What is Paperless Geocaching?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

A smartphone that can be used for paperless geocaching.
A smartphone that can be used for paperless geocaching.

Geocaching is a word coined by Matt Stum from geo meaning “Earth” and cache meaning “a temporary storage spot.” Geocaching has become an international game or pastime for people who use GPS (Global Positioning System) coordinates and maps to find containers that have been hidden as part of the game. The hidden container and its contents are called a geocache, and a person who hides or seeks them is a geocacher. Paperless geocaching is the practice of seeking geocaches without using any printed material.

Geocaching is a modern-day scavenger hunt that uses GPS to find the treasures of the hunt.
Geocaching is a modern-day scavenger hunt that uses GPS to find the treasures of the hunt.

Geocaching is fairly new, having evolved quickly beginning in 2000, prompted by a change in the US government policy of Selective Availability, which involved degrading GPS signals that were available to the public, with the result that GPS readings were only accurate to a distance of 300 ft (91.44 m). When the military, on whose behalf the policy was made, found an alternative way to protect sensitive areas, public GPS came to be accurate within 6 to 20 ft (1.83 to 6.1 m). To test the new abilities, a GPS enthusiast named Dave Ulmer hid a geocache in a remote area of Oregon with a logbook, pencil, and a few “prizes.” Early geocaching was largely conducted with a GPS unit, a printed topographical map, a compass, and printouts of cache pages, which provide details about each cache on the itinerary. Neophytes were warned about the importance of taking appropriate documents with them in order not to end up in untenable situations, and the technology just didn’t make paperless geocaching a good choice.

Changes in technology made an enormous difference. The ability of PDAs to hold the necessary information and have a battery life long enough to endure for an entire geocaching adventure raised the possibility of paperless geocaching. Both topographical maps and cache information can be stored on an electronic organizer, smartphone, or other PDA that has software to read the GPX files, which saves paper, electricity, and ink, as well as reducing the weight of the geocacher’s backpack. Further advances that support paperless geocaching are the appearance of GPS chips in certain smartphones, enabling the geocacher to have everything he or she needs on one device. In addition, more recent GPS manufacturers have added product lines that include maps, autorouting, and compasses.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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