Several years ago my family learned the game of geocaching with our GPS unit. These days we don’t need that unit to find hidden treasures. We can use the Geocache Navigator application on my mobile phone. It’s easy to use and simplifies things when I’m with the kids or trying to teach a friend how to play the game.

Geocaching is a game that uses GPS coordinates to find a hidden box filled with inexpensive trinkets and a log book. Players, called geocachers, download the coordinates on to their GPS units and then navigate their way to the hidden box. I have found it takes some planning to play because you have to download coordinates to geocaches ahead of time at home. But with the mobile phone application I have easy access to geocaching.com, the website listing geocache coordinates, anytime the mood strikes to play the game. Well, as long as my phone is in range of a cell phone tower.

Not only do I find it easier to organize a geocaching adventure with my kids (one less piece of gear to bring on the trail), the game is less intimidating to my friends when I teach them how to play. There’s no learning curve with the features of a GPS unit when most people I know are comfortable with their mobile phones already. There is a fee to use this application, which is a few dollars a month, but might be just the right way to do a trial run of the game to ensure your family enjoys it before making a larger investment in a hand-held GPS unit (they run about $100 for a basic model).

When I met a friend and her family at Pondicherry Park in Bridgton to do some hiking, I also explained the geocaching game because there are so many hidden on that trail system. the time we’d found our second box, my friend had downloaded the application to her iPhone and was using it to find the third geocache. At the end of the day that family was ready to play on its own.

I also like the phone application because I not only have access to the coordinates of the geocaches, but the descriptions and logs as well. Anyone who has been out on the trail looking for a geocache with kids in tow knows a quick peruse through the cache’s logs can help a lot in finding an elusive box. There’s nothing worse than a couple of disappointed kids when you’re a mile from the trail head and need to hike back to the car empty-handed. There have also been many times when the kids have been ready to find more geocaches but I didn’t download additional coordinates. Now I can do a quick search on the phone application to identify others in the surrounding area without having to plan so much in advance.

Case in point was when my 12-year-old and I decided to search for a newly created Boy Scout geocache hidden in an old cemetery (the Boy Scouts are celebrating their 100th anniversary with their Get in the Game! geocaching program) in Standish. We read logs that indicated the hiding place was crafty and since my family has made our own special geocaches “boxes” (hint: my husband hollows out natural materials to blend our boxes with the environment) we wanted to check it out. The Boy Scouts box was a quick and clever find. So with a bit of extra time on our hands and not being eager to end our adventure for the day, I did a quick search on my phone for other caches in the area. We found two more within a mile of our location before we called it a day.

There are times I have run into trouble with the software when we’re out of cell phone tower range, which happens in more rural areas and under heavy tree cover. The phone application is server-based so the information is not stored directly on the phone. And even if it was saved, the compass function that indicates the direction and distance from the hidden box won’t work without a tower connection. So if you really enjoy the game, having a hand-held GPS unit as backup ensures you don’t run into any problems when you hit the trail.

I still use my hand-held GPS unit to geocache because there are additional functions I like (we often save tracks of our hikes). And after a few times using both the GPS unit and mobile phone, I’ve been able to avoid any heated debates between the kids over who gets to hold the unit. They each have a device to find the geocache and that makes my life a whole lot easier.

I don’t subscribe to many applications, but this one’s a keeper in my (phone) book.

 

Wendy Almeida is a content producer for RaisingMaine.com. You can read more about the Almeida family’s geocaching adventures in the Kid Tracks blog at: www.RaisingMaine.com/kidtracks