Free is a relative word.  I had a GPS before I knew anything about geocaching.  It was with my second GPS and etrex Legend that I discovered geocaching.  I didn’t buy the etrex for geocaching it just worked out that I could use it for this new geocaching thing.  When I was doing that geocaching was kinda free.  I didn’t have a paid membership anywhere and I hadn’t spent any money specifically for geocaching.  That was all about to change.

I found that I was having transcription errors when I was entering coordinates manually.  There had to be a better way, and there was.  I could get a premium membership at and run pocket queries.  Look at that, 500 caches entered with no errors, awesome.  My time was worth way more to me than the $30/year.  I paid for my subscription and I still do. may have a free service but if you are serious about it caching you’ll quickly run out of caches that you can walk to after manually entering them in your GPS.

Float Plane to Ishpatina RidgeIf you add in all the other costs associated with geocaching you quickly find that your $30/subscription is the cheapest expense you have.   I’ve upgraded my GPSr three times since my little etrex.  With an average price of about $400ea that’s about $1200 in hardware so I can play a “free” game.   I was at a group event last night about 30 minutes from my home.  That was a free event and it still cost me $30 for dinner.   Add in a flight to Seatle to attend Geowoodstock or the float plane rental to get to Ishpatina Ridge and I’ve paid more in airfares than I have in hardware.

Garmin would like us to believe that is a free service.  By that they mean you don’t have pay a subscription fee.   How do you think Garmin is paying for this new service?  Between 2007 and 2008 Garmin sold 17 million GPS devices.  I don’t know what percentage of those devices were handheld trail style units.  Device sales are subsidizing the operation of  Garmin is in business to make a profit.  There is no profit in giving away service unless it helps you sell something that you do make money on.  That is Garmin’s end game.  Garmin didn’t build to compete with groundspeak, far from it, they built it to gain market share.

Garmin faces stiffer competition in its core market from smartphones than it does from Groundspeak.  Smartphones come with built in GPS.  Why do I need a stand alone unit if I have a smartphone?  Garmin offers users access to a service that they don’t think of for their phone.  Another geocaching expense for me is Trimble’s Geocache Navigator on my Blackberry.  I know a lot of cachers that do most if not all of of their caching using a smartphone.  These are the kinds of people Garmin is targeting.

Let’s not kid ourselves.  There is nothing free about geocaching.  It may be low cost but it’s not free.  And remember to trade up or trade even.


I have been writing the cachemania blog since 2008. I'm interested in the development of geocaching and the many ways that people play the game.

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