Friday, December 16, 2011

GSAK 8 and Pocket Queries

I enjoy the pursuit of geocaching.  I particularly enjoy the places it takes me; many of those places are ones I'm not familiar with at all.  Whether it is an unfamiliar park, or the woods, I enjoy the walking that I get and I enjoy the hunt.  I attended Midwest Geobash in Wauseon, Ohio this year and during the event, I went with some other central Ohio cachers.  I discovered that weekend that I don't really enjoy power trails or anything where I can rapidly build my numbers.  I did appreciate the fact that I had about 22 finds that particular day, but the caches (as part of a "Flintstones" power trail) were uninspiring and were spaced every 0.1 miles per the cache saturation guidelines.  Having said that I don't care for power trails and the rapid numbers run, I do appreciate being efficient when I am caching.  I got married about six months ago, and I don't have time to geocache like I previously did.  In order to maximize the number of caches that I should be able to find in a given amount of time, I use a combination of Pocket Queries on, and Geocaching Swiss Army Knife (GSAK).

 So the first thing I do is create the pocket query on  For my central Ohio pocket query, I choose the following criteria (and I provide the rationale):

  • 1000 caches:  this provides GSAK with the greatest numbers of geocaches to work with.  It is with GSAK that I do some of the heavy filtering.
  • For the types of caches, I choose traditional, multi, virtual, Earthcaches, and webcam caches.  Up until recently, I had the unknown/mystery cache type, but those typically are puzzles that require you to solve for the coordinates before heading out.  I also used to have the Wherigo cache type selected, but with that type you have to have the cartridge loaded before venturing out.  For solved puzzles or any other cache I find appealing, I always have the option of adding it to My Planned Finds list.  That list gets sent to me as a pocket query.
  • The next choice is the container type.  I just leave that set to Any Container.  I really don't care what size the container is.  Although I really like the ammo cans that are hidden in the woods, the simple fact is that many of my finds are micros.
  • In the next section of the pocket query builder, I have it filter to show those caches that I have not found, that are enabled, and that are not on my ignore list (I do have a handful of caches on that list).
  • I do not filter on difficulty, but I do filter on terrain to those that are 3.5 or lower.  I figure that 4's and higher are probably tree-climbers, and I don't climb trees.  I do have a couple of 4-level terrains in my find history.  They were night caches, though, that probably had the higher terrain level due to the effect that darkness has on walking around.
  • Next I filter on the distance.  The distance is a varying number that maximizes the number of caches listed (up to the limit of 1000, of course).  That way I am presenting the most caches to GSAK.  My centerpoint for the filtering is my home.
  • Finally, I filter out the geocaches that need maintenance.  I really don't want to spend my time looking for caches where logs may be full or wet, or need other TLC.
Now that I have created the pocket query, I have to tell to email me the GPX files.  For a pocket query like my central Ohio, I have to download a ZIP file from the website.  This ZIP files contains two GPX files.  The first GPX file contains the geocaches themselves, along with recent logs, attributes, coordinates, size information, and difficulty and terrain levels.  The second GPX file contains child waypoints such as parking coordinates, and trailhead coordinates.  I extract these two GPX files from the ZIP file, and I copy both of them to my Garmin Oregon 550t GPS receiver.  I then import the ZIP file into GSAK.

One of the main reasons I use GSAK is so that I can compile a list of geocaches that should be relatively easy.  So here are some of the filters I set in GSAK under the Search/Filter menu item:
  • On the General tab of the filter, if I am looking for easier caches, I will filter the difficulty and terrain levels down to 2 or less.
  • On the Other tab, I usually set the filter to only show Traditional and Multi caches.  Of course, if I want really easy ones, I can filter out the Multis.  They will almost always take longer that a Traditional one.  Occasionally I have filtered based on compass direction.  Maybe I only want to look for caches that are east of town.  Filtering by size is another way to eliminate caches that may take longer.  Many times a micro in an urban setting is going to take a little while to find (perhaps because of the muggle factor).
  • On the Attributes tab, I set it up to filter on all attributes checked.  The two attributes I usually check are the Needs Maintenance and Stealth Required.  Both of these are set to none.  This ensures that the cache neither requires maintenance or requires me to be stealthy.
  • Another tab that I adjust is the Dates tab.  In here I only use the option to filter on the Last Found Date.  I will typically insist that the geocache was found within the past two weeks.  If it has been a while since the cache was last found that may mean that the cache is difficult to find.  Of course, previous cachers would have probably recorded a DNF.  Old logs also don't provide recent data on the status of the cache.
  • The final tab that I use is the Logs tab.  In my opinion the options I choose here tend to have the strongest effect on the number of caches that are displayed.  I tell GSAK to look at the last five logs.  One of the reasons that I look at only five logs is that I believe that only provides the five most recent logs.  I then tell GSAK to show me only the geocaches where at least four of the last five logs are Finds.  If I want to increase the likelihood of finding the cache, I'll filter so that all five of the last five cache logs were finds.
Sometimes I will end up setting the filters so tight that no geocaches will be displayed at all.  Of course I will have to back off several of the filters.  I usually start with the Last Found Date, but sometimes I will have to adjust the filters on the Logs tab, so that only four of the last five logs were finds and not all five.  All of these filters may shrink a pocket query down to about 50 caches instead of 1000, but even 50 caches are more than I am going to look for or have time for in a day.

This all sounds like a lot of work, but the pocket query only needs to be set up once.  I just need to download it from the website whenever I want to work with fresh data.  I import the pocket query into a empty database.  I then open up the last active filter.  Depending on how recently I used the GSAK filters, I may have to do some tweaking.  From the downloading to the importing to the setting of filters only takes about five minutes.  With the release of GSAK version 8 and its access to the API, I can refresh the filtered list of geocaches in the database so that a cache's number of favorites is displayed.  That way I can sort the final list by number of favorites.  However, many times I keep it sorted by distance from my centerpoint.

Pocket Queries and GSAK provide a quick way to maximize the likely of having finds instead of DNFs.


    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Wow, very nice explanation of what GSAK is all about and HOW to use it. It's just what I was looking for, thanks!