How to Use a Handheld GPS

Handheld GPS Geocaching

Geocaching is fun for people of all ages!
Geocaching is fun for people of all ages!
Lisa Kyle Young/Getty Images

Once you've gotten your handheld GPS device mastered, you can take part in the new and highly popular outdoor hobby called geocaching. This adventurous activity can best be described as a high-tech scavenger hunt. Players use the GPS device to locate a cache that's hidden in a tricky, sometimes difficult to access, public place. It all started in Oregon in the first days of the repeal of Selective Availability, when a GPS early adopter named Dave Ulmer hid a container in a remote area to test his device's accuracy. He posted the coordinates on the Internet with the instructions, "Take some stuff, leave some stuff." The stuff in this case, was a few small trinkets, along with log book and pencil to leave your name and date. This is how geocaching was born.

Since then, the hobby/sport has evolved into a serious past time, with the Web site reporting more than 900,000 caches hidden as of November 2009 [source:]. The most important thing you need in order to go on a geocaching adventure is your handheld GPS device. This is what will guide you to the area where the water-tight container of goodies awaits you. From there, it's up to you to find it. Part of the fun of hiding a geocache is placing it in a spot that doesn't immediately jump out at you once you're at the location. Caches can be hidden inside tree trunks, underneath a playground see-saw or park bench, or even under water. The idea is that the GPS device should get you close to the cache, but not pinpoint its exact location.

The other thing you should remember to bring along on your geocaching adventure is a prize to leave in place of whatever you take. It can be anything from a Santana CD to a figurine you got on your tour of the Vatican. Any kind of fun bauble or tchotchke works well, just don't ever include any weapons, food items, alcohol or illegal drugs. Chances are, the cache will include the log in book and a pen or pencil. This is a fun way to keep track of fellow geocachers. There are many Web sites that have cache locations, but is the best place to get the most comprehensive listing. If you're interested in using your handheld GPS device to geocache, make sure you bring along some extra batteries before you set out into the woods. Not only will you not be able to find your cache, but you could always get lost if you device runs out of juice.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • "Frequently Asked Questions About Geocaching." 2009.
  • "Getting Started with Geocaching." 2009.
  • "Handheld GPS: Reviews." 2009.
  • "In the City Maps." 2009.;jsessionid=DDB528B25E3B06D525BA12BA0AA56ABE
  • "On the Road Maps." 2009.;jsessionid=4F63C9E384348830AD88420537AE561A
  • "On the Trail Maps." 2009.
  • "On the Water Maps." 2009.;jsessionid=DDB528B25E3B06D525BA12BA0AA56ABE
  • "Search for Geocaching." 2009.
  • "Using Handheld GPS Receivers for Precise Positioning." Schwieger, Volker. 2009.