Hunting seasons are generally pretty short, but that’s no reason that you can’t go out into the woods and have fun the rest of the year. In addition to land maintenance, scouting and practicing your woodcraft skills, there is a relatively new form of outdoor activity that combines the social aspect of the internet with the fun of adventuring through the woods. Of course, I’m talking about the GPS based sport known as Geocaching.
GPS devices aren’t just for navigating your car. As the price of a handheld GPS unit continues to fall, geocaching is rapidly becoming one of the more popular outdoor sports, and nearly anyone can participate in it. Geocaching involves hunting for caches that have been hidden by other geocachers in interesting or scenic locations. For the most part, it’s not a competition, though some participants like to be the “First-to-Find” newly hidden geocaches. It’s an activity that is suitable for all ages, and the only equipment required to participate is a GPS unit and internet access.
Internet access is necessary to reach the geocaching.com website. You can register for free at geocaching.com where you will be able to locate the coordinates for caches near you or around your destination and download them to your computer or GPS device.
The other thing you’ll need is, of course, a handheld GPS unit. Almost any GPS device will work, and there are many to choose from. The Garmin eTrex H model is a great entry level GPS unit. It’s waterproof, has a long 22 hour battery life, and is incredibly durable. It doesn’t have all the nifty bells and whistles of the more expensive models, but it does have all you need to effectively find your way. Of course, there are nicer units out there. The Garmin Rino GPS unit combines GMRS or FRS radios with a very advanced GPS unit. With the Rino, you can team up with other people using similar units and share your location on the map display. Of course, even if your buddy doesn’t have a Rino device, you can still use the radio feature with any FRS or GMRS compatible radio system.
Not all caches are created equal. Some are located in remote locations that have rough terrain and require searchers to hike miles over rough terrain in order to locate the cache, while others are easy to find in urban locations. There are probably dozens of geocaches within a couple of miles from your own home! Geocaching.com recommends carrying a small printout that describes geocaching when searching for a cache in a highly trafficked area, just in case local authorities find your activity suspicious.
Geocaching is also a fantastic way to work on your orienteering skills and practice using a map and compass. GPS units are fantastic devices, but they still require batteries, a clear view of the sky and a functional satellite network in order to work properly. Lose any one of these three things and you’re stuck using a traditional map and compass. I like to use geocaching as an opportunity to improve my skills navigating using a map and compass alone. With a USGS topographical map you can plot the approximate location of the cache and plan your route into the area using basic orienteering skills and then utilize the GPS unit to zero in on the precise location.
So dust off those hiking boots, load up the day pack and head out! Whether you’re just out enjoying nature, or hunting a well hidden geocache, a handheld GPS unit is a great little tool to have when you’re out in the field.