Sunday, March 18, 2012

Using field notes when geocaching


Geocaching field notes on iPhone

Using an iPhone to submit geocaching field notes

Newer technologies such as smartphone apps have put less emphasis on logs. As a result, many a new geocacher has fallen foul of just putting a dot or a ‘TFTC’ (Thanks For The Cache) for entirety of their log, only to be reminded politely (or in some cases not so politely) by the geocache owner that more detailed logs are ‘encouraged’.

This, as you can imagine, leads to all sorts of problems. In essence, it’s down to the finder what they feel is a suitable log (personally, if a user just wants to put a TFTC as the log to one of my caches, I don’t worry about it), but it’s easy to see why some veterans of the sport get the (incorrect) impression that smartphone users are somehow cheapening the hobby.

The smartphone problem

A large part of the problem lies with the technology. As I’ve explained to many a geocaching stalwart, it’s not really viable to type up a detailed log on your iPhone, where the emphasis is on logging your find there and then rather than when sat at the computer at home. I have enough issue typing an SMS text or twitter update on my phone whilst sat at home in the warm. When I’m out in the rain on top of a hill with only limited battery life and dodgy cell coverage, I doubt I could even produce something legible.

A solution, therefore, may be a better understanding of these apps within the Geocaching community but even if you are a dedicated device user, such as a Garmin or Magellan, there can still be issues with logging geocaches.

Geocaching field notres on a Garmin

Adding field notes on a Garmin using comments

Like many, I often enjoy a big ring with multiple geocaches. Although injury has stopped me from doing it recently, I can often go out for a day and find 80 or more geocaches. The problem is that come time to post my logs, it can be hard to find something unique or interesting to say about each one. Even worse, sometimes there are tales I want to recount in my logs, but cannot remember at which geocache they happened.

Field notes to the rescue

And this is why I swear by Field Notes.

Field Notes are best described as a temporary log that you can edit before posting your find. The official iPhone app has an option to post your finds as a field note whereby they sit on the site waiting for you to edit before committing your find as a proper log. Other devices, such as the Garmin, give the option to add a comment each time you set a geocache to found on the unit. These comments are stored as part of your finds file (geocache_visits) and can be uploaded directly into Field Notes or manipulated using tools such as GSAK to make posting multiple logs so much easier (we’ll come onto that in a future article!).

Field note shorthand

The important thing to remember whether you are using a smartphone or a dedicated device is that these field notes are just temporary and as such, you can implement a form of shorthand when recording your find.

For example, when out geocaching in a group I usually like to put into my logs who found each geocache. When at the geocache I will usually store the comment / message as ‘FB’ and then the geocacher’s intial (i.e. FBM – found by me). If the geocache is in an awkward to reach place I might also add ‘RB’ and the initial of the geocacher who retrieved it. If the find required ‘a short search’ I will append the unfortunate acronym of ‘ASS’ to my note. If it took slightly longer to find I’ll append ‘AS’.

Uploading geocaching field notes

Uploading your geocaching field notes file

I will also note one word reminders to myself for anything unique that happened at the geocache location. ‘Mud’ might denote a location I fell over, ‘Cow’ might denote a location where the local farm animals became inquisitive. The important thing is not the word that’s used, just that it reminds me of that location and what happened there.

So ‘FBMAS Cow’ tells me that I found it but it took some time and that this is the geocache where there was some incident involving a cow (hopefully enough to prompt me to remember this find). From this I can edit my field note into something entirely more interesting before posting it as a proper log.

How you organise your shorthand is completely up to you but as you can see, by having one it makes it very quick and easy to record information whilst at the geocache location. This can then be used to help you, once you return home, to post a log detailed enough for the fussiest of geocache owner.

Your turn

Do you use Field Notes? If so, do you have your own shorthand you use? If not, what other methods do you use to help you keep your logs detailed and unique? Let us know in the comments below.


About Adrian Faulkner

Adrian Faulkner is a writer of both fiction and non-fiction. He is an active geocacher with over 9000 finds to his name. You can find more by Adrian at and on his Google Plus page.


  1. Atlas Cached says:

    I have been doing exactly this for some time now, however my shorthand is unique to myself, as most users will be.

    I always wait until I get home to go through all my field notes and re-write my logs before publishing with one exception – If I am lucky enough to be FTF on a cache, I will publish the FTF log immediately, with a note “More to come” – as a courtesy to other FTF hunters.

  2. I’ve been using Field notes for a while too. Whether I find the cache with my phone or my Oregon, I log it on the phone (now using CacheSense) using a quick summary, save up the logs for the day, then email them to myself. Then at home I use GSAK to open up the fieldnotes, write up a my logs (mine tend to have a minimum of 100 words, I really like to tell the story of finding the cache!) automatically put in some stats (e.g. Find number A,BCD. Find X of Y today.), then publish. GSAK “Publish logs” also allows me to drop/visit trackables at the cache and upload my pictures all at once. Even without doing the GSAK thing, the fieldnotes are still very useful!

  3. Brian Lang says:

    Do you know: Is there a way to pull the field notes from INTO GSAK in order to write the logs there, and then publish them back to

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