Kennedy’s First Cache

kennedy_1My wife and I finally caved in to our daughter’s relentless marketing campaign for a family dog. On Monday afternoon, Kennedy, a nine-week-old Beagle-something mix from the Golden Valley Animal Humane Society, joined our family. I’m a little concerned about the amount of care a dog needs, and I’ve never had one before, so I’m a little at a loss as to how to care for one. But that aside, I’m pretty excited about the possibility of having a new geocaching partner.

Yesterday, my daughter and I took him to his first cache, which was an easy letterbox cache about 4 miles from home. We walked about a third of a mile along a paved trail, then dived off the side along a geotrail to make a quick find. Kennedy loves to sniff anything, so all in all he seem pleased with both the walk and the sniffing it entailed at the end.

What I wonder, though, is if it’s possible to train a dog to sniff out caches? Could finding hidden plastic containers in the woods be something you could actually train a dog to do, or is the variety of hides, sizes, and heights of the hides make it too difficult for a dog to ever be effective? Anyway, something to work towards as the dog integrates itself into our household.

Garmin Oregon 600 Review for Geocachers

About a month ago I bought a Garmin Oregon 600 GPSr to replace my aging Garmin 450. I average anywhere from 3.5 to 5 geocaches a day, and have found about 250 caches with it in July and August of this year. I thought I’d offer a review, with a focus on using the Oregon 600 for geocaching. As a way of background, I purchased the base model and added my own City Navigator NT maps. I didn’t get the camera unit (waste of money as far as I’m concerned), and I already had maps, so I just added a micro-SD card and loaded my maps up. I was hoping for a sale, but the unit has been stuck at its $399 price on Amazon since release, so I finally ponied up and bought it at that price.

Chip Accuracy and Speed
One of the most important factors in a GPS is chip responsiveness and accuracy, and the Oregon 600 is significantly more responsive than previous units I’ve used, and on par with or better than other GPS units with regards to accuracy. I haven’t performed specific tests comparing units, but in a cross-country trip from Minnesota to Connecticut, there were several days where I’d turn the unit on several hundred miles away from where I turned it off previously, and the GPS would always lock on to a new signal quickly, much more so that would happen with my older Oregon 450. As far as accuracy, I’ve been pleased. In open skies and low interference, I’ve found that the unit performs flawlessly. In heavy summer woods, with thick tree cover, the Oregon 600—like all GPSes—struggles at times, but less so than I experienced with my old Oregon 450. Both the duration and variance of jumpiness are significantly less than on my older unit.

Regarding unit accuracy, one thing to know about the Oregon 600 is that the unit can access both the US GPS satellite constellation and the Russian GLONASS satellite system, which essentially doubles the number of accessible satellites from 31 to 60. By default GLONASS is off, so be sure to turn the feature on in your settings.


Another thing that I have noticed, and I’m not sure this can be modified with a setting, is that the unit does seem to delay in adjusting to my location as I’m approaching a cache. I walk pretty fast, and in moderate to heavy tree cover I’ve now trained myself to stop 30 to 50 feet before the GPS says I’m at the cache. It takes about five to ten seconds for the unit to adjust to my new position. If I walk right up to where the unit displays ground zero, especially in heavy woods, the unit will usually tell me I’ve gone about fifty feet past the cache a few seconds later.

One oddity I’ve noticed is that the altitude seems to be completely off on my unit. I’m not sure if my unit is simply defective in this regard, but I did an earthcache in Massachusetts that gave me an altitude of 400 feet, but Google maps reports it at about 90 feet. Later, we were right by Boston harbor, at an altitude of about 30 feet, and the GPS was reading 50 feet BELOW sea level. D’oh!

Software Stability
I was concerned by reports of the buginess of the Garmin software that runs the Oregon 600, and Garmin doesn’t have a stellar track record of releasing units with rock-solid software. And on the very first cache I got, the unit froze while I was looking for the final waypoint. Sigh. But after I got home I checked to make sure I’d upgraded to the latest firmware. Sure enough, I hadn’t. I ran the update, and I’m happy to say that in the 250 caches I’ve found since then, I’ve only had one lockup that forced a battery removal to restart. All in all, I’ve been very pleased and pleasantly surprised with the stability of the unit. Big thumbs up here!

Screen and Brightness
One of the annoying things on my old Oregon 450 was that you had to press firmly, and sometimes very firmly, to register a screen press on the touch screen. Entering waypoint coordinates was often an exercise in frustration, and the accuracy of the touch screen never seemed to work with my larger fingers. I can’t tell you how many errors I made in entering waypoints on the 450.

On the 600 however, the screen is extraordinarily sensitive. Light presses work great, press and hold registers nicely, and even swipes work well enough. The 600 screen is a joy to use, and coming from a 450 has been a night and day experience.

Also, the Oregon 450 was often tricky to see in bright daylight conditions. The Oregon 600 with its backlit LED screen, however, has no such problem. I can adjust the brightness of the unit and get a readable screen in bright daylight, and the resolution is a far improvement.

light-screenWhile I love the screen sensitivity on the unit when I’m actively using it, the sensitivity is at the same time the unit’s biggest negative when I’m toting the unit around and not actively pressing buttons. The screen is simply TOO sensitive, and the frame is for the most part flush with the glass surface, which means that as soon as you put the unit in your pocket, or dangle it from the carabiner clip, or pretty much put it anywhere except face up, buttons are going to activate.

