The Mindset and What You Need to Protect
Historically families and even entire communities have worked hard to protect their resources from all manner of thieves and bandits who would try to steal them. Naturally part of this defense was in the form of protection and readiness, but in many cases there was also a little extra “insurance” set aside and hidden in case the people were overwhelmed. In a disaster, you would benefit from this practice as well, in order to protect stored food, ammunition, weapons and other supplies from thieves, anti-”hoarding” laws and regulations, and to provide you with alternate places to go in the event that your retreat or camp becomes uninhabitable.
The mindset behind caching: it’s basically hide-and-seek all over again.
Some kids were better at hiding than others…
You’ve probably played hide-and-seek at least once as a kid. Building a cache is basically that same game played with deadly seriousness, and a bit more time and resources invested in making the perfect hiding spot. In some cases it’s simply a matter of hiding supplies in an out-of-the-way location, but many times you will need a well-prepared hiding place that is designed to foil even determined hunters. The key to the proper mindset is found in three primary principles: Misdirection, Redundancy, and Camouflage.
Uh, no thanks, I’m sure you have nothing of value in there. Moving on….
Misdirection. This principle is applied in many ways, but can be generally described as the art of frustrating searchers by turning your cache into a needle in a stack of needles. Buried supplies work on this principle, since without a map or guide every patch of ground is pretty much the same, and the effort needed to dig up an entire farm field or yard isn’t worth a single food store. You can also use common items (hollowed out logs or trees) or areas that require nasty, annoying work to search (like outhouses or trash heaps) to make the risk and time spent vs reward gained not worth it for the looters. A particularly devious use of misdirection is in creating “false” caches of minimal food or other supplies right on top of or near a real cache that is more carefully hidden. Imagine spending hours to find a hidden box filled with a few cans of beans behind a false wall: you’d probably leave, satisfied that you’d gotten everything. But what if there was a second, richer cache in another false wall behind the box of beans? In this case, a little sacrifice makes the looter feel he’s won, but doesn’t leave you destitute.
A couple small log caches like this one would be harder to find, and if you lost one you’d still have several left to pickup the slack.
Redundancy. In fact, the idea of sacrificial stashes falls in line with the principle of redundancy. In case you managed to miss this key fact about people, we all tend to be lazy and seek after instant gratification. If a starving man digs for hours and finally finds one half-empty bag of rice he will stop digging and take advantage of his newfound wealth, even if there are hundreds of full rice bags close by. You take advantage of this behavior by having many smaller stashes hidden about so that you don’t bet the whole of your hidden supplies on one hiding spot. Furthermore, there are purely practical reasons to separate caches even apart from having extras hidden. For example, if you have a stash a day away from your retreat for an emergency, do you need to have 200 pounds of supplies that you cannot possibly carry with you? Although caches near to a retreat can be larger (since you should be able to access them multiple times) most supply dumps shouldn’t have more materials than a few people in your group can carry.
Add a few more boulders and you’d never know this cache was even here. The key to camouflage is to conceal those hard edges that give away a container.
Camouflage. Hiding a needle that looks like every other one in the stack is easy. The hard part is hiding a bright yellow #2 pencil in that same stack without someone being able to immediately find it. When you have to keep a cache safe the first defense will be keeping it hidden from prying eyes so that your misdirection can start frustrating them. Hiding a hollowed out branch up in a tree full of dead limbs, covering up that hollow log by filling it with dead leaves, disguising a PVC pipe as a defunct or broken utility, the options are limitless. For urban environments, disguising things as garbage or random piping would probably work well. The key is making the object blend in with its surroundings so completely that the human eye doesn’t detect, say, a piece of brown-painted plastic tubing masquerading as a tree branch. In some cases color is all you’ll need (imagine trying to find a white object lying in snow) but in other cases you’ll need to add “natural” irregularities that help break up the hard angular/cylindrical shapes that most containers take by adding leaves, garbage, or smaller limbs to the cache.
So What do You Need to Keep Hidden?
There are two primary kinds of items you need to keep protected in caches: Necessary Supplies and Morale Items. Necessary Supplies, as their name suggests, are things like water, filtration systems, tents and other shelters, food, firestarting and cooking materials, medications, and other products needed to sustain a living. Morale Items are not necessarily very useful, but the knowledge that they are safe is of some comfort to you. Photo albums, old papers and documents, and small family keepsakes fall into this category. Although it may seem wasteful to spend time protecting what are basically worthless items, the value they bring is keeping everyone’s spirits up if your home were looted or destroyed would be invaluable. Even in fairly calm circumstances it would still be good to know that once things are back together you’ll have those little pieces of “humanity” and “civilization” there waiting if you need them.
Here is a very basic list of items that can fall under the label of Necessary Supplies. Remember that you want many caches rather than one or two massive ones, so apply this list with that in mind. You don’t need 10 tents in one cache, but if you could include one or two single-person tents in each cache they may help you in a dire situation.
