Letterboxing is an amazing (and surprisingly old) outdoor activity that's really cool, a lot of fun, and right under your nose!  In short, it's a hide and seek scavenger hunt game played by thousands of people all over the world.  It's easy to get started and very rewarding, and somewhat similar to the more modern hobby of geocaching.

I got my start letterboxing through geocaching--I'm told a lot of letterboxers do.  I heard about geocaching from somewhere or another, I don't remember specifically.  I didn't have a GPS, so I pretty much filed it in the "Some Day!" section of my brain.  If you're not familiar with geocaching, it's a sort of GPS based scavenger hunt game.  About a year ago I finally got a smart phone, and after a while I started finding some geocaches.  It's a lot of fun, and I'm still playing, but now I've added letterboxing to my outings.  

I was talking about it with my roommate, and he asked if I'd ever heard of letterboxing.  I said no, and he described it like this:  "It's sort of like geocaching, only instead of following your GPS, you follow a set of clues.  You bring a blank book, an ink pad, and your personal stamp, and when you find the letterbox, you stamp their book with your stamp, and your book with their stamp."

The idea sounded awesome!  He showed me his logbook and a couple of the stamps he'd carved, and then a little while later he bought some carving material and showed me what was up.  I loved it!  This is such a maker/DIY sort of activity, I figured there must be a thousand letterboxing instructables, but to my surprise I saw only one that bore any relation to the activity. 

So, read on to learn all about letterboxing, from getting started to finding, hiding, and maintaining your own letterboxes!

Step 1: Materials Needed

There are three ways to go about this:  the bare minimum approach, the serious approach, and the REALLY SERIOUS APPROACH.

If you just want to get out of the house and get started right away to try it out, the bare minimum you will need is:
  • An ink pad (any will do)
  • A stamp (they sell these already carved at any art supply store or often in the school/office supply section of a retail store)
  • A journal or a sheaf of paper (lined journals are a dime a dozen)
To level up to serious (which is really pretty easy and totally worth it), you will need:
  • A raised ink pad (found at any arts and crafts store)
  • Linoleum stamp carving material (found only at real art supply stores)
  • Stamp carving tools (either actual carving tools or a hobby knife, or better yet:  both)
  • A blank, unlined journal (only found at real art supply stores, or occasionally at the dollar store)
  • A sharp pencil
  • Tracing paper
To get REALLY SERIOUS, you will also need:
  • The Pink Stuff (Speedball SpeedyCarve Material)
  • Markers or a Petal Point stamp pad
  • Serious carving skills
  • Access to a laser printer 
  • Xylene pens (found at serious art supply stores, alternatively, Goof Off! cleaning fluid)
  • Watertight containers
  • Camo duct tape
  • Zip top plastic bags
  • Felt
  • Blank paper
Personally, I had help from my room mate.  He bought me the unlined journal and the linoleum before I ever went out for my first letterbox.  Also, I found I retained something from my stamp carving days in high school art class, and was actually able to carve a halfway decent stamp.

A note on supplies:  everything you need is available through atlasquest.com, the main letterboxing website on the net  If you'd rather not search around various brick and mortar stores, just hit the "Marketplace" tab at the top right of any atlasquest page and go to stampeaz, an online store run by a fellow letterboxer.  The owner even stamps packing slips with her special stamps, which can in turn be logged as finds on the atlasquest site!

