Sunday, March 18, 2012

Handheld GPS 101: Geocaching

Geocaching container

This is the fifth in a series of posts designed to help introduce beginners to the use of handheld GPS receivers.

Geocaching is a sort of high-tech treasure hunt and a great way to learn to use your handheld GPS. To begin, go to and enter your zip code. You’ll likely find coordinates for hundreds of nearby caches. You’ll need to register (free) to be able to download them directly to your GPS.

Getting ready

  • Geocaches come in various shapes and sizes; you should stick to traditional or large size caches at first. Attempting to find a micro on your first hunt is a sure route to frustration.
  • Difficulty and terrain ratings – These go from 1 to 5, with 1 being the easiest.
  • Read recent logs at before heading out. You may find some very helpful hints there.

In the field

  • Walk at a good pace to ensure that your GPS is accurately pointing you in the right direction. Your GPS can only get you so far. Once you’re within 10 or 20 feet (the likely limits of accuracy of your GPS), stop looking at your GPS and start looking for a good hiding place.
  • Keep an eye out for muggles – non-geocachers who may think you’re acting suspiciously. Of course, after you’ve bagged a few caches you may want to engage muggles and tell them all about the wonderful new sport you’ve discovered.

Once you’ve found the cache

  • Sign the log (carry your own pen if you’re going after micros)
  • Trade trinkets – If you take something from a cache, be sure to leave a replacement – something of equal or greater value.
  • Replace the cache – Hide it just like you found it.
  • Log that cache – When you return home, go back to the cache page and create your own log

Geocaching 201

  • Pocket Queries – A premium membership in will allow you to download up to 1,000 caches at a time. Here are a couple of good resources on PQs.
  • Paperless caching – Many modern handheld GPS receivers support paperless caching, allowing you to take the full description, ratings, hint and recent logs into the field with you. These include the Garmin Colorado, Dakota, Oregon and GPSMAP 62/78 series, Magellan Tritons and the eXplorist GC, Lowrance Endura series and the DeLorme PN series.

Image courtesy NomDuClavier

Other posts in this series:

About Rich Owings

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

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