Saturday, September 17, 2011

Geocache Camo 101: Lock & Locks

There are many geocache containers, and many more ways to hide them.  Depending on the local terrain features, the caching containers may require some custom camouflage to protect them from being seen by muggles, or simply to increase the difficulty for the finder.

This post is a tutorial on how I give my containers some spit and polish so they blend into their non-native environments.  There are many ways to paint up these things, some better than others.  Some of my containers have been in the field for well over a year and their paint job still looks good.

My most common container is plastic "tupperware"-like containers (tho I never use the actual Tupperware brand).  I recently acquired a set of Lock & Lock brand plastic containers.  They are rugged, waterproof, and last a long time in the field.  I am going to use one of these as a base.

So start with picking up a plastic container from the local container store (Walmart, Target etc.).  Try to get quality containers as the cheap ones (think Dollar Store quality) will break and crack quickly in the field.  The temp ranges from 100f to 4f that I've seen in my 3 years in North Carolina is really hard on plastic.

Step 1:  Rough up the outside.
As I am sure you are aware, paint comes in literally every colour.  This gives a hider infinite possibilities to tailor make the camo to fit the environment as perfectly as possible. So select the paint colours that make sense for the area you are placing the cache.  For the purposes of this post I am going to assume that this cache will be placed in a forest, so I will go for a standard green camo job.

The techniques should work for any (as an example, I have used greys and browns to simulate a cache that looks like its made from cement).  For all paints here, get ones with flat finishes, and except for the spray paint, I use exterior latex for the various colours and apply it with a brush.  The reason is that the can paint can be mixed to any colour, and using the brush allows finer control over where the colours go.

Step 2: Spray paint base coat.
My camo job will use 3 colours, dark green, lighter green, and brown.

 The first step is to rough up the outside of the container.  This gives more surface area that gives the paint something stronger to hold on to.  It also adds some texture to the smooth plastic which often helps with the camo.

The second step is to apply a base coat of paint.  I use Krylon brand spray paint as it sticks really well to plastic containers.  You only need to spray the outside of the container, and really only the parts that are visible when the cache is closed.  So don't worry about painting the underside of the lid flaps.

Step 3:  Add a base colour over the entire cache.
This coat is really just a primer so you don't need to be picky with the colour.  The choices of colours in spray paint are limited, and it will be covered up with the proper camo colours anyway.  I tend to pick black or dark green, but any will do.

Also take care with any of the paint to ensure you don't add too much paint around the connectors. If they get too thick with layers of paint they may not close properly.  Use your best judgement here as it will vary from container to container.  Let this coat dry completely before going on to the next steps.

Next add a base coat. I use exterior latex and apply it with a brush.  It doesn't really matter which colour is used, but I tend to start with the darkest colour and work my way to the lighter ones.  So I paint the entire outside of the container with dark green.

Step 4: Add sand to add texture.
The nice thing about camo painting is that you don't need to worry about an even coat.  Actually you probably want an uneven coat for additional texture.  Just be careful to keep the areas that snap together clear of paint.

Once the dark green is everywhere, I sprinkle on some sand from my back yard into the wet paint.  This adds some extra texture which helps break up the light and makes the camo that much more effective.

Let this layer dry.  I use a hair dryer on the container to get the paint to dry faster.

I dab some paint over top of the sand to help adhere it to the container.  I don't worry about covering all the sand with paint as having some exposed adds to the realism.
Step 5:  Selectively add layers of colours.

The next step is to start dabbing on the other colours.  Start with the light green, and dab it around the container so every side has some light green spots on it.  Be random with your strokes, and don't cover up all the dark green.

Once you are done with the greens, do the same with the brown.  Dab some colour all around being sure to be random, and to not cover up the other colours.

I don't clean my brush between these steps.  This allows the colours to run together, which adds additional colour tones, and helps blur harder edges. You are going for a muddled, random look.  Let your inner child be free and go nuts.

Step 6: Black on the bottom for visible labels.
Another tip, once all the colours are applied I take the original colour (dark green in this case), and apply a very small amount to the brush and dab it out on a peice of paper, so there is barely any paint on the brush.  I then brush down the container, leaving a hint of the dark green. This tends to smooth out any areas that are heavy with light greens or browns.

Once this is all dry, flip over the container and paint the bottom with a thick layer of black paint.  This gives an area to write on some information on the outside of the container to label it as a geocache.  I use a silver Sharpie to do the writing.

Once all that is done, let it dry for a couple days before placing it out in the field. The finished product will look something like this: