Survivor’s Supply Cache

A subject that seems to be coming up a lot on the survival-related forums is the cache.    A cache is a small number of goods and supplies that a survivor would keep hidden, usually along a planned bugout route or in an area that the survivor might go to, but is not in control of the area and lacks the resources to secure pre-positioned goods. A hidden cache along the same route or in the same area will provide items and supplies that the survivor can determine ahead of time as opposed to the unpredictable nature of foraging. 

Pre-positioning items are one way to make sure you will have access to them if you end up in that place after traveling light. In practice, a cache is hidden, but not secured.  That reduces the need for additional resources to secure the goods or the unwanted spread of news about the location and nature of supplies. Figure that the average night in a halfway decent motel is going to cost you $50 per person, and a campground with rudimentary bathrooms and showers is at least $10 per person.   Food on the road is going to be at around $5 per meal if you are eating off the bargain menus at the fast-food joints, or around $7 per meal at the truck stops.   Spending $100 to set up a one or two day cache that makes it tolerable to live in the bush is not at all out of line or extravagance, it is simply looking out for these things ahead of time.   Again, $300 to $500 total on some supplies decent camping gear that you might be leaving in a stash vs a week of hotel and campground fees is a realistic consideration.

You will generally prepare items for a cache with a focus on the time frame that the items will be cached.   A hasty cache may be as simple as dropping boxes of supplies off the side of a road somewhere while a complex long term cache might involve a sealed room in a pre-stocked bunker beneath an innocuous-looking remote cabin.   For most of us, it is going to be the basic mid-term “bucket stash” that is designed to last three to five years.

The bucket cache is fairly simple and easy to prepare, with a basic cost being fairly reasonable.   Being limited by the size of a standard five gallon pail, the stash will not contain more goods than what a person would normally be expected to carry if they move on farther, but if they are going to stay in one location for a few days, it will provide enough minimal comforts for a person to get clean, some sleep, a few good meals, and some clean water.   I personally would limit the cost and contents of most bucket caches to around $100 in supplies, but obviously the caches that contain specific weapons, tools or equipment will end up costing more.   Limit those caches to ones that are near the start of a bugout route.

The fully loaded bucket cache has enough to keep a person going for a couple of days without further resupply.   In a pinch, this could last a week or longer if the survivor is able to forage for some local food and supplies, but one should not get overconfident in the number of supplies provided in a cache.   Once you retrieve a cache, you need to immediately take stock of your estimated travel time and resources for replenishing your supplies, realizing that it would take about 100 such supply caches for one person to survive one year.   Note also that the storage weight of a cache is pretty much a non-issue.   Your highest priority is preserving the integrity of the supplies in the cache.   Then, of course, there is the consideration of your limits set by the size and shape of your container.   In the case of the five gallon buckets, they are all usually about the same size, but that is not to say you cannot use other containers that would accommodate other items.   Pelican cases are used by well funded special operations types because they seal up airtight and come in some larger sizes that can hold most weapons.   The Browning travel vault is a long wide gun case that is airtight and can be buried with little preparation or modification.   Again, such containers are so costly, that only the best funded operations would consider them cost effective even in the face of standard bucket caches occasionally failing or being found.

Supply CacheThis is a good basic bucket stash with some extras.  It should sustain one person for two days of moderate activity and that is usually enough time for a survivor to either move on to the next cache, or get started foraging for food and supplies.   As an option, I designated this as a #1 cache, so it has a few basic survival items I might not have on me if I have to bugout in a “come as you are” situation.  Since I don’t always have a fixed blade knife and pistol on me, I put them in the stash along with a moderate supply of ammo.   I opted for a fairly standard mini-mag lite because the AA batteries can be bought and stored in bulk, but a better cache would have one of the improved LED flashlights with the little built-in generator.    It is likely that I will include one of those kinds of lights in other caches along the bugout route.   It is logical that the various caches along a bugout would have different, but complementary survival items that I would look forward to recovering as I travel along the route.   I would assume that I would have some fairly common items on me before reaching the stash, this would include some sort of large bag or backpack, a full set of clothes, a folding pocket knife or leatherman tool, a hat of some sort, and probably something to use as a blanket or sleeping bag.


