Skip to Content
Register · Login
About Theme

A Letterboxing Community

Help: Traditionals

Sub-Categories: Finding · Planting
  1. What do the icons stand for in a traditional letterbox?
  2. What do I do if I find a soaking wet logbook?
  3. What should I do if someone asks what I'm doing while hunting down a letterbox?
  4. Should I get permission before hiding a letterbox?
  5. How do I solve a clue that uses a cipher or code?
  6. What is the definition of Bike Friendly?
  7. Who do I contact about an inappropriate placing of a box?
  8. How do I download Atlas Quest letterbox locations to my GPS?
  9. Are there boxes planted on cruise ships and how would we search for them?

What do the icons stand for in a traditional letterbox?

Stamp Types

The creator promises you'll find a genuine, 100% hand-carved stamp in the letterbox and not a store-bought or custom-made stamp.
The letterbox contains a unique, custom-made stamp.
The letterbox contains a store-bought stamp rather than a hand-carved or custom-made stamp.


The creator does not specify the location of the nearest city for this letterbox. They may have specified the state or country of its location, but you're expected to discover the actual starting point for the hunt yourself. From a technical standpoint, a location is considered a mystery box if the location has no name, address, and city. If the location spans less than one mile, it is not a mystery. And if a location is "somewhere within a city," the owner of the box can specify if it's a mystery location or not. And finally, just because you solve a mystery and add a custom location, the letterbox is still considered a mystery box-adding a specific custom location will not remove this icon.
This picture represents a bonus box, where the clue for the box will be found (usually) in a pre-existing nearby letterbox. Premium Member Perk!
A Word of Mouth (WOM) box. The clues are distributed somewhere other than online, such as via e-mail, postal mail, or delivered in person. Premium Member Perk!
Premium members might see this icon, which means you've done an exchange with the owner of this letterbox. Premium Member Perk!
An urban letterbox, as defined here, is located in an area where one is unlikely to experience "The Great Outdoors". Like in a big city, such as New York city. A rest area in the middle of nowhere is an urban box. A large city park with trees and hiking trails is not an urban box. The 'setting' for the letterbox is urban, not necessarily the location, if that makes any sense.
A snow friendly box is rather a squishy concept. Some people might consider a box that requires several miles of cross-country travel using snow shoes or skies as snow 'friendly,' while other may not. Other boxes might be quite findable if there's an inch or two of snow on the ground but may no longer be easily found if there's a foot or two of snow on the ground. In theory, though, a snow friendly box is one in which important landmarks in the clue would not be covered, nor will digging through layers of snow be required to find the box.
A pet friendly letterbox is located in an area that allows pets to roam, usually with a leash requirement.
This letterbox is available only for a limited time. A limited time letterbox is either a box that is planted for only part of the year or a box that you intend to retire within the next three months. Letterboxes planted in regions that are covered in snow for nine months of the year or in stores that require a visit during store hours do not count as limited time boxes.
A bike friendly letterbox is located in an area where bicycles or mountain bikes are permitted and have plenty of room to roam. For instance, while it is legal to ride ones bicycle on busy city streets, it is not considered bike friendly if there are no designated bike lanes available for use near the letterbox. And while many trails may be accessible to mountain bike, it is not considered bike friendly if the trail is for hikers only.
The trail or path to the letterbox should be accessible by wheelchairs or strollers the entire way. However, the letterbox itself may not be reachable from a wheelchair or stroller, and those using them may need assistance from others to actually acquire the box. The letterbox may be planted too high or low for someone in a wheelchair to physically reach, or too far off from the main trail for a wheelchair, but as long as an assistant can retrieve the box and bring it back for the wheelchair-bound person, it's considered wheelchair accessible.
You'll be expected to use your head on this one in order to decipher the clue. The code might be easy or hard-this image promises nothing on that count-the only thing it does promise is that the clue won't be straight-forward as most.
A box that requires some sort of special or unusual equipment like for scuba diving or rock climbing, or even something as simple as a ladder. A compass is not considered "special" equipment for letterboxers! Premium Member Perk!
This image marks letterboxes that require a compass in order to find. The lack of this picture means the clue doesn't require a compass OR that the creator of the letterbox did not specify a compass requirement. It's generally a good idea to always carry a compass in your letterboxing kit, though, so you'll always be prepared.
Premium members can search for boxes that do not have the compass attribute. Premium Member Perk!
This letterbox requires payment of some sort of fee-probably a parking or entrance fee-in order to find. The lack of this picture does not necessarily mean no fees are required. The creator may not have specified fees, or perhaps fees were added since the box was planted. It's always a good idea to carry a few extra dollars in case of an unexpected fee or two.
Premium members can search for boxes that do not have the fee-area icon. Premium Member Perk!
Those who plant letterboxes are able to point out their favorite plants by assigning them the Planter's Choice Award. They might do this because they consider it one of their best boxes, or perhaps it has sentimental value. Whatever the reason, the planter wants you to notice this box. Premium Member Perk!
The blue diamond marks letterboxes that are highly recommended by other letterboxers. If your time is limited, you might want to focus on finding a Blue Diamond letterbox. Premium Member Perk!
Each week, the highest rated box on Atlas Quest is designated the Box of the Week. Use this to search for boxes that have reached such lofty heights. Premium Member Perk!
Some people like to find boxes that are 'historic,' and using this option in one's search can help narrow down the possibilities. A historic box, in this case, is any letterbox that was planted at least ten years ago and has been listed on Atlas Quest for at least five years. Premium Member Perk!
Some letterboxers want to find that elusive box few people ever find or even search for. Searching for 'rare finds,' in this case, will return all boxes that have not had a recorded find for at least one full year. Premium Member Perk!

