Ask a dozen geocachers, “What is the best GPS for geocaching?” and you’ll most likely get a dozen different answers. You might be surprised to learn that there is no best GPS for geocaching, rather what is the best geocaching GPS for you.
Currently the GPS brands most popular among geocachers are Garmin, Delorme, Magellan and Lowrance. If you’re considering a bacic no frills geocaching GPS you should investigate the Geomate Jr. Geomate is a relatively inexpensive GPS that comes pre-loaded with 250,000 geocache coordinates, but lacks the features of other units. It is a great unit for kids who want a GPS of their own. All of today’s geocaching GPS manufactures make good reliable units, the challenge is deciding which features do you really need and which are nice options. You can also find car GPS and cell phone apps but here we will only be discussing GPS units specificly designed for hiking and geocaching. With GPS prices ranging from around $50 for a basic model, to upwards of $500 or more, purchasing your first GPS for geocaching is a serious consideration. A little research now can save you a lot of money (and disappointment) later on.
Personally I recommend the Garmin GPSMAP 60CXs, I’ve had mine since 2008 and will never get rid it.
Here is a list of what I consider to be the minimum features for the best GPS for geocaching
- Accuracy: Accuracy is not generally considered to be a major point of difference between different GPS receivers since they all get their readings from the same set of satellites. However a WAAS enabled are the most accurate. WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) was developed by the Federal Aviation Administration as an air navigation aid developed to augment the Global Positioning System (GPS), with the goal of improving its accuracy, integrity, and availability. This article from Wikipedia explains in more detail: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wide_Area_Augmentation_System (article will open in a new window)
- Durability: I can tell you from experience that, sooner or later, you will drop your geocaching GPS and, sooner or later, it will get wet! (just one of the reasons I don’t suggest you go geocaching with a cell phone or a car GPS) So be sure to look for a GPS that is rugged and waterproof (or at least water resistant)
- Good Battery Life: The best way to ruin a day of geocaching is to have to abandon your search because you ran out of battery power. Good battery life is also a major safety factor. After a day of geocaching especially in rugged terrain, you will need your GPS to get you back to safety. Look for a GPS that uses replaceable AA or AAA batteries, and always carry a spare set with you. Rechargeable lithium batteries are a good choice as they last much longer than regular alkaline batteries.
- Backlit Display: While easily readable in full sun if you happen to be in an area with dense tree cover, especially on a cloudy day you want to have a backlit display. This is absolutely essential if you happen to get caught outdoors after dark.
- Base map: A base map is simply a map that is permanently stored in the GPS’s memory. This is usually not a high-definition or highly detailed map, but it does display major highways and terrain features like rivers and lakes. This makes the task of finding a specific location a lot easier and can help you avoid major obstacals. Basic GPS units without base maps simply display Speed, Bearing (Direction of travel), Distance traveled, and Distance to your destination.
- Topo (topographical) Map: An important thing to remember when geocaching is that your GPS points the direction to your destination in a straight line, or as “the crow flies”. It’s not like a car GPS that takes into account the roads you are traveling on and displays how much further you need to go. If you have to climb any hills or detour around a pond or lake the actual distance you need to walk can be a lot more than what your GPS is indicating. A topo map will allow you to see these obsticals ahead of time and save you a lot of time and energy.
- Computer Interface: Most new gps for geocaching can be linked to a personal computer through a USB cable. The more expensive models can also link up through a wireless network or a Bluetooth connection. Being able to connect to your computer will allow you to download cache coordinates and other details directly onto your GPS at the click of a button. It can be quite time-consuming to enter all those coordinates into your GPS by hand and if you happen to make a mistake you’ll never locate the cache.
- Waypoint Saving: This function allows you to store a specific location (waypoint) within your GPS unit’s memory. Regular storage of waypoint can enhance your safety in challenging terrain as it will enable you to retrace your steps back to your original location. Most modern GPS units allow you to store waypoints. Some geocaching GPS units include a ‘Track Log’ feature that allows you to use previous waypoints as ‘breadcrumbs’ to find your way to where you started. The best gps for geocaching will have an ‘Auto Tracking’ function that will automatically store waypoints without your having to need to remember to mark them yourself. At the very minimum you will want to mark a waypoint at the location you parked.
- Memory: The best geocaching GPS devices use microSD cards for storing maps and geocache locations. The microSD cards are also great if you decide you want to go geocaching in another part of the country, (or the world) you can store all of your new maps and geocache coordinates on a spare card and simply swap it out for the card you normally use.
Here is a small list of some of the options available on geocaching gps units
- Paperless caching: Allows you to store cache coordinates, descriptions, and notes on your GPS so there is no need to take along paper printouts with you.
- Aerial and Satellite Imagery Maps: These highly detailed maps allow you to see just where it is that you are geocaching
- Built-in 3-axis tilt-compensated electronic compass: Older GPS units that had electronic compasses built into them required that you hold your GPS level to obtain a correct reading, the new 3-axis tilt-compensated electronic compass make it easier to get a correct reading.
- Barometric altimeter: Allows you to check your elevation levels at a glance
- Wireless Capability: Allows you to share your waypoints, tracks, routes and geocaches wirelessly with other compatible device users
- Touch Screen: A touch screen can be quite helpful for navigating maps quickly.
- Built In Camera: Never worry again about forgetting to bring you camera along.
When considering the best GPS for geocaching, be sure to consider all the available features. While a basic GPS is certainly less expensive, it might be in your best interest to purchase a more expensive unit that has all the features you want, rather than settling for a lower end model which could lead to disappointing results and require upgrading later.