Feb 24, 2007

GeoCaching with Garmin Nuvi 350/360/650/660/750

So Dan Vanderkam got me to try geocaching back in the middle of January. I have a Garmin Nuvi 350 GPS for my car which I love, so I went and tried it out with Dan. It was pretty fun, we (bunch o' googlers) found 5 caches as a small group. Since then I've found 13 total caches, the image below will have a higher number as it updates even after this post:

Geocaching Badge

It's been fun. Highly recommended if you have a GPS laying around. There are far more caches than I would have expected. To be specific, there are about 100 caches within a 2 mile radius from my house.

For those who don't know, the basic idea is that you take a GPS which tells you coordinates on the earth and find some geo-coordinates online of a cache you'd like to find and you use the GPS to find those coordinates. Hidden at those coordinates is a container of some sort with a logbook and sometimes other small trinkets. It is like a decentralized treasure hunt, and kinda fun.

If you are reading this after doing a search query (this is one my most popular posts by google referrals) and you have a Garmin Nuvi 350 or any other Garmin Nuvi (350/360/650/660/750/...), here are a few tips/hacks:
  • By default, my Nuvi 350 came with an old version of the firmware on it. Upgrade the Nuvi Firmware. It is both free and easy with a computer (you have one of those right?).
  • Once you have the firmware upgrade, you can add GPS coordinates manually - In the "Where To?" menu, scroll to the bottom for the coordinates button.
  • You can also add coordinates by copying .gpx files directly to the Nuvi. Follow these directions.
    1. First connect your Nuvi to your computer. Windows will try to install it as a removable storage device, let it proceed.
    2. Download/Install the Custom POI loader from Garmin. It is a free piece of software that lets you load Points of Interest (POIs) into your Nuvi.
    3. Upgrade your geocaching.com membership to a premium membership. This currently costs $3/month or $30/year. You already paid several hundred dollars for your Nuvi, so cough up $3 to try out the membership for a month. If you want to make sure it doesn't renew, cancel the membership immediately after signing up. You still keep the membership for the month, but you won't forget to cancel and get automatically renewed.
    4. Run a geocaching pocket query. I generally create a query to run every day, and set the radio button to "Run this query once then delete it". Then choose 500 caches (the maximum), choose coordinates near where you are interested in caching (vacation destination for example), and have the query results emailed to you in GPX format. All of the other filters/options are up to you.
    5. When you get the email, extract the .gpx file (I generally ignore the waypoints file, but that is your call), and use the Custom POI Loader to load them into your Nuvi. You can get to the list within your Nuvi by selecting "Where To"->"My Locations"->"Custom POIs". The caches will be ordered by proximity. If you tap one of the caches, it will give you the cache title. All other information will be lost though.
  • Once you are near a cache, change your Navigation settings to Off-Road and Pedestrian. When you are nearly on top of it, go to the skyview mode (just tapping on the screen when it is in 3d mode will do this) and zoom in as far as you can. This appears to be the best way to get high resolution on your cache. It isn't perfect, but it works plenty well enough.
  • Take a look at my newer blog post Geocaching with a Dell Axim X5 for some other ideas.