Premium Member Perk! = Search options that are only available to premium members.

Hike Types

This letterbox is located indoors -- perfect for those cold, wet days when you really do not want to go outside.
A drive-by letterbox, as defined on this website, is a letterbox that requires perhaps 5 to 10 minutes to nab from the time you park your car. A drive-by letterbox will be hidden within eyesight of where one parks, or at least so close that if it were raining, the person would take the box to their car to stamp in.
A stroll is something that's less than a mile round-trip of walking, which would take most people less than 30 minutes to complete (find and return to their starting point) but still too far out to be considered a drive by.
A walk is something that requires 1 to 2 miles round-trip of walking/hiking, which would take most people between 30 to 60 minutes to complete.
A hike is a box that requires 2 to 4 miles round-trip of hiking, which would take most people between 1 to 2 hours to complete.
A trek is 4 to 8 miles round-trip of hiking, and will typically take most people anywhere from 2 to 4 hours to complete.
A backpack is 8 to 15 miles round-trip of hiking, and will typically take most people anywhere from 4 to 8 hours to complete.
A thru-hike requires 15 or more miles round-trip of hiking, and will typically take most people a minimum of 8 hours to complete.

Note: Use a little common sense with these icons. A flat, paved, 1-mile trail would be a stroll. A rugged 1-mile trail that climbs 1,000 feet in elevation gain would be a walk. Even though both trails are one mile long, they would each fall into different categories since the difficulty level is very different. There are no hard or fast rules regarding this-just use a little common sense. A typical hiking trail that's two miles long would normally be a walk, but if the walk requires an extreme climb going up thousands of feet on a rarely maintained trail, mark it as a hike.


This is a happy letterbox—there are no reported issues with the box and no known repairs are needed.
This is a sad letterbox—it needs some help. Maybe there's a torn ziploc bag or maybe there's been a catastrophic box failure and the logbook is unusable or stamp severely damaged. If you wish to help, by all means, please do!

What do I do if I find a soaking wet logbook?

This advice is courtesy Doug Reade, a hand bookbinder and book restorer, and owner of Doug Reade Hand Bookbinding‎, 6548 26th Ave NW, Seattle, WA 98117 (206) 789-1142.

Keep it in a wet state like the recovered black box from an airliner crash until you can get it to a freezer. The most important thing is get the book frozen as soon as possible. Once the book dries out, the wrinkles and warping are set, and there's nothing anybody can do about it. But freeze it, and all damage stops. The book can stay frozen, in stasis, until you're ready to handle it.

Wrap the book in waxed or freezer paper. It's best to freeze it at -15F or lower, so if you can get access to a commercial freezer space, that would be a good idea. If that's not available, a home freezer will do in a pinch, but the results won't be quite as good. If possible, freeze the book spine down, and supported so it won't lean or fall over. If you have to lay it on its side, make sure that the book is fully and flatly supported. If you have anything under it smaller than the book, the book can and will mold itself around that object.

