How to Use Your Smartphone for Geocaching

How to Use Your Smartphone for GeocachingGeocaching has a been a favorite geek pastime for almost twelve years now. The idea behind geocaching is simply to place a container somewhere in or around a specific set of coordinates, hidden from general view. Some caches are harder to find than others, but each one contains a unique collection of gifts left by people who have visited the geocache previously.

A geocache is both an adventurer’s hobby and a proof of concept that the honor system can work. By taking one thing and leaving another, you are keeping the geocache alive for the next person who stumbles across it.

In the past, this hobby was restricted only to individuals with handheld GPS devices, requiring some searching in combination with knowing the exact latitude and longitude of the hidden cache. It is estimated that over 1,600,000 geocaches are hidden throughout the world, with many of them accessible within walking distance of civilization. That said, you’ll probably find that some of the most rewarding caches are hidden in areas that are more difficult to get to.

Today, this activity is open to virtually anyone with a smartphone as GPS has become a standard feature on these devices.

What is Geocaching?

Geocaching is simply a modern-day treasure hunt. A container is hidden somewhere in an accessible part of the world that contains a gift (or several gifts) that were left there by either the founder of the cache or others that have come across it in the past. Generally, the cache will be hidden so passers-by won’t easily discover it. Often, a poorly hidden cache will come up missing after a while as someone comes along and ruins the game for others.

The idea isn’t so much to find something particularly valuable. Most cache gifts are really just cheap keychains or trinkets worth less than a couple bucks. The fun is in seeking the treasure using a GPS and a set of coordinates. Each cache contains a logbook that visitors use to document who they are as they discover the cache. In some cases, people write limericks or haikus.

Some geocaches are as big as a breadbox while others can be as small as a film roll. This depends entirely on who created the cache and what type of treasure is involved. In most cases, the cache is about the size of a VHS tape.

The important thing to remember is that your job as a seeker is to leave nothing disturbed. If you take something, leave something. If there’s a logbook, make an entry. Take a moment to log your experience on your geocaching site of choice as well, as this could be of value to the next person to seek the treasure.

Software

If you have an iPhone, you can participate in geocaching by downloading a $9.99 app from Groundspeak that lists all nearby caches, reviews of the cache, and a report on the terrain and difficulty of the find.

Android users also have the ability to take advantage of Groundspeak’s Geocaching software by way of a equally priced option available on Google Play.

You don’t necessarily have to have a paid app to participate in geocaching. Any GPS navigation app that gives you latitude and longitude can be used to locate geocaches listed on one of many related sites on the Web.

Alternatively, an app such as iMarkMySpot ($0.99) can help you pinpoint specific locations including latitude, longitude, and elevation. It works with your camera to enable you to snap a photo of your cache tagged with detailed GPS coordinates.

Also available for iPhone is Where Am I At? (free) which tells you exact latitude and longitude in addition to your approximate address along with a map of your location.

Web Resources

Geocaching.com is one of the most well-known geocaching resources online with over 7 million logs being submitted each month. Not only is this a great source of information about geocaching, but it’s also a good place to find downloadable cache documents (rule sheets, etc.) as well as find and participate in geocaching games and challenges.

OpenCaching is another great resource for geocachers that enjoy a more open and community-driven caching experience. Here, you can find and add caches to the interactive map, log your finds and pass along hints and tips to future explorers. The idea behind the site is to bring geocaching back to its humble origins of just being a simple and fun open experience for everyone.

Local organizations are also a great place to find interesting caches nearby. For example, the Texas Geocaching Association is a fellowship of geocachers and enthusiasts that bring the sport to a smaller community, allowing members to share in the experience and swap stories about their discoveries along the way.

Final Thoughts

Geocaching is a fun and creative way to get out of the house and discover new places. Some caches are placed in urban areas that are extremely easy to get to while others require you to do some climbing, swimming, or long-distance hiking to find.

It’s a blend of technology and adventure that allows geeks (like myself) to get up and out of the house without feeling as though I’m really doing anything particularly exhausting.

11 comments On How to Use Your Smartphone for Geocaching

  • I found out about Geocaching about 3 years ago and was blown away that all this time there were ‘treasures’ hidden around me in places that I pass every day.

    You can have the the best experience by using the Geocaching App. I tried it at first without it and it was a lot more clunky and took to much planning. Now when ever the mood hits I can scan the area I’m in to see what caches are around.

    I have even created my own cache http://coord.info/GC2YZV3 and plan on making a second one.

    If you haven’t tried it… you just gatta! It is so much fun!

  • I found out about Geocaching about 3 years ago and was blown away that all this time there were ‘treasures’ hidden around me in places that I pass every day.

    You can have the the best experience by using the Geocaching App. I tried it at first without it and it was a lot more clunky and took to much planning. Now when ever the mood hits I can scan the area I’m in to see what caches are around.

    I have even created my own cache http://coord.info/GC2YZV3 and plan on making a second one.

    If you haven’t tried it… you just gatta! It is so much fun!

  • There is an app called Cachesense for the Blackberry, Playbook and Android. And I might suggest that, as a geocacher for about 8 years, please use your phone to find caches but get a GPS that is a bit more accurate to place them. Phones just don’t seem to have the same accuracy.

  • Learned something new. I love when that happens! Thanks Matt.

  • KarenMarieShelton

    It’s amazing the things I discover here. I had no idea that Geocaching even existed. Sounds like so much fun. I may just have to try it. Thanks for all the scoop.

  • We have been doing Geocaching since 2006. We use an ipad to log our finds. We use iGeoknife. It’s an awesome program.

  • I’m surprised by how many geocaches are really close to me. I might get into this!

  • I havent and couldnt put geocaching in a better way so far that i have read here, i am a newbie to geocaching, basic membership on geocaching.com and i have a decent free app (C:GEO) on my android phone that has helped me find quite a lot of caches.  The daughter gets disheartened with the little film canister type caches, no treasure just paper and pencil or our own pen.  First month ever i have tried geocaching and although i had heard about it years ago, obviously this was the right year in which to take the plunge

  • Pingback: Adventures in Geocaching « Momma Bekita ()

  • Nice summary of geocaching. I stumbled upon it about a year ago when my sonneeded another merit badge for scouts. It has been a nice new hobby. It has taken me s omany places I had never been before. Some have evenbeenina town I spent most of my life. It is something that is cheap and the family can do together. I use neongeo and have used c:Geo. Both are nice android apps. My phone GPS got me close, but usually wasn’t too accurate. I purchased a Bluetooth GPS and it helped a lot. I would recommend finding someone with a GPS if you decide to make a hide of your own.

  • Anonymous cacher

    I’ve only been playing less than a month found a little over 30 plan on hiding my own soon

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