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If you’ve never been geocaching, you should check it out — especially if you have kids. It’s a large-scale, worldwide treasure hunting game where participants hide small containers (geocaches) filled with trinkets for others to find in trees, bushes, crevices, etc. People use GPS devices, compasses, maps, iPhone apps, and websites to locate the secret stashes, then collect, trade, or pass on the prize to the next cache. Geocaching is known for its sense of community and respect for the natural environment, as well as being a family-oriented outdoor activity that gets kids physically and mentally active (believe me, I love Halo 3 as much as anybody, but we all gotta get out sometimes).

Apisphere’s Geomate Jr. Handheld GPS Geocacher is designed for the younger folks who tend to be tough on equipment, but it offers a variety of capabilities that an adult can help them use. It works like a regular GPS, reporting latitude/longitude and tracking, but also comes preloaded with about 250,000 geocache locations in all 50 U.S. states. It shows an arrow and distance indicator to the nearest cache — you can set a waypoint to navigate back to where you started, mark found geocaches, or look up information such as size of the geocache, terrain description, or difficulty level. For about $25 you can also get the Update Kit [What’s This?] to upload the newest geocache locations from the web.

The going price for the Geomate Jr. is about $69.95. This sounds to me like it could be useful beyond local activities with the kids; on those long car rides and family vacations, perhaps the prospect of geocaching could quell the kids’ boredom — not to mention give them a very exact answer to the timeless question: “Are we there yet?”

Thanks to Bob and Renee for the great cc-licensed photo at Flickr.com.

Geomate, Jr. [Manufacturer Site]
Street Pricing [Google Products]
Via Amazon [What’s This?]
Geocaching.com – The Official Global GPS Cache Hunt Site


5 Responses to Geomate Jr. Handheld GPS Geocacher

  1. Matthew Gerber says:

    I purchased the Geomate, Jr. to use with my son and our Cub Scout Den recently. I was excited to get it and get started in Geocaching with the Scouts.

    I found myself very disappointed in the device once received. It is actually TOO simple! I thought having an inexpensive device basically made for kids would make it a good starting point, considering that so many GPS devices are $300-$500. The old-school LCD screen was hard to understand without a manual in hand…and that wasn’t included (had to print it from on-line). Once I had updated the device (proprietary cable at extra cost…boo!) and thought we had it figured out, we found that the “feature” of only showing the closest Geocache meant that 1) our options were severely limited in what we could do with the device, and 2) we had to research, print and haul around loads of paper to help us make use of the device. I sent it back shortly thereafter.

    Thankfully, Magellan introduced the eXplorist GC unit at the same time. This is a dedicated Geocaching GPS unit, so it won’t be doing extra duty in the car as a navigation device; but it is only $200, a big selling point for me as a beginner at Geocaching. It was developed with Geocaching.com to offer a paperless Geocaching experience…you can upload caches you are interested in, along with all of the notes, descriptions, logs, hints and photos available on the official Geocaching web site. Add in a color screen, rugged casing, included base map, pre-loaded caches, standard USB cable connectivity (and included cable) and it beats the pants off the Geomate, Jr. at just twice the cost.

    All that said, Geocaching is a lot of fun! I introduced the Scouts to the game during a campout last month. I hid a cache at out campgrounds (where there had been none previously), then had the Scouts use the GPS to find a bunch of interesting waypoints around the camp before finally finding the cache. We left that one hidden, and hid another harder cache at the camp as well. We submitted these to Geocaching.com and had them approved a few days later. I know that at least one other Scout group has already found our harder cache. The boys think it’s a great activity, and we will look for and hide ore caches over the summer.

    My son and I found a cache at a local park the other day which relates to Toolmonger. The person hiding the cache had taken a small eucalyptus log, cut one face off of it to make a stable base and cut another face off of it to make a drawer front. He then hollowed out the interior and built a drawer to fit inside. It fit into a clever V groove in the bottom of the compartment (matching a point carved into the bottom of the drawer) to act as a rail. When closed and placed under a fallen eucalyptus stump, it was practically impossible to find. A lot of hard work by a skilled craftsman went into that box, just so random strangers could play treasure hunt!

  2. Slow Joe Crow says:

    Since my son and I just located our first geocache last night I guess I’m qualified to comment now. First off, I definitely agree with previous poster that this has too little function to be useful and $25 for a cable brings you close to $100 at which point you could just get a bare bones Garmin eTrex, or spring for an eTrex Legend with a base map. We used a new Garmin Dakota 20 and still had trouble finding the caches with a color map. The extra cost of a proper mapping GPS is worth it relative to the headaches saved. The Garmin Dakota is also aimed at geocachers since it supports paperless geocaching if you splash out on a premium membership to geocaching.com although it’s more expensive than the Magellan. Also outdoor GPS units are designed to resist water and bumps so any decent unit will be mostly “kidproof” as long as they don’t hit the factory reset option.

  3. Pezdad says:

    If you have an iphone with the GPS chip (3g, 3GS, or the new 4), you can get the official geocatching app for $9.99 and save a lot (no additional cables, devices, etc – and updates are free). I have used it with my boys and the app works great – and geocatching is a lot of fun. I have no idea if other smart phones have a similar app, but I can say that the app (and it’s color maps, photos, etc) is a lot better looking and is a lot easier to use than the cheap gps units.

    The big negative to using the phone is if you are going out to the wilderness where there is no phone access – you will lose much of the functionallity. However, all the places I have done geocatching with my boys we have had a phone signal – and $10 for a great experence beats the terrible $100+ experence Matthew described above.

  4. Mac says:

    We just bought the Geomate Jr. and used it for the first time last night with our 5 kids, ages 2 thru 11. In light of the negative comments posted here, I decided to put in my 2 cents on this nifty little device. We love it! Yes, it is simple. With 5 young children, simple is good. You go outside, turn it on, and instantly get directions to the 20 closest caches, arranged in order of closest first. If you change areas’s just turn the unit off, then on again, for a new list of the closest caches. With a little help, the kids could learn to read the display and lead the rest of the family on the hunt. For the 1st few minutes, I had to consult the manual every few minutes to remember what every icon meant, but very quickly, it became second nature. I liked that it worked in the car, too, so as we drove toward a cache, I could call out our progress to the kids in the back. I found the directions to be accurate, and easy to follow. The unit does not do coordinates, but it does give the GC code, so we can find a cache on the website if we need additional information or clues. I don’t think we can use this device to place geocaches, but that’s ok, we bought it mainly to hunt for them. Bottomline: this a great entry level device, great for families with kids just getting their feet wet with geocaching. We plan on taking it on vacations and when we travel for low cost fun no matter where we are. Will we grow out of this device someday? probably. but not for quite a while! And for $70, this little device will live a long and fun-filled life before we are ready to upgrade!

  5. After much research I recently bought myself a Garmin GPSmap 60CSx. After owning a Magellan Sportmap that couldn’t find the sky in an open clearing, I am impressed with the GPSmap — it can find satellites inside my house. That’s the primary reason I bought it because I was sick of losing signal in the woods or in hilly areas.

    I can’t say much for the geocaching aspect of the GPSmap except that there is a feature that logs when you’ve found a cache. The GPS performs really well, except I’m really disappointed in the Garmin maps, both the basic basemap and the basemap that comes with the Lakefinder Package. They are off by over a hundred feet just going down the open highway. On smaller lakes it was showing me 50 feet inland when I was 50 feet out in the lake.

    I was able to download Topo maps from the state of Minnesota and they are much more accurate — within 20ft or so.

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