Sunday, March 18, 2012

Nuvis, pocket queries and a US geocache database

I received an email the other day from a reader (Mike) looking for an automotive GPS he could transfer geocaching info to. He asked about doing this via POIs, with a possible goal of getting all U.S. geocaches loaded. I pointed Mike towards some resources and we corresponded a bit more. He ended up buying a Garmin nuvi, and I asked him to keep me posted on his quest. I heard back from Mike today and he’s given me permission to share his experience:

"The Garmin Nuvi is a USB Mass Storage Device, so I figured it might work with the Mac iBook I use and my main machine at home. To my delight, the Nuvi is automatically recognized and mounted on the desktop as a removable drive when plugged in.

I shelled out the $30 for premium membership which allows you to define some pretty exacting queries (they call them Pocket Queries) for downloading to a handheld device.  Any Pocket Query returns up to 500 cache locations in either GPX or LOC format together with a MobiPocket file of all the cache details.

So, I ran a Pocket Query to give me up to 500 caches within 75 miles of home.  Since these run overnight, the next morning my inbox had a message with a zipfile containing the cache waypoints in GPX format.  I unzipped the waypoints and loaded them into the Garmin/Waypoints directory of the Nuvi.

Lo and behold, after rebooting the Nuvi, its "My Favourites" menu now lists the waypoints and they appears as little treasure chest icons as I drive along. The only issue is that the name of the cache is the waypoint GCxxxx, rather than its real name, but I think that GPSBabel might be able to solve that one. I can also load the Pocket Query files into MacSimpleGPS and send them to my eTrex. So, I’ve yet to solve the database of all US caches question, but at least the Nuvi is proving more exciting."

I was intrigued with the idea of building a large database of caches, so I asked Mike how big the Pocket Query file was. The answer…550 KB.

About Rich Owings

Rich is the owner, editor and chief bottle-washer for GPS Tracklog. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus.


  1. Of _course_ GPSBabel can help, Rich. 🙂
    Since you were less vague than that user about what OS you’re running, I can even throw better hints.
    gpsbabel -s -i gpx -f yourpq.gpx -o gpx,snlen=30 -F /Volumes/nuvi/Garmin/Waypoints/blah.gpx
    Remember to go info finder and eject the volume after you’ve done the write. If you do the above and then immediately rip the cable out of the unit, you’ll be suprised when some of your waypoitns don’t make it.
    Variations of the above can be done with the Applescript GUI (well, except the snlen thing; you’ll get the default of 32 which is normally reasonably workable) or just about any OS. It’d work with Linux, UnixWare, Solaris, OpenServer, FreeBSD, or anything else that supports USB mass storage device and GPSBabel. Unlike the other Garmins, there’s no protocol weirdness on these for wpt transfer, they’re more like Magellans or Lowrances; you just read and write files.
    It’s quite delightful to hear Nuvi say “Now approaching CACHE NAME on left”

  2. Great info Robert. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m off for the day, driving to the airport and flying cross-country, so if anyone else wants to comment (and see it promptly posted), you might want to take the discussion to

  3. I understand that the Nuvi cannot input lat/lon coordinates, so most (all?) multicaches are out of the picture. Anytime you find a cache with a puzzle/instructions taking you to another (otherwise unpublished) cache, you’d be stuck. This is correct, right?

  4. Sorry Chuck, but I haven’t had the pleasure of trying a nuvi, so I can’t verify that, but wow, that’s quite a limitation. It’s something Garmin could easily rectify with a firmware update though.

  5. I just did the 3.30 update to my NUVI 350. It now allows you to input latitude and longitude.
    It works so well and so easy!

  6. That’s great Chris. I’m impressed to hear someone say it’s easy to plug in lat/long. Just makes me want a nuvi that much more!

  7. I just bought a Nuvi 350 and it is great.
    So far it works pefect in the car and im excited to get caching with it.
    I was worried about the nav points also but there is a screen for inputing them in, mine came default with that function. Also if you touch the sat bars in the upper left corner you get a compass view.
    Now the only thing missing that would make me more comfortable about taking this product caching would be a tough skin from speck!

  8. X4,
    I was going to use my nuvi on a recent geocaching adventure in NC. When I put the Topo east disc in my laptop to transfer maps to the nuvi, it told me I needed to reinstall Topo, but I didn’t have the setup disc with me! So I’ve yet to try the nuvi out this way.

