GSAK 8 is the most recently released version of Geocaching Swiss Army Knife. For those not familiar with the software, it’s basically a Geocaching database that you can use to store, filter and manipulate cache data. It’s an absolutely massive product and since version 8 now connects to the Geocaching.com Live API for better integration with the website. Previous versons of the software relied on you manually loading in your own caches, for example via Pocket Queries. Version 8 is better integrated with the Geocaching.com website and is able to not only automatically retrieve cache data, but also download extra logs for caches, add caches to your favourites, quickly log caches, and log caches using the field notes from your GPS.
GSAK8 has been out a fair while now, but I thought I’d use a blog entry to go into some depth as to what the new GSAK 8 features provide and how cachers can benefit from this update as I’ve recently upgraded to it. The update isn’t a freebie for existing GSAK users, however it is really reasonably priced for the amount of features you get ranging from $10 to $20 depending on how recently you purchased version 7. Anyone who doesn’t yet own GSAK can purchase it for $30, however you can get a free 21 day trial here to have a play before deciding to part with your hard earned
Get the latest patch
Although you may have installed GSAK8, unless you’re running the latest patch for it you could be really missing out! Click here to view a list of patches and what each patch adds to GSAK. Scroll to the very last post in the forum to download the latest patch. By default, GSAK is configured to tell you if there is a new version available. This doesn’t alert you about any of the latest patches, so I’d strongly recommend spending a few seconds modifying your GSAK preferences to enable patch alerts. To do this, click the ‘Tools‘ menu –> Options –> ‘Advanced‘ tab and then on the top right click the box that says ‘Also check for “patches”‘. Now it will pop up and tell you whenever there is a new patch for download.
Version 8 of GSAK comes with a new menu item added along the top bar labelled ‘Geocaching.com Access‘. Under this menu is where all the new exciting stuff lives!
A quick run down of the items:
Get Geocaches – Pull Geocache data straight from Geocaching.com. You’ll need premium membership (i.e. the ability to use Pocket Queries) to get any real benefit from this.
Refresh Cache Data – Update the caches in your database with the latest cache data from the Geocaching.com website.
Download Pocket Queries – Pull up a list of Pocket Queries in your account that are downloadable and download them into your GSAK database.
Status Check – Update the status of the caches in your database (Archived, Disabled, or Available)
Favourite Points – Add/Remove the currently selected cache from your favourites or get your Favourites balance.
Update User Information – In GSAK you can set your Home coordinates and User ID to find caches close to home (for example) and filter those owned/found by you. Instead of doing this manually, this option will pull the data from the your Geocaching.com account.
Publish Logs – Log a cache, or queue up a big list of logs to publish to the Geocaching.com website.
Add to Bookmark List – Add the currently selected cache to one of your bookmark lists, or create a new list to add it to.
Get Available Download Balance (New in Build 37 Patch) – Check what your available balance is for cache downloads (Out of 6000)
Get another Access token – Access to your Geocaching.com account is granted via a token. The first time you access your account via GSAK you will have to click to ‘Allow Access’. If you have 2 Geocaching.com accounts and want to switch to another one in order to download more caches (Perhaps you have 2 premium accounts?) you can do that by selecting this option.
Now that we know briefly what everything does, let’s explore some of the options…
Exactly what it says on the tin! You could start with an empty database and just pull caches into the database from the Geocaching.com website. Beware that you have a 6000 cache per day limit! GSAK supposedly has a 2000 cache per hour limit so you may have to wait a while to pull the data in. I have tried pulling in 3000 caches though and this request completed in under an hour.
To get started on the Basic tab you’ll need to add a center point. Under Tools –> Options –> Locations in GSAK you are able to define different locations. For example: Home, N52° 14.221 W0° 54.040. Work, N52° 14.456 E0° 54.123. From the ‘Center point‘ selection box you can select one of these existing locations, the current center point that you have set in GSAK, or the cache that you had selected before you clicked the ‘Get Geocaches‘ option.
If you’ve applied the latest patches you’ll have the ‘Google Maps‘ button on your ‘Get Geocaches’ screen. This is an awesome feature that you can use to get really specific about which area you want to pull caches from. You can select to draw a circle, or rectangle around the area and once you’ve covered the area, click Return coordinates to add that as your selection. As you can see this is much more flexible than using a PQ.
After you have selected a centre point you can then go into details of which caches around that point you wish to retrieve. The Max geocaches to get field means that you are no longer restricted to grabbing 1000 caches at a time and generating overlapping PQs. You can instead pull down several thousand Geocaches around an area. Instead of pulling down 5 logs per cache you can now grab up to 999 logs per cache! Do bear in mind that the more caches and logs you try to do simultaneously the longer it will take.
