Moving beyond stats and graphs, a new set of gadgets, games, and apps add community and entertainment to exercise.
People who prefer trails to gyms can grab hiking boots and a GPS device and participate in a high-tech treasure hunt called geocaching. Geocachers put toys and trinkets into boxes (called caches), leave them in parks and neighbourhoods, upload their GPS coordinates, and allow other people to hunt and find them. GPS coordinates let players get close - but beyond that, hints and old-fashioned hide-and-seek are involved in finding the cache. Players can take the goodies out of the box so long as they leave something else of equal value.
Websites such as Geocaching.com let players post and find hikes and caches in their area, log their experiences, and even compete in teams. According to Groundspeak, which hosts Geocaching.com, about four million people worldwide have found about 1.4 million caches. The activity is popular in the UK as well as the US, Canada, Germany and the Czech Republic.
Not surprisingly GPS maker Garmin has gotten in on the geocaching action, having recently launched its own geocaching website called OpenCaching in December 2010. Garmin also released in October 2010 the Garmin Chirp, a small wireless beacon that lets geocachers upload coordinates and hints for caches. This durable device lives in the cache and can count the number of people who find it.
Canadian entrepreneur Martin Pedersen says that geocaching has helped him lose 35 pounds. On his website FamilyNavigation.com, he has pledged to lose 100 pounds, walk 2,500 kilometers, and find 1,000 caches in a year. (He and his family have found 999 caches so far!) He started geocaching in July 2009 after his wife introduced him to the activity.
Pedersen says that he's not 'a gym rat', so he was looking for an exercise option that was inexpensive yet interesting. He likes to hike, but found that it could get mundane. The incentive of hidden treasure keeps him walking. "Some of the caches are on trails that are not easy hikes, but there's a cache at the end of the trail, so you're going for it," he says.
Pedersen's geocaching kit consists of a notebook (for thinking and writing), water, spare batteries, hiking gear, a bag of items to trade, and of course a GPS device. Pedersen uses a Garmin Oregon 200.
Garmin GPS devices aren't the only ones designed for geocaching. Magellan's waterproof Explorist 510 (£330), 610 (£410), and 710 (£500) are built for rugged hiking. Each comes with a 3.2Mp camera and a microphone for sharing geolocated images and notes on geocaching sites. You can also view names, descriptions, logs, and other information about caches right on the device. The 610 and 710 come with a compass, altimeter, and topographic maps. The 710 includes city maps, too.
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