight, you will start shining a flashlight around the area until you see something shining the light back at you. You then start walking towards whatever it is that you see shining at you. Once there, you will repeat the procedure. Doing this over and over again, you will eventually find something that marks the cache. Sometimes, it will be a few items tightly packed together shining back at you. Sometimes it will be a giant arrow. Usually, you will find something that looks different than the markers you have been following up to that point. Go towards this new sign and you’ll find the final location. Sign the log, and you’ve now found a night cache. Oh, and you now have the fun job of trying to find your way back to the car. Thankfully, your night vision should be adapted enough to see around you better than you might expect. So work your way backwards through the trail and VOILA, you are back at your car. Now, how do you build one?
There are several ways to create a night cache, but they all use the same method in the end…reflectors. I’ve seen several types used: adhesive reflector tape, fire tacks, and even bike reflectors. Once, I read about someone who used small mirrors (or maybe a mirror-like surface) that they used like fire tacks. However, it is usually fire tacks that I see most often. Why? Because you can often get them in bulk, making them more useful for longer caches (you’ll understand shortly). They are commonly used to help mark trails for hunters so that they can easily find their way to a specified location at night. One website where you can see some of the various different types is at WildTech Corporation. A fire tack is basically a small tack with a reflective head that can be pushed into the side of a tree, post, or trail signs. Often about the diameter of your pinkie, they are designed to be seen at night, and mostly hidden during the day. Some look like thumbtacks. Others can have a 3D head on it so they can be seen from multiple directions. Here is a picture of what what a 2D version looks like at night:
So you have purchased the supplies, but aren’t quite sure how to build it? I will discuss this as if you have purchased fire tacks. After you have the supplies, including a desired cache container, the first think you need to do is find a trail you can use. No matter where it is, make sure that if it has hours, you take note of what the hours are. If the trail closes at 8 PM, this cache will not be good for summer time use, where sundown usually hits after 9 PM. If it closes at 11PM, then you should be okay. Now whether you want cachers to take a long hike or a short hike, you will also need a trail with suitable tree coverage to do this efficiently. After finding a trail, you need to go out and inspect the trail, preferably during daylight hours. This is done so that you can not only find a spot along the trail to hide your cache but also get an idea of what the trail looks and feels like. “Feels like?”, you say. Some trails just don’t feel right when you walk them. It can be how easy the trail is to walk on, or how wide of a trail you have to walk through. It may seem like a lot to consider, but remember that people will be hiking this trail at night. Trails can seem different at night.
Once you have picked a trail, you need to find a place to hide the cache. This can be close to the trail or it can be a bit farther away. It doesn’t matter. It is your cache. Again, remember that people will be going after these at night so try to avoid placing them in a spot where people are going through heavy brush in the middle of the night. Don’t forget to mark the location in your GPSr. Heck, mark it with a tack in a nearby tree if you like, placed so it can be seen from the trail. If you can’t see it, place a second or third one between the trail and the cache so that you can quickly get to it later. Why? The next part is best done at night and that tack is a reminder of which tree to find when you go back out.
So, you have a cache location picked out during the day. Now comes the fun part, both for you and for the people finding the cache. Come back in the evening, after it has gotten dark. Pick a starting location. The trail head is usually a good spot to do this, though you can start right in the middle of the nearby parking lot if there is one. Take one of the tacks and pick a tree near the trail head. Put the tack in the tree. You’ve now marked the start of the trail. The goal is to place tacks strategically along the trail from that first tack on to the cache itself. This will be a bit more painstaking for you, as each time you place a tack, you need to go back to the previous tack and verify that it can be seen from that spot. If not, you need to move it. This is a good time to have a second person with you. Try to have both a higher power flashlight and a lower power flashlight. You don’t know what people will have and you don’t want them to come out and find that they are placed far enough apart that they can’t be seen without a searchlight.
Now, there are a few things to think about as you place the tacks. One, make sure they are placed securely. You don’t want them falling out within a week. Having a small hammer can help make sure it is pushed in far enough. Second, most people will search at about chest to head level. Don’t put out 10 tacks at that level and then suddenly put one down about 6 inches from the ground. If you are going to vary them, do it near the beginning of the trail. Doing this will cause most people to realize early on that they aren’t always straight ahead. A third thing to consider is how hard or easy you want the trail to be. Spaced farther apart requires the person to look a bit more. Placed closer together will mean that they are stopping less because they can see not just one, but maybe two or three in a row. That one is your decision. As long as you do a good job putting it together, most cachers will like what you’ve done either way. One final thing to think about, and this one is again your own decision, is to not always place the cache on the tree right next to the trail. Consider that you are looking at line of sight. The marker can be placed several feet from the trail as long as you can see the next one down the line from the trail. Most people will be walking and shining the light around as they walk towards the marker and can often spot the next one without standing right next to the marker they are at. Placing some of them this way can help prevent random muggles from spotting them during the day (hard to do, but it can happen).
