I'm thinking about getting into geocaching with my girlfriend, as it sounds like an activity that we'd both enjoy a lot.

However I really don't think that I want to buy a dedicated GPS device if at all avoidable. On one hand I don't want to spend the money, on the other it'll just be one more device to keep around, make sure it's charged, upgrade firmware or maps, etc.

  • Can I simply use my smartphone with Google maps for geocaching? Are the modern smartphone GPS receivers accurate enough?

Is there anything that would make dedicated GPS devices much better at geocaching compared to smartphones?

  • >Is there anything that would make dedicated GPS devices much better at geocaching compared to smartphones? The battery life
    – Collatrl
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 12:07
  • 3
    None, I found my phone worked better in some areas my GPS in others, battery depending on the devices in question as Collatrl said is the only big difference :) Also the Geocaching app is basically the same as googlemaps anyway
    – Aravona
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 12:46
  • 1
    I'm even not entirely sure about that battery argument since a smartphone lasts incredibly long if you turn of the internet. Internet is not needed because most apps provide an offline feature which lets you download the needed maps and have it on your device. You just need to enable the GPS. I use a trekking app called komoot this way and my phone lasts (when turned off while sleeping) for three days straight.
    – OddDeer
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 14:39
  • Please read outdoors.stackexchange.com/q/5446/66 and other related posts here. I think all the information you need is there.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 22:55

4 Answers 4


In addition to the good advice Tullochgorum gave,

I have been Geocaching for a couple years, i did it for about a year with just my phone, later i bought a dedicated GPS device, used it for awhile and then went back to my phone. With the correct app a phone is just fine. I find mine to be accurate to about 10 feet, with the given hints and whatnot in the geocache descriptions i have hid many with people finding them just fine.

I also have had many occasions where when using my phone and a friend using a GPS device, i walked right up to the geocache where as they were a bit off and much slower to find it. May just be luck in that instance but i am confident that a phone will work okay for you.

Also if you are new to the hobby, not much point in dropping a couple hundred dollars to try something you may or may not like. If you do it for a while and feel you would really benefit from a GPS device, then drop the money on one.

I however also like using my phone because i can find the cache and record the find and make any notes or record the picking up of travel bugs right there on the same device rather than having to keep switching back and forth.

Hopefully this helps, and happy caching! Be careful though as it's addictive! Also be sure you are not encroaching on private property in order to get to a cache, unless it is specified that the land owner knows of the cache and is aware people may be looking for it.

I would look into the Cgeo app, it is what i use in addition to a separate compass app that tells me headings and such for puzzle and tricky caches. I use the compass to get a better heading that cgeo as it tends to be slightly more accurate, both were free on an android device.


Modern smartphones are at least as accurate as dedicated GPS devices in most conditions. Just turn off battery intensive apps to preserve battery life if you will be out for an extended period.

But Google Maps is not the way to go outside of urban walking - you will generally need a specialised GPS app with downloadable maps that can be used offline when reception isn't available.

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  • 1
    It is possible to download, for offline use sections, of google maps data to your device, I personally favor Open Street Map data because it is user supported world wide and for trails seems to have more data. One way to help on power use is when you know you will be out of cellphone tower range, put your phone into Airplane mode. Then turn on the GPS. If you do this after you already have a lock, the resync time will be short. This should be tested on your device to confirm that the GPS works without cell tower (AGPS) assist BEFORE YOU GO HIKING. Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 23:31
  • Although much of the time it makes no difference, and a dedicated GPS is no more accurate, the antenna of a dedicated GPS is much more sensitive and less prone to loosing weak signals.
    – user5330
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 4:16

If you want to find everything, you'll probably need a good GPS.

But it's entirely possible to work without any device at all.

I started geocaching only this year, and have found almost every cache that I've looked for.
I decided that snow, a very cold winter, and COVID-19 lockdowns aren't enough, so I gave myself the additional handicaps of walking, not driving, and not using any kind of electronic device.

I pick a site, read the clues in the item's page, and spend time with Google Maps, using satellite, 3D, and street view. Then, when I'm fairly sure of the general area, I walk there and so far have been able to make the find within a fairly short time.

I'm of course avoiding ground level caches that are buried in snow.
Items in wooded areas aren't easy either, and have required a second visit so that I can compare what I saw on the first trip with what Google Maps shows, looking for obvious landmarks and triangulation sight-lines.

The interesting point is that the pin-drop on Google Maps is often located more precisely than many electronic devices will show when on-site.

I'll of course soon run out of walking-distance destinations (maybe a dozen or two more to go), but there's always summer and a bicycle.


One of the challanges of accuracy with Geocaching is - it is entirely dependent upon the accuracy of the person placing and recording the location of the cache.

You might have the best GPS in the world, accurate to 0.1m after only 10 seconds. But if the person placing the cache was using mobile-assisted GPS and google satellite background to help place their cache, you still might be 15m out. There is the ability for end users to improve the location (almost like crowd sourcing an updated location) but even still.

This has happened a lot with me. You can tell that the user has used assisted GPS and an inaccurate satellite background on the map to locate their cache, but low and behold, you find it 10m away in a totally different bit of bush. The comments in the cache log often lend themselves to saying it was in a different spot. Very common issue.

So in answer to your question, take into account the above info. If you are going to be looking for your average run of the mill cache's, probably no GPS needed. However if you are going to be looking for caches that are placed by well regarded geocache-hiders (?) and high difficulty, then maybe GPS would be useful.

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