Caching is the art of hiding your preps and equipment in secure storage spaces so that you can dig them up when you need them later. The best caches are easily recovered by the owner, but virtually impossible for anyone else to find.
The cache site should be chosen with two main factors in mind:
- subtlety – so it is not easy to find, for example not under the largest tree in the area, and
- durability – the cache site should withstand weather, animal and rodents.
The goods contained in the cache need to remain well-preserved and secure. Pay close attention to detail when recording the location and surroundings of your cache, because you’ll need to easily access it when SHTF.
Burying is one of the cheapest and most secure ways of preserving your valuables. Simply put, hiding your precious supplies under a mattress or in your socks will not protect them from tornadoes, fires, hurricanes or burglars.
Don’t hide them in a basement because in the event of an earthquake or tornado the house may be reduced to rubble and then access is going to be very difficult, if not impossible. In the event of flooding the basement may be submerged making it inaccessible.
Safes are far from indestructible and can be compromised by an intruder. Even safety deposit boxes are not immune.
They’re expensive and banks will shut down during an economic collapse, leaving you without access. Burying underground offers the ultimate protection from both human and most natural disturbances.
Choosing a Site
If you decide to bury your cache along a planned evacuation route, be sure to avoid highways. When SHTF, masses of survivors will be making their way along major roads and highways and are bound to either discover the hiding place, or spot you in the process of digging up your cache.
If you use the highway as a landmark, make sure your cache site is well off the beaten track and nowhere close to areas with dense traffic. Remember that, depending on the nature of the catastrophe, familiar landmarks may be destroyed, leaving you disorientated.
If you learn how to use a topographical map, you’ll be all set for manually determining grid coordinates. Watch this video for the ‘how to’ on grid coordinates:
Once you have these, you’ll be able to navigate your way back to a safe zone or campsite with the help of a compass and a map.
Forget using GPS – satellites may be non-operational during a crisis. Your main route as well as your backup route need to provide camouflage such as rock formations, overhanging trees or dense brush so that you can come and go from your cache site without being noticed by anyone else in the surrounding area.
Burying Your Cache
Stick to high ground and don’t dig in a high risk flood zone. You cache site should look natural and as untouched as possible, so that curious hikers or other survivors don’t accidentally discover it.
Wooded hilltops and ridges are good options, but not right at the top so you are silhouetted against the skyline when you go to retrieve your cache – or bury it for that matter.
Believe it or not, your hole can have style – horizontal or vertical. Most buried caches are placed in a vertical hole. In rocky or uneven ground, a horizontal (shallow) hole is better. It may also provide better drainage if there’s heavy rain.
As a rule of thumb, you want your hole to have a length and width approximately 12 inches bigger than what you plan to put inside. The hole needs enough depth to allow you to cover your box or tub with a 20-inch layer of soil.
Tools for cache burying:
- A pickaxe, a spade, a hatchet (for slicing through roots) and a crowbar (for prying rocks).
- Measuring instruments, such as a wire, metal tape or a compass, will be indispensable in helping you to pinpoint your site.
- Paper and a pencil to record your data, and a probe rod to find subsurface rocks.
- Finally, if you’re doing the placement at night, bring a headlamp. A headlamp is ideal because it will keep your hands free so you can do the digging.
Preparing the Concealment Site
A scavenger will have as good an eye as you for a concealment site, so keep this in mind when picking one. Often, the ideal site gives itself away by virtue of its perfection.
Such a site might be just as attractive to a local in the area who may stumble across your cache by accident while hiding his own stash.
Before you choose a site, survey the area and get to know the practices and customs of the locals – you don’t want to find that your site is on the local hunting grounds, or land, or tracks they often follow.
The site you choose needs to be as easy to get to for the person burying the cache as well as for whoever will be digging it up later. Hiding your cache in a relative’s home may be convenient, but not if someone else knows about it or gets to it first.
Places where you can hide your preps include:
- in your back yard or garden
- in the great outdoors
- near memorials (such as monuments, crypts and mausoleums)
- in caves, quarries and abandoned mines
- near culverts
- abandoned buildings
- holes in walls concealed by loose bricks
- religious buildings.
Consider soil type if you’re burying a cache. If moisture seeps in, your valuables don’t stand a chance unless properly sealed, especially if stashed for long periods of time.
If your site is close to a river or swamp, make sure you place it well above the year round high water mark so that it stays protected from the effects of flooded river banks and shifting muck.
