If you’re the type of person who likes to prep for a potential worst-case scenario, then a survival cache should definitely be on your to-do list. These can make difficult situations much easier, and can even mean the difference between life and death in dire circumstances.
What goes in a survive cache? Where do you put it so it’s accessible when the SHTF? It’s important to get things right so you don’t end up in even worse trouble when the tools you supplies you had aren’t available after all.
Check out the tips below on what to use as a cache, what to put in it, and where to locate yours for optimal survivability.
Why is a Survival Cache a Good Idea?
If you need to GTFO fast, chances are you’ll pack essentials into your bug-out bag (BOB) and take off. Thing is, there’s only so much room in a backpack or whatever you’re using as a BOB. Once you’ve packed clothes, essential survival tools, and three days’ worth of food and water, you’ll be laden down and there won’t be much extra space in there.
By having one or two survival caches you can access easily, you can store additional food, water, and equipment in a safe place. You know you can get to this stuff as needed, so you don’t have to carry more than you have to in order to survive for a while.
It’s usually a good idea to have at least two survival caches around, with the same (or similar) items inside them. This way, you won’t lose everything you have if one of the caches is compromised. Furthermore, you can adapt the caches’ contents depending on where you’ve located them. More on that later.
Where to Locate Your Caches
Let’s say we’re aiming for two or more survival caches here. The best places to locate them will depend entirely on your escape plan.
For example, most preppers have a remote bug-out location (BOL) that they’ve planned for ahead of time. Maybe it’s a cabin somewhere, or a cave on a piece of property they own, etc. Either way, if SHTF, that’s where they’ll head.
For the sake of this article, let’s say your escape location is a cabin in the mountains about 200 miles from where you are now. In a situation like this, I’d recommend you make three caches.
One will be en route to the end location, somewhere closer to your current locale but easily accessed. Maybe it’s at the edge of your property, or maybe a friend of yours will let you locate one on their land.
Another one will be inside the escape shelter itself, and the third could be an additional cache somewhere nearby. It should be within walking distance of the end location, but in an unseen area. Aim to diversify where you locate yours so that just in case someone finds your first one, they won’t have an easy time finding the others.
Let’s say you place one of them inside an old, dried-out, abandoned well. That’s awesome. Stick another in a hidden cave, and another high up in a pine or spruce tree.
Should You Bury or Hang Your Survival Cache?
This depends entirely on your preferences, as well as the options that are available to you based on your surroundings.
For example, if you’re in a fire-prone area, burying your cache(s) will mean that they’re far less likely to be destroyed by a potential wildfire. Underground or cave caches are also perfect in places where there isn’t a great deal of forest density. You’re aiming to hide essential supplies here. A large backpack or crate hung in a single tree in a tundra or desert landscape will severely stand out.
In contrast, a camouflage patterned bag hung up in a sturdy coniferous tree can pretty much disappear into the canopy. You’d just need to ensure that it’s secured in a healthy tree that isn’t likely to fall any time soon. Your cache shouldn’t smell enticing enough to attract bears, large cats, and the like, either, if you choose this location.
Generally, burying the container(s) is preferable to hanging them. When and if you do bury cache containers, make sure you bury them so their lids are 1–2 feet below the surface. This is deep enough to avoid detection from a cursory glance, but shallow enough for you to dig it up easily.
On that note, it’s also a good idea to hide a spade in a location nearby that’s easy to access. You can also scatter some sturdy flat rocks nearby that you can use to dig up your cache if the spades go missing. Having to dig these babies up with your bare hands would suck, AND mess up your hands.
Where NOT to Hide a Cache
Basically, anywhere that can be destroyed or discovered is a bad place. Some people hide caches in abandoned barns, buildings, or even old tree hides in the woods. Those aren’t a great idea. Hikers can explore or rummage through these. They can also be destroyed by fires or knocked down and built over when you aren’t paying attention.
Land gets sold and developed all the time. You may go to check on the cache you buried inside the wreck of an old cabin only to discover that it’s been turned into a hobbit house AirBnB.
Similarly, don’t sink your cache into a swamp, or in a low-lying area that’s prone to getting waterlogged. Sure, plenty of containers are labeled as waterproof, but do you really want to take that risk?
Here’s a tip if your area is naturally prone to flooding because of significant snow melt. Since anywhere you bury your cache is likely to get waterlogged, bury your waterproof cache upside-down. This way, even if the area gets too much water, there’s less chance of seepage because of the internal air pressure.
What to Use as a Survival Cache
This will depend on where you’re located, and where you’ll be storing your cache. For example, if you live in a fairly dry, arid environment, you can get away with using a metal container. It won’t rust from moisture exposure, and it’ll be resistant to animal interference.
