How to Make a Stealth Trash Can Survival Kit

There are all kinds of ways to go about making a survival kit for you and your family or group. You can have kits in bags, kits on shelves, kits in tubs and kits in crates. One kit I’ll bet you have never considered is a survival kit in a trash can!

No, your dear author, Tom, here, has not rounded the bend into dementia; for certain preppers, a trash can kit makes sense, and can let you keep all of your preps in one convenient, durable and discreet container that most people will overlook.

trash cans

Like any other packing configuration, trash can kits are not without their drawbacks, but you can say the same for any kind of kit. Done properly, your trash can survival kit will serve as your ready resupply point and a perfect SHTF water basin all in one.

Read on to get all the details.

Why a Trash Can, Tom?

As odd as it sounds, the right trash can has many traits to commend it as a storage container, and for things besides trash! Modern plastic trash cans can be had in a variety of sizes, are extremely durable, have conveniently places handles and most often have a lid that snaps or latches securely enough to keep rodents, dust and other undesirables out of your goodies.

Trash cans are not, as a rule, watertight (keeping water out if submerged) but they will keep the bulk of rain and moisture out if their lids are sealed.

Most importantly, you can use a clean trash can to hold a considerable amount of collected water when you are camping at your BOL or just making a stop for a time.

As I said above, trash cans have a certain amount of stealth built in to them. In most contexts, people won’t give a trash can, any trash can, a second glance.

They just hold garbage after all! With a little ingenuity and set dressing it is possible to hide all kinds of things in plain sight, safe in the knowledge that all but the most thorough or cunning minds will ever give it more than a glance before moving on.

Just as importantly, trash cans are available anywhere and can be had affordably in all kinds of sizes, shapes, colors and configurations. This makes them an economical and easy choice for those who don’t want to spend the time or coin assembling an array of specialty containers or amassing a collection of common plastic bins to be loaded and handled individually.

Drawbacks

Trashcans are not without shortcomings, however. The most obvious one is you’ll have a bunch of your prepping eggs in one prepping basket. This is not to say you shouldn’t: if you have all your eggs in one basket, you just keep a close on that basket, not five or ten different baskets.

But if something compromises your big trashcan survival kit you are likely going to lose much of the contents unless you have compartmented your stuff in sealed baggies additionally.

You’ll also be at the mercy of the combined total weight of your trashcan survival kit. A full-size generic trashcan can hold a ton of stuff, and if you load it with water (which is extremely heavy by volume) canned food and all kinds of other stuff from clothes and tools to shelter gear and medical supplies you’ll be talking easily a hundred pounds to lift drag and hoist.

As part of a team effort, this might not be a big deal, but trash cans are not particularly foot mobile, and nor were they designed to be moved for any distance even by teams of people.

Sure, you can get one with some dinky built-in wheels, but these are not likely to work well under the load you’ll typically be subjecting the can to.

Ultimately, trash can survival kits are at their best when you plan to shelter in place, or have people to help you load it in the back of a truck or similar vehicle if you plan to bug out. For solo preppers hitting the road, they are less than ideal.

Packing Your Trashcan Survival Kit

A few ground rules when packing your trashcan kit. In general, when packing something like a BOB, you’ll have a little more flexibility since your overall weight will be much lower and some items get preference in case you need to access them in a hurry.

In a trashcan survival kit however, you’ll need to pay particular attention to where you locate the heavier items, since toppling is an issue of concern and you’ll also need to be mindful of crushing more fragile items!

If you have a certain loadout already laid out, get a course idea of how much volume it will consume and then pick your can accordingly. More volume is always an invitation to load more, and you can avoid the temptation to load more than is needed and thereby uselessly increasing weight.

Things like water, canned food and so on should go at or near the bottom of the can, for stability and comparative ease of carry. Lighter things like clothing can be left on top or distributed throughout the can as padding. Anything which you might need the most in an emergency, like flashlights, can be left on or right near the top.

