Difficulty and Terrain Ratings
Caches at Geocaching.com are rated between 1 (easiest) and 5 (most difficult) on two criteria: terrain and difficulty.
The terrain rating lets you know what the trip to the cache location is going to be like.
- wheelchair accessible - The path to the cache location should be paved, relatively flat, and short (less than ½ mile); someone sitting in a chair on the paved path should be able to reach the container.
- suitable for small children - The path to the cache location follows marked trails, and is less than 2 miles; there are no steep elevation changes or heavy overgrowth.
- not suitable for small children - The path to the cache location is suitable for most adults and older children, but may be longer than 2 miles, and may include some off-trail hiking, some overgrowth, or some steep elevation changes.
- experienced outdoor enthusiasts only - The path to the cache location probably includes off-trail hiking, and will include very heavy overgrowth, very steep elevation changes (requiring use of hands), or more than a 10 mile hike; an overnight stay may be required.
- requires specialized equipment - The path to the cache location requires specialized equipment (for example, SCUBA gear, rock-climbing gear, a boat, or a 4WD vehicle) and the skill to use it, or is otherwise extremely difficult.
The difficulty rating lets you know what the search is going to be like once you get to ground zero. The suggested search times are at best approximate, and reflect search times for a typical geocacher.
- easy - The container is in plain sight or is in an obvious hiding place, and is easily recognized as a geocache; it requires only a few minutes searching.
- average - The container is in one of a few possible hiding places, or is camouflaged to blend well into the environment; it may require up to half an hour searching.
- challenging - The container is well hidden in one of several possible hiding places, or its camouflage could be mistaken for part of the environment; it will challenge an experienced geocacher and may require more than an hour searching.
- difficult - The container is very well hidden in one of many possible hiding places, or its camouflage appears to be part of the environment; it is a real challenge for an experienced geocacher and may require multiple days/trips to find.
- extreme - Finding the container is a serious mental/physical challenge that requires specialized knowledge, skills, or equipment.
In the case of a puzzle cache, the difficulty rating also reflects the challenge of solving the puzzle to obtain the actual coordinates.
There are no official definitions for half-star ratings. They reflect intermediate ratings, and cache owners must use their best judgment. For example, a 1½-star terrain rating could indicate a very easy hike (easier than typical 2-star terrain), but a cache location that is not wheelchair accessible. As another example, a 2½-star difficulty rating could indicate camouflage that could be mistaken for part of the environment, but where there are only a few possible hiding places.
- ClayJar's Geocache Rating System - fill in the data and submit the form, and it spits out a rating.
- TechBlazer's Geocache Rating Calculator - fill in the data and submit the form, and it spits out a rating.
- What do the different ratings mean, and how should I rate the cache I placed? in Markwell's FAQ Update.
- Handicaching provides a cache accessibility rating system with much more detail than a 1-star or 1.5-star rating can provide.