If you live in an area that gets a lot of snow or rain, aim for a waterproof plastic container instead. Check out some of these heavy-duty lockers to give you an idea of what to look for.
Some people also use large waterproof military ammo boxes, large Rubbermaid bins, or plastic garbage bins with lids for their caches. Choose the container that you feel is best for your location. Take into account things like animal predators and the natural environment.
What to Put in Them
Imagine you’re dealing with a post-apocalyptic or “Walking Dead” scenario. You’ve had to run for shelter because of a major Happening, and you’ve little more than the clothes on your back and maybe a water bottle or something.
If you stumbled upon a lockbox full of survival gear in the woods, what would you be happy to discover inside it? Which items would you consider to be essential, helpful, and just plain awesome to have? The items below are some of the key pieces to add to yours.
- Swiss Army Knife or multi-tool, plus sharpening tool
- A small hand saw
- Flint striker and/or waterproof matches
- Tarp: for a makeshift shelter or to carry stuff
- Reflective thermal emergency blanket(s)
- A full change of warm clothing, including underwear and socks (extra pair of hiking boots or similar is optional)
- A warm jacket, gloves, and hat
- Flashlight with batteries: keep all of these together in a plastic zipper bag
- Solar powered light
- Basic first aid kit with additional painkillers (add some non-perishable antibiotics if possible too)
- A cooking pot and a set of utensils
- Personal hygiene items
Food and Drink
- A water filter
- Bottled water (consider storing this in a separate container adjacent to the main one—if the bottles leak, they won’t mess up the other items in there)
- Canned goods with pull tabs
- High-calorie emergency food rations
- Packaged nuts and fruit
- Energy bars
- Dehydrated meals
When it comes to food in your survival cache, aim for abundance. If you can put a couple of caches in the area, aim to pack enough into each of them to feed you for a month. In fact, you can bury a couple of caches in each location: one solely dedicated to food, the other to clothing and gear.
- Solar charger for phones and other devices
- Extra flashlight batteries
- A compass and map of the area
You can add just about anything to your caches, but try to put in some things that will lighten your heart as well as fill your belly and keep you warm and dry.
For example, how happy would you feel after a day or two of hiking through a chilly, damp forest, only to come across a cache that had warm, dry clothes AND a few of your favorite chocolate bars? What about a favorite novel or a journal to write in?
Additionally, it’s a good idea to have some items in there that you can use to trade or barter with. A couple of packs of cigarettes, some instant coffee, gold or silver coins, etc.
Adapt Your Survival Cache Contents to The Location
This is where we expand upon what we discussed earlier about modifying the contents to suit the locale.
If you’ve planned them along a particular route and you’re expecting to reach the first one on foot, you’ll probably be pretty hungry and thirsty when you get there. Be sure to pack it with easy food like granola or energy bars, jerky, trail mix, and both bottled water and something to replenish your electrolytes, like Gatorate.
In contrast, let’s say your BOL is next to a river or lake that’s fairly clean and abundant with life. A survival cache you’ve secreted here can include a good ceramic water filter or LifeStraw, as well as fishing gear and the means to cook said fish.
What NOT to Put in a Survival Cache
Most people advise against storing firearms in caches, especially if they’re located far away from your home. If someone else finds a weapon that’s registered to you and uses it to harm others, you can be held responsible for whatever ensues.
Should you have a licensed, registered firearm that you keep with you, then it’s okay to keep ammunition in some of your caches. Just make sure you store it well so it stays dry.
Avoid any kind of perishable food items, and pack literally everything into plastic zipper bags. Everything. You don’t want to risk anything in there getting wet or dirty, especially not food or first aid gear.
The more caches you’re able to have, the better. After all, if one of those treasure bins can keep you going for a while, imagine what 8 to 10 of them can do. Of course, the more caches you make, the more you’ll have to invest to fill them.
Furthermore, they’ll also require a fair bit of scouting on your part so you can find locations for them, hide them well, and check on them regularly. That last bit will also require you to remember exactly where you’ve put them!
Try to avoid using buildings or trees as landmarks for your caches. People cut trees down. Buildings burn or get knocked down. Aim for rock formations that you’ll remember well, forks in rivers that you can recognize in any season, waterfalls, and even caves.
If you go for caves, try to choose those that aren’t popular spots for teenagers to hang out. They’re likely to be adventurous and might explore disturbed soil if they come across it.
Ultimately, you should tailor your survival cache to your needs. Choose items that you feel are invaluable to you, and will keep you warm and healthy until you can get to a more secure location.