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Can You Geocache With An In-Car Sat Nav?

We Put The New Garmin Nuvi 200 / 250 To The Test As A Hiking Geocache Finder - And It Turns Out To Be Third Time Lucky!

Nuvi 200 guiding me along a wooded pathI'm sitting at my pc writing this article and it feels like the fronts of my legs are on fire. You see today I challenged my new Garmin Nuvi 200 to see if it would work as a Geocache Sat Nav, but unfortunately I decided to wear shorts, and most of the routes seemed to be along stinging-nettle lined paths, hence my current predicament.

So why the challenge? Well it occurred to me that Geocaching is a great outdoor activity for the whole family, but we all can't afford a dedicated hiking GPS unit, so could you use the family's car Satellite Navigation device instead?

I have to admit that I used a Navman 530 the first time my son and I went Geocaching, but it was too difficult to use. The Navman could show your current lat. / long., but it couldn't navigate to coordinates, and seemed to be quite inaccurate - the only way we found the Geocache was because I knew where it was from a photo in the description.

I have higher hopes for the Nuvi 200 / 250. It can navigate to lat / long coordinates, and can display your current position just by touching the vehicle icon. The Nuvi also has an off-road mode, which simply ignores the roads and takes you in a straight line towards your destination, perfect for waypoint finding or Geocaching. Finally the Garmin has one of the new generation of highly sensitive GPS receivers, which should make it more accurate than a basic Garmin eTrex. You may think that you'd also need a compass, but you don't. As soon as you start moving the Garmin works out which way you're heading and orientates the 3d (or top down) map to the direction you're heading in, and you just follow the line to your destination, even telling you how far you are from your goal. Simple.

Not being designed as a Hiking GPS you do have to take some precautions. The Nuvi 200 / 250 is in no way water-proof and is quite fragile, so for future trips I'm going to seal it in a waterproof clear bag. It runs off a rechargeable battery, so if it goes flat there is no way of turning it back on until you reach a power source (the cigar lighter of your car). Hence the Nuvi should not be used as a serious hiking Sat Nav - only for local recreational use where safety is not critical.

Ok, so how do you use this in car satellite navigator for Geocaching? I got into a lot more detail below, but here's the cut down version. Get the coordinates of your Geocache and save them on the unit as a favourite. If the cacher gives separate waypoints, or a waypoint for parking, save that too. Save as many as you like. Jump in the car and get the Nuvi to take you as close as it can on the roads (or to the nearest car park). Change the navigation option to "off-road" and the map display to "track-up" or leave it on 3d if you prefer. The Garmin will now guide you straight to the cache, but you'll have to keep an eye out for the right tracks and signs, etc. As easy as that. Or not, as the case may be. Read about our attempts to use the Nuvi for Geocaching below, although I think the failures were down to my inexperience at finding caches (and not reading the clues properly on the website) and not the inaccuracy of the Nuvi.

Geocaching.com website To start our Garmin Nuvi 200 / 250 Geocaching challenge it's a quick visit to Geocaching.com to get our three sets of coordinates.
Garmin Nuvi Coordinates screen

We don't need to write anything down, just select "where to" then "coordinates" and put in the data, press "next" and then save, naming the cache appropriately.

Don't look at the map before you save the data or you won't be able to name it.

So we've used the Garmin to guide us to close to the first cache, using the normal "fastest routing". The Garmin has taken us the quickest route and helped us to avoid speed cameras on the way...
Closing in on the geocache By putting the Nuvi into "off road" mode it now takes us straight towards the geocache, well around the lake!
Under the bridge? Well the Geocache is meant to be somewhere on the lip of the bridge, but we couldn't find it. When we got home and read the cryptic clue on the website we were actually looking for the wrong thing, the cache was a magnetic micro stuck underneath the outer lip of the bridge. So the Garmin got us there, but we couldn't finish the job!
Next Geocache location It was on to the next one, remembering to switch to "fastest route" navigation so the Nuvi 200 will take us along the roads and not off-road!
On the trail of a Geocache Heading towards the second cache the Garmin performed flawlessly, but I was worried about the dark skies and rain...
Hmmm. According to the Sat Nav I was standing 3 feet away from the cache, but I couldn't find it in the bushes. (I didn't know it at the time, but when I got home and read the cryptic clues from the website I should have been looking for something at eye-level, not on the floor).
waves crashing ove rsea-front So trudging back to the car we were feeling a little down. Two Geocache locations visited, but no geocaches actually found. As we watched the waves crash over the sea front we were losing faith in the Garmin, even though we didn't know at the time we could have found what we were looking for if we'd searched that little bit harder. (Lesson learnt: print out the clues and take them with you!)
third geocache parking lot The third Geocache for our Garmin to find came with two sets of coordinates, the first being a carpark, so leaving the car there we continued on foot...
The long walk to the geocache... It was about a mile to the cache as indicated on the Nuvi's screen, and it looked like easy going...
Flooded roads blocked my way... Until we encountered some flooded roads....
Into the woods Once into the woods we started to get excited, could this be the first treasure we find with our new Sat Nav?
stinging nettles Stinging nettles barred the way but we pressed on regardless.
petrified tree This rather eerie tree, and the lack of people made our hike very strange...
the bridge But we finally made it to the spot!
geocache found! Geocache found by our trusty Garmin Nuvi 200 in-car Sat Nav!
Open Geocache!

What goodies lay inside?

We didn't swap anything, just signed the logbook, left a message and headed home, job well done.

So there we have it, challenge over for now. The Nuvi had worked as a Geocaching Sat Nav, and if we'd only read the cryptic clues in advance we probably would have found all three. I was very pleased, and look forward to enjoying more Geocaching with my son over the next few months, so if you want an in-car Satellite Navigation Device that can do Geocaching too, get a Garmin Nuvi 200 / 250!

