Editors Note: Another contribution from R. Ann Parris to The Prepper Journal. As always, if you have information for Preppers that you would like to share and possibly receive a $25 cash award, as well as being entered into the Prepper Writing Contest AND have a chance to win one of three Amazon Gift Cards with the top prize being a $300 card to purchase your own prepping supplies, then enter today!
Caches periodically come up in preparedness. When they do, there’s routinely talk of burying them. Buried caches can work, but there are some considerations.
One of the things warned about regularly is making sure you can find them again as things ebb and flow in the area. GPS makes a handy backup for now, but in some disasters that GPS unit may not be functioning. I won’t belabor that one. Instead, I’m going to work my way through some considerations for after they’ve been located: Getting into them and getting them out.
Why A Cache?
There are all kinds of caches, for all kinds of reasons. Someone planning a long bugout might stash water purification, energy or ration bars, and drink powders. Someone who uses mass transit or who expects major traffic delays in a crisis might stash some good boots and decent pants.
Others may be creating a network of chipmunk holes because their primary storage areas are limited, or because they fear theft, now or later. Still others may be motivated to create at least a little resiliency to tornadoes, house fires, and flooding – common risks to our primary storage.
The ability to pull up caches with even just the equivalent of a 72-hour kit can buy some less-panicky time to make a better decision than running around with absolutely nothing.
Blame my parents for hooking me young, but I love the moment pirates and archaeologists pop something out of the earth.
Thing is, in real life, the earth tends to hold onto her prizes pretty tightly. TV and movies are the only place where something that’s been underground 1-5 years (or longer) plops out without serious effort. See, dirt clings to stuff. Over time, it rains. Sodden soil oozes and fills in the gaps around what we bury. Then it dries and hardens there. Successive seasons repeat this, until the object of our desire is fully cemented in place. (Sandy-soil peeps have a whole other set of issues.)
I don’t have a whole crew of workers like Indy to get my Lost Ark out, so I have learned to be a little smarter about how I plant them in the first place.
Surface Changes & Handy Tools
One of the first things to stay aware of, is how much surface growth we have, and what type. Hand in hand with that, is the kinds of tools we anticipate having if we need our caches.
If we’re hiding 3 of 5 rifles we bought together with one phone call in case a foreign entity ever invades, maybe we have no problem heading out with a machete, loppers, and a trenching shovel or post hole digger, and we’re going to be wearing good boots, good gloves, and decent pants.
If we’re planning our “coming home from a wedding/funeral, truck went boom, had to bail with whatever is in the front seat” disaster-run stash, or if this is a cache built for a wildfire where we all raced for the river/pool after our tires melted, we might have …a pocket knife? …a good camping/hunting do-all blade? …an e-tool? …a hatchet?
So when we site our caches, we want to look around. Not just at “now” level care, but at what springs up inside 1-2 and 3-5 years in the abandoned areas around us.
Brambles may help keep critters and peeps away from our goodies, but we’re going to have to get through them, too. So it goes with kudzu from nearby areas (that’s about snakes, tangling and tripping, and having to whack it) and poison ivy or ants.
The same goes for anchoring or burying stuff at the edge of waterways. That’s where erosion, sediment deposit, bank shifts, and undergrowth are most likely to exert changes.
We also want to look up as we dig and when we cruise through eyeballing things.
Are there nearby trees with damaged limbs hanging? Diseased branches or trunks? Tree roots in loose banks and shoulders? Those may drop big branches or a whole tree may come down, right on top of our cache.
Don’t just consider healthy, well-fed “now” conditions and abilities. Think about mud and the rolling marbles of a boom acorn year, already injured, and demoralized by loss of home, loved ones, and/or crops due to invaders, fires, or floods. Consider icy ground, dehydrated, a cold bordering on bronchitis, and footsore after 50-80 dodgy miles on very little.
What tools and abilities will I have in the worst case?
Because, if we’re hitting caches, chances are good we’re in that worst case scenario. And I still have to get into the earth to get my cache of cold meds, Pedialyte, hatchet, and gloves.
Shallow vs. Deep Burial
The shallow-deep aspect is twofold. It’s looking at not only how far underground we stick something, but also the size and shape of our container.
If we go too shallow, our containers can bulge upwards as the earth moves or peek through from erosion. They or contents can be melted in big fires. Floods can unearth them if they and soil isn’t heavy enough.
If we go too deep, however, getting to them with a pointy stick, a rifle stock, or a Ka-Bar is going to be ‘funtastic’.