The ‘Basic’ tab then includes the rest of the settings that you would expect: Cache size, Difficulty/Terrain rating, Found caches, and disabled caches options. There’s also a nice feature where you can specify to download only caches with a certain number of favourite points. A great way to instantly find all of the best caches in an area that you are visiting.
Over on the ‘Advanced’ tab things really get exciting! You have the ability to select which cache types to display, like in a normal PQ, and a lot of other exclusive options. You are able to specify a ‘Owned By‘ field to download only caches hidden by a certain user. In this field you can select up to 5 users separated by a comma. If the cacher’s name includes a comma then you specify their name in double quotes (e.g. “awkward,cacher”). Perhaps the most exciting field on the Advanced tab is ‘Not Found by‘. If you are planning an outing with a group of cachers and want to download a selection of caches that none of you have found then you can enter up to 5 cacher names in this field too. ‘Exclude owned by‘ is similar to ‘Owned by’, but blocks caches hidden by certain users (Those cachers that are on your ‘blacklist’ ;))
Finally the ‘Data Format‘ on the Advanced tab allows you to specify whether to download Full data (Like the amount of data included in a GPX file) or Light data (Like the amount of data included in a LOC file). Once you’ve specified all of your settings hit ‘OK’ and watch your GSAK database grow!!!
Refresh Cache Data
So say you ran ‘Get caches’ on Monday. It’s Friday evening and you’re planning to go caching on Saturday. The data in your database is now quite stale so you will want to update it. This is where ‘Refresh Cache Data‘ comes in. This does count towards your 6000 a day limit and will only refresh existing caches rather than add any new ones so ‘Get Geocaches’ may be a better option here.
Download Pocket Queries
This option needs little explanation. Instead of having to load up the Geocaching.com website and download pocket queries and then import them into GSAK, you can simply click this menu and you can select which PQs to download straight into GSAK. Brilliant! On the Advanced tab you also have the option to ‘Download all Pocket Queries not yet downloaded‘.
The ‘Get Logs‘ feature allows you to update the logs for caches in your database. The great thing about this is that you can download up to 30 logs per cache instead of the usual 5 so that you can have a big selection of logs to read if stuck finding a cache out in the field! You may find that running this and some of the other options can generate an API wait message. GSAK can only make a certain number of requests to the API per minute so if downloading a large number of logs you may want to leave it and go and make a cup of coffee… or 6!😉
For me the ‘Publish Logs‘ feature of GSAK8 is what makes it worth the upgrade. Using this you can quickly write and publish a batch of logs either by selecting a list of caches in the database, or from the Field Notes file that is automatically created when you log caches on your GPS.
For those of you not familiar with field notes, when you select Log Attempt –> Found It on your Garmin GPS it adds an entry to a file on the GPS called ‘geocache_visits.txt‘. If you haven’t used your field notes file before and look at it on your GPS now you will see every single cache that you have logged previously. Luckily this is a simple comma separated .txt file and if you double-click it, it will open up in Notepad and if you wish to clear it out you can just remove the lines in the file that reference previously logged Geocaches. Now that you have your field notes ready click the ‘Publish Logs‘ option.
Fetching Field Notes
If you have a large field notes file full of old caches that you have previously logged you can leave these as they are, but tick the box along the top that says ‘Ignore logs before’ select the current date. This means that GSAK will only import logs created on and after that date.
The are also some other options for fetching field notes. You can choose to copy the field notes you made into the logs. Useful if you just want to publish field notes that say “TFTC” for every single cache. If you’re using your field notes as just a reference then you will be able to view them for each log you edit so it’s not important to copy the field notes in.
To get your field note file into GSAK, simply right-click in the Publish Logs view, choose ‘Fetch‘ and then ‘From File‘. You could also choose ‘From GPSr‘ for it to automatically pull that file off of your GPSr.
You’ll notice that the caches you have imported are in an order. These are ordered by “time” found, timestamped with the time that you pressed Log Attempt –> Found on your GPS. GSAK automatically assigns a sequence number. This sets the order in which the logs are published to the Geocaching.com server. If you did a series and forgot to log cache #6 (for example) and then logged it later in the day when you realised it was still showing on the map you will need to change the sequence number for this cache if you want to upload logs in the order that you found the caches. This is particularly important when using templates. If you have the latest patches applied then you will have ‘Move up‘ and ‘Move down‘ buttons so that you can easily adjust the sequence number and therefore publish order.