Check the weight of your trashcan as you load it. You don’t want to get it filled up and then find out it is too heavy to move! If you are using your can for fixed site, bug-in storage and preparation, make sure you pre-locate it before you start to load it.

Trashcan Specifics

You’ll want to buy a trashcan for this purpose that is on the heavy duty side. Plenty of large trashcans are nonetheless made from flimsy plastic and have wimpy handles that can potentially tear or break if you and a pal try to hoist a heavily-laden one.

Also be sure to find a model with a lid that snaps or latches securely to the body. It does not have to seal tightly (you can always improve that DIY with various kits and materials) but it should be snug and fitted enough to keep inquisitive rodents out.

Don’t get anything besides one of the heavy gauge, rubberized sort of plastic cans: metal is too easy to dent and warp, and if it isn’t it is one heavy beast!

Lastly and just as importantly, take the time to locate and procure appropriate water-grade liners. I do not know if your average can or will leach chemicals into water you store in it, and I further don’t know if those chemicals are harmful in the short term, but don’t take any chances over so small a thing.

rusty trash bin

Camouflaging your Can

Whatever kind of can you get and wherever you place it, take the time and little bit of extra effort to distress it so it does not look like a bright and shiny new can.

You’d be surprised what seemingly innocuous and out of place things will tip people off that something does not fit in the environment.

There a hundred ways to do this depending on how exactly you want to place the can, but a few tried and true methods for weathering work wonders here.

The only ground rule you should worry about is taking care that you do not unnecessarily contaminate the inside of the can. We want that part to stay cherry and clean, and if someone should look inside the jig is up anyway unless you rig up some kind of false topper that looks like trash or junk (not a bad idea).

Here is a short list of weathering techniques that are totally DIY, fast and painless.

  • Scrape it up! Trash cans get dragged around plenty, tipped over often, and manhandled by men and machines both and their exteriors reflect this fact. You can scuff your can up good and proper by dragging around across your driveway or other rough surface, whacking it against or with hard corners, knocking it over randomly a few times and other similar methods.
  • Make it grubby! Trashcans that live outside or in workshops rarely if ever get cleaned. They’ll often be covered in a patina of miscellaneous grime, spattered with various substances like paint, glue and woodstain, and marked and marred by various other substances. A conservative drizzle of paint or stain here and there is a good idea.
  • Age it! One trick well known to fullsize prop makers and modelers is the grimy aging power of simple, plain coffee. You can take a rag lightly soaked with coffee and give your can a good wash before leaving it to dry. This will further age the dried paint applied in the previous step, and really sell the illusion that the can has been there for a while.

What Should You Put in Your Trashcan Survival Kit?

The contents of your new kit should be much the same as any other SHTF prepper’s kit, with a few modifications. As always, your kit should be stored in a place where it is reasonably protected from the elements, and make sure that any items with special storage and keeping requirements have them met!

Water

Water is always an essential prep. Dehydration will debilitate and kill you faster than nearly anything else, so you’ll always want a certain, ready supply of drinking water in bottles or jugs at the minimum.

This is likely the item that will go on the very bottom of the can, making it something of a pain to access to rotate it or drink it, but you are ill advised to set it any higher up in the stack; if it leaks, it can destroy much of what is below it.

You want at least a gallon per person per day to be on the safe side. Also be sure to toss in some easy to use water filters like the Life Straw.

Shelter

Exposure is one of the things likely to kill you quicker than dehydration in a crisis. If conditions are ideally terrible, you can die from exposure in a matter of hours.

Ensure you have an answer for cold and wet conditions, as well as something to provide shade if you live in a hot environment. Blankets, emergency “space” blankets, tarps and even compact tents are all good options.

Food

Most people can live for a good long while with no additional food thanks to the prodigious spare “tanks” we have around our midsections, but a lack of calories will reduce energy for work, make it harder to think fast and clearly, and definitely make everyone surly; food is a big morale booster!

You’ll definitely want food in your survival kit, averaging 2200 calories a day for an adult, though you can always stretch this by rationing. Your options for storing food include bulk staples like rice, flour, honey, etc. or ready-to-eat options like MRE’s, canned and foil packed food.