Love this, my family and I also do geocaching. Come visit our area of Norwich, Ct some time to hunt. Look up CareAgainCrew on Geocaching.com
<p>Love your LBs. Been Letterboxing since 1975. Way neat to see some here. Guess I will have to make the effort to add to what you started. :)</p>
<p>Since I am on the East Coast the Robot won't be happening anytime soon. :(</p>
<p>1975!? Wow!</p>
<p>Very nice article on a great hobby!</p>
<p>Thanks, glad you liked it!</p>
Dear Depotdevoid: your 'ible is amazingly thorough. I live in Massachusetts - lots of history and nature, so this seems like a great activity to see more of our area. My kids are 8 & 14 - I think I'll check this out and then try it with them. Thank you from the other side of the country! :)
Awesome, glad you liked it! I'd love to see your trail stamp, if you end up carving one!
Stealth.. BUT..... as I give new Geocachers as advice, BE HONEST!.. The last thing you need, is suspicion! I.e., if someone does come up to you, and asks what you're doing, do not make up some crazy story, like You're inspecting a stone wall for the historical society.. This may not go over too well.. Especially if the person inquiring is a member (or director) of the historical society.. (though, usually, they will already be aware of the letterbox, and know what you're doing.) The worse that could happen, is they could come back and damage (read destroy, steal, etc.) the letterbox.. On the average, they might become interested in the hobby, and might even join in the search.. (come on, Everyone loves a mystery!) Same goes for Geocaching. Stealth, yes. Honesty, DEFINITELY!! Worse I've ever had happen, was while looking in an area, have a state police officer stop me, I handed him a small fold-up card about Geocaching, and all he asked for, was my ID just for reference. then, he stuck around a few minutes close by, then headed off. <br> <br>The nice thing with Letterboxing, compared to geocaching, is it definitely CHEAPER to get started! With Geocaching, your main expense, is the cost of the GPS.. Smart Phones do kind of combine function, but accuracy varies. With letterboxing, as said on the 1st step, a stamp, a stamp pad, and a journal for your own record. and maybe, as I said in a comment on the 1st step, a simple magnetic compass. (I've seen them as low as $6.00.. )
Letterboxing has been around for centuries! Yes, geocaching is a more modern, technological offshoot, but most letterboxes only requires a few minor things.. Your signature stamp, a personal log book (So you can keep a record of the letterbox you found.) and a compass.. Yes, A compass.. I've got one not too far from my home, which gives you the rough description of how to get to it, then from a landmark, to point the compass a # of degrees from where you're standing, using magnetic north as the benchmark. and the letterbox is in that direction, a certain number of feet, and a general hint of what to look for at the hiding spot. <br> <br>Mind you, there are a few twisted Geocachers, who might even put their Geocache close by.. I found, what I thought was a geocache, only to find out the Geocache was on the other side of a fallen tree, from a letterbox.. <br> <br>Always look for a stamp book, and a stamp for the Letterbox.. Though, they may also be combined.. (we, in the Geocaching community call them a Letterbox Hybrid.) same log book, same find!
This is so neat - I love treasure hunts!
It's a ton of fun, I'm really surprised there aren't already a ton of instructables on the subject!
This is an amazing 'ible about an amazing subject I had never heard of. I especially like that you found so many new places to visit (again, possibly in the future) in a town you have lived in for 13 years. I can't wait to get started. Thanks ever so for such a detailed story, links, ideas, instructions, truly this may be the best 'ible I've ever had the pleasure to read.
Thanks so much Nina! I'd love to see a picture of your trail stamp if/when you carve one!
You will! I already registered on the Atlas site, picked a hat, became a member, filled out the stuff, etc. I'm all set to go as there are a bunch of letterboxes near me. Plus I've been carving stamps for eons.
Good job, Depotdevoid! Love the details! Fantastic!
Thanks for taking on the responsibility Mario. <br> <br>Someone give this man a high five!
You are welcome! :-)
Okey. I'm ready for action. For information of the letterboxers, I'm Mario, at your orders! :-)
Thank you for writing about this. Have thought about geocaching but don't have a fancy phone with GPS and most places are not wheelchair accessible. Looked at the website and I will do this. The most of the letterboxes in my area are wheelchair accessible so my hubby can go with if he wants. Thank you again for a new and exciting hobby!
That's great to hear, firedancer! I'd love to hear about your experiences, and see your trail stamp(s) if you and your husband end up carving your own!
Thanks! <br>

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Bio: depotdevoid is short for The Depot Devoid of Thought, the place where you go when you lose your train of thought and you're waiting ... More »
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