There’s a sweet spot by location, of 6-12” to the surface of your cache. You’re still susceptible to temperature fluctuations, but chiseling through clay soils in summertime isn’t as grueling as going deeper and they’re less likely to reveal themselves or wander.
If you’re healthy, you can plan on covering the buried treasure with something on the surface (tire, some lumber, small log) and use as little as 4” of topsoil.
That still gives you a buffer to scatter some old bolts, lead bullets, or similar over and in the area off to the side of a cache and cover them with an inch or two of soil. Deposits that build up will still leave a reasonable amount of digging, while it takes a serious flood and time to move four inches of earth once it’s packed down.
That leaves the container. There’s several aspects to wide-skinny containers to think about.
Container Size & Dimensions
First up, consider being off by a few inches. Like, this is for-sure the exactomundo square foot. Our container (or some edge of it) is 100% for-sure inside this here square foot marked by the old steel wheel or big rock. Start digging, Joe.
Only, something scooted. So we need to add 2-6” to our search area.
Most of our caches will be measurable in inches on at least one side. When we’re moving even just 4-6” of earth, especially by hand, do we want to be looking for something that’s 6” across, or something 10- 18”?
Now, consider that it’s not 4-6”, but 12” of topsoil. And not a square foot, but a square yard. Even if we have pre-staged some thin rebar right there by our cache so we can pole for our lid, which do we want to be hunting? The 6” cap to a piece of PVC, or 14” toolbox lid?
That’s just uncovering the top. We still have to get it out.
Earth Clings Tightly
If we need to actually unearth our whole cache to carry our goodies, holy cows. Please, please, please take the time to bury a bucket this autumn/early winter and then dig it up sometime after soil dries this summer. Earth clings. It clings harder the longer something is there.
It’s easiest to define the edges and then dig and spear-wiggle right around the edges of a container if you do need to pull it. That’s another place where shallow or wide has advantage over deep and skinny.
Don’t count on the finger grooves on the underside or the handle holding up to this abuse (or the elements). If it’s really, really smooth with nowhere to grip like a lockbox or PVC tube, for sure you’re going to have to free a big portion of it, depth-wise, to get it out.
We can avoid some of the pain of unearthing caches by not actually pulling up the outer containers.
Buckets are made for this. Stack two buckets, inner/upper one with a lid and our goodies. Clear the edges, lift, and go. Really. Storage totes, too, routinely come in stackable sizes. A single bucket or tote can be holding a backpack, tool boxes, etc.
(Psst…kitty litter comes in GOOD buckets, and usually animal rescues getting a bag of dog/cat food will happily let you have empties.)
Remember, ideally the outer shell is pretty tough. That shell is making it easier to unearth those. However, the inner container can be a softer target.
We can slide 4-6” PVC into 6-8” PVC – just the pipe, we don’t have to buy a second round of caps. Toss a chunk of wood or an old boot over the top and-or bottom of it, and-or wedge in an old towel to help keep soil from filling the space between them.
Another option is using a trash can as an exterior for a cache.
The round or squared 13-18gal types work well for various buckets. There are some 6-8gal sizes at Walmart that fit Plano ammo boxes, tackle boxes, and toolboxes really well. (Psst … they also fit inside a backpack while heading out somewhere.)
Slide your container(s) into your trash can, slide a pair of contractor trash bags over it, and slide your trash can into your hole. Top with a seat from an old chair, a freebie-site desk drawer, or planks from the curbside-pickup shelving unit to make it even easier. Bury, roll.
Another way to avoid having to un-bury a whole container, especially deep PVC tubes or trash cans, is to tie off each item inside with heavy-duty fishing wire or cord (paracord).
We unwind that all the way to the top, leaving extra trailing out. Tie off and wedge in the next, and eventually wrap the cords into a bundle that will sit on top. Wedging something that won’t settle much like a Ziploc of gloves or socks near the top, the cords above it, will help ensure the cords don’t wiggle down into the depths of our PVC. We can also duct tape the bundle to the inside at the very top.
Remember, if the PVC is 3-4’ long at a table, no big deal. When there’s another 6-12-18” of dirt or debris we’re reaching past and we can’t tilt it, no Bueno. Most of us do not have 4’ arms, and fingertips are not always sufficient for lifting 250 rounds of … lead fishing weights.
Caches are an excellent backup, whether we plan to relocate for disasters or just want to nature-proof and people-proof some of our storage.
How we pack our supplies and where we opt to put them so we can get them again are whole articles on their own. Buried caches have their own sets of pro’s and con’s versus other types, but can be pretty effective. A little awareness and others’ “oh, my” moments can help eliminate some of the drawbacks and keep you ready for anything.