Geocaching with the iPad

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Geocaching is a sport where you use a GPS receiver to track down hidden treasures that other geocachers have placed all around the world. You write your name in the log, put the cache back where you found it and continue on your way. To participate you can use a map, but a GPS receiver is very handy, especially one designed for hiking/hunting/whatever since they’re more accurate in the woods. Last year when I started geocaching I used the iPhone a bit, mostly in a supporting role to my Garmin. This year though, I have the iPad 2.

While you’d normally use a more accurate GPS for geocaching, a smartphone or GPS enabled tablet is a lot more powerful in some cases. If there’s proper satellite photo coverage in the area you’re in, for instance, the accuracy of the mobile device’s GPS doesn’t matter as much. You can also find information much easier using an Internet connected device, as well as log your finds and upload photos in the field. All of these factors make the 3G iPad (the Wifi model doesn’t have GPS) quite suited for use as a geocaching tool, as my first caching trip of the year showed today.

I only found two caches today (by design) but the iPad proved itself anyways. Since one of the caches was a mystery type multicache (you had to find info around a museum park and then piece together the coordinates), GCbuddy came in quite handy since it allows you to enter the formula for final coordinates and then fill in the unknowns in a list as you find the info needed. The second cache was where I really used the iPad though, for many things. First off, I used Bing’s satellite maps to find the cache itself. Then I brought my gas station lunch to some rocks near the lake (50 meters away from the cache) and sat down to log both caches. I had my camera with me and the camera connection kit, so I used those to get some photos of the landscape onto the iPad and then used Autostitch to make a panoramic image of the individual photos. I uploaded it with my log as I logged both finds in the official Geocaching app. I also found a travel bug (if you don’t know what it is, Google it) that my lecturer had put out and “discovered” it in the same app, adding the same picture to that log using Dropbox.

I prefer logging caches as I find them as otherwise I end up with a dozen that I can barely tell apart when I sit down to log them. Logging straight away means I can give longer, more interesting logs and throw in some photos that are as fresh as can be. Having the iPad along and pairing it up with my camera and camera connection kit means I can add some very nice photos to the logs, much better than the iPad 2 could manage on its own.

The iPad is definitely going with me on all caching trips this year. Between being a 600gram flat piece of thingamajig with 10 hours of battery life, 3G connectivity, GPS and apps it really is a perfect companion for geocaching. I might just use it exclusively on occasions too, when I’m somewhere that satellite maps cover in enough detail not to need my Garmin.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.