Letterboxing: Adventure, Art and the Great Outdoors

Letterboxing: A Crafty Outdoor Adventure
By Jessica Branciforte

Letterboxing in Goshen, MA

Letterboxing at the DAR in Goshen, MA. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Letterboxing involves a mixture of artistry, adventure, navigation, and secrecy. All in all, it’s a great big treasure hunt with art lying in wait where the “X” marks the spot. It’s very similar to geocaching, except with clues instead of coordinates, and when found, a letterbox contains a tiny piece of one of a kind art – a hand carved stamp. Mix stamp making and treasure hunting in the great outdoors and you’ve got yourself a fun and creative pastime.

Legend suggests that letterboxing began in 1854 when calling cards were placed in jars found outdoors. Upon finding a jar, others were encouraged to leave their card as well. Modern letterboxing follows the same guidelines using hand carved stamps and the World Wide Web.

What you’ll need before you start:

  • A thirst for adventure and the outdoors
  • Your own trail stamp, which should be a hand carved image that you think best represents you
  • Letterboxing clues
  • A small inkpad and a logbook
  • A compass (optional but fun)

The Art of the Letterbox Hunt

Step One: To begin, you’ll need to carve your own signature stamp. You can always use a pre-made stamp that you’re especially fond of, but many find it fulfilling to carve their own mark. Using Speedball tools and an eraser or some carving rubber, create the image you would like to represent your trail ID. You can also use this great tutorial on stamp carving.

Step Two: Use the Internet to find some clues! Folks who create letterboxes publish the steps it takes to find them online. It’s hard to go on a treasure hunt without the map. You’d be surprised where letterboxes are located, since even the smallest of towns can have hidden boxes. You may have even discovered one while hiking in the past and didn’t quite know what it was. To start finding letterboxes close to you, check out www.letterboxing.org.

Step Three: Some letterbox hunts will take all afternoon while others only fifteen minutes. Choose a set of clues that suits your schedule for the day, and your hunting style. Some clues are posted in poem form while others cut right to the chase and tell you how many steps to take and in what direction. It all depends on what you’re in the mood for. You can find letterboxes in state parks, campgrounds and even graveyards. Either way it’s rewarding when you find your way to the end of the hunt. Picture yourself nearing the end of your journey. You might read something like, “Take ten paces to your right” “Look for the tree with the double trunk” or “Dig into the ‘V’ of the tree until you find the box.” Woo hoo! You’ve found a letterbox! Inside you should find a logbook, a carved stamp, and some ink.

Leave Your Mark

Here’s your chance to make your creative mark in the world. Open up the logbook to a clean page and use your own stamp to leave your mark. Write a few notes about your trip and what you saw while hiking and sign your name. If you’d like to you can even write the date and where you’re from. It’s especially interesting for others to discover leaf though the log book and read other entries. Some books take you years into the past!

You’ll also want to make a record of finding this letterbox for yourself. Take the stamp provided inside the letterbox and stamp it into your own logbook. Jot down a few notes about your travels and remember to record the date and location of the box. These extra anecdotes are a great way to remember a trip away from home, as letterboxes are generally hidden in state parks or forests that represent the natural identity of an area.

More Letterboxing Adventures

Letterboxing in Goshen, MA

Letterboxing at the DAR in Goshen, MA. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

There’s a HUGE letterboxing world out there! Interested in finding “hitchhikers” “microboxes” and “mystery boxes?” Learn more about lingo and letterboxing etiquette at www.atlasquest.com.

Letterboxing combines your creative abilities along with the fun of active exercise and adventure in the great outdoors. Once you get started with this addictive activity, you’ll soon find yourself with a logbook full of recordings of great hunts and hikes—as well as full of great memories. You’ll want to look back over your findings and compare what you’ve recorded with others as well.

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Originally published in Handmade News. Reprinted with Permission.

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