Monday, 27 September 2010

Let there be light

I won't question the story about God creating day and night three days before he created the sun, stars and the moon :o) Let's just stick to lights at night.

We all live in an enlightened world. Even when the sun sets there is no need to carry a lantern, candle or torch around. There is always a light-source close-by: Either it be your beloved design-lamps in the living room, the street-lights or at least the head-lights of your car. Technology doesn't leave you in the dark in your daily live. One of the reasons why nightcaching is so much fun is that you have to leave that comfort zone. You have to go out there and bring our own light but which one?

There are three types of torches which should be considered for nightcaching:
  • Headlamps
  • Normal torches
  • and portable floodlights
Since the introduction of LEDs headlamps are really a bargain: They are cheap, bright and have a long battery life. There is no need to buy a fancy product - the $10 from Kmart or BigW will do just fine. The main purpose of these lamps is not to find reflectors or other things. It's more about not stumbling over your own feet or poke your eye with a branch in the dark. The one I have was about that price and I still use it. The only thing why I am considering buying a new one is because it runs on AAA batteries and the rest of my stuff uses AA. And here is a free piece of advise :o) wear a base-cap. That reduces glare from the lamp and it also is more comfortable than the strap directly on your head.
Stefan and I deep in the forests of Bavaria
Normal torches is not the best wording. What's normal? Well. Let's just define it as a torch you carry in your hand and which isn't too big. There are A LOT of companies offering LED torches and there are some websites which try to give you an overview of the market. You can basically spend any amount of money for a torch so the question is how much is enough?
Again the question about the batteries comes up: Do you want to use AA or is it ok to add another type of batteries? A lot of torches run on 18XX0 Li-Ion. The huge advantage is that you have much more "power" in a similar cell as the AA. The disadvantage is that you need a second charger and if you place these batteries accidentally into another device it's toast. I'm just sticking with AA because I love to have the same batteries for all devices however that is a personal decision.
Ok. We figured out the type of battery but how much money do you have the spend? I bought myself "the" standard nightcaching torch: The Fenix LD20R4. It was about 80 AUD and in the same price-range are a lot more torches like the EagleTac P20A2 Mark II or the Olight I25 Infinitum. So if you can't find a nightcache with any of those lamps then the cache is of very poor design (Keep that in mind if you build a nightcache: it's not about showing which fancy light you bought yourself. The challenge shouldn't be within the equipment). You can buy less quality but the same brightness for - of course - less money. However in my opinion you shouldn't need a torch which is brighter than the mentioned ones which means you don't have to pay more than 80 AUD on a torch.

My Fenix LD20 R4 - the very one I use
 If you are a little bit nuts and/or have too much money, you can also spend heaps of dollars on a floodlight. Don't get me wrong - I know it's fun to have useless stuff at home otherwise I would never had a GPSr before 2000 (by the time "Selective Availability" was till turned on). So you don't need it but nobody can blame you if you want to have it. There are different types starting from normal car headlights up to High Intensity Discharged (HID) lamps which can cost thousands of dollars.however buying of the shelve is never as much fun as building the stuff yourself :o)
As you can see below I did build myself a flooder long before you could buy good LED torches. It is powered by a 12V lead gel battery ... yes: lead as in very heavy and not really usable. Obviously I didn't bother to bring it down-under so it sits in a storage close to Frankfurt. Another project which is really cool is the 500 LED torch. It fits the profile: large, expensive and completely useless for nightcaching.

My first self-made floodlight: 35W 12V Halogen
Ten years ago buying a torch wasn't that hard: You just went for a Maglite. If you don't like gyms, it's worth to grab the good old 3D brick, use it and do some work-out along the way. Beside the extra weight it is still quite good for finding reflectors even compared to modern LED torches.
Anyway. The market changed over the past years and new torches get released by Chinese companies as you read this post. There might be already the next model on the market and it is as hard to keep track of it as with mobile phones or computers. 

Just remember that you don't need to spend a lot of money in order to have a good and reliable torch.

Link: www.light-reviews.com

Monday, 20 September 2010

Reflectors

One of the most used stages in nightcaches is and always will be the retroreflector. It's easy to buy, place and maintain. In Anglo-American influenced areas you will find a lot of caches with firetacks. Don't ask me why is that. I could only guess although I do have some kind of a theory. Here in Australia the plain firetack has some disadvantages: Most of the native trees are gumtrees and they have a very soft bark compared to oaks, beech or maple trees which can be found in the northern hemisphere.
Why is that bad? Firetacks are pinned to the bark of the tree and if that is soft, well they tend to fall off. If they don't fall off they might turn and that changes the visibility. The second thing is that some of you want to create a "day-cacher-proof" nightcache. Just have a look at the picture below:

Firetack at Glow-worms and fireflies cache
That is already a so called stealth firetack and you can still see it because of it's shape. Firetacks have an effective range of about 70m. After that you need to have a special torch which will be a topic for another post. So if a cacher want's to find your next in daylight, they just check all trees within plain sight and a 70m radius. Yes people do that!

If you actually don't care about your reflector being found in daylight or you want to cover some distance, then a cateye might be a good choice. Yes the stuff you normally put on the wheels of your bike and they come in all kinds of shapes and colors. For a kids nightcache they are fun but even better if you want to get the attention of some cachers: You can combine them and create a really large cateye which can be found from very far away. I did place a cache where you had to find the reflector from a lookout. The covered distance was about 1.2 km. In order to find that thing a Maglite 3D and a binocular was all you needed.

simple white cateye ...