The bucket – has many uses, not the least of which is holding all of the other stuff in a watertight and nearly airtight environment for at least two years.    It can be used to haul water, as a wash basin, or even as a toilet.   In foraging activities, a clean bucket is good for carrying berries, mushrooms and various other edible plants back to camp.   I can also be used for storing food out of reach of hungry animals.   Fresh meat placed in the bucket and then secured in a stream is a sort of “frontiersmen’s fridge”.   A few empty buckets secured to a few stout poles can be the basis for a usable raft.

The Poncho – There are a lot of uses for the standard military poncho, this one has some bungee cord attached to the corners to facilitate use as a fast shelter.   The poncho is good for a lot of things, but not really so great as a foul weather garment, still better than nothing.   Even if I am already carrying or using a shelter, the poncho might be useful in making that shelter better camouflaged or more comfortable.

The Pistol and Ammo – I picked a .45 that I had gotten in a trade deal where I got the gun fairly cheap but it needed some repairs.  After the repairs, it shoots well but still looks fairly rough.   For the $250 everyone tells me it is worth, It is better to stash than to sell, so it gets stashed with a spare mag and some ammo.   100 rounds of ammo is plenty for basic self-defense and foraging in a non-combat environment.   In a combat environment, the handgun is probably just a backup weapon and the rather light ammo load (or even less) would be appropriate.   More ammo would be picked up along the bugout route.   Prepping the pistol for long term storage means cleaning and oiling it then sealing it in plastic.   I use regular motor oil since cosmoline can be harder to clean off under primitive conditions.   The ammo was too bulky in the store packaging, not to mention the store packaging was not moisture resistant.  I opted to repack the ammo in sealed plastic bags using a seal-a meal.   Even better would be to use one of the newer vacuum sealers for the gun and ammo, but pack them separately to keep oil away from the ammo.   In the long term, the oil breaks down and releases a gas that seeps into the ammo and can neutralize the primers, which kills the ammo.    I did include one small bottle of lube for cleaning and re-lubing the pistol when I recover the cache.   Again, just regular motor oil is good enough for the job.

Knife – I had a spare Cold Steel SRK on hand.   It is well used and with a nice Kydex sheath, but lacks the original sheath and is not in good enough “original” condition to have any significant collector value.   It is still an excellent utility knife and very sharp.   I would expect to be carrying a pocket knife all the time and when I recover the cache, but may not have a good sharp fixed blade knife on hand, so it would not hurt to have one in the cache, thus, I included one.

Flashlight – Just a basic min-Maglite, although in retrospect I think some sort of dynamo or mini-generator operated LED light might be better.   I put in a ten-pack of AA batteries because I figure that I would be carrying a GPS and or some two-way radios that require batteries when I recover the cache.

Water – Not taking any chances with a filter working or local water being suitable to filter out, I put in a half dozen bottles of bottled water.   It is cheap and provides bottles that can be used over again for water picked up along the way.   The small bottles give a good means of rationing the water.    One bottle per MRE and one bottle between meals should be sufficient to keep a person going.

Toilet paper – never be lost in the woods without it.   Anybody who has been in the brown stripe brigade knows how miserable it can be to have nasty butt out in the woods because you had to go and did not have TP on you.   Not to mention, the toilet paper is not half bad for cleaning and bandaging small cuts.  It is also a decent fire starter when used in conjunction with pine sap.   Don’t expect the truck stops and camp grounds to have decent toilet paper available for travelers in an SHTF situation.

Soap – Seems simple right?  You would be surprised by how many “survival lists” neglect soap.   I personally prefer a soft shampoo as an all around camp soap, but for a cache, the bar soap will store better.   I plan on alternating between a strong deodorant soap and a pumice soap between caches.

