If you have young kids and you’ve never heard of Geocaching , this is a family friendly activity you should check out. To participate, you’ll use a web site to locate GPS coordinates that lead you to hidden packages (called geocaches) in your local area. These are placed all over the world by volunteers participating in the sport. Take these coordinates with you – and your GPS – and off you go into the woods to find treasures. Kids love this and because GPS coordinates in the woods are a bit unreliable, finding the treasures is a lot harder than you’d think. Until now.
All you need to participate in Geocaching is a GPS of some sort. Until now that meant buying a standalone unit that required you to input lengthy numerical coordinates of the geocache you were tracking.
Available now for iPhone is the “official” geocaching app from Groundspeak. I call it the “official” application because Groundspeak is the organization that operates the defacto standard in geocaching sites – geocaching.com.
In the past when you’ve wanted to go geocaching you’d sit down at the computer and log into the geocaching.com web site to perform a search for caches near the location that you were headed to.
Now that Groundspeak have released their Geocaching iPhone App, these searches are as close as your iPhone. The application uses the iPhone’s GPS to locate caches where are near you and presents them nicely on the screen
Start the Geocaching App and click on Search for Nearby Geocachesn:
Then, instead of being stuck indoors at your computer researching sites, the Groundspeak Geocaching App shows you all the geocaches located right around where you are.
This is perfect for ad hoc geocaching when you have a little extra time but are away from your house and can’t lookup geocaches in the area.
Notice how my list has sorted the geocaches based upon how far they are from my current location. The rating for each geocache is included too – the more difficult caches are usually something you’d want to find before trekking outdoors with 4 kids in tow and letting them run wild in the woods.
Thoughtfully, Groundspeak designed their application so it not only showed you coordinates, but also provided access to full descriptions of the cache as well as recent comments (logs) from those who found it, a hint of where it’s located as well as the ability to view a map (the program launches Google Maps to provide this view):
It also shows you notes from the person who “hid” the geocache (including any pictures of the area).
Often if I’m having a tough time finding a specific geoache, I find myself wanting to look at the notes of people who have located it already. These notes often contain clues or will indicate if others had trouble locating the cache. Before the Groundspeak Geocaching App, this was nearly impossible to do. Now that feature is build into Geocaching!
And if I’m really lost – I try looking at the hint that each geocache creator leaves at the Geocaching web site. Hint reading is built into the Geocaching App as well.
I am not sold that this is a program you will be able to use in the woods as a navigational aid where the tree coverage is typically very thick and challenging for even professional grade GPS devices to get a signal fix on. I’d recommend using Geocaching as a way to lookup caches in your area and then loading them into a regular GPS that will be better able to capture a signal beneath the trees and leaves.
If you are adventurous, you can use this application to guide you to the geocache with the iPhone’s built in GPS.
There are not many options to be set within this application. I was surprised that it did NOT integrate with my Groundspeak membership to allow me to update my “found cache” list. According to the web site, this feature is slated for a future version.
UPDATE: I took the Geocaching App for a quick field test this morning. I know of a geocache located in my Home Depot parking lot. Since this has a nice unobstructed view of the sky, I thought it would make a perfect “real world” test to see how the navigation portion of the Geocaching App worked.
Connecting to a GPS signal was fast (under 15 seconds)
Once I selected my target cache (#GCVX5M – If You Break It They Will Come) – I only had to click navigate and the Geocaching App launched a compass for navigation.
I’d previously found this cache with the kids, so my test was not to see how quickly that I could find it. Rather I was interested in how the navigation worked via the iPhone. My expectations were low – and based on my testing in an open parking lot with no trees – I don’t recommend that you head into the woods using only the iPhone as a GPS/Compass.
The navigation was mostly accurate. It just updates slowly – seemingly in 15 second increments. I was able to get a general direction but I had to be moving in order for it to be accurate. The first 30 seconds of my “search” the compass dial was pointing the completely wrong way.
Once I got moving toward the target the general direction and distance to the cache was largely accurate.
I quickly located the cache (a mini container hanging in a tree with a rolled up paper inside for people to sign their name indicating that they’d found the cache).
You’ll see that the Geocaching Apps was pretty close – showing only a distance of 5 feet to my target.
You shouldn’t buy this application for the GPS capabilities. Rather buy it for the awesome ability to locate geocache’s close to your current location (as pinpointed by the iPhone GPS). Then bring along your regular GPS for industrial strength help finding the cache.
Another thing that’s great is while you are out hunting (some of these geocaches can be downright impossible to find) you can read hints and other searchers’ comments directly on your iPhone (see my photo below).
I absolutely love this application for it’s quick ability to display a list of nearby caches based on our iPhone GPS. In many ways this is a better list than even the Geocaching.com web site because the list is centered right around your current location and not scattered around a townwide area.
Link: Geocaching iPhone App (iTunes)
Cost: $ 9.99
What I Liked:
- Convenient way to find Geocaches while in the field
- Beautifully replicates the Groundspeak Geocaching site look and feel
- Ability to look up hints and comments
- Integration to Groundspeak site is better than competing GPS / Geocaching Apps
What Could Be Better:
- Allow users to update their found caches
- Integrate maps within the program so you are not launched out of Geocaching and into Google Maps
- Add an ability to see any other iPhone Geocachers who may be in the area looking for treasures
- Add the ability to upload pictures from my iPhone to be included with the geocache description