One of my favorite pastimes as a child was to go treasure hunting, and as a consequence to those activities, I buried a few treasures of my own. I had a set of the old Planet Of The Ape dolls and thought it would be a great idea to bury them and dig them up later on or let someone else do it. My plan didn’t work too well since my cartography skills weren’t up to snuff. I wish I’d known about geocaching and the Magellan Explorist GC back then..those things are worth a lot of money now!
Now, I won’t claim to have been ahead of my time. I wasn’t the only child taken with the romance of buried treasure, so that’s probably the reason the sport of geocaching has so many fans around the world. Geocaching is the art of locating treasures left behind by others with the use of a GPS nagivation device. The caches are left behind for future visitors to either swap items or to simply log their visit to the cache. The key to locating the caches is the visitor’s ability to use their GPS device to locate them. That’s where Magellan comes in with their Explorist GC unit.
The Explorist GC is basically a beginner’s GPS unit that was specifically designed to work in conjunction with the world’s most popular geocaching website–www.geocaching.com. Though designed as a beginner’s handheld, the Explorist GC looks anything but with the inclusion some of the latest technological specs you’ll find on a handheld GPS device. Such specs include a 2.2 inch color transflective screen for easy viewing in sunlight, a Sirfstar III chipset for 3 meter accuracy, and expansive memory-enough to store over 10,000 geocaches if you like. The handset comes preloaded with some of the most popular geocaches in the world, but you can load your own as well.
That’s where geocaching.com steps into the picture. Geocaching.com is basically a community where people visit and share data about geocaches they’ve placed and/or visited. It takes a while to sort out all of the information available on the site, but it’s well worth spending some time reading the provided materials. It will help you get up to speed with the sport of geocaching that much quicker. There are guides to the basics of geocaching, understanding benchmarks, information on local organizations, and a forums area to ask questions or just share your adventures. But, almost certainly, the heart of geocaching.com is its database of caches located around the world.
If you’re up for a day of adventure either with family and friends or just flying solo, the first step you’ll want to take is ensuring that you have some caches to locate in the area you are going to visit. If the none of the preloaded caches on the Explorist GC don’t show up in that area, the website will keep you covered. Simply log in and start your search. (all screenshot images from geocaching.com Copyright Groundspeak Inc. Used with Permission.) First, you’ll want to locate the general area and that can be done by searching with an address, zip code, state, or if you’re feeling really adventurous, you can just look at an entire country. Even if you don’t know the exact area’s address or zip code, you can plug in the latitude and longitude of the general area to help get you rolling. Once you’ve got the appropriate are info entered, you can then limit the search to a specific radius in miles. After you hit the search button, you’ll be presented with a list of caches in that given area. It’s that easy! Now, you only have to decide which one you want to visit.
There are a few factors that come into play here that you’ll want to consider. First, you’ll need to narrow the search down a bit more depending on where you’re going. Maybe you’re visiting an urban, downtown area or you just might be hitting a hiking trail in a national forest. The specific location you’re going to visit is going to determine not only which caches to load, but also what gear to take and whether you’ll be driving most of the way or hoofing it. You get a little help with this as well since geocaching.com has Google Maps integrated in the site so you can get a general idea of a cache’s location. Another thing to consider is the difficulty rating listed along with the cache. You might be feeling froggy and want the hardest spot to find or you might just be up for a casual stroll through a city park. Either way, you’ll want to know the difficulty rating for getting to the cache before you set out on your trip. And, if you’re a real map person by heart, geocaching.com has also included online mapping sources from other sites including more detailed street maps and also topography maps for those that like to go offtrail.
All in all, the material with each map is pretty comprehensive and very easy to sift through as you are making your decision. I was pretty impressed with the layout of geocaching.com’s website and the amount of information available to help make the geocaching adventure more fun. Besides the maps, coordinates, and rating system, there’s also an area for the cache description and there’s an associated image gallery for each cache so people can post their own photos of their visits to the cache. But, probably the most vital part of each cache’s page is the are where you’ll interface with your electronic devices. Once you’ve selected the cache(s) you want to visit, you’ll want to transfer that info over to your device. Near the top of the page, there’s a box with several buttons labeled “Loc Waypoint File”, “Send to Phone” and “Send to GPS”. This is when you’ll want to plug in your Exporist GC with the supplied USB cable and get started transferring all of the relevant data.
