Feature Review: Paperless Geocaching on the Garmin Fenix
One of the most common uses for a outdoor GPS unit these days is an activity called geocaching. I first started geocaching a few years. I don’t get to do it as often as I’d like, but it is a hobby I enjoy when I can. So I knew that I would be spending a lot of time getting back into geocaching once I received my Garmin Fenix review unit.
In this feature review, we’ll go over what geocaching is, explain how to use the Garmin Fenix for paperless geocaching and tell you how well it performs.
What is Geocaching?
Geocaching is a free to play, outdoor activity that involves the hiding and finding of caches with the assistance of the Global Positioning System. In their simplest form, a geocache consists of a small, waterproof container and a logbook, but some caches are large enough to contain small items for trading. The logbook allows finders of the cache to sign their name and record the date of their visit. That information is used later by the owner of the geocahce to verify who has found the cache.
Currently, there are over 2 million active geocaches hidden around the world and over 5 million active geocachers. That figure is made up of several different types of geocaches, but I’ll be focusing on just the traditional caches for this review. A Traditional Cache is always a physical container with a log for you to sign. The game begins when someone hides a geocache. The hider uses his GPS enabled device to record the exact coordinates of the location and then submits those coordinates along with other details about the cache to a directory so other geocachers can go find it.
Paperless geocaching is exactly what it sounds like. It’s geocaching without using paper to store the details of the caches you’re looking for. In the older days of the hobby, folks would print off the listing for each geocache they wanted to find. Then, they would log their attempts (Found, did not find, needs repaired,etc.) on those printed sheets of paper. With paperless geocaching, all of the cache information and your logged attempts are stored electronically for you. This makes geocaching easier, more enjoyable and better for the environment.
Recently, smartphones have taken over geocaching. Most geocachers these days just turn to their phone when they want to go caching. I’ll admit it, when I first started geocaching, I used my smartphone as well. Smartphones offer paperless geocaching and are accurate enough to get you to ground zero. I was satisfied geocaching with my smartphone and I managed to find several geocaches before I dropped it while trying to sign a log. The fall cracked my phone’s screen badly enough that it had to be replaced, and I ended up buying a new smartphone and a dedicated GPSr soon after. So yes, I am aware that smartphones can geocache very well. They just don’t survive falls very well.
Loading Geocaches onto the Garmin Fenix
There are a few different ways to go about putting geocaches onto the Garmin Fenix. To save space in this review, I am going to focus on covering the method that I am the most familiar with. I happen to be a premium member of Geocaching.com, that allows me to use a feature called pocket queries. Using pocket queries allows you to download up to 1000 geocaches that meet your specific needs and interests.
You start by creating a new pocket query and giving it a name, you can then determine how many days of the week you want the query to be generated, what types of geocaches can be added to the query and the general area you want results from.
As an example, the pocket query I use with the Garmin Fenix is set to find a maximum of 500, Traditional Caches that I haven’t found, are active, of any size, difficulty level and terrain, and that are located within 20 miles of my house. This works great for me, because it allows me to easily download caches near me that I am actually interested in finding.
Once you’ve created and saved the new pocket query, it will automatically run on the days you selected and you will be emailed the files to be transferred to your GPSr. The Garmin Fenix automatically mounts as a external storage device when plugged into a PC. So when it’s time for me to load new geocaches, I simply plug it in, navigate to the GPX folder, delete any old GPX files, then drag and drop the new files from the email to the Fenix’s GPX folder.
The process is really simple and straight forward, and since I set my pocket query to filter out any of the geocaches I’ve already found, I don’t have to worry about removing individual caches or accidentally visiting the same cache more than once.
Like I mentioned above, my method of finding and loading geocaches isn’t the only option available. It is just the way I prefer to do it. You can always download geocaches to the Fenix one at a time from Geocaching.com and Garmin also offers their own geocache directory at Opencaching.com.
Finding Geocaches with the Garmin Fenix
Now that we’ve got geocaches loaded to our Garmin Fenix, we can go out and navigate to them. At first, it might be a little confusing to navigate all of the menus and sub menus on the Garmin Fenix. This little watch packs in a ton of features and options for the activity of Geocaching and I’ll attempt to go over all them in as much detail as possible.
The first step in successfully Geocaching with the Garmin Fenix is to turn the watch’s GPS receiver on. You won’t get far without that. Thankfully, it’s easy enough to accomplish. Simply pressing the Fenix’s large Orange button will present you with the Start/Stop GPS option. Hitting the Orange button a second time will select that option and either turn GPS mode on or off.