The trick with trashcan kit storage is locating it: food ideally goes near the bottom since it is heavy, but it is also the thing you’ll need to rotate most often, meaning it should be closer to the top. Use your own judgment based on your selections.

Clothing

You want at least a single change of clothes in your kit, preferably durable, quick drying fabrics that are suitable for work or travel. Don’t forget the underwear and socks!

You can also include things like heavy footwear (boots or trails shoes), gloves, hats and similar situationally specific items for season or activity.

flashlights and lanterns

Light

Flashlights, headlamps, lanterns and candles rule the roost for providing light in emergencies. All have merits, but you should be relying on flashlights and headlamps for work and general purpose lighting as they combine the lowest risk with the most output.

They of course need batteries, and you should include those in abundance within your trashcan kit. Don’t forget batteries need rotation, too!

Alternative light sources could be candles, which can also provide a little heat and some cooking utility and chemlights, those snapable, glow in the dark wands you see around Halloween.

Those are more situationally useful, but require no extraneous object or tool to activate and are utterly safe. They are great for marking and providing soft lighting at night.

Tools

A selection of simple tools like duct tape, cord, vise-grips, a claw hammer, a handsaw and a good multitool should be included in your kit so you have the ability make simple repairs and build what simple structures you need in the wake of an emergency. A few boxes of nails and screws aren’t a bad idea either.

Medical

You’ll need the skills and the know-how to make use of anything more complicated than a band-aid, but medical equipment should be near the top of your checklist and near the very top of your kit.

A good medical kit will include comprehensive items for trauma of all kinds- lacerating or penetrating wounds, broken bones, burns, head trauma, etc.- and also less exciting items for common scrapes, cuts, bites, blisters and ailments of all kinds.

If you require any prescription meds or prescription eyewear, include them as well. Don’t forget to rotate your meds, and also to keep your items in waterproof containers, like showcased below:

first aid items

Weapons

You’ll need something to defend yourself and your mates with. This can be a knife or other tool pressed into service as a weapon, or a firearm. I would strongly recommend you keep a gun in more secure storage or on you and stash extra ammo in the kit if a firearm is your weapon of choice.

In the case of a tool, an axe, hatchet or crowbar can serve multiple purposes aside from cracking or cleaving heads. A baseball bat is a trusty American standby but not designed for the rigors of combat and will break down fairly quickly compared to a purpose made club.

Bug Out Bag

If you are keeping a trashcan survival kit you should at least keep a backpack at the ready in case you do need to hit the road at a moment’s notice.

Your pack can be, er, packed flat and stashed in the can with very little cost to room or weight and provides you an excellent backup option for bugging out. A good pack will be sturdy and comfy to carry for longer distances.

A good prepper will have tested this pack by checking to see it can carry everything he wants, and also how it holds up and treats their body after a long hike.

Conclusion

A trash can survival kit is a quirky but useful and accessible way to store your SHTF emergency supplies, with the added benefits of hide-in-plain sight concealment and water storage ability.

Chosen with care and emplaced smartly, you will hardly need to give a care about the contents safety as most folks will avoid trashcans if they are able. Consider how one of these interesting preparedness kits will work for your plan!

stealth trash cans Pinterest image

About Tom Marlowe

Tom Marlowe
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.

7 comments

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    about the baseball bat, use a Aluminum bat instead of a wood bat, get a AL bat at the pawn shop f 5$..light strong and cheap,,

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    Great concept! You can add baffles to create storage sections: food, water, firewood, gear. Add a hidden locking mechanism. Add a personal spray painted pattern for marking your stash, and some other diversionary regular cans. An alarm system inside the can might also be worthwhile. Especially good for resupply stash, or maybe at your workplace.

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    If an old beat up looking trash can has no smell something is suspicious about it…Going somewhere with an old looking trash can and stopped by any group or anyone else and they open the lid and especially if you are not a local and are traveling through is going to definitely going to get someones most unwanted attention and especially they find fresh drinkable clean water…..