Templates are an awesome feature which allow you to automatically add text to every single log that you submit via GSAK. GSAK can also automate tags which you can insert into your logs to add the cache count number, or the number of caches that you found on that trip.
To create a template, start by clicking the ‘Templates‘ button at the bottom of the ‘Publish Logs‘ dialog. From here you can select each log type (e.g. Found it, Didn’t find it, Needs Maintenance) and create your template depending on log type.
The tag options are pretty self explanitory, but here’s an extreme example:
Now that you have your template created for Found caches you can double click on the first cache that you wish to log to enter your log.
Now when you select a ‘Found it’ log, your template will automatically be added into the log text and you type your custom log in the box.
Click the ‘Preview‘ tab in the log to see how the log will look with the template applied to it. GSAK will check against your find count on the Geocaching website to update any numbers used in tags.
Notice that the Field Notes that you added on your GPS display in the grey box just above the logging area to help remind you of the cache. In here you can also tick the ‘Add favourite point‘ box. Also, when you open a log for a cache the cache page will pop up in the background in GSAK so you can check the description or hint to help jog your memory about the cache.
Once you have entered your log, click the ‘Next‘ button to start inputting details on the next cache in your list. Your template will automatically be applied to all of your logs.
In GSAK Build 59 (patch) the ability to log trackables was added. In each log there is a ‘Trackables’ button near the bottom which if pressed connects to your Geocaching.com account and checks what trackables are in your inventory. You can then right-click a trackable and choose to ‘drop’, ‘visit’ or ‘visit all’ (All trackables in your inventory visit the cache).
When you select a trackable to drop or visit the cache that you are logging, you’ll be prompted to enter your log. Up until one of the most recent GSAK patches, you also had to input the trackable number to drop/visit it in a cache. This is obviously not quite right and not the way that trackable logging works on Geocaching.com. The recent patch changes this so that you don’t have to enter the TB number to drop/visit a cache.
Once you have done all of your logging, all you need to do is click the ‘Publish‘ button and it will publish all logs in the queue to Geocaching.com.
A really nice part of the logging feature is that if you close GSAK or restart your computer, etc. the unpublished logs that you entered into GSAK are saved there ready for you to add to or publish.
Logging caches without field notes
If you don’t have a field notes file to use for logging via GSAK you can create a filter in GSAK to pull a list of caches, or even select a cache in the database then pull up ‘Publish Logs‘ –> Right-click –> Fetch and choose ‘From Current Cache‘ or ‘From Filter‘. If pulling in lots of cache from a filter be aware that the sequence numbering might not be quite right and you may have to re-number the caches to ensure that they are logged in the correct order (Note: It of course doesn’t matter what order you log caches in, but some people like to log them in the correct order so that milestones are correctly updated)
You may have noticed that a lot of the dialog boxes have a ‘Settings‘ button. The settings button allows you to configure some options concerning your database. You can, for example, select which database the operation is performed on (The current database is used by default). Here you can also select whether to ‘Always update database’ or only update ‘Newer’, ‘Existing’ or ‘Add only’. You can select to clear out existing data in the database before updating as well. You may wish to explore these options so that you are aware what can be done, however they should probably be considered as ‘Advanced’ options so if everything is working as you’d expect you’ll probably not want to make many changes.
I think I’ve pretty much covered all of the exciting features of GSAK8. I can honestly say the new version has converted me from someone who used to either do all logging on their iPhone or the Geocaching.com website. Now, I do all of my Geocache logging in GSAK via the Publish Logs feature. ‘Templates’ are the things that make this really attractive to me. I’m not a big fan of copy and paste logging, but it’s nice to have your cache count, and perhaps a very brief summary of your day at the top of your log and then type individual cache details below. It’s also a lot quicker to move through caches to add your logs via GSAK. It quite often takes me a few hours to write my logs for a day out caching so it’s great to be able to save a bit of time. I’ve not fully moved away from Pocket Queries just yet, but I think that will come with time. Remember you can download your usual number of pocket queries PLUS 6000 caches into GSAK. That’s a lot of caches! You’ll still need to use Geocaching.com to generate Caches on a route and if you use ‘Get Geocaches’ to pull caches into your GSAK database it won’t download any corrected coordinates you have added. You will have to do this manually in GSAK. If, however, you load caches with corrected coordinates from a PQ into GSAK then the coordinates in GSAK will be updated.
There is a great tutorial on GSAK here for anyone who is unsure of the basic features that I haven’t covered here. I also did a blog post a while ago on an older version of GSAK here which covers some of the basics.
As usual, drop any questions in a comment on this post and I’ll do my best to answer. I’m no GSAK expert though, but thought it wouldn’t do any harm to show off a few of its new features!