Food. Depending on the cache, you can simply have the same stuff you gather from your gardens in addition to rice and beans. However, if this is intended to be a bugout cache where you need to move quickly with minimal implements, you may want to include ready-made meals like MREs our Mountain House foods that include all their own utensils and are easily cooked. Obviously any food that rots readily cannot be included here, as they will attract vermin and could contaminate your other, more durable food supplies with disease.
Filters like this Sawyer that work in bottles are great for caching since they don’t weigh anywhere near as much as a couple gallons of stored water.
Water and Filtration. Water in bottles and other containers needs to be properly rotated and kept in solid protective containers, but otherwise stores well in many places without issue. Better still would be to include small water filtration systems that work with bottles, particularly for bugout or emergency stashes since carrying water would weigh you down heavily.
Firestarting supplies. A couple sealed containers of dry tinder, striking rods, flint and steel, a couple of lighters, whatever you can think of to hide would work great. A few carefully sealed containers of pine resin would also be very useful.
Weaponry and Ammunition. Next article we will go into the special considerations for protecting the metal and powders associated with guns and ammo, but here it should be noted that a few carefully selected weapons and some extra ammunition would probably be a good investment for a cache. Although weapons suited for personal protection would be obvious choices, perhaps you could also include a few hunting tools, including premade snares.
Basic hand tools and camping necessities. Unless you feel that you need to hide basic farming implements, you should only need to hide small tools useful for bugging out like a hatchet or machete. A spare multitool or two, in addition to pliers and a small sewing kit, would be excellent additions to any cache. If you have one, a camping oven would be a great luxury.
A small first-aid kit like this could be put into a small cache and provide basic emergency medicines and bandages.
A tiny first-aid kit like this could be put into a small cache.
First-Aid, Hygiene and Medications. A spare container of asprin and a few antibiotics, along with sterile gauze, a splint, and any other medical needs specific to your group (diabetes test strips, feminine hygiene for women etc) are extremely valuable during a disaster, and so keeping them safely tucked away in caches is strongly advised.
In the next part we’ll look at how to build a cache and use it to your advantage. For now, consider how you could hide your supplies in areas around your retreat or along the path you plan on using to bugout!
Building a Cache and Preserving Your Supplies
We looked at the proper mindset and the types of supplies you would want to seal up in a cache. Now, we’re going to get into the nitty-gritty and see how to properly store your gear so that it will last until you need it.
Types of Caches
There are multiple ways to hide things: false walls in a house, a buried stash in the yard, a hollowed out log in a forest, or a false PVC pipe stuck to the side of your house. Each have their own considerations depending on what the cache contains, but generally speaking they can be separated into aboveground and underground caches.
A buried cache can be quite effective, and is great for weapons and ammunition.
Underground caches have the advantage of temperature stability, and the fact that they’re not usually disturbed as often. They can be used for just about any item in your storage, but are particularly well-suited for guns and ammunition over caches aboveground since the metal/wood likes the stable temperatures. They are typically less accessible than aboveground caches, however, which can be a disadvantage if you need to access it frequently. A PVC pipe makes for an ideal container for almost any item you wish to bury, and since you’re burying it you won’t need to worry about camouflaging the container itself.
Aboveground caches require a degree of ingenuity to stay hidden.
Aboveground caches rely more on blending in with other structures, garbage, and vegetation than hiding out of sight. They are great for food and other basic supplies, particularly if you need to refill them or exchange products more frequently, but their susceptibility to temperature and weather means that more delicate items made of metal (guns and especially ammunition for example) will typically do better buried. They can require a bit more ingenuity as well, since you’ll need to craft hiding places that are reasonably accessible and safe for your gear but also capable of blending in with your surroundings.
How to Build a Cache?
Although there are specifics for each kind of stash, here are some general principles that apply to both:
When possible, they should have design features that make it possible to get your stuff out quickly and easily. You may have only moments to pull what you can carry out of the cache, or you may be in dire need of food, clothing, weapons, or medical supplies. Consider how you would get to a cache buried underground if you lacked a shovel, or one up in a tree or on the roof if you didn’t have a ladder. Assume a worst-case scenario and make sure you will still have an accessway to get to your stash. For example, since actually digging out a big PVC pipe and removing it would be troublesome, you can add a smaller container on the inside that has a rope sticking out, enabling you to grab onto the rope and pull out all your supplies while leaving the larger pipe firmly anchored in the earth.
Remember these little guys? Turns out they soak up moisture, and if you have any lying around you can dry them out and reuse them in your cache!
Moisture and oxygen are your enemies. Moisture causes metal to rust, food to rot, and encourages fungus and mold to grow on any available surface. Oxygen is needed for aerobic bacteria and for larger pests like bugs and vermin. Desiccant packets, moisture resistant packaging (mylar bags) that have been sealed airtight and vacuum sealing all help to reduce the effects of these two destructive forces. In the case of underground caches you need to consider runoff that may leak into your hole and your storage container, while aboveground stashes need to worry about seals breaking down faster due to temperature fluctuations and weathering.
