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Tuesday, March 10, 2009


A Mess

Originally uploaded by nodigio

A cache (theoretically pronounced “cash”, but I always pronounce it “caysh” because that’s how I did it when I learned English – and it helps distinguish the word slightly from “cash” money) is a hidden store of provisions or supplies. It can be kept secret, but I’d rather share the information with those who might need it. There are several types of caches (pronounced “cashes” the correct way and “cayshes” my way).

When most people learn of caches the first time, they usually think of the underground cache where one buries supplies in some type of suitable container for eventual recovery and use. Underground caches done right are the most secure and accessible.

There are two other types of caches

Submersed caches are caches stored underwater in a river, stream, pond, lake – you get the idea. The problems with submersed caches are using a long term waterproof container that can withstand the elements, placing the cache so it doesn’t drift, isn’t easily found by accident, and stays submerged. Any breach of a submerged cache can lead to the supplies within it being ruined.

Concealment caches are generally easier to place and access (no digging, no freezing water…) but are prone to being discovered and torn up by wildlife or found and used by strangers.

There are specific reasons to use each type of cache, and I recommend placing caches of all of these types just in case you (or someone) needs them. Each type of cache requires containers specific to your location and contents, and some require tools for placing the cache.

Let’s talk first about the contents of your cache.

Whatever you would normally place is a bug-out bag is suitable to put in a cache, however, a cache is meant to be more than a bug-out kit, or a supplement to a bug-out kit. Water will go stale, so I don’t recommend putting water in a cache; however, water distillation equipment and water purification tablets are entirely appropriate to stash. Extra medicines that have long expiration dates and can handle temperatures changes may also be useful. Field surgical kits. Whole grains are useful as well as well-packaged foods with long shelf lives. Bandages are always useful. Bullets (and powder) if you’re the type of person who relies on guns, arrowheads for the bow hunter, spare knives and knife sharpening tools, darts for the blowgun user, and any other type of ammunition you may want or will need when you reach your cache. You may also want to stash an extra weapon of choice in there. Cooking equipment – pots, pans, utensils – and eating equipment (plates, bowls, utensils, cups). Vacuum-sealed roasted coffee beans, teas, sugar, and non-dairy creamers with a hand-crank coffee grinder. Powdered Gatorade or sports drink mixes. Tent. Blankets. Toys and games and books (you know you’ll need them, you might as well pack them at your cache so you don’t have to truck them along). Copies of essential paperwork. Hard candies (because they last virtually forever). Rope and twine. Toilet paper. Tissues. Menstrual supplies. Anything you think you might need or want.

Now, if your cache is meant to be a way-station between Point A and Point B, you may only want to fill it with food, water purification tablets, medical stuff, and a few luxuries, maybe ammunition, and use it as a supplement to the bug-out bag as your travel along.

Me, I work on the assumption that I may get separated from my bug-out bag and stuff, so my caches tend to be duplicates of what’s in my bug-out kit, plus extras I would like but don’t want to carry around. Any one of my caches will have the equipment I need to survive and start life over again. At this time, all of my caches are underground ones, but I’ve used all three types for various reasons.

I also don’t just cache for survival. I cache for fun, too. Places where I’m a frequent camper will have hidden caches filled with the things I will inevitably wish I had or forgot and spares of things to share with other campers who forget. These caches are usually games and food, eating supplies, seasonings, drink mixes, spare blankets, more medical supplies, and extra toiletries.

Packing for buried and concealed caches

A 5 gallon heavy duty plastic bucket usually holds plenty of stuff and is small enough to dig deeply and quickly, and you can use several buckets in a cache. If your item is too big to stash in a 5 gallon bucket, you may consider some of the amazing variety of sizes and shapes of the plastic, airtight storage bins you can buy at camping stores, big box stores, and container stores. These may be awkward to dig in and dig out, but at least the gear will be safe.

Pack each bucket or bin as full and snug as you can. If it’s a food bucket, line it with a heavy duty plastic bag, fill 1/3 of the way, put in an 8” chunk of dry ice, fill it the rest of the way up, loosely twist the plastic bag closed and set the lid on the bucket. Leave it for 3-4 hours so the CO2 from the dry ice can displace the air inside the bag. Tightly twist the bag closed and clamp it with a metal twist tie. A lot of survivalist recommend running a bead of silicon along the rim of the bucket, then firmly closing the lid on it. I don’t recommend this because then the bucket will not be re-usable. I recommend instead using a gasket made from the door gasket strips you can buy to weatherize your doors and windows, and seating the lid on that, then duct taping the bucket shut. Put the bucket into a bag you made from hardware cloth and duct tape that closed. Now, it’s ready to bury.

