GPS and Geocaching

Introduction

In 2003, I borrowed a very simple GPSr from a friend. I worked with it for a few months to see what it could do for me. And I logged my first few Geocache finds with it. In June 2005, I was finally able to acquire my own hand-held GPS. Yes, it is something of a toy for me. But the way I look at it, this tool can add so much to my enjoyment of both my fishing and biking hobbies. My first GPSr was a Garmin GPSMAP 60C. And now I am active in my latest hobby, called Geocaching. The sections that follow discuss the GPS unit and the Geocaching hobby.

GPS Hardware and software

Picking my GPS

So I already said above that I have a Garmin GPSMAP 60C. How did I pick that one? Well, I had been window shopping for quite some time. I was leaning toward either the Magellan Meridian Gold or Platinum model. The difference between these two is that the Platinum includes a built-in electronic compass and barometer (which the Gold does not). One caution I have heard was that an electronic compass drains batteries quickly.

My friend Dave (who has done more than a little Geocaching) had recommended that I also look at the Garmin GPS V. He owned a Garmin GPS III, but was considering an upgrade. The newest Garmin model at that time was the Garmin GPSMAP 60C. He now has the 60CS which has the added compass and barometer. I must admit that I really liked what I had seen of this GPSMAP 60. Another friend has the top of the line Street Pilot model. He tells me that the Garmin maps are much more accurate than the Magellan ones. YMMV

So, I watched and waited for a good deal. I sold an amatuer radio that was collecting dust at home. I held onto rather than spending what checks I got for my birthday. And I finally pulled it off. I am a very happy owner of a Garmin GPSMAP 60C. I've had no regrets since I bought this unit.

Accessories

I got a RAM mount for the car that uses a locking suction cup. I also got the Garmin multipurpose cable which provides power via a 12v jack in the car as well as 9 pin serial connection.

In Sept 2009, I got an iPod Touch. It does not have a GPS built into it, but it runs the official Geocaching.com iPhone app for accessing information about Geocaches in the area. The downside of this is that I need Wi-Fi access in order to access on-line data. I can save cache data to the iPod when I look up a cache at home or Starbucks and then access this off-line copy of the cache listing when I get near the cache. This is as close as I have gotten to "paper-less caching". Those who have the iPhone can access the on-line data whenever and whereever they have 3G data access. Based on these limits of the iPod Touch, I consider this more of an accessory than a field device for Geocaching.

Newer Alternatives

I am not really looking to replace my unit, but I have been looking around a bit just to see what new options are available. I like and might recommend any of these deals. The first is the current version of the GPS I own. The next would be one of the Garmin Nuvi units. I bought one of these for my wife a few years back for Christmas. She loves having this available in her car. The Garmin Colorado is a newer unit with many more features related to Geocaching built into it. This list of alternatives was last updated 27 July 2015.

NOTE that the Nuvi models come with North American street maps built in. The Colorado is available with different map sets built in. The model I have a link for above includes NA Topographical maps. Street maps for the Garmin GPSMAP 64 and Colorado units are purchased seperately. For many models, you can purchase maps on an SD card. Consider the cost of maps when you are comparing prices of the different models. And consider what maps you actually want/need for your own use.

I also have a section later on this page regarding Geocaching with Smart Phones. I thought I should put that after this next section that tells you more about Geocaching in general.


Geocaching sites and software

What is Geocaching?

Profile for kschu

Geocaching is yet another hobby or past-time I enjoy. Check this little graphic to the right for my current statistics. Click on it to see my profile on the Geocaching.com website.

If you know me at all, you are asking why in the world do I need yet another thing to spend my precious free time on. I'll offer a few simple reasons. Geocaching has certainly helped me learn how to use all the features of my GPS. I do get a bit of exercise going on these little explorations. I enjoy caching with friends, so it gets me out with others to relax and have some fun. The fact that I do have fun with it is probably the best reason.

And I am really happy that my wife has enjoyed doing a few of these with me. I have even been out and hunted a few with my parents. It still amazes me some of the places that we have visited while hunting a Geocache. We never would have visited or found some of these remarkable venues if it had not been for the cache that brought us there.

Back to the question at hand. What is Geocaching? In short, it is using one's GPS to locate hidden Geocaches. Geocaches are typically a container hidden in/on almost any public place. The container holds at least a log sheet for you to sign. Once you find a cache, you sign the log and possibly trade some small items that others have left behind. Then you visit the Geocaching.com website and record your visit to the cache. My wife describes it as high-tech treasure hunting.

I know that is a short and very simple answer. This question has been asked and answered so many times. I won't presume that I can provide a generic answer better than those who have done so before me. I'll recommend you visit the "Getting Started with Geocaching" found on the Geocaching.com website or other links listed below.

Travel Bugs

Travel bugs are a fun little side item related to Geocaching. Geocachers often put these trinkets out in Geocaches, with a unique serial number on them. The idea is that one can pick up a travel bug from one cache and take it with you so you can drop it into another cache. These travel bugs are tracked through a Trackables section on the Geocaching.com website. There is also a Travelbug FAQ available.

