A Global Positioning System Receiver (GPSr), commonly referred to, though a misnomer, as a “GPS”, is an electronic device that receives signals from the Global Positioning System and translates them into a position, or coordinate, in the form of longitude and latitude. It can determine your location, usually within 3-20 feet (1-7 meters). In Geocaching you use the GPS to navigate from your present location to a Geocache.
Choosing a GPS for use with Geocaching can be a daunting experience for the first-time buyer simply because there are so many options available. However, the best ‘rule of thumb’ when guying a GPS receiver is to buy within your budget! Geocaching is about having fun so the cheaper you can get involved the better.
The more a unit costs does not necessarily translate into a more accurate reading since there are too many variables involved like cloud and tree cover, as well as inaccurate readings when a Geocache is placed. For example, you may have the most expensive GPS on the planet but it will still be dependant on coordinates that may have been set by a much cheaper unit on a cloudy day under heavy tree cover.
Remember, the GPS just brings you to the general area, it does not find the cache for you. It is YOU that finds the cache!
The following is a list of some available features to look for when purchasing a GPS for Geocaching:
The size of a GPS receiver is important. Get something that is light and comfortable to hold and stores in a pocket or backpack easily.
This is a feature where you can enter a destination into the GPS and it will calculate the route and guide you with concise instructions on how to get there.
You will likely be Geocaching in all kinds of weather and your GPS will get wet.
Data Cable Interface
This will allow you to link directly to your computer enabling you to quickly, and easily, download waypoints, map data, etc. USB cable is preferred.
This will allow you larger capacity for tracking data and adding additional maps.
Screen Size and Readability
Bigger is better sometimes. The larger the screen the more data, especially maps, will be viewable.
WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) provides GPS signal corrections, giving you better position accuracy.
External Antenna Jack
This will allow you to add an external antenna which may be necessary in some areas and for use in your car.
Although basic, preloaded maps gives you great mapping capabilities.
The more storage units you have the more waypoints you can store. Common amounts are 500 – 1000.
A color display can sometimes be easier to view and read.
A backlight can also make the screen easier to view and read.
The longer the battery life the cheaper the unit is to operate if using non-rechargable batteries and will also last longer in the field.
Some GPS’s come with an electronic compass that can be convenient when getting closer to a cache.
Again, the more the better. We’re really impressed with the SiRF technology though at this time it is only found on more expensive units.
Not everything on the above list is required for Geocaching though we believe that some are nice to have. However, like most things, the more bells and whistles you get the more expensive the unit is. Sometimes the bells and whistles are really unnecessary for Geocaching. Again, buy within your budget.
A great comparison of several popular GPS receiver product lines can be found here
Keep on cachin’!