Now, what does this look like? Here is another photo, showing some tacks that are a bit closer together. Some of them look close to each other, but there is distance between them:
Now, you’ve gotten the trail marked out and you’ve reached the point where you can see the tacks you placed near the cache during the day. How do you mark the cache? As stated earlier, there are several ways to do this, and they are up to you. I’ve seen caches where two fire tacks were placed side by side. Follow the trail of singles until you find the double. Others have placed a few more than that. Some people make it obvious where the cache is, if you are just paying attention to your surroundings as you go:
By the way, if you do this, make sure this is placed so that it cannot be seen as you approach the location, only once you’ve gotten into the right position. You’ll understand why by the end.
Now, about maintenance. There is one important aspect of maintaining a night cache that must be remembered. Occasionally, tacks might fall out, branches will fall, etc. Make sure you have spares, and be prepared to take them out when you go check on the cache in case any of this happens. Occasionally, you’ll have courteous people like me who will help maintain your cache. For instance, I have found branches that have fallen down or tacks on the ground and have helped reset them in the next nearest tree to help fix the trail. Just be ready for this.
So there you have it. You now understand the details of the night cache. But are fire tacks the only way to do this? The first night cache I attempted used reflective tape that looked like bike reflectors. Standing at the starting spot, you shine the flashlight until you see the reflection. Going to the reflector, you would find a set of coordinates written on it. You punch in those coordinates and then go to that location. Then repeat until you find the cache. They told you how many stages there were so you know when you got the final coordinates. This method does require that you use a good permanent marker that will work well outdoors. I have actually seen this method put to use in a city park among soccer and baseball fields. Another method I read about used the same type of reflector, but had information at the sight. Whether hidden in a container at that spot or written on the reflector, you used the information to solve something to get the coordinates for the next stage. A bit more devilish, but provided they aren’t too difficult, it might be interesting.
So there is one more thing I’ll mention as I finish this up. How did I take the pictures…or better yet…where did I take the pictures? These pictures are from a cache in Highland Village, TX called Night Prowler. It took me two tries to do this, but I quickly realized why when I did found it. The owner used fire tacks to mark the ENTIRE trail, not just the trail up to the cache. This was done because they hid it near the back end of the trail, and providing the additional markers helped provide people with an easy guide to get back out to where they parked without having to carefully work their way backwards through the trail. This was a very considerate thing to do, but if you aren’t paying attention, you will miss the giant 3 foot arrow and walk all the way through without realizing it. Reading the logs, it seems a lot of people have done this as well. It happens because the cache owner placed the giant arrow in such a way that you can’t see it as you approach, and the fire tacks marking the trail are on the opposite side of the trail from the cache. You essentially are looking in the opposite direction, and since most people become accustomed to following the markers until they stop, many don’t start scanning around until they reach a point where they can’t see the next marker, which doesn’t happen since the markers go through the entire loop of trail. Plus, it didn’t help that there were two other caches out along the trail and I was trying to keep an eye on my GPSr so that I was ready when I needed to move off the trail to go grab them. I just plain wasn’t paying enough attention. Oh well. It was a fun cache so I was willing to go back out.
Now, if you don’t have a night cache in your area, you know how to make one.
Oh, and if you’ve seen a different variation, feel free to share it. I’m sure other’s would be interested.
UPDATE: Tinman4x pointed out something I forgot to put in. When listing this cache, there are different ideas for how to list it. If you’re doing it as described above, it often gets listed as an “Unknown” or puzzle cache. However, I’ve heard valid reasons for it being listed as a multi if done using the method where the coordinates are written on the reflector. In that situation, each reflector acts as a stage in a multi-cache (keep it simple, don’t be evil and make the finder enter in 20 or 30 sets of coordinates). If the person has to solve something at each reflector…definitely a puzzle. So think about how you hide the night cache and that might provide you with how you should classify it.