  9. Well we used the Nuvi to find 3 caches, one was a multi cache with the coordinates in the first cache.
    I just created a way point and then went into the current.gpx file (xml) and input in a small comment about the cache. When you do this though, you loose the actual display of the coordinates on the screen which I didnt like so I had to input the coordinates in the comment also so I could easily refer back to it.
    As far as getting us to the cache it was perfect.
    The location was dead on when you looked at the coordinates satelite and in map mode the arrow was right on top of the way point when you zoomed all the way in.
    Down sides where jumping back and forth on screens to see what the caches coordinates said and our current coordinates but it wasnt impossible.
    It would be really nice if you could click on the Arrival clock and if it would display the caches coordinates (lat, lon) and your current coordinates (lat, lon), im going to suggest it.
    I might also have to write a program to take the geocache.gpx file and convert it to a POI file.
    The waypoint file just doesnt have enough room to input all the comment information I wanted.
    I know garmin has a .gpx to .poi converter and I tried it but it drops too much information, I want to be able to bring up the .gpx file and have a split pane that says hers all the .gpx comments and other information where do you want to put it in the POI file so it all displays.
    Im also still worried about dropping it, I need a rubber sleeve for it so I can still use it but wont worry if I drop it to much.
    Keep me updated on how things go for you.

  10. The nuvi is a great platform for all sorts of applications. Maybe we’ll see a geocaching model at some point, complete with a protective sleeve. Garmin is making so much on auto units, I hope they don’t forget the other markets.

  11. Well you could always get the 60cX that was the other product I was going to get but I wanted something more for the car also and that unit I couldnt really see using in the car that often.
    I also made a request from garmin to add the waypoint/poi or input coordinates on the satellite screen where it already displays your current coordinates and compass.
    If they added that small piece the unit would be a lot easier to use GeoCaching so you wouldnt have to flip between so many screens.
    Now if I can get to make a tough skin for the Nuvi 350/360 I think a lot of people would be really happy with this unit.

  12. I actually have a 60CSx in my all too large stable of GPSR’s — one reason I haven’t spent a lot of time trying to geocache with the nuvi. BTW, I came across this today…

  13. wolvercacher says:

    OK Here is a guide to caching with your Nuvi. I love the unit and all the tools are out there.
    1) Generate a pocket query at
    2) Download GSAK and export your waypoints as a .gpx file
    3) Download the Garmin POI loader and load the GPS file to your SD card (if you load them directly to your unit then it will overwrite your previous POIs – which may or may not be an issue)
    4) Put the card in your unit, power it up, “do not overwrite existing POI”, and then all your caches should be in your favorites, custom PI file.
    The nicest feature I find is that if I’m taking a road trip I’ll load thousands – literally – along the route. Then while I’m driving you can click the where to, favorites, custom POI and the nuvi shows you 5 closest caches (GC name) and their direction and distance from your current location. If your interested in finding one of those caches tap it and the full name and difficulty of the cache pops up.
    At the same time I load caches to the Nuvi I’ll export an HTML file from GSAK that is a static snapshot of all the same caches complete with cache description, hints and 5 latest logs. I have a Samsung Blackjack to read htis HTML fle but really any old PDA that reads HTML should be fine for this.
    Good luck!

  14. Wolvercacher,
    Thanks for taking the time to share that. Sounds like a good process. Now if we only had a hack to add a compass screen to the nuvi!

  15. I have followed the instruction left by Rich Owings, January 13, 2007 at 09:46 AM. and when I power up my Garmin Nuvi 350, it will only show a a few of the 161 POI’s I have loaded. It will also do this when using the Garmin geocaching search & download page as well as with
    sent to gps feature. I use the .gpx format.
    Anyone have an idea as to why it’s doing this and how I can fix it?

  16. Just found this today and wanted to share. This is what I’ve been looking for!!! It is a MACRO that pulls info from GSAK into a form that gets uploaded with the POI loader. If you dig a little into the macro code you can customize as you wish but it isn’t exactly obvious. I have one that is tweaked a little bit than the one available at the site to include the hint, exact lat/lon, and as much of the short description (i.e. small lock n lock hidden in traditional manner) as possible. This really makes Nuvi caching almost paperless!!

  17. Rich Owings says:

    Just in case people can’t figure out where TypePad put your link ;-)…

  18. dan copeland says:

    hi just wanting to know which gps hand held device is the easyiest to learn how to opperate, or simplest to geocaching with, i get so frustrated, i need simple ive used a couple but need the simplest to operate, just wat to geocach, simple fast to operate and use? im [email protected] im danny

  19. I like the Oregon series for two reasons:
    1. A simpler interface
    2. It supports paperless caching

  20. Cindy Samples says:

    I have a Nuvi265W. I successfully got one of my gpx routes to load and show the treasure chests on the map. I run a pocket querry. I save to the gpx folder on the nuvi but I’m not getting treasure chest on my maps. What step am I missing?

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