This isn’t meant to be a complete explanation of all the available options, but simply a quick primer for someone who is interested in planning a purchase to try for the goal of paperless geocaching. Paperless meaning, in the most general sense, you don’t need a paper printout for coordinates.
There are a few different ways to go about this:
You can have a GPS or GPS-enabled device that you load waypoint files on.
Most hand-held and vehicle GPS units will allow you to load waypoint files on them, thus giving you some kind of list of loaded waypoints and allowing you to approach and make the find without having to enter the actual coordinates into the GPS. Geocaching.com has two features that help with this: “Download waypoint file” and “Send to GPS”. The download waypoint file will generate either a .LOC or .GPX file for loading onto your device (See the documentation that came with your device for the actual process). The Send to GPS function appears to only work with Garmin devices (for now, at least).
The drawback to this method is you have to go on the geocaching.com website before your actual trip and choose which caches you will attempt and load them. The premium membership has a nice feature which helps with this: “Pocket queries.” Pocket queries can generate a waypoint file with up to 300 caches based on criteria you specify.
Garmin has a product line dedicated to the paperless geocacher. See information at Geocaching with Garmin.
This is a good viable option for those cachers who seek infrequently or who simply have a GPS unit and want to reduce their paper usage in an inexpensive way.
You can have a data-enabled device (such as a laptop or netbook with an aircard).
A netbook with an aircard can be an invaluable tool for use in the car (not on the trail) for looking up caches, viewing logs and maps, and logging your visits. This would allow you to log your visits without having to go back home, and give you a little more flexibility in case you find that you’re in a new area and want to pick up a quick cache or two. You can simply log on the website, look up a cache, punch the coordinates into your GPS, and away you go. Returning to the car, you can log your visit easily.
You can have a device which combines the two functions above, both retrieving the data from the website and helping you navigate to it.
This is the goal a lot of cachers (including myself) aim for: A single device that can do it all. A smartphone with GPS and data service is the usual tool for this job.
There are several different geocaching apps for smartphones, and some do it better than others. Here’s a quick run-down of some of my favorites:
These two programs are available on a large number of phones and carriers. I prefer Geocache Navigator, but Trimble Outdoors has a slightly different feature set which may make it appealing to different users.Geocache Navigator allows you to load up a list of nearby caches, display them on a map, seek them, and log your visit directly from your phone. It does require you to “tie” it to your geocaching.com account, which can be done easily from the geocaching.com website. One feature that Geocache Navigator does not have is the ability to set a waypoint (such as your car), which leaves the walk back completely up to you. Trimble Outdoors does have this, but doesn’t retrieve caches automatically; it requires you to load GPX files yourself prior to seeking a cache.
Groundspeak’s own geocaching app for Android and iPhone devices. These apps load caches near you (or by GC code) and help you navigate to it. Logging your visit, looking at previous logs, hints, even pictures are part of this app. Though a little pricey, these apps definitely do it all, and they’re published and supported by Groundspeak, the folks behind geocaching.com.
Free phone apps
I know there are a number of free apps, unfortunately they vary between carriers and phone brands, and I don’t have enough experience with them or a list of links to provide. Please feel free to leave your apps and feedback in the comments below.
Have your own way of going paperless? Have you had experience with any of the above apps you’d like to share? Have an app not listed above that you prefer? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!