    I would suggest you put those plastic shopping bags to use by securely wrapping your items in them and you should be able to color code the items with the numerous and various colored bags then stash those bags inside other larger garbage bags…..again one can color code the larger bags if desired or not….. one can put bottom of the trash can and have the option of a false bottom on top of them…..and seal it if they choose….no matter top of them one should consider placing a few seriously stinky assorted garbage consider using bags you collected hen you cleaned a cat litter box and bags of dog or other Scat….dirty diapers and coffee grounds whatever you can find to make it smell like a trash can that gas been well used, even if a faint oder and you did your best to keep the can clean.

    IF it looks like an old trash can it needs to smell like one and better show assorted trash items on top of your stash….or perhaps recyclables ….
    To store loose water in any large such plastic type container make sure it is food grade quality. otherwise the water will pick up flavors and smells.

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    if you are adamant about storing the can outside or subject to changing clime- I’d improvise a gasket around the rim and then a solid locking mechanism that would apply downward tension between lid & rim …

    someone already mentioned adding a garbage/recycle disguise layer to the cache top >>>> to make a more ready access (firearms access for example) – glue your disguise trash to a cut panel board or shallow depth tray – one lift and there’s your gear ….

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    I’m not sure where a trashcan stash fits in SHTF planning. If you’re bugging in, your supplies would probably be stored indoors where you could get at them. If you’re bugging out, lugging a trashcan down a road seems like it would attract attention. The natural “habitat range” of wheeled trashcans is usually between a house and curbside. Outside of that habitat, they’re likely to look out of place — no matter how well disguised. Ne’erdowells are likely to wonder what you’ve got in there and probably not be too put off by a top layer of disguise.

    That said, they could make a handy improvised cart (provided the wheels are big and sturdy enough) if you needed to bug out with a bigger load than you could carry on your back. I just wouldn’t count on any stealth factor if someone sees you hauling your trashcan along a powerline trail.

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    Having tried this concept partly out of need to relocate some household items and emergency supplies due to home repairs, I have found several issues that people need to be aware of especially if the cans are kept outdoors. As noted, many are not very secure/water tight in original form, and the lids on plastic cans are often hard to secure longer term. The best I’ve found are heavy duty round cans with snap lock lids. Even these however can get damaged by windstorms or falling debris like tree limbs, especially as they age. Duct tape, bungees and strapping will work fine for short periods to help hold on lids, but often will not stand up to repeated exposure to sunlight or extremes of heat/cold. It’s critical to figure some way to try to SEAL the lids or the contents within heavy plastic bags or other smaller containers with locking lids to insure that the stored items do not get heavily contaminated with dust, leaves or even grass cuttings, tree pollen, etc. that can get blown by wind or a passing lawn mower. I had a nosy racoon that got curious and wrenched the lids off cans even when they were secured with fresh duct tape and strong bungee cords, causing contents to get exposed to an overnight rain storm that really messed up stuff. My area of the southeast also has an abundance of spiders, including black widows and brown recluse, that like to nest in the cans should they find a crack or way in. Sunlight can/will degrade most cans over time, so it’s best to store the cans within at least under a shed, inside a shop building or garage, etc. for longer term storage. Ice storms and severe wind storms are also potentially destructive to garbage cans. So, while this sort of supply storage is possible, it also is fraught with potential problems and pitfalls if you don’t think this through well and take all possible actions to seal/secure/protect them and their contents. Just my experiences with both metal, heavy duty, wheeled square containers and round ones with snap on lids.

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    For a smaller kit, consider the stockpot. One with a lip that allows some wing nutted screws at the edges to seal. This can be ‘tump line’ carried on back if opposing handles are present to tie to. This container can be buried nearly to the pot’s lip, and debris covered as a cache container. Many people who are left on foot need something to contain / cook / sterilize water – this can be all three. And can be found for very inexpensive at a SA / Goodwill store.

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