The first few days this drove me crazy! I’d spent a half hour setting user profiles, and data fields, and a bunch of other settings, only to see them all messed up as soon as I attached the unit to my belt at ground zero and started looking for a cache. It was taking forever to fix things and reset them.

I finally discovered the screen lock feature, but to activate that you have to press the power button, then a press on the small lock icon on the bottom of the screen. Deactivating the lock likewise takes two presses. On a trickier geocache, I might glance at then reattach my GPS a dozen times or more, and all the button pressing each time was a pain. Adding to the frustration was the fact that the lock/unlock button on the screen is right next to the bottom of the brightness control bar, so half the time I’d go to unlock my unit I’d inadvertently completely turn the screen dark instead. Argh!

It wasn’t until a week or so later that I figured out how to customize the power button and secondary button on the unit. I now have it set up so that a press and hold on the secondary button toggles the screen on/off. Functionally, this has been working well and my annoyance has largely disappeared. I still, however, forget to do this from time to time and find myself fixing all the things that get rearranged on my menus and maps.

One of the reasons I didn’t buy a Montana was the unit’s big size. I like to run to caches often, and am alway stuffing my GPS in my pocket. I love the size on the Oregon 600. It’s roughly the same as my 450, and fits easily in my pocket. The unit feels solid as well, for what that’s worth. I find I’ve got ample screen real estate to do what I want.

Software Features
I’ve been very happy with some of the features of the Oregon 600. The menus and screens are highly customizable, and pretty much allow you to get the unit to function as you like. Profiles are fantastic (thanks to JJnTJ for pointing this out). I have a Driving profile and a Geocaching profile set up on the unit. When I select a cache in driving mode, the unit will display turn by turn driving instructions to the cache. When I switch to my geocaching profile, the unit displays a straightline navigation to the cache. It only takes a couple of presses to switch profiles, which makes driving and caching quite efficient.

Having said that, it’s not necessarily easy or intuitive to set up and find some of these features. I spent and still spend quite a bit of time pressing buttons and hunting around when I’m trying to change settings and whatnot. For whatever reason, the function I’m looking for never seems to be in the first place I look for it.

600_screen_twoI’m also finding that I love the fact that the unit is advertised as being able to hold unlimited geocaches. I find this hard to believe. I mean, there’s got to be a storage limit somewhere, but it’s so nice to be able to dump GPX pocket queries in the unit and not worry about running out of space. I’ve been cleaning out my old ones as I go, but I’ve had upwards of 8,000 caches in the unit at times, and everything works fine.

I did notice that, unlike my Oregon 450, geocaches past a certain distance (100 miles?) don’t show up when I search for caches on the unit. I suppose this makes sense from a design standpoint, but when traveling I sometimes will want to head to a cache a few hundred miles down the highway, and not being able to search for a and see that cache in the cache lists is a slight negative.

One other nitpick I have is that as of this review it’s not possible to set only two data fields on the map when navigating to a cache. I can do this on my Oregon 450, so I’m not sure why it’s not available on the Oregon 600. On the 600, if you use data fields, you have to enable four data fields. Basically, all I want when navigating to a cache is distance to cache and GPS accuracy, so the extra two fields are essentially space lost for me. This is an incidental annoyance.

One last negative to be aware of is that the unit no longer supports Wherigos. With smartphone apps available for Wherigos now, this is less of an issue, but it is something to be aware of.

Battery Life
The Oregon 600 uses two AA batteries, but an additional feature of the unit is that you can buy a rechargeable battery pack for the unit, which lets you charge the batteries directly from the USB connector. This is fantastic, as it allows you to charge the unit while driving, or by plugging it into your laptop, etc. There are a number of variables effecting battery life, of course, but I’ve found that starting with the battery pack fully charged and my screen set at mid-brightness, I can get about six hours of caching in before it dies.


I have noticed that the unit does seem to recharge slowly. A rough guess is that charging time is equal to the use time. A couple of times my 600 went dead, and a five-minute charge in the car only gave me about that much time to look for the next cache. Also, for $400, the battery pack should be included with the unit in the box. I shelled out an extra $25 on Amazon for mine.

One Little Thing
The connector outlet on the unit is inconveniently located, as you have to remove the carabiner belt clip to insert the connector. I took a file to my belt clip and whittled out a little U-shaped notch in it so that I don’t have to remove the clip when charging the unit.

I’m very happy with my Oregon 600 purchase. It’s overkill for casual geocachers, but if you’re an active or serious cacher, the 600 is a great purchase. The unlimited cache storage, high accuracy/responsiveness, improved touch screen, and on-the-go charging more than make up for the unintentional button presses and minor negatives with the unit. Overall, I’ll give the unit a solid four stars out of five. Recommended!

• Accurate and fast chip, GLONASS satellites
• Customizable. Profiles allow for streamlining functionality
• Unlimited geocaches storage capacity
• Software is reliable!
• Easy input, bright LED backlit screen.
• Great size.
• Battery pack (not included) allows for on-the-go charging.

• Screen is too sensitive, and essentially flush with the frame. Lots of unintended button presses.
• Must remove the carabiner clip to insert the charging cord.
• No Wherigo support.
• Sometimes lags on approach to caches.
• Unlock and brightness control too close together on screen.
• Lots of features buried in interface.
• Inaccurate altitude?
• Battery pack sold separately.