GeoCaching with the iPhone – Preserving battery life

Before investing in a Garmin Dakota 10 (Which we love) our first few hundred caches were found with just an iPhone 3GS running the app. We started Geocaching as we wanted a new hobby. We always used to do a lot of walking (Which is why we’re big on trails) but going around the same old paths just became boring. So I downloaded the free ‘Geocaching Intro’ iPhone app and we hit our first ever GeoCache that was only about a mile down the road. It was probably the easiest cache hide ever. A regular container in the end of the framework for a bridge over the railway line. Despite the clue saying something like “In the bridge” I didn’t have a clue where this mystery item would be concealed. 5 minutes later we found it. WOW! We read the stash note, had a look through the swag, read the previous logs and signed the book. It was such a great feeling to find this secret little container hidden right under our noses. Everyone remembers their first cache, right? (Feel free to share your experiences!)

We decided to go after a second one. This was a couple of miles down the road, but we had an idea where it would be. It wasn’t long before we got to the spot, however the iPhone battery died just before we were close to GZ. I had however read the hint that said it was in a tree stump and as we were only newbies didn’t recognise the obvious stick-o-flage in an obvious trunk until 15minutes later. We got it though. And it was another well stocked stash that made us think “WOW! This is fun!”

Since then I had an on-going battle with my iPhone’s battery life. Someone did our trail recently and had a few problems navigating back to the car after their iPhone battery died and left them in the middle of the trail with no idea where to go. I felt really bad for them and sent them a few iPhone battery preserving tips, so I thought I’d expand on them and add them to a blog entry as well to help others…

1. Turn off Wi-fi and 3G.
You’re not going to need Wi-fi when you’re out on the trail and 3G will just drain the battery. You will be able to find caches no problem without 3G on. To turn wifi off goto Settings –> Wi-fi –> and change to OFF. To turn off 3G go to Settings –> General –> Network –> And turn ‘Enable 3G’ to OFF.

2. Adjust brightness
Ensure that you have ‘Auto-Brightness’ ON and adjust the brightness to the lowest level that you can work with. This will help to save a lot of battery life. To adjust brightness, go to Settings –> Brightness and set the slider to a comfortable level.

3. Use Pocket Queries
If you generate pocket queries on the site, you can access them directly throught the iPhone app via the ‘Saved’ tab. It’ll take a little while to download them onto your iPhone (Do only do this before hand, when on wi-fi) but afterwards all of the logs, hints, and descriptions will be saved on your iPhone and you won’t need the app to connect to the online site to download the additional data. Download = battery drain. I find that the app doesn’t work brilliantly with really large PQ’s (500+) I’d recommend keeping it to about 200 caches per PQ for iPhone usage. The simple reason is that if you are viewing the map with all the caches on, open a cache, and then exit back to the map, the map zooms right out to view all of the caches in the search radius which makes it a pain if you’re trying to look at caches near you as you have to keep navigating around and zooming back in.

4. And if you’re not a premium member use Favorites
If you can’t generate PQ’s then check caches beforehand and save them as favorites. It will be a little time consuming, but if you’re planning to hit an area on a day out it’ll save precious battery life by already saving the cache information to the phone.

5. Turn off ‘Push’ notifications and set ‘Fetch’ to manual
Push constantly checks with your email server for new mails so that you get them delivered to your iphone as soon as they are in your inbox. Great for getting your new cache notifications so you can go out for an FTF, but not great if you’re out and caching with the iPhone and need precious battery life. To turn it off go to Settings –> Mail, Contacts and Calendars –> Fetch New Data –> And set Push to OFF. In this same place you can change Fetch to ‘Manual’. Fetch isn’t an instant email collection, it allows you to set mail delivery to every 15mins, 30mins, hourly, or manually. Setting it to ‘Manually’ will stop the mail app automatically checking for emails for you on a regular basis. Instead it will only make the connection when you tell it to by opening the mail app and refreshing.