This is a very simple process even for the most technologically challenged folks out there. You simply plug the USB cable into your computer and then to your Explorist handheld. The Explorist will pop a question on the screen asking what type of connection you want to make and you select “Connect To PC.” Once you’ve established the connection and the handheld is ready, you simply click on the “Send To GPS” button on the page for the cache you’re visiting. After doing that, you’ll get a popup window that will ask which type of GPS device you’re using and you’ll select the appropriate tab, which in this case is Magellan. The last step is then to clickon the “Download” button. All of the information is transferred to the Exporist and you’re good to go! Now, this is a very simple process provided everything works as it should. I will say that I did have a couple of issues during this process.
The first issue was that there wasn’t a “Magellan” tab visible. I thought it might be something to do with my browser (Firefox), so I checked via Internet Explorer. Same issue. I sent off a note to support to find out what the problem was and awaited their reply. After a couple of days, I hadn’t heard anything, so I wrote again. A couple of more days went by and I still hadn’t heard anything. But, I was getting ready to leave for a trip, so I decided to hold off on figuring out the problem until after I returned in about a week. Sure enough, when I got home and tried again, there was a “Magellan” tab where it was supposed to be. However, I never did get a response from Magellan Support about this issue. Not cool. The only thing I could come up with was that the Explorist GC was such a new device that Magellan just hadn’t gotten their tab set up with geocaching.com. I don’t know for sure since that’s just a guess. But, since the tab was now online, I started the process of making the connection and trying to send the info to the Explorist. This process did not work on the first computer that I tried after I made sure to download and install the Magellan communicator driver. I wasn’t going to try and enlist the help of the support department, so I tried it out on my other two computers. The connection was made and the “Send To GPS” interface worked with both of those computers. I’m not sure why it didn’t (and still won’t) work with the first one, but we were finally cooking with gas! I got my daypack bag out and made sure all the essential supplies and gear was in place, threw a leash on Jethro, grabbed the Explorist GC and we were off for the day!
The first step once I got rambling was to bring up the info on the first geocached I was going to visit. This is easy enough. Just flip to the geocache icon and click the joystick. As you can see in the picture, there are a number of choices you can make to get relevant information about that cache. In addition to the difficulty rating, distance, bearing, and coordinates you’ll see on the main page of the cache, you can also get additional information such as the description, and additional hints. However, some of these features are restricted to Premium members of geocaching.com. So, if you want the most comprehensive data on a cache, you’ll want to make sure to upgrade your membership. I had taken the opportunity at home to print out this information to have along just in case, but I found that I didn’t need it all that much. Additional hints and the like might give you easier driving directions or clues where to look once you arrive at the location. But, if you’re patient enough, you can fumble through a bit most of the time. But there are some caches that are hidden well enough that it takes a little thinking to find them. Maybe it’s up in a tree or behind a sign. That’s when the additional hints really come in handy!
Now that I was out of the house and traveling, it was all up to the Explorist from this point forward. I brought up the first geocache that I wanted to visit and then brought up the map so I could start plotting my course. While I had played with and tested the Explorist over the past couple of weeks, this was the first time that I was using it for what it was intended and I have to say that I was pretty impressed with it overall. The screen is very bright and easy to read, and the colors have a little more pop and appeal than the color screen on my own personal GPS device. Boot up time was pretty quick after the initial setup. I set the Explorist GC next to my own device which cost almost 3 times what the Explorist does a couple of years ago, and the Explorist was just a hair faster acquiring the signal and being ready to go.
Navigating the screens on the Explorist is pretty much a breeze and it’s a fairly intuitive process. Most of the navigation is done via the joystick positioned in the middle of the four buttons at the bottom of the device. The joystick was easy to use and had a postive feel to it while moving between icons on the screen. Once you’ve selected the appropriate icon, you depress the joystick to make the entry. There’s a nice satisfying click that occurs giving you tactile feedback while you’re using the device. Like the joystick, the rest of the Explorist feels rugged and ready to take on the world. It’s rated to IPX-7 standards for water resistance so it’s going to hold up to drops in the puddle and those heavy thunderstorms. But, it has its limitations so make sure it stays in the boat with you if you’re out on the water.
