Letterboxing: an introduction

I have the kind of mother who loves to cut little articles out of the newspaper about things to do, places to see and her favorite, places to eat in Washington DC and then give them to me. The most valued one of these little bits of paper she has clipped for me was the one about 14 years ago that introduced me to something called “Letterboxing”.

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Top 3 things I love about letterboxing:

1) It’s Inclusive: I have taken friends and family of a variety of skill and interest, including my lovely mother who likes to whine on the up hills, but still loves finding the boxes. Hiding places are also not limited to the woods, I have found boxes in all sorts of urban spaces including libraries, national monuments, cemeteries, shops, and a few bars.

2) Art + Adventure: Letterboxing is a combination of designing and carving beautiful intricate stamps along with little scavenger hunts that may need to be decoded and you will most likely get lost on a few times.

3) It’s FREE!: Other than the stamp, inkpad and logbook the little adventures are completely free. It seems so rare these days to find a fun hobby that really only requires the gas money to get there.

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A wee bit of history:

The Washington Post had done a piece on this hobby that had started in Dartmoor, England in 1854 by a Victorian guide named James Perrott who hid a bottle with his calling card in it along the banks of the Cranmere Pool. He encouraged visitors to try to find it and then leave their own calling card in the bottle. Soon the bottle was switched out for a tin box and those who found it left a self-addressed postcard for the next person to visit the letterbox to mail it back to them.

For more information on the history of Letterboxing: http://www.atlasquest.com/about/history/

Today, what you will more commonly find in a letterbox is a rubber stamp, often which has been hand carved to follow the theme of a story or the location it is hidden. When you find a box you take the stamp from the box and use it to mark your personal logbook, then mark the box’s logbook with your personal stamp. Much like those who frequently hike the Appalachian Trail, Letterboxers create a new name for themselves and use it in the design of their personal stamp.

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Getting Started:


Here are some of the important pieces of equipment that I bring along while “boxing”: our notebook with all of the stamps of boxes that we have found, a compass for when a clue uses directional degrees to lead you to the box, and a hitchhiker (a stamp and notebook that doesn’t have a permanent home, but instead travels from box to box as it is found and dropped off by letterboxers).

Once you have your equipment ready, you can visit one of two websites to find clues for boxes in your neck of the woods. The first site in the US was Letterboxing North America (http://www.letterboxing.org), which has recently gotten an upgrade and is much more user friendly. As the popularity of the hobby grew, a second website has been created Atlas Quest (http://www.atlasquest.com) which is what I use more mainly because I find that it is easier to sort and find what you want. As you start to become as obsessed with this as I am, you will need to create an account so you can track your finds, chat with other “boxers” and complain to the “planter” when you checked every tree where they said to and there was no box!

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Advice to the newbies:

  • Bring a snack and some water, some of these boxes can be much further distance and difficulty than they sounded.
  • Be ready to poke around in deep dark dirty holes looking for a Tupperware box. You will not remain clean when boxing.
  • Work the clues backwards if you get stuck. Sometimes there is a better landmark further in the clues that you can use to track where you are.
  • Nature changes all the time! Live trees fall over and die, dead trees rot away and wind and water often change the landscape.
  • Plan out a few boxes for the day, that way if you are not able to find one you wont feel to let down because there is sure to be another one somewhere close by. This is why I love the here search button on the Atlas Quest Location-Based Search, it’s amazing how many boxes are in the same location.



This is one of the boxes hidden here at Hemlock Overlook next to its hiding location. We took a dorky hobby and dorked it out further by making a Doctor Who themed series of 4 boxes. I’m proud of my dorkdum.



rachel doody-Rachel Doody | Letterboxer Extraordinaire