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Atlas Quest

Help: Etiquette, Conventions, and Rules

  1. Are there any rules?
  2. Can I show off my stamps?
  3. What are PFX counts?
  4. What about other types of counts?
  5. Should I let my children find and replant a box?
  6. Does an exchange count if it's done through the mail?
  7. Is it all right to change my trail name, and how do I do that?
  8. What other websites are available for international letterboxes?
  9. How can we identify a fellow letterboxer on the trail?
  10. Why don't some letterboxers like geocaching?
  11. Do I sign my trail name on the book with my stamp and the date I found the box?
  12. Which page of the box log book should I stamp?
  13. How can I find out rules and etiquette for hitchhiker boxes? I looked for it under hitchhiker in glossary and link sent me to forbidden page

Are there any rules?

Yes, there are. Use your common sense and don't put yourself or others in a position of danger. Don't harm the environment while looking for or planting a letterbox. Most of these rules are common sense type of things, but they are critical for the long-term survival of this hobby. For more details about etiquette, conventions, and how to stay safe, check out our Letterboxer's Code of Conduct.

Can I show off my stamps?

Yes, you may show off your stamps, but please remember that some people do not like to see a stamp image until after they find it. They want the image to be a surprise and earn the right to see the image. So before you start showing your stamps to everyone, ask to make sure they want to see your stamps first.

In the (rare) case that a particular stamp image may also be the clue for the location of the box, you may want to reconsider "showing off" this stamp as it might be a true "spoiler".

What are PFX counts?

PFX is a numbering system used by letterboxers to quickly communicate the number of Plants, Finds, and eXchanges. Plants are the number of boxes you've planted, finds are the number of letterboxes you've found, and exchanges are the number of other letterboxers you've met and exchanged images of your signature stamps.

How to count PFX counts is one of the many aspect of letterboxing about which consensus has not been reached. Some rules of thumb are:

  • You may never count a found letterbox more than once
  • You may never count as a find a letterbox you've already counted as a plant, or vice-versa
  • To count as a new letterbox, it must have a different stamp, in a different location, with a different clue

They say nothing is ever black and white, and counting PFX counts is no different. What if you find a box but the stamp is missing? Does it still count as a find? Or you find the box with the stamp, but the logbook is not there? Everyone has a different opinion on how such gray areas should be counted. So count it how you think is fair. Letterboxing has no PFX police to hand out tickets, so do what you think is right.

However, there is one particular issue that seems straightforward to some but seems to cause much confusion to others. If you carve a stamp or create a letterbox, then give it to somebody else to plant, it is he or she who planted the letterbox.

It is unclear why there is interest in claiming dubious P-counts, but if others wanted to know how many stamps you carved or letterboxes you created, there would be an S-count (i.e. Stamps carved) or a C-count (i.e. Created boxes) or some other count. P stands for Plant; thus, a P-count should be the number of letterboxes you've planted.

Some believe that the person who carved the stamp should get the credit because it took more time than the actual planting of the box. Keep in mind, however, that a hand-carved stamp is optional. If someone hides a letterbox with a hand-carved stamp, they can still count it as a planted letterbox. Do they lose that P-count if someone else actually carved a stamp for them? Why should the rule change just because someone else carved a stamp—a step that was completely optional in the first place? Additionally, there are some very clever clues out there that took an enormous amount of time to create. It does not matter. The person who planted the letterbox should get the P-count.

Don't think of this as a lost P-count—it's actually an opportunity for another F-count! Seeing step number two above—a rule that's been around from the very beginning—if you try to count a box as a plant, you've disqualified it from counting as a find when you later go try to find the letterbox yourself. You would be shortchanging your F-count!

So unless you actually planted the box, let it go. There are no awards for the most letterboxes planted. Have the person who planted the letterbox and who wrote the clue add a note to the clue giving you due credit for carving the stamp where credit is actually due, but don't count the letterbox as part of your P-count. You'd just be fooling yourself.

What about other types of counts?

Some letterboxers include other types of counts such as HH, V, R, P, S, and dozens of others. Some you can probably guess—HH for hitchhiker, V for virtual boxes, and P for postal boxes. Some can be rather silly—R for rescues when the letterboxer has found themselves in a situation necessitating a rescue or S for snakes, serpents, and other reptiles spotted on the trail. You won't see a complete list of possible counts—they're largely personal in nature and new ones are created and abandoned all the time.

Should I let my children find and replant a box?

Yes. Letterboxing is a family activity. However, it is important to educate your child to know that finding a box means paying attention to how they found the box, and replanting it means to make sure they put it back exactly the way they found it. It's a good idea to have the same person who pulled the box out of it's hiding place be the one that puts it back. Parents ought to double-check a replanted box to be sure it is completely concealed and not accidentally left exposed, which will result in a box going missing.

Does an exchange count if it's done through the mail?

