Saturday, February 9, 2013


This article, as with all the other articles on this blog, is strictly intended to be informative in nature. By no means is it a set of instructions that completely cover every legality and every contingency which may arise if you choose to attempt this skill. It relates what my experience has been with regard to these matters and what changes I’ve found in the technology since those times when I’ve had to employ these skills.

If you choose to attempt this skill, you are completely on your own with regard to the consequences which may occur from the attempt.

Caching …. the word means many things to many people. In the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary we find it defined as:

            1 a : a hiding place especially for concealing and preserving provisions or implements

   b : a secure place of storage
            2 a: something hidden or stored in a cache
For our purposes we’re going to work with definition number one even though both meanings apply equally.
Now, when I first began researching this subject and making notes about what my past experience has been, I thought it was going to be relatively straightforward. Because when I first learned about the subject it was relatively straightforward. Find a place, dig your hole, put your stash in it, fill the hole in and make certain you have some method for finding it even in the dead of winter.
            Which is the time you’re most likely to be in dire need of it’s contents.
            But the subject has become more complicated, some of it because my level of education has grown and some of it because technology has advanced sufficiently to make it less simple.
            So first, we’ll start with the basic premise.
            A cache is a place where you conceal resources or supplies that you feel you may need at a later date, kind of like a savings account only this savings account does better if it doesn’t draw any interest. What goes into a cache is a highly personal selection of goods. The main things that these goods share in common though is that they must be:
·        protected from the elements
·        protected from detection or depredation by wildlife
·        protected from insect life
·        kept from discovery by other humans (this is generally easier than the first two)
·        protected from hazards inherent in the topography of where you’ve built your cache 
The first consideration for your cache is what you plan to put into it. The type and amount of material you’re planning on storing will influence the type and size of the container. As will your purpose in setting up the cache. Most caches are set up for rapid access to supplies when a disaster or calamity strikes, while keeping those same supplies from other victims or the authorities. For people planning these units in more populous areas a part of this will be trying to keep the magnetic profile of the cache to a minimum in order to avoid people being able to locate it with a metal detector. For many years the belief was that the only way to avoid this kind of detection completely was to use plastic containers and bury it at least six feet deep.

Houston, this is Reality calling, we have a problem …..

You see, if the only thing you were trying to avoid was frost heave, you dug down three feet further than what you needed to …

… now, for the bad news …

If you wanted to defeat a metal detector, you’ll have to burrow down below ten or fifteen feet.

Say what?

Are you kidding?

The land I live on is a century flood plain, with farm country all around. At best it’s ‘interesting’ to dig through, at worst it’s a bloody be damned nightmare. I’ve had to dig two graves on it (I can pretty much guarantee it’s not for the reason you’re probably thinking) to bury two of my dogs (told you so) and it was all we could do to get it down four feet. The thought of maybe ‘having’ to dig down another six to eleven feet is NOT a cheery one.

…and here’s the ‘worse’ news ….

There exists a mine detection technology which can detect mines while flying overhead to a depth of six meters or more.

For those of you unacquainted with the metric system, that’s around eighteen feet and deeper, depending on the size of the cache.

It’s called a Digital Gradiometric Magnetometer. It’s a fairly new technology and is not susceptible to the usual interferences that render most types of magnetometers useless.

Cheery thought, eh?

So what to do about it?

The first thing you’ll need to do is to figure out what kind of caches you’re going to establish, how many of them you want or need and roughly what locations you want to use. For the sake of simplicity in storage I would usually suggest that your major caches should be specialized caches; dedicated to food, weapons or medical supplies. You’ll also need Bug Out caches in multiple locations to give you access to basic escape tools and a three or four day food pack.  The caches should be placed along your planned line of retreat but not so dedicated to that one line that you can’t reach them from other points of access. That bramble thicket may have a real cool place at the center of it, where you can conceal things, but if the only access point is from a Metropark bicycle path then you may have problems obtaining that cache.

Set up your cache vaults prior to placement. The Bug Out caches should be equipped and placed first, at the entry points for your planned routes of withdrawal. Your major supply caches should be as isolated as possible and spread out far enough to protect them, but not so far from your planned encampment that you aren’t able to get to them on foot.