Non-food items don’t need to be stored in CO2 to preserve freshness so you can simply fill the container, use the door gasket seals, duct tape it closed, wrap it in hardware cloth and duct tape that on and you’re good to go.

Buried caches are subject the least to weather and temperature changes. They are harder for the casual hunter or hiker or wildlife to find. The deeper you bury it, the better it will survive for your later use. You have less size restrictions and more space to bury caches so you can have multiple ones in the same area and large ones, too. It’s easier to forget where it’s buried and you have to dig both to stash it and to retrieve it, which means carrying a shovel.

Be sure to mark the location where you bury your cache on a GPS, and make a note in a book you keep with you on its landmarks and location. See if you can also mark it with other ways to identify where you cached it, because the landmarks may be bulldozed down and the satellites that send signals to the GPS make stop working. You need at least 3 ways to find your cache and the more you have, the better.

This type of preparation will work for either buried or concealed caches except concealed caches need camouflaging. The easiest way to camouflage your cache is to spray paint the hardware cloth to match the area where you stash it. Find areas that are virtually untraveled, rocky (because a cache can be concealed in rocks better than brush as brush both changes color seasonally and can die out or burn out), and easy to match paint colors to. When you place your cache, pile rocks or branches on and around it to blur its outlines and mark its location well.

Concealed caches mean no burying, but it also leaves the cache to being found easier by hikers, hunters, and wildlife. Concealed caches are smaller because small is easier to conceal. I wouldn’t conceal cache anything larger than a 5 gallon bucket. You can’t place too many concealed caches too close together because if one is found, the others will be, too. It’s prone to storm damage and weather changes. It can get very hot inside the concealed cache so whatever you put in it must be able to take temperature extremes and rapidly fluctuating temperatures.

Packing for a submerged cache

Underwater caches need to be waterproof and yet still easy to open without destroying the container. It doesn’t need to be camouflage painted, but it will need a solid anchor to keep it in its location and keep it underwater. That means it will need to be tied to something so use a rope that can survive being submerged for years and remain pliable and usable. I prefer to stash my cache in an area that isn’t easy to get to where the water is deep, there’s an overhang above the cached area, and it’s a backwater – where the water pools and stores debris. The usual water debris will be all the camouflage you generally need. Make sure your cache is anchored so it doesn’t get washed out in a flood, that you have a line anchored above water you can reach to pull the cache up, and weight the cache so it doesn’t bob to the surface.

The underwater cache has certain advantages. For starters, things are more likely to remain cold, so you can cache things like butter and cheese under water. Temperature changes will be slower and tend towards cold as opposed to hot. Underwater caches, well anchored, are less likely to be stumbled upon and found, and fewer critters will have access to it. The primary disadvantage is if your container springs a leak. Secondary disadvantages would be not anchoring it well, choosing a bad location that will get washed out in flooding, and not weighting it enough to keep it well below the surface of the water.

Caching is a good idea for lots of reasons. I love caching for camping so I don’t have to pack as much when I camp on a whim, but I do have to remember to replenish caches I use on the whimsy trips. It’s fun to camp with new survivalists and appear out of nowhere with useful items that aren’t normally found in the wild. It’s fun to show off your camp caches to new campers and survivalists, too. In survival situations, a cache may save your life. If you share a cache location with someone, make sure you have additional caches for yourself elsewhere. If you cache, cache in many places and cache lots of duplicates so if one is found, you should still have access to others. If you use a cache, replenish it as soon as possible. This is assuming you use your cache to tide you over during a short term disaster and not an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario. If it’s the end of the world, you may not have anything to replenish it with.

Other than that, caching can be fun.

You can “play cache” with geocaching games. Build a cache you mean others to find and fill it with “trashy treasures”. Put a logbook and pencil in it so others can note when they found it, what they took, and what they put in its place. Mark its location on a GPS, go to and register your cache. Check it now and again to read the logbook. Look up other caches registered there and hunt them. Leave a note in their logbooks, and put a little treasure in their cache and take one out as a memento. Most of these caches are concealed caches meant to be found, but the caching techniques remain the same. Some are buried, and I’ve only seen one that was a submerged cache. It’s good practice, and you learn useful skills when you play this game.


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