Pay attention to ground cover and vegetation near the dig site. Deciduous tree roots make digging tricky as they are very extensive.
Conifer roots are more compact. Usually, an area with many coniferous trees is also well-drained, so use these as indicators for a suitable site.
Inspect the vegetation for signs of recent movement. If you find recently-trodden paths and disturbed brush, it means that others are around.
Make sure the earth and coverings can be restored to their natural condition. Tall grass is impossible to return to its natural state and will be a dead giveaway, so a site in a bed of leaves is better.
Sandy loam is your best bet when it comes to choosing soil in which to bury your goods. It’s fine, easy to dig and drains pretty well. Avoid clay soil because it absorbs water and becomes sticky or hard, and can even crack in dry weather.
Prod around with a rod or stake before digging to check rocks and other obstructions just below the surface.
The seasons of your cache site are critical. Aside from knowing the seasonal variations of the flora, you’ll also need to play weatherman.
Know snowfall patterns and freezing and thawing cycles because frozen ground will slow down your digging. If you plan on leaving you cache for several years, know the depth of the frost line and dig as far below as possible.
If checking up on your cache annually, you could bury it at or above the line, but beware of a phenomenon called ‘frost heave’. This happens when the soil expands upwards as the ice crystals form and need somewhere to expand – the path of least resistance is upwards.
Extreme temperatures cause levels of condensation inside your containers that could destroy the contents. For this reason picking the right container.
Erasing your footprints in the snow near your site is virtually impossible – you can only hope to use the weather.
Go to the spot when snow is expected so it can help cover your tracks, use a drag, follow a zigzag line to get to your cache and double back, just making it harder for someone following who is not experienced.
An experienced tracker will be able to pick up your tracks though.
Erasing your movements in a leafy area is easier if you use a branch to swish the leaves back into place after you have been busy, as in covering tracks in a sandy area.
Submerging Your Cache
There are two important things for a cache box that is to be submerged, besides being 100% waterproof.. It must be weighted down to prevent it from floating and it should be moored, held in place, so you can find it again.
The mooring is a type of handle to pull the cache box to the surface. If you cannot grab the actual mooring, then you should connect a line from a permanent object on the shore to the cache box. There are several types of moorings.
- Spider web mooring is a web of anchors placed around the container in a radiating circle. The container is buoyant, lifting the anchors off the river bed so that they can be secured by grappling. This works well in clear water, where the bed is smooth enough for the cache to be dragged along it.
- Line-to-shore mooring involves linking the weighted container to an immobile object on the shore via a line. Buoy mooring uses a similar method, running the line from the container on the river bed to a floating marker. This is only foolproof if the marker is left undisturbed and repainted every six months.
- Structural mooring also uses a line attached to a fixed structure, such as a bridge, to retrieve the container. It’s best to fasten the line far beneath the lowest water mark. Weights are essential since most boxes will still float a little when full.
Test the container’s buoyancy to ensure that the anchors are sufficient not only for keeping the container bedded down, but also preventing it from drifting along the bottom. More weight is recommended if there are strong currents.
The crush of water pressure increases with the depth of the water. This is why it’s important that you first determine the depth of the body of water you’ve chosen as well as the pressure threshold of the container itself.
A stainless steel drum, for instance, will buckle at around 14 feet deep. Generally, 7.2 feet is the recommended depth. Because of changes in water level due to seasons or tides, it’s crucial to test the container at the deepest level of water it could be subjected to throughout the years.
Know how deep the water will get so that you can make the mooring lines the correct length from the anchor to the box. Low-water and high-water marks are there to help you predict these variations.
Know how to manage low tides that could expose your cache or increased depths that might crush it.
The river bed is also crucial. A very smooth bed may cause the cache to sink into loose muck, become buried in sediment, or dislodge itself and drift away.
A rocky bed may cause the mooring to snag. Water is never static, so take its motions into account. Tides, currents and waves stress your cache and put strain on the moorings. Moorings therefore should be durable, strong and hold up to rough waters.
Water temperature, clarity and saltiness are also important factors to consider. Clear water will require you to put some effort into camouflaging the box.
If it’s murky, you will struggle to recover it. If your lake freezes over, it could be impossible to access your cache for several months. Saltwater is far more corrosive than fresh water and doesn’t work for caches at all.
Of course, you can’t simply submerge a cache in any body of water. You’ll need a boat, first for your reconnaissance of the area, and second, for placement.
