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Getting Started in Letterboxing

by Silent Doug

You don't need much in order to start letterboxing -- a log book in which you record your finds, a personal stamp, an inkpad and a pen. If a letterbox includes any sort of hiking or orienteering, then you may need a trail map and compass, too.

  • Personal Journal

    You'll need a journal of some kind to record your letterbox adventures. You can make your own, or you can buy one -- it's up to you. Look for one with unlined pages and with paper thick enough that a stamped impression won't bleed through the pages. It doesn't need to be large -- most letterbox stamps are 2½" x 2½" or smaller. An artist's sketch book is preferred by many letterboxers. Links

  • Personal rubber stamp

    Most letterboxers make their own personal stamps, carved from erasers or similar soft block carving materials. While this may sound intimidating, it's really not as hard as it seems! There are plenty of tutorials and web sites devoted to soft block carving and rubber stamping to help you get started. Links

  • Ink Pad

    You'll need to bring along an ink pad (or perhaps several in different colors) in order to stamp your personal journal and to stamp into the letterbox log. Many letterboxers prefer a pad with "pigment" type ink, instead of "dye-based" inks. Make sure it's big enough to accommodate a 2½" x 2½" letterbox stamp, or has a raised pad surface to allow you to ink large stamps. Links

  • Pen or pencil

    In addition to your stamp, you may wish to add a note to your entries in your personal journal and the letterbox journal. The advantage of a pencil is that it can be sharpened on the trail with a pen knife and your entries won't fade away if the box gets wet (unlike a pen with water-based ink).

  • Map

    You may need a trail map in order to find a letterbox (or to find your way home!). Check at a park office, ranger station or trail head, or buy a trail map or guide before you go. Links

  • Compass

    A good compass is essential for deciphering many letterbox clues. An orienteering (baseplate) compass on a retangular base made of clear plastic will allow you to follow the bearings laid out in a letterbox clue, but a mirrored sighting compass offers much better precision. Links

  • Paper towels, cotton rag

    Letterboxing can be messy. A letterbox that's been buried in leaves or underneath rocks is sure to covered in dirt or mud. Clean it off before you open it up, to protect the contents. Also wipe your hands -- there's no need for leaving dirty fingerprints in letterbox journal. Also, before you repack a letterbox, you should clean off the surface of the stamp (same goes for your personal stamp). Bring along some paper towels or a soft cotton rag to clean up as you go. Baby wipes might be handy, but aren't recommended -- they have a scent (even the soap on the unscented ones) that shouldn't be transferred to a letterbox, either directly or from just-cleaned hands -- since it could attract critters.

  • Hiking supplies

    You should be be well-equipped and prepared on every letterbox excursion you make. A pair of sturdy shoes or boots is a must, especially for off-trail searching. Long pants will be a barrier against poison ivy, stinging nettles, thorns, and bugs. A small first aid kit can come in handy, and a flashlight might be more useful than you think, especially if a search takes longer than you expected and dusk arrives.

  • Work gloves

    A pair of sturdy work gloves can help when turning over rocks and reaching into hidden places. These can be tough on the hands and fingers, so a little protection can't hurt.

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