My favorite example is a travel bug that I placed in circulation back in Nov 2005. It is called The Platinum Plug (click for details). In Oct 2009, it was carried from Florida to Switzerland and has since gotten to Germany. Since I sent it out, it has traveled nearly 12,000 miles.

Software

I had used GSAK (Geocache Swiss Army Knife) for tracking Geocache locations and my history/logs. I have to say that this is one of the most useful pieces of software I have ever had the pleasure to use. That was back in the days when I was using a Windows based home computer. Now that I have moved to a MAC, finding anything to match GSAK has been a challenge, to say the least.

I do have a MAC application installed called MacCaching. It is useful for loading a GPX file into my Garmin GPS. It has an ability to let me enter log entries. However, it does not have the ability to maintain one large database of the caches I have found or those I am watching by way of Geocaching.com Pocket Queries.

I did recently find the GCStatistic package for MAC OS X. It runs well on my Intel based Macbook Pro. And it generates a very good set of statistics, graphics and a map based on a MyFinds query on the GeoCaching.com web site. You can view my own statistics page and see what you think.

Searching for Geocaches

Search for Geocaches at Geocaching.com
Geocache ID:

Zip Code:

Search for caches from home coordinates (filter out finds) or from work coordinates (filter out finds)

Geocache Handicaching Ratings


Geocaching with Smart Phones

In June 2010, I got myself a Droid phone by Motorola. This is one of many Android based smart phones. With it (and the $30/month data plan) I can access the internet at any time and nearly anywhere. The phone has a very capable GPS built in and I have found it adequate for most of my geocaching. The phone has a decent web browser (once you get used to the small screen) that I can use to access the Geocaching.com website. And being an Android phone, one can download from a large "Market" of applications. I have found 2 that work well for geocaching.

I have the "c:geo" application installed. This app is free and has all the features one needs in order to Geocache using just the phone. It uses my login account for Geocaching.com to query the caches near my current location and then lets me see the results as a list of caches near me or on a "live map". When I get near a cache, I can navigate to the cache location using a map, a compass or a "radar screen". Personally, I prefer the radar screen. And after you find the cache, you can even log your find right away, if you don't mind typing log entries on a phone.

I also have the official Geocaching.com app on my Droid. This app was just released on the Droid Applications Market Q3 2010, although I have a friend who has been part of their beta test group for many months. I think I paid $9.99 for this App, but I won't complain. I am all about supporting Groundspeak (the organization that maintains and operates the Geocaching.com servers). This is a very handy tool and of course it works well for Geocaching. After all, it is published by Groundspeak. However, the early versions are more of a port of their existing iPhone application rather than a version developed for Android. There are several parts of the user interface that I hope they will update in future releases to make this a more Droid-like app.


Under investigation

Perhaps I should not even include the following information on this page. These are links and other info which I have come across, which I need to go back and investigate further. These sites could be very interesting and I may well end up incorporating them into the main part of this page (above). But I might also just drop them if I find them less valuable. For now, they are listed here so I remember to checked them out more carefully. If you visit one of these sites and want to offer some feedback, I would appreciate an e-mail from you. If you find something "objectionable" on one of these pages, please let me know so I can remove it promptly.

Caching helps for disabled persons

Since late 2011, I use a cane to help me get around. I now have disabled persons (aka. Handicapped) license plates on my vehicle. While this is quite handy when parking in a busy mall, the cane can be an incumbrance when I'm out caching. Luckily, I do much of my caching with friends, who watch out for me very carefully. For those times when I am going out on my own, I depend heavily on the cache ratings and descriptions provided by cache owners. I can make decisions about which caches to visit and which to avoid.

Geocache Handicaching Ratings

I recently came across the Handicaching.com website. I learned of this in a short article on a Geocaching.com weekly newsletter. The idea is that any cacher can go to this site and provide added information to help better rate the accessibility of a cache for disabled persons. I have not dug into this yet, but I truely like (and appreciate) the idea behind this. I'll enhance this portion of my Geocaching web page once I delve into this site/service further.

Mapping

Misc Map related sites to investigate

Geocaching using Google Maps

A while back, the Geocaching.com site added links to Google Maps for each Geocache. It is so cool to be able to pull up a Google map of a location and then they fill in all the Geocaches within the area displayed. Here are some samples. I'm thinking these will be good places to go hunting several caches on one outing or another.


Far from finished

I hate the phrase "under construction" when talking about web pages. I would rather just be up front and say that this page is 'far from finished'. There is quite a bit more that I want to add to this page. Your feedback would be greatly appreciated. Please drop me an e-mail with your suggestions and/or questions.

Footnotes


The URL for this page is http://home.fnal.gov/~kschu/hobbies/geocache.html
© Copyright 2005-2011 by Ken Schumacher
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Last modified: Mon 27 July 2015