MREs – Each MRE is not only a meal but a mini survival kit in itself.   The accessory pack will include matches, a small amount of toilet paper, and sometimes a single moist napkin (usually moist with a sterile alcohol gel) that can be used as a small bandage.    The MRE bags are heavy duty PVC, and if treated reasonably carefully, can be reused for quite a while, like for carrying your bar of soap and another for your toilet paper.   The cardboard inner packs in the MREs are decent for starting fires.   The meal heaters can be used to keep your sleeping bag or hooch warm for a little bit of the night  Just be careful not to get too much water around.   A person like me (slightly overweight) can live on one or two MREs a day, but a person with low body fat who is putting out a lot of calories may need all four in one day.   As it is, I consider this to be a one to two day stash depending on whether or not I am traveling with someone and may have other food.    One MRE per day is a good supplement for foraged food.

Change of underclothes – Morale can drop badly when you are sweaty and stinky.   For me, that means my energy level drops and I get irritable.   A clean change of socks, underwear and T shirt might be just the right thing to start out another day of traveling along the bug out route.    Use the sweaty, oily stinky older socks and underwear to start the night’s campfire.   Keep the old T-shirt around as a washcloth and towel.   A pack of a half dozen pairs of socks is only a few bucks at wally world,  so you can stash enough to consider them semi-disposable.   If you are being chased by someone with tracking dogs, you can double back on side trails to drop off old socks and underwear in to distract the tracking dogs.

Small pack – In this case, it is a small camouflage butt pack, but it is not big enough to hold the entire contents of the cache, just the main items I would expect to carry out.  Other caches would have small packs or bags that would supplement each other.   A really basic supply cache might just have some heavy-duty plastic trash bags for carrying the supplies out short term.   The best “cheap” bags of that type are the “contractor’ trash bags because they are made of fairly thick plastic.   Those types of trash bags are also fairly good for waterproofing improvised shelters.

Other decent items that are not in this cache, but are likely to be included in other caches along the bugout route

Candles – An expendable item with some pretty good utility.   Candles are good for getting the campfire going, light in a shelter, and even heating small amounts of water.

Metal cup – the old hobo method is to simply use large soup cans as pots, and there are some short but wide soup cans on the market that can be used as coffee cups in the field.   Otherwise,  a canteen cup can come in pretty useful in one of the caches.  Someone is likely to need one and if you are moving alone, it won’t hurt you much to have another.

Gasoline – There are a few ways you can store some gasoline in a cache, but that same container should not be containing food or water.   Figure the average fuel mileage of a car these days, the distance between cache points along your bugout route, some fudge factor for extra driving around, and then calculate how much fuel you want to stash around five to ten gallons in a location.   Fuel stabilizer used to be hard to get, but now it is available at a lot of places, including the ever present Wal-Mart stores.   You can place smaller plastic gas cans in a larger plastic container and then bury the whole thing.     Put it in the ground deep enough that there is no chance UV rays will penetrate and degrade the plastic.    Don’t forget a funnel or nozzle if you need one.   Metal cans will not last as long in a cache.    Note that while some bucket caches can simply be stashed behind rocks or in the bushes, any stash with gas ought to be buried so there is no chance of the gas contributing to a forest or structural fire.   One other option is a glass container.   While it is not recommended that you ever carry gas in a glass container in a vehicle, it will store in glass and last about forever.

Motor oil – Never hurts to have a quart of motor oil around.   Keep a quart or two of synthetic multigrade oil in with some of your fuel caches.   The multigrade synthetics can mix with just about any motor oil you might currently be using in your vehicle.

Bandages and medical supplies – Watch out for expiration dates on things, but they can be good to keep in a stash.   Buy brand new items to put in a cache because you want them to still be good a few years later when you want to get into the cache.

String, rope and paracord – these always seem to get pretty useful when the going gets tough.

Gloves – Work gloves and winter gloves are often forgotten items when you are bugging out, they can be a welcome find among some supplementary clothes in a bucket stash.   I find that I work a lot better handling firewood and other large rough items a lot better when wearing a good pair of gloves.  Not that gloves actually make you stronger, but they can take some pain out of lifting heavy things that have rough or sharp surfaces.