Comments / Questions:

I\'m so glad I found this article!  My 10 year old daughter has recently discovered geocaching, which she loves, but she is a bit intimidated by the handheld gps receivers we have borrowed from friends, and insists that I do all the navigating.  I am about to buy her a gps system for Christmas, and had pretty well decided on the Etrex Legend cx when I came across your article.  I had been considering buying a touchscreen automobile gps for her, because I thought the touchscreen would be a bit more user friendly, and she might enjoy it more, but I have been unable until now to see a test of how well they work for geocaching.  But I\'m still concerned about how fragile the automobile ones seem to be (I wish they came with cases and lanyards, or something protective like you might have on a cell phone), or how awkard holding the Nuvi gps would be for hiking (although so far we asre doing mostly city caching).  I actually had purchased a Tom Tom gps for her, but when I got it home and out of the box I found that instead of being flat on the back, it had a cap that protruded out, making it very awkard.  So I returned it for a refund.  One more consideration..... I am visually impaired, and I have found the numbers rather small on the handheld units, but think they might be easier to see on a Nuvi.  But if anyone knows of a handheld with easier to read coordinate numbers, I\'d appreciate hearing about it.
I am open to any and all suggestions, as I am new to all this!  Thanks! Renee.

You could always go for a widescreen Nuvi - they're a little easier to read.

Is Pedestrian mode the same thing as Off Road mode ? Also How do you set more than one waypoint ?

No. In pedestrian mode the unit will follow roads, but ignore the highway code. In off-road mode the unit will ignore roads and just head straight to the destination.

As far as I know you can't set more than one way point, but you can add a "via".

I had just bought a nuvi260 and was trying to figure it out when my son wanted us to come up and go geocaching he has a Garmin Colo/400. We had never heard of geocaching,anyway we went camping with them at Woods Canyon Lake and found 2 caches,my other son got a Garmin for his Bday so we went out one Sat. found the area but not the caches, daughter in law put your web site on here and I have read it over and over we went out sun and found the 2 caches we were looking for.:):)We are hooked! I needed all the info you provided for geocaching.alsofound out I can recharge my nuvi by plugging into the usb port on my computer,I would like to know how to set map display to track up??  Thank You very much. Dwight.

Press the wrench, settings, map, map view - track up.

Hi I am trying to get started geocaching with my car GPS it is a nuvi 260 I have your instructions I go to where to and I do not get coordinates I get adresses pois etc how do I get coordinates? do I have to get a different nuvi?

See the post below.

I have over 350 geocache finds and half of them are with the nuvi 200. SET IT TO OFF ROAD WHEN U GET OUT OF YOUR car and it draws a straight line to the cache if your walking fast it will show u where the hide is to where u are u have to moving doesnt have a electronic compass and if your walking slow just look at the distance and if your numbers go down your going the right direction.Its just as accurate as any hand held gps. Joe.

Good points!

Thanks for your info! How do you put the Nuvi 250 into off-road mode? Lepanto.

Spanner, settings, navigation, off-road.

Thank you!  I have searched the web for just this information.  I thought I was doomed to either two GPS units (one for car and one for geocaching), or to shelling out $500 for the nuvi 500.  You also saved me from buying topo map.  I was certain I would need to go to this extra expense with the nuvi 250.  Thank you!! Cristina in Tucson, Arizona, USA.

No problemo.

I started geocaching with my Nuvi250 and so far am 3 for 3.   Not bad, although would be nice if it had a compass pointer on screen.   I just bought a handheld compass for $10, so problem solved. Mike.

Thanks for your great description! A question - how do you navigate to the cache once in off-road mode? Is there a compass, or do you need to "follow the numbers," or does a pointer move on a map? Thanks! Geri.

You follow the line on the map, swinging around until its pointing away from you in a straight line. Difficult to describe, but easy in practice.

I wish there were a way to download the whole geocache description into the nuvi.  Does anyone know how to do that?  When my unit is plugged into the computer, I can browse the files and see some info there (after using the web tool to download the whole thing from my.garmin.com/extras), but when I'm on the road with the garmin I can't seem to access that information to read.  too bad. Jeff.

Well there is... sort of. What you can do is take a screen shot of the Geocache Description at Geocaching.com. Find the cache you want, then look for the "printable" version of the description. Open up an image / photo processing program (Elements, Gimp, etc), then go back to the listing, press "printscrn" on your keyboard, then go back and "paste" that into the image editor. Crop out what you don't need, save it as a jpg, then stick it on an SD card and pop it into your Nuvi. Turn the Nuvi on, go to the image viewer, and voila! There's your description (you have to zoom in). Its not a perfect solution, and you've got to play around with your settings in your photo editor, but it works.

First of all: congratulations on your excellent work in the website.
I was looking for a GPS and this was the piece missing: with your reviews and this geocaching test I have decided... Garmin Nuvi 250 will be mine  :)
Greetings for Portugal. Jose.

Good choice, enjoy your new Sat Nav!

Sorry to bother you, but you seem to have the most knowledge of any website I'm looked at. I just bought a Nuvi 660 and want to use it for geocaching. I watched your video clip on the 200 and it was most helpful. My question is this: The preloaded map takes me to a rough location. How did you know you were only 3 feet away? According to my zoomed-in display, I could have been 500 yards away which doesn't help. Do I need to load a topo map to get the detail?

Are you in off-road mode? On my Nuvi 200, if you set the navigation to off-road, then stick in your lat / long, the bar at the top of the screen tells you how far away you are from your goal when you get quite close. I might have been using the 2d top-down view too... You don't need topo unless you're really into your hiking, they're expensive!

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