Special Announcement: I love to letterbox!
And now that you're all looking at me like I'm crazy...
Letterboxing is sort of like geocaching, but without the technical expertise of being able to use a GPS. I started letterboxing with my mom last year in November.
Not ringing a bell?
Okay, letterboxing is real world treasure hunting, using unique stamps and logbooks to track your finds.
How to Start Letterboxing
It starts out on AtlasQuest.com or LBNA.com. These places house a database full of clues you can print out according to a multitude of search criteria. Creating a "trailname" (your username) is completely free.
Yes, my personal AtlasQuest theme is from 'Talk Like A Pirate Day'.
Up in the Location-Based Search, put in your postal code and start searching for hidden boxes near you!
The first letterbox ever created
is in Dartmoor, England.
From there, sort through your results. For first-time finders, I recommend checking the dates the boxes were last found, and that the boxes are marked active. We'd hate for you to go on a quest where the prize has been stolen by a bear or little kids with sticky fingers.
The symbols next to the name of the letterbox indicate attributes.
A car means that it's a drive-by--no hiking required.
A hand means that the stamp is hand-carved--usually the best type!
What to Bring Letterboxing
- Your clues. I recommend enough copies for everyone in your party.
- A logbook. A blank artist sketchbook is best; they're unlined.
- A stamp pad. Take a 40% off coupon to Michael's, A.C. Moore, or Hobby Lobby. And don't get the cheapest ink pad, either--it won't last.
- (Optional) A hand-carved signature stamp of your very own.
A what now?
A signature stamp is a stamp you use to "sign" in the logbooks left inside letterboxes. Most letterboxers ('boxers) make it something to do with their chosen trailname.
My trailname is VelvetKey. My signature stamp:
This was my very first stamp carve.
Don't worry if you don't want to carve your own or even buy a store-bought stamp. The most basic form of 'stamping in' to a logbook is to use your fingerprint and perhaps embellish it.
So you have your supplies:
This is my second stamp pad and second logbook.
I filled my first logbook up at the Paris Mountain Letterboxing Event!
It's time to set out on your letterboxing adventure!
Now, I am assuming your clues require no extra equipment, such as a compass. (The need for a compass should be indicated by those symbols next to the name of the letterbox, but not always.)
And if you're embarking on a longer hike, of course take into account water bottles, snacks, etc.
The wonderful thing about letterboxing is that it can take you to places in your town/city/state you've never heard of, that others have found interesting.
My mother and I went out to a place called Hagood Mill, thirty minutes from my house. It's a historical farm where Indian petroglyphs were discovered. I would never have known this place was there!
This is the back of the mill, which I saw
when I was hunting for Box #1 in this series of 4.
There's a letterbox hidden in this picture!
Finding A Box
Boxes are supposed to be hidden well, where the prying eyes and sticky hands of Muggles can't easily find them. This means that frequently you might need to leave the path, and reach your hand into places all the while hoping a snake isn't sharing space with what you seek.
But huzzah when you finally find it!
This letterbox was #4 in the aforementioned series.
The stamp was concealed inside a felt pouch, and
the logbook was inside a zippered baggie.
Get out your own logbook and stamp pad, and get to it! It's always cautioned that you try to "stamp in" before others see you (the Muggles I mentioned before). Non-boxing folk are sometimes too nosy for their own good, and it's another way that boxes can go missing.
This is my mom, Sherercrew, stamping the Petroglyph
stamp into her own logbook. On the opposite page
are some of the other stamps we had already found.
Sometimes, if you're the first finder on a new letterbox, the "planter" (the letterboxer who created and hid the new box) will include a 'First Finder's' prize! My mom claimed the one we found in Petroglyph:
She keeps hers taped inside the pages of her logbook
near the stamp she collected the prize from.
Next, stamp your own signature stamp into the logbook you found inside the letterbox, and you're done! Some people write their trailname out, along with the city they're from, and the date, so the owner of the box can see how many different adventurers have come along in search of their treasure.
Now, to rehide what you found.
One of the most crucial parts of ensuring a letterbox's longevity is making sure you reseal all the baggies and pouches you find inside. Water is the number one thing you will find inside boxes, due to condensation, rainfall, and sometimes flooding.
Also, make sure you put the box back exactly where you found it, including any objects that may have been piled on top, such as sticks, bark, or stones.
And who knows? Now you may want to carve and hide letterboxes of your very own:
These are Mainstay brand four-tab food containers
from Wal*Mart; they come in a 16-piece pack.
Cover well with disguising paint or duct tape.
Most large craft stores sell the gouge tools and
pink rubber for carving stamps.
Using Google images to search for stencils cuts down
on the guesswork of what to carve and not carve in a pattern.
(This is my mom's personal traveler.
When you meet other letterboxers on the trail,
you can do 'exchanges'--stamping your signature
stamp in each others' logbooks. And sometimes,
they'll have additional stamps with clues to how to
obtain the stamp. Common clues include "ask me
about ____" or "tell me your favorite _____".)
If you've found this brief tutorial to be helpful, I encourage you to give AtlasQuest a visit, and see what treasures may be hiding in your hometown!
See you on the trails!