Practical Alternatives for Buried Survival Caches
By Matthew Dermody
One can hardly go far into the prepper and survivalist culture of self-reliance without running into the subject of gear survival caches and doomsday stockpiles. Having a survival cache and having access to the critical supplies contained within it is essential. As more and more people choose to lose their ability to take care of themselves, the need to keep your supplies from the prying eyes of the desperately unprepared grows even more. The most commonly discussed survival cache is the improvised burial tube. Buried tubes and survival caches main mantra is ‘out of sight; out of mind’ with good reason. If people cannot see it or find it, they cannot raid it. Personally, I am not a fan of large burial tubes, although they are necessary for larger gear such as firearms, cookware, and larger shelter items.
Larger buried survival caches have their place and are fine for your final bug-out destination. Until you arrive at your final bug-out location, you may not want or be able to carry all of the gear you originally put in a large en route cache. There are alternatives to large and buried caches, all having legitimate advantages and drawbacks. Two such alternatives are aerial concealment and exposed/ground level concealment. The key word to remember here is practical. The type of cache you decide to use depends on some important factors based upon your age, your physical condition, and your environment. Here are some points to consider in selecting your cache method.
1. What kind of equipment do you need to hide or retrieve the cache? A spade equates to digging. Digging equates to work. Work expends needed calories and energy. Even with a perfect hide location, digging requires the disposal of the excess soil and make the surrounding area look undisturbed. This is especially true if there is a chance of someone walking through your proposed survival cache site. With all the effort put in to hide the cache, you end up removing it to get to your supplies.
2. Time is not always on your side. Just as digging equates to work, work equates to time. When the time comes to retrieve the tube, are you really going to want to spend the time digging for items when you could be having a jump start to your bug-out location? Will you have enough time to sit around and wait for the cover of darkness or ideal weather conditions to retrieve your cache? Carrying an adequate spade or shovel to your hide location is going to look somewhat suspicious. If you are planning to use an easier concealed camp shovel to unearth your treasure, then you are adding even more time to the retrieval process. What if someone follows you, waiting until you are distracted or exhausted from the retrieval process, and decides to attack or arrest you? This could also happen in other cache retrieval methods, but your situational awareness is not going to be at its peak if you are concentrating on digging. For some people, climbing a tree to retrieve a cache can be unsafe and potentially dangerous. Continually scanning the area is an important consideration to the type of cache used. Certain cache types require more vigilance because your attention is divided between the retrieval process and maintaining situational awareness. Too much time spent in an area, no matter how secure you deem it to be, can put you at risk for discovery. In a SERE scenario, stopping to hide or retrieve something in the ground is going to use up time that needs to be spent putting distance between you and your pursuers.
3. Mother Nature will not cooperate during a SHTF event. Regardless of whatever causes a SHTF event requiring a bug-out to a more secure location, Mother Nature and Murphy’s Law will persist in their usual defiance of human endeavor. If things can go wrong, they will and they will do so at the most inconvenient time and season. Inclement weather is one thing, but combine the first two reasons with the addition of snow and several inches of frozen ground and you have now increased the amount of time and hard digging required. Moreover, freezing conditions can reduce manual dexterity, adding more time digging or climbing and exposes your body to the elements for longer periods. Climbing with gloves or mittens is difficult in cold weather, making tree scaling far less successful for most people.
4. Some survival cache methods and sizes may require an accomplice. Trust is a big factor when you start obligating friends to swear an oath of secrecy. The old expression, “Two can keep a secret if one is dead,” is something to keep in mind. Anyone who knows or associates with you who encounters unfriendly forces are a potential risk for compromise. These forces threaten or intimidate people into turning on you and revealing your secrets. Having a cache location that only you know about and only you can access/retrieve your goods without assistance is the safest policy. If one man walks into the woods with a shovel or rope looks suspicious, then two men with shovels and ropes screams of a conspiracy.
5. Larger survival caches are difficult to hide. If you choose to have a larger cache site, you run the greater risk of its discovery. The best advice I can give is to resist the temptation to store all your essential supplies in a single large cache. Making several, smaller caches along your travel route are a wiser choice. First, your cache locations are more scattered and random. Second, if one cache is raided, discovered, or destroyed, you lose some assets instead of all of them. An event such as this is frustrating, but you continue on to your next location, knowing that you did not lose everything.
6. How remote is the cache location? Location and remoteness also determine what type of cache is best for your situation. The more traffic, whether human or animal, will require more effort to conceal it. The more difficult it is to reach your cache in terms of remoteness and terrain, the better your chances will be keeping it hidden. While you want to make it difficult for everyone else to discover and reach, you do not want to put yourself in peril in order to conceal or retrieve your cache.
So what are the alternatives? There are a few concealment options, and like burial tubes, they are not without their own unique drawbacks. However, these cache options eliminate or reduce some of the labor drawbacks associated with burial tubes. When the full use of technology and camouflaging techniques are applied, the appeal of the alternatives will overcome most of the negative aspects. It is important to understand that there are no 100% foolproof methods to conceal caches.
Go aerial, not burial. When discussing aerial concealment, it is important to realize that you do not want your cache swinging from branches. The first option is suspending the tube within the canopy of a deciduous tree giving you the ability to retrieve the tube by lowering with an attached rope. The option of nestling the tube in one of the higher crotches of the tree is the best. The most important thing to remember with an ‘aerial’ tube is to secure it tightly so that it cannot be dislodged by high winds or strike other portions of the tree and thereby bringing attention to it. Humans are not tree climbers by nature. Without some sort of assistance like ropes or ladders, the desire and ability to climb trees decreases with age for most people. Therefore, most individuals do not give tree canopies a second thought while looking for hidden objects.
Keep it on the down low. Meaning, ground level low; leave it out in the open. This concept is more prevalent with the popularity of geo caching. Geo caches are small, man made objects hidden within a natural setting. They contain little log books to record who finds the object and when. Because of this, the camouflage MUST be exceptional for this to work, but with some ingenuity and creativity, this is easily accomplished.
Incidentally, with these methods, you are not restricted to tubes. Food-grade five-gallon buckets with gamma seal lids hidden under rock piles, large tree stumps, etc. also work well. Large fake rocks made of plastic often used to disguise well housings and residential utilities work well as concealment, too. However, I strongly recommend adding additional textured spray paint along with gluing preserved moss on the surface to give the appearance of realism.
Two very important things to remember with ground concealment techniques:
1.) Look like it belongs in that location.
2.) Look like it has been at the location for several year, decades preferably. You also need to ensure and implement the best waterproofing methods you have at your disposal, as surface hides are much more susceptible to water seepage. Sealing every possible point where water can seep into your cache with a silicone sealant is a prudent decision. Even if your cache never is exposed to direct rainfall, dew and condensation can still creep into unsealed caches. As an added measure, make sure to use desiccant packs to absorb any moisture.
Most importantly, keep your mouth shut. This should go without mention, but do not discuss the location of any cache you have with anybody. Social media is a good place to discover people with like minded ideas, but that does not make them immediately trustworthy. Survival culture, content, and concepts are always okay to discuss, but never survival coordinates, campsites, and caches.
Matthew Dermody is a self-published author and owner of Hidden Success Tactical. He specializes in camouflage and concealment training for professional, recreational and survival applications.
Photo Credits: http://preparedforthat.com/survival-caching-part-1-mindset-need-protect/;http://www.theprepperjournal.com/2013/08/13/embrace-your-inner-pirate-5-important-considerations-for-your-survival-cache/