Prepping the bucket cache is fairly simple.   First make sure the bucket is clean and seals up well.   This one came from a fast food place and had contained pickles in a previous life.   That meant I had to rinse it several times before the smell was out of it.    I had initially gotten three buckets for the project but found that one of the lids was missing the o-ring seal.  I also discovered that not all five gallon buckets even come with an o-ring seal.   If you do not have an O-ring seal on your bucket lid, all is not lost, you can seal the lid with silicone sealer, but that means the lid might be a real pain in the ass to remove when you are in the field.

I put the water bottles in the bottom of the bucket, on the theory that if they leak, the water will not flow down onto anything valuable.   I crammed the toilet paper down with them to absorb moisture that might leak or condense in the bucket while it is buried.   The MREs are watertight anyway.   Notice there is still some space between items in the bucket that a person could still cram some small items into.    Other items have been sealed in plastic, and then lastly, a layer of MREs go on top with a desiccant packet.   This will hopefully absorb condensation or initial leakage that gets into the bucket.   I had to stand on the lid of this bucket to get it to stay on, which indicates the bucket was pretty full.   Realistically, it is a rare bucket cache that will contain any firearms, so that space will not normally be much of an issue.   Note that in a bucket cache, space is more of an issue than weight, since the bucket is not something you would be carrying for several miles on your back.

There are two main strategies to the placement of caches.   The first is placement of caches along a bugout route, and the second is placement of caches in an area of operation.   For the survivor, these will often be integrated.

The Spanish had a pretty well thought out program of way stations along trade and exploration routes in the new world which corresponded to practices set out probably at least as early as the Romans, and probably perfected during the Crusades when Christians made pilgrimages to Jerusalem on foot.   In this program, a waypoint with supplies and facilities was ideally placed every twenty miles, which was considered one day of travel by foot.

Now, a day of travel by car along the highway can be several hundred miles.   Most cars and trucks are set up to carry enough fuel without resupply for 300 miles, but that excludes any side trips, getting lost, or off road driving.   Driving on sand in particular sucks up horsepower and fuel in a big way, and you can find that even a miserly 4cyl will only be getting around 12MPG in sand.    Either way, if you are setting up fuel and supply caches along a planned road travel route, you will need to make your own fuel and supply checkpoint calculations based on the types of vehicles, estimated fuel capacity, road types, and anticipated driving conditions.

Getting back to travel by foot, consider that 20 miles is the maximum that you would ever plan on going in a day.   Ten miles before lunch, an hour or two break, and then ten miles after lunch, with enough time to (hopefully) set up camp with a little daylight left.   Any mountains or hard terrain will cut down on this estimate.    Consider that each bucket can have enough supplies for one person for two days of activity (maybe longer if you are just hiding out), then you would want one bucket per person, every 40 miles.   Again, it will take a lot of planning on your part and realistic estimates of how long you can travel.    Most people who cannot pass a standard Army PFT will have to cut back on the estimate, and you would want to cut back on the estimate if you are moving at a slow and cautious pace due to other factors.    I have found that even people who are in fairly bad physical condition, but do not have injuries or disabilities to contend with, can usually go five to eight miles in a day regardless of the terrain.   Realize, however, how that can effect the time it will take to get to the next cache if it starts out 40 miles away.   You will likely want to consider the strategic technique of placing small caches of one or two buckets more frequently at shorter intervals as opposed to larger caches at more distant intervals.   I think the big determining factor in this will be your mode of travel.   If by foot, then every ten to twenty miles, if by vehicle, then definitely further apart or it will feel like you need to stop every few minutes to unearth some supplies.    Probably the smartest integrated plan is to set up for both.

On a midrange consideration, a person traveling by bicycle can usually count on 40 to 60 miles per day, depending a lot on how many hills they have to deal with and how much cargo they are carrying.   A person who is traveling very light on good pavement with a good road bike can even be able to make 100 miles a day.

