What is Paperless Geocaching?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2019
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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 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.


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