Caches and Cacti

As geocachers, we spend our fair share of time out in the wild, hiking. And sometime during our adventures we’re sure to run into one of the great sticker-plants: a cactus! In researching this article, I’ve heard that there are wild cacti in all the contiguous states except Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

saguaro cactus

Saguaro are iconic cacti. And they ARE native to Southern AZ.



Glad to know that us desert dwellers don’t enjoy a monopoly in these mild forms of torture!

(Hey you Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont people: is it true? Are there REALLY no wild cacti there?)

So I wanted to share with you two tested and proven ways of removing cactus spines.

Removing Big Cactus Needles

Here I was, honestly minding my own business doing some caching in Southern Arizona. Up this super steep hill I go, sign the log, come back down and as I get ready to climb back into the truck I look down to see:

A Hitchhiker!

Cholla in shoe

This is a whole joint from a nasty cactus called a jumping cholla. It doesn’t really JUMP but it will stick to just about anything!

The best way to get rid of a joint of cactus is to gently work a comb between the joint and whatever it’s stuck in. Then FLICK!

Putting the comb behind the cactus

Of course, you need to be sure not to flick it back at yourself or at anybody else! And I recommend having a buddy do it because the last thing you want to do ANYWHERE near a cactus is to sit on the ground!

Group of cactus spines
You can continue to use the comb to get rid of any remaining groups of cactus thorns. Then follow up with a pair of tweezers. We always carry a comb AND a pocket multi-tool for just these things.

Thank you Leatherman Multi-Tool with Tweezers!

Removing Little Cactus Needles

The tiny, nearly invisible, oh-so-terrible, hair-like cactus spines are called glochids. Not ALL cacti have glochids but if you have them stuck in your fingers, that fact is small comfort.

Last Saturday, ESP Boss & I drove to Tucson to visit my grandparents and pick up a kayak my grandfather had bought for me. He got it for a STEAL ($60!) because a packrat had made a nest inside the kayak and the large sections of foam inside were COVERED in glochids.

We had to totally take all the inside parts out of the kayak so we could clean it enough to load it onto the car. And I learned two things:

1. Packrats are really gross creatures who line their nests with cactus spines
2. No matter how careful you are, you WILL get glochids in your hands!

Poor ESP Boss ended up with a half-dozen that he just COULD NOT GET OUT.

Cactus in finger

You can’t see it, but it IS there!



Removing Glochids
Tweezers are a good bet but they can shear the glochid off at skin level. It won’t stick out enough to grab it with anything but it will stick out enough for you to brush it against EVERYTHING and generally make yourself miserable.

What we found that worked was covering the area with white glue (Elmer’s is perfect) then pressing a small section of gauze over it. Allow it to dry COMPLETELY and then peel the gauze off.

White glue is cheap — use plenty!



It might take several tries, but it really does get them out.

ESP Boss likes to do it once with the gauze and then once with just two layers of glue (let it dry completely between) and peel.

With or without gauze will depend on you and on the size/depth of the cactus thorn.



Here’s the good news:

  • Cactus spines aren’t really poisonous. They’ll just make you miserable.
  • They WILL work their way out of your skin. Eventually.
  • Most of the time, they’ll be large cactus needles that are easy to deal with.

Here’s the bad news:

  • Sooner or later you WILL encounter (and be stuck by) a cactus in your geocaching adventures.


Readers Weigh In:

  • What tips and tricks do you have for removing cactus needles? From skin? From gear or clothing?