Also consider that traveling long distances on foot and alone is risky in threat level 0 scenarios just in terms of not having someone with you in case you get sick or have an accident, something as mundane as a twisted ankle or case of diarrhea can be deadly if you are ten miles from help and nobody knows where to find you.   In higher threat level scenarios, it can be downright suicidal unless you are damn good at being sneaky or the people you have available to travel with are absolutely worthless and would pull you down.    Considering that you may have worthwhile people traveling with you, or you may have to “pay your way” by providing cache supplies as others help carry you along (don’t disclose the location of the next cache until they have carried you close to it), you will be wise to double up supplies in several caches.   Also, in considering the trustworthiness of those you might be traveling with or who might be following you, you may want to cache weapons separately from mundane food and water supplies.

In setting up a long bugout route that will take several days on foot in a worst case scenario, you want to have a lot of good items in the number one cache, as it will be your initial supplies and equipment to move out the next cache.   Also consider that even if you are bugging out from a location where you were unable to haul in a full bugout bag, you will have some normal items with you like a jacket, some sort of backpack or shoulder bag, and a common knife or pocket tool.

Now for the tricky part.   Say you have a single retreat location set up, but you could be in any number of places that are several miles apart before you would be on your main bugout route. For example, work and family commitments can place you in any part of the San Francisco Bay area at any given time, while your retreat is at a time share cabin in the Truckee National Forest near Lake Tahoe.   On foot, you expect it to take around a week to get there, even though only three hours of fast driving gets you there by car.   Chances are that you will want to place some supplementary caches around the bay area before you would get to the number one cache that contains weapons and equipment for the straight shot along the highway to Tahoe.   On the other hand, you may also decide that it is prudent to keep weapons stashed in strategic locations so that you have access to them if you have to travel through some of the more high threat areas before getting to the bugout route rally point.

That is going to be something you need to carefully plan, specifically, the priorities of placing certain cache items at the number one cache point where you initially equip for bugging out, or at the bugout rally point where hopefully, you meet up with your people and then move out at a point.   In this planning, you can see how the bugout plan and the cache plan must be integrated.    The caches are best located in private spots along routes of travel, and you will need to consider that you want to be able to access your cache without being observed by hostiles, yet in a location that is convenient to your route of travel.

In setting up a cache that you would be using in a semi-permanent area of operation, you do not need to worry as much about the distribution of the goods as long as you know you can get to them.   Getting back to the example of the timeshare cabin near Tahoe, which is the survival plan of probably thousands of people in California, consider that those woods might be crawling with people, possibly burned out, snowed in, or all of the above.   The same place where the Donner Party got starved into cannibalism is now little more than a blink of an eye for fast moving motorists on the nearby highway.   That turf could easily become just as inhospitable as the late 1800s if the highway were shut down and cities on both ends were starved out of power and water.   Many closet (and not so in the closet) survivalists among the wealthy have retreats set up in the Tahoe area, and many more people have staked out favorite camping and retreat spots in that area of wilderness north of Tahoe.   Ownership of a retreat there can be quite costly, but time shares, and simply staking out spots in the nearby National Forests is not overly costly or difficult, and it is likely that a few shrewd and well equipped survivors would find it easy to occupy one or more of the many seasonal cabins or retreat places there in a scenario where only the strong and well prepared can even make it to the area.   Many locals tell me that permanent residents only take up about 20% of the local housing space there.   So in that situation, where you do not control a location year round and must be elsewhere to make a living, you will want to cache larger amounts of supplies and equipment, but in my opinion, supplies would likely be more important there than equipment, since many of the empty homes and businesses would have common supplies, albeit guns and ammunition would probably be too well hidden or secured to be counted on.    Supplies in that area trade for high premiums even in the best of times and an “outsider” with generous supplies of cached items who is willing to trade will likely be a welcome addition to the community in a crisis.    The same can be said for most mountain communities in North America, many of which lack large well stocked discount stores and rely on small “convenience” stores with inflated prices for local supplies or families make weekly trips to “nearby” cities for normal shopping.    Being as short sighted as many of their city dwelling cousins, these people are often not prepared to be cut off from the cities for months at a time.    Thus survivors who plan on operating in those areas will be wise to cache significant amounts of anything they plan on using, from toilet paper to dish soap, and ammunition to gasoline.