The seasonal changes to rivers, lakes and tributaries may cause serious problems, such as flooding or drying up. Keep this irregularity in mind when selecting a site and final reference points (FRPs).
Land-marking your Cache
Memorize the directions to your cache location, including landmarks. First list the easily recognizable points, such as city and state.
Then, identify an immediate reference point (IRP) that is an observable and distinct landmark. Include a description, such as the Catholic Church with the red-brick steeple.
The instructions should include a Final Reference Point (RFP) that is: a) identifiable by an exact IRP, b) a permanent object that will not vanish as long as the cache is in use, c) is not near the cache so as to be easily found by anyone with linear measurements, and d) related to the IRP by a simple route description from IRP to FRP.
Ideally, you should aim to merge the IRP and the FRP into one easily identified landmark, secluded enough so it is not confused with any other.
Preppers use a number of landmarks for this, including mile markers on low-traveled roads, war memorials, geodetic survey markers, telephone poles, cemetery headstones, small bridges and boundary markers.
Practice explaining the site’s location to a member of your survival team who has never seen it. It should be easy to locate with clear instructions. Identify more than one, unique and permanent landmark. You’ll need two safe routes to take to and from the site.
Rocky outcrops and immovable concrete foundations are reliable landmarks. Some preppers even use props, such as artificial tree stumps, as markers. You can plant some ivy around the base and let it grow wild for extra camouflage.
Silence is golden. Don’t share your cache site with anyone, not even your spouse or best friend. Write the coordinates down in a secret place or memorize them.
Avoid drawing a map, and to keep hackers in the dark, refrain from using your Garmin to travel to your cache site. Disable your vehicle’s OnStar or TomTom, or your every movement is recorded! Leave all your devices behind, including your digital camera.
Think about the climate. Will there be snowfall or ice? Snow is telling, leaving tracks that cannot be easily erased, while frozen ground is hazardous, especially when you’re bugging out in a hurry.
Filling your Cache
A cache contains the survival essentials: materials for building a shelter, water, medical supplies, tools for starting a fire and basic foods.
Think about what condition you may be in when you get to your cache site during a SHTF scenario. It’s likely that you’ll have just evacuated a disaster area with only the clothes on your back and your BOB, if you’re lucky.
One cache or Several?
One cache is good but more are better, so you can access supplies when resources become scarce or perhaps yours are taken from you. The smaller caches are easier to hide than one large cache.
Separate caches should each have all the items you’ll need for an extended period. If you choose to bury food and water at one location, and weapons and ammo at another ten miles away, you may have difficulty recovering the full set of supplies.
Burying money is a tricky topic, many advise against it. Paper money will eventually succumb to moisture, mold and mildew. If you need to bury cash, opt for coins like Sacagawea or silver dollars.
If you feel you must bury paper money use a heat sealer to seal it into a sturdy plastic bag with a small packet of desiccant. It should last pretty well for a few years.
Currency is often useless in economic collapse or civil war anyway. Burying documents like birth certificates, real estate deeds and passports are at risk of decay, unless you have them heat sealed into bags, together with some desiccant.
Choosing the Container
The container is critical. It should be completely airtight and watertight. It should not have extra pieces that rattle and clank when you handle it.
It should be shock and abrasion-resistant, durable, able to withstand pressure, acidic and alkaline soil, and be impenetrable to insects, bacteria or pests. The seal should be easy to open and close.
Extreme temperature changes result in condensation not even skillful waterproofing can prevent. A Coca-Cola bottle, rinsed and completely dried, will gather condensation in different environments.
Plastic or metal (stainless steel, steel, and aluminum) are the best options. Metal is the best rodent proof material although the very tough plastics now made could last very well. Many preppers use six-inch PVC pipes with rubber endcaps as containers.
See the instructable here on creating an inexpensive yet durable container from PVC.
Disclosure: This post has links to 3rd party websites, so I may get a commission if you buy through those links. See my full disclosure for more.
This container used for storing flares on a boat could be useful, although pick the green rather than the neon orange color so it is not as easily spotted. These are fairly small. You may want to choose something bigger.
Metal ammo boxes also make good containers.
Your ammunition, paperwork and firearms can become soaked over the years. If a piece of steel wool in your cache rusts, you’ll know that moisture has penetrated your container.
Stainless steel is pretty moisture resistant and containers can come in various sizes. A watertight instrument container is another sturdy option. Steel ammunition boxes can be purchased at military depots.