Once you’ve started GPS mode, the Fenix will begin “Locating Satellites” and you’ll see the second indicator ring begin to fill. The amount of time required for the Garmin Fenix to locate satellites can vary greatly depending on a number of different factors. In my experience with the watch, it typically takes around 1 to 3 minutes to finish this step. Moving the watch to an area with a clear view of the sky can help speed things along dramatically.
After the Fenix has finished locating satellites and has a GPS signal, you can move on to the next step. Hit the Orange button again and then use the up/down buttons to scroll through the list of available options until you find “Geocaches”, hit the Orange button to select and enter geocaching mode. At this point, your Fenix will spend a few seconds filtering the loaded geocaches based on their distance from your current location. You’ll then be presented with the full list of caches, closest on top.
Using the down button will allow you to scroll through the list of caches. If you’re interested in looking for a specific geocache, you can select the “Spell Search” option and type in the first few letters of the cache. The “Show Found” option allows you to view the caches that you’ve recently logged as “Found” and the “Search Near” option allows you to filter caches based on their distance in relation to cities, saved waypoints or your current location.
Selecting a geocache with the orange button will bring up a new screen filled with new options. This new screen allows you to either begin navigating to the geocache immediately or view it’s summary, description, hint (if one is available), and recent logged attempts from other geocachers. It also includes an option to display the geocache on the Fenix’s map.
I typically just look for whichever geocache is the closest to me at the time and I always just hit “Go” to begin navigating to the general area of the geocache. Selecting the “Go” option can do a number of things based on your personal preferences and settings. On my particular Fenix, it brings up a new screen that displays my total distance from the cache, the estimated time enroute (ETE) and my estimated time of arrival (ETA).
I consider this to be the active navigation screen, while on this screen, the second indicator (the two black lines) shows you the way to your destination. Simply hold the Fenix in front of you, line the two black lines on the outer edge of the watch face with the top, bright Orange line at 12 O’clock and walk forward. As long as you keep those lines lined up, you’re heading the right way.
Once I am within 10 or so feet of where the geocache should be, I begin physically looking for it. I only bother with bringing up the additional geocache details in situations where it takes me longer than a few minutes to find what I’m looking for. In cases like that, I am at the navigation screen, and I need to go back to viewing the geocache’s details.
This can be accomplished by hitting the Orange button and then selecting “Geocaches” again. This brings up the same details screen where I originally selected “Go”, but with new options available, and you’ll see the words “Currently Navigating To….” at the top.
This screen provides you with all of the geocache detail options we’ve already went over. So from here you can find a hint or see the recent logs to check if anyone has found it recently. This screen also allows you to log your attempt. Log types include Found, Did not find, Unattempted and needs repair. Each log type gives you the option to enter a note, but you probably won’t want too. Data entry on the Garmin Fenix is a painfully slow process.
Once you’ve finished logging a geocache, you’re presented with a option to begin navigating to the next closest geocache or finish for the day.
Logging your Found Geocaches online
Plug the Fenix back into your PC and open the Field Notes section of your Geocaching.com profile. Once there, select browse for field notes and look for the file named “geocache_visits”. Upload it to the site, and you’ll be able to compose logs for each of the geocaches you attempted on your last trip.
At this point, I usually go ahead and delete the geocache_visits file from the Garmin folder and the GPX files from their folder. Doing this clears out all of the data I no longer need and gets the Garmin Fenix ready to receive new data once my pocket query runs again. That pretty much covers everything you’ll need to know about the paperless geocaching feature on the Garmin Fenix.
The photo above shows the Garmin Fenix and my Garmin GPSmap 62s, which happens to be a fantastic GPSr for the activity of geocaching. My 62s is loaded down with several different types of maps. I have topographical maps, water maps, it even has City Navigator so it can be used in my car. To put it bluntly, I love my 62s. The only problem? It’s big, bulky and a little on the heavy side. It simply isn’t practical to always have the 62s on me.
The Garmin Fenix, on the other hand, is perfectly suited to always be on you when you need it. I wear my Fenix everyday and it always has geocaches on it. That enables me to go geocaching whenever I have a little bit of extra time. In total, I have managed to successfully locate 47 geocaches using nothing except my Garmin Fenix review unit. The best part? The vast majority of those 47 finds happened because I was bored, and spontaneously decided to go geocaching. So there is no question that that the Garmin Fenix is an effective tool for geocachers that happen to like watches.
In case you’ve missed them, here are the links to more of our Garmin Fenix coverage: