GPS device or smartphone? Going geocaching

Not an easy question that all geocachers ask themselves more than once in the course of their hobby.

In the past, you definitely bought an outdoor GPS device, mostly from Garmin, and the mention of the yellow Garmin ETrex still puts a smile on many people's faces today... If you didn't already start with a compass, then that was often the outdoor entry-level device . Honestly, we still use these Etrex devices from Garmin for children and events with young people, they simply can't be broken outdoors either. And the striking color has often helped to find ....

But in the course of the last 17 years, the technology has also changed and so today a beginner in this hobby is faced with the question of whether he would like to use the smartphone he already has with an additional app, or whether he should buy a device right away.

Many geocachers have both: an outdoor GPS device and a corresponding app on their cell phone. You always have your mobile phone with you anyway and you take your GPS with you when you go on caching tours.

Today there are GPS devices from many manufacturers such as Garmin, Magellan, Falk and lesser-known companies are also entering the market. We rarely come across the GPS watch from Garmin Fenix when caching.

GPS and Geocaching

GPS stands for Global Positioning System. The USA operates a satellite-supported, electronic navigation system for worldwide use. A GPS receiver can determine a position by accessing several satellites. You do not have to register or pay for this. Since May 2000, every citizen has been able to access the satellites. This date is also considered the birth of geocaching.

A total of 24 satellites orbit the earth twice a day. Actually, positioning is calculated by measuring the propagation time of signals between receiver and satellites. The better the "contact" to the satellites, the more accurate our position.


But what are the pros and cons between cell phones and GPS devices?

The GPS device is still said to be more accurate. Especially outdoors in the forest or between high-rise buildings in a city, the accuracy of the smartphone leaves something to be desired. The battery capacity of the smartphone is often lower than the battery capacity of a GPS device. Carrying a battery pack for the smartphone is also considered a disadvantage due to weight and size when you are on a longer cache tour.

On the other hand, for a good GPS device with some features, you still have to dig deep into your pocket and have the additional costs of another device.



I'm a self-confessed mobile phone cacher and I dare to say so today. A few years ago this was still frowned upon. With older smartphones, the GPS reception was pretty bad and the final search for the can at the end of a long hike wasn't fun. Accordingly, you had the GPS with you for the final search.

With new mobile phone models, the GPS reception of the devices also increased significantly and since then it has been possible to be a self-confessed mobile phone cacher.

There are good geocaching apps for Android and now also for iPhones. Maps are sufficiently available, at least in Europe, and caches can be stored offline. So I don't always have to be online. This leaves the question of the battery, but there is also a remedy with battery packs, which bring ever higher performance and less weight.

With the GPS device, you first have to create a pocket query and transfer and save the caches. The flexibility of smartphones is another aspect that is highly appreciated by users.

GPS Device

The range of outdoor GPS devices on the market seems almost endless.

The good old ETrex from Garmin is actually still available, and at under EUR 100 it is an absolute entry-level model. But some devices can also be found in the price range up to EUR 250. In addition to Garmin, more and more new companies are entering the GPS device market. The same applies here: the best thing to do is to talk to a few cachers at an event. Everyone has their own philosophy about the best device of all, and often just “picking up” the devices helps to get an initial overview. The biggest difference between the devices is the display and the storage volume. The first thing to do here is to ask yourself what you want to use the device for and what is important to you. We can also really recommend a visit to a corresponding exhibitor stand during a mega event. Garmin is mostly represented here.

On the Internet you will not only find all manufacturers of the devices, you will also find a large number of tests and comparisons of all possible outdoor devices. If you don’t just want to go by size and display, you will find a lot of other important information about the devices here, such as weight, storage capacity and much more.

satellite accuracy

The accuracy of the display is related to the quality of signal reception. We're mostly out and about outdoors... If a secure connection is not possible, e.g. in the forest or between high-rise buildings, then there may be deviations. It goes without saying that the reception in buildings is also disturbed. The devices hardly differ in this respect, regardless of the price.

In contrast, an influence on the quality of the reception due to weather conditions is rather rare/unlikely.



What counts here is how quickly the GPS devices determine a position and how well they record the tracks. The handling refers to how self-explanatory the operation of the devices is, how many caches and GPX files can be uploaded, via which interfaces (Bluetooth, WLAN, USB, ...) a connection to other devices is possible.

Of course, the subjective opinion also counts here, how well the device fits in the hand and how easy it is to read the display. We often experience that the size and brightness of the display are important in the test. After all, the main goal on the map is to find a route to get to a cache. And that works better if the color and brightness are pleasant to the eyes.


Where buy?

If you decide to buy a GPS device, you are spoiled for choice. It is advisable to find out from other cachers how satisfied they are with their device in daily use outdoors. You can often pick it up and try it out. The mega events also offer a good opportunity to get in touch with distributors of GPS devices and to test different devices. They are happy to use the opportunity of the megas to present their goods here. Better than online you can pick up the device here and have the advantages and differences explained to you.

Otherwise, there is often the opportunity to purchase GPS devices at large electronics stores or in outdoor shops. Many manufacturers offer their devices directly online or the special geocache shops often sell the devices via their platform. Shops have the devices in stock or you can get the device via mail order. Of course, there are also official tests for the individual devices that provide information about the details that distinguish the device in question from others.

We cannot and do not want to make a statement about which device is the best, whether a smartphone is sufficient or whether GPS is necessary. Ultimately, every cacher has to decide for himself (preferably after a test) whether his standard smartphone is sufficient for his hobby, or whether he would like another special device, such as a Garmin, for his hobby. Everyone also decides for themselves what price they are willing to pay for it. Also, which details and features (maps, storage space, Bluetooth, display, battery life....) are important to the individual cacher certainly leads to a personal purchase decision, but is for each weighted differently.

My personal approach: today I prefer to let the iPhone show me the route, my children get the GPS device :)

If you would like to find out more about geocaching accessories, have a look here:

If you want to use your GPS device or smartphone with maps of other countries or take them with you on unusual trips, then register on our waiting list for more information about cacher trips:

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