... which easily can be seen


That said you'll wonder what kind of reflectors are really useful for a normal nightcache. Since I am an engineer, self-made is my answer :o) First get yourself some retroreflecting self-adhesive foil. That shouldn't be too hard since some bike-shops have it or the local commercial vehicle design shop or simply a webshop. I've tried a lot of different brands and types over the years and in the end my choice is the black 3M foil:
Helmet without light
Helmet with light

close-up of the foil
Looks pretty cool, doesn't it? Now you have to get yourself some kind of base-object to apply that foil - sticking that stuff onto tree-bark actually works but not for long. I recommend two shapes:
  • the tube - which is a small plastic tube on which you apply the foil. Just paint it black or whichever camo you like and hang it into the tree with a fishing line. Since it's round it can be seen from different angles.
  • the plaque - is a piece of sheet metal. I use that all the time because you can just punch the coordinates for the next stage right onto it. You can also screw it to any kind of object you like and if you use torx-srews it's quite muggle proof as well. 
Just keep in mind that your reflectors lives longer if it is plain and simple and doesn't draw to much muggle-attention. If you go for the plaque-style, use aluminium sheets since the don't rust. A simple permanent-marker does the trick in order to get a black plaque:
simple plaque reflector with two torx screws
 It isn't really rocket-science. I know. But it doesn't keep owners from creating "less optimal" solutions: e.g. a thumbtack with some reflecting foil on it - it's even worse than firetacks. Just imagine that one of those two-left-handed cachers slaps your reflector with his GPSr - will it survive? If yes, place it. If no, get a different reflector :o)

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

A brief (personal) history

We all know how geocaching itself started however not much is know about the beginnings of nightcaching. Well here is what I know and if you can draw some light on the past feel free to drop a comment :o)

About a year after the first cache was placed somewhere north of Seattle the EraSeek placed the first nightcache. With this cache already firetacks were used (as far as I know), which still can be found as a standard set-up for a lot of nightcaches. I am not really a fan of firetacks but that's another story :o) Anyway. Again almost a year later in March 2002 the first nightcache in Germany appeared. It is interesting because it introduced the German style of nightcaching: Instead of following a track of firetacks, you get a set of coordinates from where you have to spot a reflecting something - here it was a micro-cache - then you get another set at where you look around and so on. This means you have to use your GPSr all the time ... which should be an essential part of geocaching.

My personal nightcaching journey started in 2004 somewhere around Munich. It was the same "German style" coords&relectors type and I had serious fun over there. So much fun that I found myself a nice forest and placed a nightcache in that almost undisturbed landscape. (You might think that I am going a little bit over the top with the following sentence because it's me who created that cache but have a look at the 130 people watching that cache and the logs themselve)
Mission Echo ... just mentioning the name gives some people the creeping horrors. It features things like crawling into bomb-craters from WW2 or through storm sewers which are only 60cm in diameter. Just have a look at Windi after his FTF and you'll see what I mean.

After that nightcaching started big time and there was no holding back: I just had a look at nachtcaches.de and it currently holds 2900 nightcaches ... including the 72 of New Zealand and Australia (yep I had them added). It's fair to say that for some strange reason nightcaching never really flew downunder. And if you compare the English to the German wiki page about nightcaching, I'd reckon that it isn't that big anywhere else.

So if you know anything about the early days of nightcaching (before 2005) just post it here ;o)

cheers
Philipp


My nc-equipment 6 years ago. I still got the etrex but the rest is gone
Me at the first nc I found: Little Nightmeer in Munich (I still had hair!)

Monday, 13 September 2010

Attributes

Since groundspeak introduced a lot of new attributes a few weeks ago there is a lot of confusion. I won't draw the bigger picture here and focus on nightcaching. So which attributes are relevant? There are five:

Flashlight
Not 24/7 available
Recommended at night
Nightcache
UV light

Confused? Exactly my point. Before the last two attributes were introduced there was no "standard" solution in order to identify a nightcache except from reading the description. Normally the combination of the first three icons kind of gives it away however to make it work the owner has to set attributes :o) Well we all know how realisitic that is - e.g. as of now there are nine caches labelt as a nightcache in Australia. One of them isn't even a nightcache and further three are mine.In real life there are over 50 nightcaches out there.

Just keep in mind that the attributes are a great feature and if you place a cache please use them, but if you try to located "your style" cache you might miss it since not every owner bothers.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

New logo

I just "painted" a new OZ version of the nightcaching logo and - of course - it includes a roo. The little fellow even has a name: HöpsHöps which is pronounced ɦœpsɦœps. Please keep in mind that all rights are reserved. Yep. Sorry. You can't use it. Not at all ... or just contact me to get some kind of agreement.

Back from Geelong

Tuesday night we headed out to clear the two Geelong nightcaches and of course the wherigo ... hey it was just around the corner after all :o) Bumber one was fun and found after a little bit of sneaking through the alleys of Gellong. Thanks for placing this one.

Number two was ... well ... wet. It might be related with the heavy rainfalls the weekend before but I am not to sure about that hehe. Nah we didn't even try so back to normal caches for the night but we will return. Check the pics on facebook

Cheers
Philipp