6. Switch the screen off whilst not in use.
I like to click ‘Navigate to Geocache’ check which way I need to go, make sure I’m on the right path and then hit the ‘Off’ button on the top of the iPhone. This leaves the app open and the cache map open but turns the screen off and stops the GPS from constantly directing me and using power. When I think I’m close I switch it back on. The GPS takes a few seconds to work out where I am and then the map continues directing me. I think this works 🙂

7. Invest in some extra power!
I love my Griffin Powerjolt Reserve. It’s an awesome little car charger that works with your existing iPhone cable. It also includes a reserve battery that you charge via the car charger. I’ve found that this gives my phone an extra 25%. Good for those emergency situations. I also have a solar charger which charges from my PC (via USB) as well and gives pretty much a whole battery full of extra juice. I blogged about that here.

P.S. Once you’ve finished caching don’t forget to turn everything back on. Your iPhone’s internet connection might be a bit slow when you get home and realise you still have wi-fi and 3G off and are trying to connect via GPRS!!!

It’s not the iPhone’s fault nor the Geocaching app’s fault that battery life is so poor. It’s common to a lot of smart phones, especially when using GPS. We don’t use the iPhone much for finding caches anymore. Instead it comes in handy for viewing additional recent logs when you are completely stuck with a hide and need a little more info on what others have said. We use it primarily for posting logs whilst out on the trail. It helps us remember the individual caches and therefore write more detailed logs. I hope my little tips about my experiences have helped some iPhone users. Really you can’t beat a dedicated GPSr unit, however for logging on-the-go you can’t beat the iPhone… Or maybe you can? Anyone tried Geocaching using an Android phone???


6 Responses to “GeoCaching with the iPhone – Preserving battery life”

  1. ryo62 Says:

    When i go geocaching with Halesjay we normally use his Iphone but the coordinates are always out. Every time we find them after I say b****y coordinates but still we found the cache. But when I go caching with Rodders09 or by myself I use the Garmin GPS. Much Better.
    Thanks for the advice on the last post about not needing instructions.


  2. Sarah Says:

    my first cache was a huuuuge ammo can in a local park, it took me over an hour to find the blinking thing, my 5 year old was almost in tears with boredom but I wasn’t giving up, oh no! 😀

    I still have the photo he took of me holding the cache aloft once I’d finally found it, pure joy all over my face 😀

    as for Android caching, I have only used my phone to find 2 caches, am just so used to using my Garmin that I usually always use that, but it was spot on both times.

    one good thing about droids is you can easily swap the battery out, so most people who use them for heavy caching just buy a couple of spare batteries and take them out with them, so I understand

    the main thing I’d be worried about using any type of phone as main caching device in the UK weather, is it getting damaged in the rain. My trusty Oregon doesn’t mind getting soaked 🙂

    • geocass Says:

      Awesome story, thanks for sharing! 🙂 I’d say Connor looks pretty pleased with finding the cache too! It’s crazy to think that when you first start caching you can go after caches that are so blindingly obvious but spend so long searching. Our first nano was like that as we didn’t realise how small it would be having never found one. We DNF’ed it and then went back the following week. A little bobble caught my eye and I was so surprised when I moved it and it was actually the cache! Eventually that 6th caching sense develops 🙂

      Thanks for the info about the droid. My other half’s contract is up in Jan. We were thinking of an iPhone but he’s on a great Virgin contract that he doesn’t want to give up and they don’t do them. The HTC android phones look amazing and a very worthy iPhone contender especially now Groundspeak have released their Geocaching app!

  3. Sarah Says:

    found my blog post from that first time, look how pleased with myself I look lol

  4. Hannah Says:

    Thanks for all the hints on the iphone battery. I’ve only just got an iphone. I use the geocaching app when in a new area, I can fire it up and see what is near. I use a very basic Garmin- I write the co-ords in my little cache book, put the hint on the back pages and head off. I’d love a fancy GPS with everything on it..Christmas hopefully!
    My first few caches, (further down the page is how we got into caching.

  5. *R* Says:

    Great advice. Iusually use my Garmin GPS but have occasionally assumed the GPS was in the car but it wasn’t so used my phone and app instead. I have used #6. Switch the screen off whilst not in use (this saves a good deal of battery life), forgot about turning off WiFi and 3G cellular (I had assumed cellular service had to be on), and didn’t know that using PQs saves on battery life. Thanks for enlightening me.

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