If you use a smart phone for your geocaching, then most of what follows doesn’t apply.  With Internet connectivity and a geocaching app, you’re all set.

However, if you start to use a handheld GPS device for geocaching, you will need to interface your device with the Internet, specifically geocaching dot com.  You’ll need to  find, sort, organize and download geocaches from geocaching dot com to your GPS device.  That’s the subject of today’s post. It’s a bit geeky but that’s part of the game.

Geocache files have a file extension of GPX and are usually referred to as “GPX files”.  They are text files which contain all the information about a geocache.  They are quite small – only a couple of kilobytes each.  If you are dealing with a few single geocaches, you can work with them individually. The process is quite simple.

Text from a GPX file

This is what lies behind the icons – text from a GPX file. This is a small part. They can get quite lengthy. The good news is you’ll never have to deal with them in this format.

Login to geocaching dot com, go to the search function in the menu and select search by maps.  It will bring up Google maps.

Type in the name of a town or landmark where you want to geocache.  The map will go there and geocache symbols will appear.  Left click on a symbol to read about the cache.  You can pan in or out and move the map around.  The geocache symbols will change with it.  When you find one you like, you have two options.

A search page

Here’s part of a search results page with the features discussed in the post.

1.  Click the button “Send to My GPS” to send the file directly to your GPS, which will be connected to the computer via a USB cable.


2.  Click the button “GPX file” to send the file to your computer.

Geocaching dot com screen shot

Here is part of a geocache sheet showing the buttons discussed in the text. Other features can be seen also. You should become familiar with all of them.

I always use option 2 because it creates a storehouse of caches that I can refer to later and makes it much simpler to load caches on to more than one GPS device.

If you use option 1, disconnect the GPS when you’re finished and you’re ready to go.  If you have downloaded the caches to a computer, you can load them en masse on to the device.

For option 2, connect the GPS device to the computer via its USB cable after you’ve downloaded all the caches.  It will show up in My Computer as a removable hard drive.  Double click on it and find the folder the geocaches go to (depending on the device).  Select your caches, copy them and paste them into the geocache folder on the device. Disconnect the device and you’re ready to go.  Then get the next device, if any, and do the same thing.

Garmin icon

This is what you’ll see when the GPS hooks up to the computer – a device specific icon. All the new major models will do this automatically. Then you right and left click on it to use it just like any other drive.

Important:  Be sure you disconnect the device the correct way.  Just yanking out a USB cord can cause data corruption and more.  To safely disconnect, right click on the device icon in My Computer and select “Eject” from the pop-up menu.  When the device icon disappears, you’re safe.

This process works fine if you are geocaching in a local area and/or you’re just lining up a few for an outing.  I use it all the time.  It’s as close to geocaching on the fly as you can get without a smart phone. Be aware that it does have a download limitation.  If you have a free account, you’re limited to three cache downloads per day. Premium membership is unlimited.

However, if you travel and want to plan distant geocaches in advance and maybe in large numbers, you’ll want to learn how to do a pocket query.  We’ll do those in our next post.

Good hunting … Boris and Natasha