When it comes to geocaching, I’ll admit that I’m still mostly muggle. “Muggle” is a word borrowed from the Harry Potter series meaning ordinary people. So, it took me a bit to get acclimated to the dos and don’ts of geocaching and to get myself in the right frame of mind of following the GPS unit’s arrow to the right location. I’ve used my laptop GPS device for navigation in my car, but it has a much larger screen and I was moving pretty much the whole time. Also, markings for interstate highways are a bit more visible and familiar to me than what I was experiencing on foot. I’ve not used my handheld device in this manner before. Usually, I just use it to mark and label points of interest while I’m out and about so I can transfer the data back to my computer later. Also, I’ve used it to get a general bearing of which direction I’m traveling and to locate items of interest (like trails), but not to find something as small and precise as a geocache. So, this wasn’t just an adventure, I was learning more skills as well.
The other thing the Explorist GC and this excursion helped me with was to familiarize myself again with my old hometown. I grew up in the area and knew it pretty well. But, visiting the caches helped jog my memory a bit and helped me remember some old places that I had forgotten about over time. One cache is located near our local museum of art and I hadn’t been there since I was a kid, so it was a nice sentimental feeling that came over me as I pulled up and realized where I was. But, if you’re a traveler, don’t worry. There’s plenty of caches located along the major highways in places that aren’t too hard to find. So, even though you might work long hours and not have too much time at home, you can still have some fun along the way as evidenced by a cache that was stashed at a local rest area. Everyone needs to “sharpen the saw” (corporate speak) and recharge a bit, and this is an excellent way to inject some adventure into your routine work days.
I visited 4 caches during one day, and everything went quite smoothly and I enjoyed myself quite a bit. Battery life was not a problem in the least. In fact, battery life is rated at around 18 hours and I was glad to see that Magellan included high end lithium batteries from Energizer rather than some cheap off brand. Battery installation is quite easy. You simply rotate the flip up knob on the back cover to unfasten it from the rest of the body. Insert the batteries and reverse the process and you’re good to go. As I mentioned earlier, the entire unit is well built and has some excellent touches that lets you know it’s meant for serious business. I wish the same folks that designed the actual unit were the same ones that did the instruction manual, though. With my own personal GPS device, the manual was very thick and quite comprehensive. It might have been a bit bulky for a manual, but they left no stone left unturned in letting you know what features were available and how to use them. That can’t be said about the manual for the Explorist GC. As far as actual instructions for the handheld goes, there’s 11 small pages with fairly large type (for the manual’s size) and generous spacing. I guess that was done for economy, but don’t let that dissuade you from this device. There’s a lot of features in the device that you’ll find with just a few clicks. One feature is a screen capture option that will take a “picture” of any screen that you like. This wasn’t in the instruction manual, but seems to me to be a fairly useful feature that should have been highlited in the instructions.
There’s a lot to like about the Explorist GC. It’s got a great color screen that is easy to view in daylight. It’s got a sensitive chipset that helps with accuracy and navigating the various screens is a snappy process. The dedicated information screens for interfacing with geocaching.com is a great addition to help simplify the process for newbies learning the ropes of geocaching. The build quality is excellent and the battery life is right up there with other top tier units I’ve tried. I had a lot of fun with it as I dabbled with my first geocaching adventures and part of that experience has to be credited with the almost seamless integration with the geocaching.com website.
Are there any quibbles? That’s a tough one for me to answer. There are a couple of things that I would have preferred and don’t want to do without such as a larger screen, expandable memory, and a more detailed base map for the unit especially when you’re in wooded terrain (topographical detail) rather than being on a city street. But, when you consider that this device retails for under $200.00 and is intended for beginners, it’s hard to complain. The smaller screen makes for a smaller footprint for the device making it easy to carry, and you can purchase more detailed mapping software for the type of terrain you’re going to be on. The only real complaint that I can register is the lack of help from the support department after two attempts to contact them. Thankfully, the Explorist GC is so well designed and intuitive to use, there probably won’t be much need to contact them barring just a bad device. I’ll chalk the initial issue up to the website being updated for the new device since it hadn’t hit the market when I first received it for review.
If you’re looking for a fun new hobby and enjoyed looking for buried treasure during your own childhood, you might want to try out geocaching. It’s a fun way to spend time with friends and family, be out in the outdoors, and experience a little adventure in your life. Magellan can help make that new hobby be a pleasurable and productive experience with their new Explorist GC. For the price, it’s a tough model to beat. It has some great features that allow you to not only find those elusive geocaches, but to mark your progress, log the find, and then communicate that information back to the geocaching community. You just need to spend a little time learning the device and what it’s capable of, but I think you’ll enjoy the process. I know I did!