GPS Devices and Geocaching Apps

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Geocaching is all about using GPS satellites and GPS-enabled devices to navigate to hidden treasures (geocaches) using geographical coordinates. Historically geocachers used handheld GPS devices; although many geocachers continue to use such devices, these have largely been supplanted in popularity by the use of geocaching apps on smartphones.

Given the variety of devices and apps available, it is beyond the scope of this article to provide extensive details of how to use each device or app for geocaching. Instead we provide a high level overview and some of the details common to multiple devices or apps. An online search will likely provide the user with detailed instructions for their particular device or phone app.

Smartphone Geocaching

If you are new to geocaching, you likely already own a smartphone and so getting started is as simple as downloading an app and creating an account on OCNA. Some apps (such as c:geo) work directly with the Opencaching network and can display geocaches directly within the app via a wifi or data connection.
For a list of apps known to work with OCNA, visit our Smartphone Apps page.

Transferring Opencaching Data to a Smartphone App

Often times you can view and save geocache details directly in your app. Many of the caches listed on OCNA are located within the coverage area of major cellular network, so there may be no need to save any data - open the app and use your data connection to see what caches are located nearby. However, there may be advantages to saving the cache details to the phone memory before heading out to search for caches. This includes saving on data usage (while decreasing battery usage) and eliminating the chance of discovering the cache you want to find it is an area not serviced by you cellular provider.

Offline Maps for Smartphone App

Depending on your particular app, you may be able to install offline maps in order to allow for "offline" or "data-free"geocaching. For example, the c:geo app allows users to install OpenStreetMap maps in the mapsforge format (for details visit the c:geo Offline Caching page).

Handheld GPS Devices

Despite the convenience of using a smartphone for geocaching, there are a few advantages to the handheld GPS receiver. Generally speaking, handheld GPS receiver offer the following advantages compared to smartphones:

  • Better GPS reception, particularly in heavy forest cover
  • Durability - most units are built to be rugged; most are waterproof and some even float.
  • Battery life - many units can run for hours on a charge or set of batteries. When recording a track, battery use with a handheld GPS can be significantly less than with a smartphone. Many units have replaceable batteries, so that a spare battery can quickly be swapped out while in the field.

Transferring Opencaching Data to a Handheld GPS