Historically, exchanges are face-to-face interactions with other letterboxers, so most letterboxers will not count mail exchanges as part of their X-count. They still might be thrilled to do a mail exchange and see and feel your signature stamp, but most people do not consider an exchange official until it's done face-to-face.

Is it all right to change my trail name, and how do I do that?

Most people end up changing their trail name at least once, because when they first get into letterboxing they pick the nearest available stamp, usually store bought, and make up a trail name that goes with the stamp. After you've been letterboxing for a while, and decide you are going to continue with it, they realize their name and/or stamp isn't a perfect fit, and many times they have the desire to carve their signature stamp.

I advise you to think carefully to find the name that will be the perfect fit before you make the change, so you won't need to change again for a long time.

When you're ready to make the change, hover over "my page" and choose "account info". You can change your trailname there. All references to your trail name on Atlas Quest will change when you change your name. This includes all of your posts, boxes, emails, and find reports in other people's logbooks. You will keep your planted and found counts. Your former trail name will appear on your profile as an alias.

Be prepared that nobody will know who you are. Some people will have difficulty recording finds on your boxes. You should send emails to all participants of every postal and LTC tracker that you are a member of, as well as to your friends. You should make an announcement on the boards of your new trail name, and for at least a couple of weeks, you should sign posts with both the old and new trail names. Even then, you will find the suddenly confused people who somehow missed the announcements and think that you are a new friend rather than an old one.

What other websites are available for international letterboxes?

LbNA does support non-North American letterboxes under the generic heading of "Other Countries." LbNA and Atlas Quest are the two main locations for both US and non-US letterboxes, but you can find a list of additional letterboxing websites in the Link Directory for Letterboxing Portals.

If you learn of any new websites that should be added, please do so.

How can we identify a fellow letterboxer on the trail?

The most obvious signs to look for are clue sheets. Most letterboxers print out their clues, and if you see someone using those, they're a letterboxer. A growing number of people are using their electronic devices to download clues, however, so the lack of flying pages does not necessarily rule out someone as being a letterboxer. If they seem especially focused on their iPhone, they could be a letterboxer.

Other obvious signs include letterboxing clothing, bumper stickers, and patches. Patches will often be sewn onto backpacks, and an AQ patch or LbNA patch would be dead giveaways. Some letterboxers have letterboxing bumper stickers on their car or a frame around their license plate. If you're in a parking lot, keep your eyes open for those. Even if the hikers aren't near their car, it at least clues you in that letterboxers are nearby and that you should keep your eyes pealed for them. And some people wear letterboxing clothing, usually purchased through places like Cafe Press or perhaps one of Dixie's T-shirt designs.

If there's no obvious sign that a person is a letterboxer, you have to look for less obvious signs. Do they appear to be searching methodically for something? Do they stop and pretend to be "doing nothing" when you get closer? They might be a letterboxer—especially if they are near a location you know to have a letterbox. It could also be a geocacher, though. (If you see them with a GPS device or are wearing geocaching clothing, you can probably eliminate them as potential letterboxers.)

There is no universally known method to identify oneself as a letterboxer, but the most common 'signal' is to ask, "Which way is north?" The correct response from a letterboxer would be to point up. Only letterboxers who read the message boards regularly typically know that—new boxers and those who aren't active on the message boards likely won't know the correct answer and will instead try to point northwards. However, if the person pulls out a compass and points north, there's a good chance they are a letterboxer. Most day hikers don't normally carry a compass!

Why don't some letterboxers like geocaching?

Sometimes when a geocacher finds a letterbox, they think they've found a geocache or a game which includes trading for the "swag" inside the box. So they may take the stamp and leave a trinket.

To help prevent this problem see:

How can I tell if there are any geocaches near the spot I want to hide my letterbox?
How can I help prevent my stamp from being traded out for a trinket?

Do I sign my trail name on the book with my stamp and the date I found the box?

At a minimum, most people provide at least a signature stamp, their trail name (if it's not included on your signature stamp) and the date the box was found in the letterbox's logbook. If you're traveling it's especially nice to include where you're from. Additional comments are certainly welcome—the weather, what you were doing in that part of the world, who you were with or whatever else suits your fancy.

Taking it a step further, some boxers like to write in the time in which they found the box.

Which page of the box log book should I stamp?

If the planter provides directions, follow them. If not, the recommended procedure is as follows: Stamp box log books on the front of each page only, going from the front of the book to the back. As the finds approach the back of the book, finders should notify the owner that it's getting close to the end, preferably reporting exactly how many pages remain. Then if the owner decides to replace the log book when each page has entries on the front, she/he may do so. If log book front pages are full, then turn the book over and fill it back-to-front. Again, notify the owner when the log book is nearly full.

How can I find out rules and etiquette for hitchhiker boxes? I looked for it under hitchhiker in glossary and link sent me to forbidden page

No answer provided... yet!