The recovery process is fairly simple:

  • Start with the cover. Open the cover (gently pry loose the inside page, if it's sticking). Run the air stream from a hair dryer (max settings on both heat and fan) over the cover, back and forth, top to bottom, and inside and out. When it feels dry and warm to the touch (not hot) go on to the inside page. Same procedure. Smooth the page with your hand as you work. Work page to page this way.
  • When the next page starts to feel wet to your fingers, stop. Stick in a piece of paper as a bookmark, and put the book back in the freezer. Leave the book in the freezer for at least a day.
  • Covers may soak up more moisture than the pages, so you may have to do the cover several times. Just keep the book frozen, and work only so long as it's frozen, quitting when it starts to thaw.

Acknowledgements to Doug Reade and

What should I do if someone asks what I'm doing while hunting down a letterbox?

Panic! Just kidding. =) First, be discreet and try not to get "caught" in the first place. Have lookouts while searching or rehiding the box. Stamp in away from where you found the letterbox, in a place where no one would be likely to see you. And, if you do get caught red-handed, there are several excuses you can make:

  • You're practicing your orienteering skills. (This works better if you have a compass in your hand.)
  • Your participating in a scavenger or treasure hunt.
  • You're looking for that contact lens/wallet/whatever that you think you lost near there.
  • You're having lunch. (This works especially well if you have the box already open and tupperware spread all over the place. Make sure it's actually lunchtime, though!)
  • You're birding. (This works better if you have binoculars on you.)
  • Start crying. This may not answer their questions, but they'll be so disturbed they'll forget their original question. =)

If all else fails and they're still not satisfied with your answer, tell them you're looking for a geocache. If you sound loud and obnoxious enough, we can continue giving geocachers a bad name. ;o) (I'm kidding, people. Sheeze!)

Should I get permission before hiding a letterbox?

If you want to be politically correct, yes. But if you ask, there's a real possibility they'll say no. The beauty in not asking is that they can't tell you no. And heaven forbid, if others have already placed letterboxes in the area and you let the owners of wherever the place may be know about letterboxing, they might not only tell you no, but they might even pull all the existing boxes! In any case, to be politically correct, you should ask permission. I know for a fact that most people do not, and what you do is ultimately up to you. Many places don't mind letterboxes, as long as they're placed where others can't harm the environment, which is a good thing to keep in mind while placing any letterbox.

Do not, however, ever plant letterboxes where they are known not to be allowed. If the land managers require permits or other hoops to jump through, follow their rules or find somewhere else to plant. We don't want to give letterboxing a bad name. And while asking for permission is not common, it's not okay to deliberately plant illegally either.

How do I solve a clue that uses a cipher or code?

That's a good question, and there's not a readily available answer that applies in all situations. It depends on the specific clue and how it was encoded! If you contact the planter of the letterbox, they might tell you exactly what cipher or code was used. If not, a lot of trial and error could be involved. The most common ciphers and codes used in letterboxing clues include:

An Internet search for ciphers and other related terms will pull up all sorts of useful websites with countless codes and ciphers and variations.

Too much work to solve a coded clue? Then don't look for it. Not all letterboxers are intended for everyone's enjoyment. These types of boxes are designed for people who want to work a bit harder to find an elusive box that not many people will likely look for.

What is the definition of Bike Friendly?

You can learn more about what the various icons are by clicking directly on the icon. In this case, if you click the bike icon, it'll take you to What do the icons stand for in a traditional letterbox?

Who do I contact about an inappropriate placing of a box?

First try to contact the person who planted the letterbox. If you know their trailname, you can contact them directly by sending them AQ Mail. If you do not know the trailname of the person who planted it, it'll require a bit of sleuthing.

Run a letterbox search to find the inappropriate listing. You can search by location—even down to the specific park or address where the letterbox was found. Keep in mind, however, that many people only list the city where their letterbox is located so it may be further down the results than you might expect. If you know the name of the letterbox, you can also search based on its name.

Once you've figured out who planted the box, check the last time they logged into Atlas Quest. Unfortunately, some members quit letterboxing without taking care of the letterboxes they've planted, and contacting those people might not generate any results if they never get your message. You can see their last login date on their profile—click the icon next to their name of the head in profile. If they've logged in recently, go and contact them about your concerns.

If they haven't logged in for months or years, you'll want to contact a moderator. Moderators can update the box as necessary.

How do I download Atlas Quest letterbox locations to my GPS?

Lone R has created a nice tutorial about how she downloads letterbox locations to her Nuvi Garmin GPS.

Are there boxes planted on cruise ships and how would we search for them?

If you want to find letterboxes planted on or near cruise ships, you should search the database using the keyword "cruiseship" to filter the listings. Keywords are not required, but the search will produce a number of results.