Difficulty and Terrain Ratings
Owners of geocaches rate them on a 5-point scale for difficulty and terrain. The difficulty rating describes the mental challenge of finding a cache. The terrain rating describes the physical environment. A difficulty–terrain rating of 1/1 is the easiest, while a difficulty–terrain rating of 5/5 is the most difficult. Likewise, a difficulty–terrain rating of 5/1 indicates a cache that is extremely difficult to find, but easy to get to. A difficulty–terrain rating of 1/5 indicates a cache that is easy to find, but extremely difficult to get to.
The generally accepted definitions for the various ratings were originally developed based on discussions in the Groundspeak forums, with particular input from Scout, Markwell, Brokenwing, and ClayJar.
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. In the case of a puzzle cache, the difficulty rating also reflects the challenge of solving the puzzle to obtain the actual coordinates.
- Easy – In plain sight or can be found in a few minutes of searching.
- Average – The average cache hunter would be able to find this in less than 30 minutes of hunt.
- Challenging – An experienced cache hunter will find this challenging, and it could take up a good portion of an afternoon.
- Difficult – A real challenge for the experienced cache hunter – may require special skills or knowledge, or in-depth preparation to find. May require multiple days / trips to complete.
- Extreme – A serious mental or physical challenge. Requires specialized knowledge, skills, or equipment to find cache.
Note that many camouflaged caches hidden in plain sight are not easy to find, and should be rated higher than 1-star difficulty. Camouflaged caches may blend well into the environment, may be mistaken for part of the environment, or may even appear to be part of the environment. TechBlazer is developing a Geocache Rating Calculator that takes a cache's camouflage into account, among other factors.
The terrain rating lets you know what the trip to ground zero is going to be like.
- Handicapped accessible – Terrain is likely to be paved, is relatively flat, and less than a 1/2 mile hike is required.
- Suitable for small children – Terrain is generally along marked trails, there are no steep elevation changes or heavy overgrowth. Less than a 2 mile hike required.
- Not suitable for small children – The average adult or older child should be OK depending on physical condition. Terrain is likely off-trail. May have one or more of the following: some overgrowth, some steep elevation changes, or more than a 2 mile hike.
- Experienced outdoor enthusiasts only – Terrain is probably off-trail. Will have one or more of the following: very heavy overgrowth, very steep elevation (requiring use of hands), or more than a 10 mile hike. May require an overnight stay.
- Extreme – Requires specialized equipment and knowledge or experience (boat, 4WD, rock climbing, SCUBA, etc.), or is otherwise extremely difficult.
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.
- Groundspeak's Geocache Rating System - fill in the data and submit the form, and it returns a rating
- ClayJar's Geocache Rating System - fill in the data and submit the form, and it returns a rating. This is the original system that the Groundspeak one was based on.
- TechBlazer's Geocache Rating Calculator - fill in the data and submit the form, and it returns a rating. TechBlazer has expanded the criteria for rating a cache's difficulty.
- 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.
- Ratings for Difficulty and Terrain (Groundspeak knowledge base)