For the budget conscious, steel drums, glass jars, or large paint cans are typically water-proof, pressure-proof and bacteria-resistant.
Many preppers use six-inch PVC pipes with rubber endcaps as containers. Simply cut the pipe to size and seal one end with epoxy resin and a rubber endcap. Use Vaseline to seal the opposite end.
FoodSaver Vacuum Bags and Pelican cases, highly versatile and waterproof, are pricey.
Keep firearms and ammunition dry. You don’t want moisture seeping in and damaging the steel and gunpowder. Wrap ammo in cotton cloth and seal in together with a moisture absorber – desiccant.. Use a beer cooler for insulation and bury below the frost line to better preserve your ammo.
Disguising your Cache
The game of disguise and diversion is critical in caching. Your goal is to make your cache appear to be something that it isn’t.
Often, the simplest, most non-descript disguises are the most effective. You could hide weapons in a plastic bin labelled ‘lucerne hay’, or canned foods in a drum marked ‘chicken feed’.
An old truck body can make a great cache. Simply remove the fuel tank, carve out the top and fill it with supplies. Then, fit the tank back into place and cover up the hole.
The cavity under the dash also makes a reliable hiding place. Now, your cache looks like nothing more than a rusty old truck.
After safely burying the real cache, plant a decoy nearby that is more easily found and includes minimal supplies in it. Anyone who finds it will be tricked into thinking that’s all there is.
Or bury your real cache three feet underground, and then slip the decoy on top covered by some roots and foliage.
Use a scrap metal pile or even half bury some junk metal or rebar plugs around it to hide your cache. This creates a false positive and makes a metal detector useless.
In most cases, thieves will give up, especially with night or a storm upon them. Really determined thieves may come back, so rehearse your recovery strategy carefully.
Making the Cache
Caching has two distinct stages: ingress and egress. Ingress refers to your journey toward your cache and egress is when you leave it. Always assume that roving eyes are watching you at all times.
A looter might watch you entering the woods with an empty sack or backpack, and return with a full one, the gig is up. He’ll know you’ve got a cache.
Never approach or leave your cache by the same route. This is where primary and alternate routes are useful. On both ingress and egress, watch your back.
Post someone at a lookout point to watch your movements and keep an eye out for any tails. Use an owl hoot or some other call, so your spotter can warn you of danger.
Avoid using a pick to dig up your cache as it could pierce your container and damage supplies. When you remove the cache, fill the hole with other objects and soil – rocks and leaves should do the trick, as you may want to reuse the site and don’t want to advertise that something has been dug up there.
If there are none available, you should bring a substitute object of the same size and shape.
Photograph yourself or family standing on the location for reference. Keep this as an innocent family photo in your wallet – remember you may be unable to access digital copies in SHTF scenarios.
To save time and frustration, your directions for recovery should detail the specific spot where the cache is buried related to the final points of reference.
A concealment type cache is typically inside the FRP so a specific description of the FRP will lead you right to it. If a cache is submerged, note precisely how moorings are related to the FRP. Buried caches will work with any of these pinpointing techniques:
- Position your cache directly above or beside the FRP. This is the most straightforward method of positioning your buried cache in relation to an FRP. By specifying the exactly position of the FRP in a clear set of instructions, you can accurately pinpoint your cache.
- Bury the cache where measured lines cross. A bit of basic geometry comes in handy for this one. If there are two FRPs available within a short distance of one another, record the distance between them as your base line. Project imaginary lines from each FRP to the bury site.
To improve accuracy, make projected lines double your base line. Create two measuring lines matching the distance of your projected lines, your recovery team will need them.
- Sight your cache by projection. This is useful if your FRP has at least one flat surface long enough to act as a level to project a sighted line. Place your cache at a measured distance along the line. Ideally, choose two precise FRPs so you can project a line between them.
In both methods, your recovery instructions should estimate direction from one or both of the FRPs to the cache site. As the line of sight gets longer, small inaccuracies become more obvious. Bury your cache within a 50m sight line to avoid errors.
Like any good prepper, you always have a back-up plan. In fact, you may have two or three. Your cache is just one of these. Caches are an affordable, secure and virtually bombproof way of stashing your preps.
The art of caching requires stealth, savviness, and a keen awareness of your environment. You need to be an expert on your surroundings, well-versed in the threats, barriers, and advantages of your concealment site.
You can spread your cache territory far and wide, so you’ll always have an emergency supply along your bug-out route and beyond.