Bears are more than willing to find your cache for you unless you hide the smells of food from them.
Prepare for other hunters. Animals are sensitive to strange smells, and the smell of stored food and even oil from preserved guns may attract unwanted attention. Dogs, rats, squirrels, and even bears will dig for potential food sources. Nesting birds may elect to build a nest on the convenient platform made by your new cache, and rats may chew through the plastic looking for morsels and a dry home. Seal everything, and keep scents to a minimum particularly when the cache is first being placed or when it is being refilled.
When Building Underground
After packing items into plastic bags, and then the silvery mylar, it is recommended that you seal them to keep moisture at bay.
Pack objects multiple times in layers of sealed containers. If something happens where the outer layers are compromised by snow or rain, an extra plastic bag or mylar sleeve may be what saves your precious resources. Suggested layering: outer PVC pipe, inner removable tubing, sealed mylar bag, plastic bag. Include desiccants and oxygen absorbers in all but the outermost layer. Food that is already prepackaged in buckets to last for a long time may only need to be stored in one outer layer of PVC, since they tend to include gamma seal lids and oxygen absorbers anyway.
A very light coating of oil will be helpful for firearms. You could go and cover every weapon in a coating of Cosmoline, but the light coating of gun oil is probably more practical for the average person. Ammunition just needs to be properly packed in multiple layers, though a few extra desiccant packets probably wouldn’t go amiss.
If possible, dig deep enough that you are at stable temperatures. You’re not really concerned about keeping things cool (which would require a hole 10 feet or more deep) but rather just stable, so dig down about 3-4 feet for maximum benefit. If you want more easily accessible caches I recommend building them aboveground, since keeping your underground stash too close to the surface could present a whole host of difficulties.
Locate them in places away from common runoff spots or low-lying areas. You don’t want your cache to become an underground pond, so why put it in a spot where rain and snowmelt drain? Furthermore, if you place it in areas where water runs over the hole erosion may take the loose soil away and expose the cache!
A bunch of metallic junk lying around can help keep your buried cache secret, just watch for metal thieves!
Fool the metal detectors with false positives. If you can make it seem natural, have a few pieces of scrap metal, rebar etc buried in a wide scattering in the area around your cache to hide from looters/confiscation officials looking for buried stashes of weapons and supplies. Actually burying your cache under a scrap heap may backfire however, since scrap metals may become more valuable in a survival situation and desperate people may find your cache digging for submerged pieces.
Take multiple routes to the same location in order to prevent a trail from forming. When building the hole, dragging the PVC over, and then transporting all of the materials there is a strong probability that a track leading to this conspicuous loose earth will form. Try to take different paths to avoid creating a trail.
When Setting Up Aboveground
Keep in-house caches to a minimum. We’ve had the Drug War going on for quite a long time now, and confiscations and thieveries of other kinds have been going on for centuries before that. Homes generally have very limited hiding spots that can be quickly checked by experienced confiscators or even looters who can easily use tactics and knowledge used today to determine the most likely places. Furthermore, putting too many stashes in the house may cause you to loose a great deal of supplies if the retreat were to catch fire or otherwise be damaged.
If you use a snake to guard your cache, be sure to have some thick gloves one when you need to retrieve the goods!
Consider current residents. If you elect to place a stash in a log or other dark place, make sure you aren’t going to run into a venomous serpents or spiders that may already have made a home there. Alternatively, use these animals as guardians of your treasure that will discourage any searching fingers looking for loot.
Follow basic principles of camouflage. As mentioned earlier, the human eye can easily pick out “artificial shapes” like hard right angles and perfect cylinders that we tend to use for containers. Break up the solid lines with blotchy and random colors appropriate to the environment, covering with leaves, vines, branches etc or else blending them in with other artificial shapes (if on a house or in an urban envrionment). The last thing you want is a “this thing is not like the others” moment!
When gale-force winds go tearing through, will your cache be safe?
Remember that temperatures will fluctuate and wind, rain, and snow can damage a cache. You will need to ensure that paints, the container itself, and any items inside are protected from the elements properly. If you have a false branch on a tree, can it stand up to 60 mph winds? Will that spray paint from Wal-Mart last through a severe thunderstorm with heavy rain and hail? Pick durable outdoor materials for your caches and be sure to reinforce and repair any supports year to year.
Feel free to use these for frequently rotated items. If you have canned goods with 3-6 month shelf lives, use these more easily accessible caches rather than buried ones that require more time and effort to empty.
Follow these guidelines and you’ll be well on your way to setting up the perfect cache. Whether aboveground or below the earth, be sure to conceal it from prying eyes and always have a way to know where your supplies are kept!