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5 apps for geocaching

Although I'm much more likely to spend a lovely summer day with my butt glued to the chair working on a new TUAW post, I do enjoy the sport/hobby/game of geocaching. If you're not familiar with the term, geocaching is defined as "a global treasure hunting game where participants locate hidden physical containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share their experience online." When I first started geocaching, smartphones didn't exist so I'd print out a map, grab my Garmin GPS, and head out to the field. For the last few years, there has been a boom in iPhone apps for geocaching. Here are five apps to help you enjoy finding those hidden caches.

Geocaching Intro (Free)

GroundSpeak is the company that runs the Geocaching.com website, the world's largest repository of geocache location information with over 1,450,000 active caches listed. As a for-profit organization, Groundspeak has a vested interest in getting new members into the hobby. The app is a way to get you hooked on geocaching by letting you find three geocaches near your current location, provide you with the requisite coordinates, hints, and description, and help you navigate to the cache. A bonus is that the app alerts you when you're getting close to the cache location by vibrating and making a sound. It's a wonderful and free app for deciding whether or not geocaching captures your attention.

Geocaching ($9.99)

If that free intro got you hooked, you may want to graduate to a Geocaching.com premium account so that you get access to some special caches and features that aren't open to the general public. The official Geocaching app was the first caching app for the iPhone, and it has improved over the years to become the tool for finding and reporting caches.

The feature set is incredible. Over a 3G data connection you can pick up information about any of the caches worldwide, log your finds, save listings for offline use (helpful in backcountry caching), navigate to caches with a compass arrow, browse photo galleries and cache attributes, and more. You'll even know if you've been to a cache before or if a cache is currently inactive.

Since I've had this app, I haven't had to print out maps and I sold my old Garmin GPS. The app and iPhone work great together, although you'll probably want to have an external battery pack on hand while caching.

Garmin OpenCaching (Free)

OpenCaching is a user-powered caching community started by GPS giant Garmin earlier this year. While the database of caches is only a small fraction of those available through Geocaching.com, the ability to have access to all services for free and a novel graphical method of providing a rating for caches seem to be resonating with some cachers. For free, it's well worth the time to download.

Geocaching with Geosphere ($7.99)

If you're not happy with the Geocaching app but would like to use the GPX "Pocket Query" files that can be generated with a Premium membership on Geocaching.com, the Geocaching with Geosphere might be the answer.

Geocaching with Geosphere reads GPX and LOC files, and can import multiple GPX files that have been compressed into a ZIP archive. It displays a compass showing the direction to the cache you're seeking, can store description information and images for offline viewing, and let you create field notes to upload as log entries later. If you're online, you can access satellite images showing cache locations, or create a GPX file on the fly.

Geocaching Toolkit iGCT (Free)

Geocaching Toolkit won't help you get to a cache directly, but it could help you with the more advanced "multi-caches". Many times, multi-caches involve complicated puzzles, calculations, or finding a point using distances and bearings.

That's what Geocaching Toolkit iGCT is for: making waypoint and text calculations, decrypting hints in geocache listings, and more. For cachers who are well beyond the "dash and grab" type of easy geocaches, Geocaching Toolkit is a must-have.

Finally, I'd like to close out this post with a recommendation for a podcast that has been one of my favorites for years. The PodCacher podcast has been around for years (the last show was number 328), and is the product of a San Diego couple, Sonny and Sandy. It's highly recommended for anyone who enjoys geocaching, and you can subscribe here.