Selecting a GPS for Geocaching

In recent years, Geocaching has grown considerably in popularity. Among the many reasons for this growth are that this activity is both fun and easy to get started. The only required piece of equipment is a GPS.

When choosing a GPS model for geocaching, it is important to keep one concept in mind: there is no perfect GPS for geocaching. Nearly any model of GPS can provide the basic functionality you need to get started. Most smartphones have GPS functionality built into them and an inexpensive app is usually all that's needed to harness that functionality for the purposes of geocaching.

If your family gets more involved with geocoding, you might consider purchasing a dedicated handheld GPS. A handheld GPS offers some advantages, such as a more rugged construction. Even more important, having a dedicated, rugged handheld GPS allows you to keep your smartphone out of harms way.


When selecting a handheld GPS, you should look for models that:

  • Are constructed with a ruggedized, water-proof case. One of the key advantages a handheld GPS is that they are generally built to be used in the outdoors. They are usually designed to withstand being dropped or immersed in water. Smartphones are not designed to withstand the same rigors.
  • Provide WAAS compatibility. This capability offers increased accuracy within 3 meters of your exact position. This will not only help you find the cache when geocaching, but is important when finding your way back out of the woods.
  • Offer long battery life. Ideally, a dedicated handheld GPS should offer about 20 hours of battery life. Smartphones will generally get much less battery life compared to a handheld GPS unit due to the cellular radio and other features on the phone drawing power.
  • Are equipped with plenty of onboard memory.Smartphones are basically mini computers with phone functionality built in and have gigabytes of onboard memory to take advantage of. Handheld GPS units don't usually have the same amount of memory and you should specifically look for models with at least 24MB of memory. You'll want sufficient capacity to load maps and to hold waypoints.
  • Have a readable display. The display should have sufficient brightness and contrast to be readable under diverse conditions, like bright sunlight or dim evenings. Many GPS displays are color. However, a grayscale or black-and-white display can be very readable and less expensive.
  • Are portable and versatile. Handheld GPS units are all designed with portability in mind, but some are smaller than others. Ideally, the unit should fit comfortably in a pocket. Many units can also be mounted on a bike and be used for other purposes, adding to their usefulness.

Using the GPS feature of a smartphone can be a great way to get started with geocaching. Ultimately, investing in a dedicated handheld GPS will help ensure your smartphone remains safe. You will still want to bring along your phone in case of emergency. You can use your rugged handheld GPS while keeping your phone safely packed in a watertight bag in your pack.

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