Bug Out caches are a bit different from other types of cache because they’ll usually be placed inside the city limits to allow you to be able to ‘escape’ the area that you’re in. Basic, basic, basic should be the rule of the day for these, nothing terribly complicated, expensive or that you would hate to lose because despite placing multiple Bug Out caches, you’re probably only going to have the time to get to one before you leave that AO. After that, all the other’s become write off’s and you don’t look back.

Unlike the other caches, the Bug Out caches should be in a metal container. I generally use empty paint cans, unused paint cans (which are usually my first choice) or number ten cans (large coffee cans). One of the first things to go into the can is a desiccant pack. There are a number of things you can use for this, an actual desiccant pack, which is available in most hardware stores, a cotton sack filled with dry rice (this can also be part of your food supply) or shipping packs that came with any items you ordered online. There are other things you can use but that’s a subject for another day.
Now, what comes next is kind of important, do you plan on carrying the items in your pockets (as in a field jacket or hunting coat) or do you plan on carrying them in some sort of bag? The reason I bring this up now is because there is one type of bag that will hold your belongings and should generally fit inside the can fully packed. It’s a kind of bag that my parents used to call a ‘vagabond’ or ‘hobo’ bag. As a matter of fact, they used to be made by soldiers mustering out of the service who didn’t want to lug a duffel bag around. I believe that these days they call them string packs.

The contents of your Bug Out cache are going to vary depending on your skills and what you personally need. Particularly any medicines you may need.

Again, this is an article for another day.

Back to preparing your Bug Out cache … The first thing you’re going to do is to load the can with your desiccant and then your tools. This is where I do things a bit differently. I’ll slide in a piece of corrugated cardboard cut to fit the inside of the can. It’s going to crumple and become mangled but just as long as you can expand it out again so that it fills the space from wall to wall, you’re good. Stabilize the cardboard in place, I use a button attached to a string and run it through the center of the cardboard and then gently pull on the string until the cardboard is pretty well wedged in there. Then, while holding the string, I pour in a cap of wax on top of the cardboard and secure the string until the wax sets up. Once the wax sets, carefully put the can’s lid on and make certain it’s as secure as possible. It shouldn’t, however, be so tight that it takes more than a Swiss Army knife to open the can. The last thing I do is to give the whole assembly three or four coats of Rustoleum paint. Usually flat black.

Take your time, make certain that everything is perfect the first time you do it.

You may not get a chance to rework it even if you want to ….

Cache placement for this sort of cache is pretty cut and dried. It doesn’t need a lot of prep work or supplies to do this one. The first thing you want to do is decide where you’re likely to be if you need to get to this cache. Will you be going to or coming from work? Will you have a separate one for possible shopping trips or trips to the mall?

What are your travel patterns?

What are your movements like?

Sit down and map out all your usual movements, use different colors for each type of route, shopping, doctor’s visits, work; recreation. Put them all on the same map. What you’re looking for are places where they intersect on a regular basis. Places that have the possibility of being relatively secluded, or even semi-secluded places where small packages can be concealed. You’ll also want to see how they’re situated with regard to your planned escape routes.

Remember, your escape routes will need to be of the vehicular and pedestrian type, you never know what you’re going to have to do in order to get clear of the danger zone. After you do this and have a thorough understanding of your own movement patterns you should be ready to place the cache, and this is where it starts to sound like James Bond.

You aren’t going to do anything that unusual when you leave to place your cache except to make certain that you leave your cell phone, pager or any other communication device at home and OFF.

That’s right, you’re going to be incommunicado for probably a couple of hours.

Don’t worry though, the world won’t end if you’re not interacting with it.

So leave your techno-umbilical cord/tracking device (why do you think I said to leave it at home?) at home and … what?

That’s right, OFF.

If you have one of those wonder cars with the built in cell phone or assistance networks hard wired into it you might even want to consider using a bicycle to get to your destination. It all depends on how paranoid you want to be. If it doesn’t bother you too much, then take your vehicle to someplace you normally travel to and park it there while you load up your haversack and take a walk.

Walking is good, everyone needs some exercise.

So you walk to where you’re going to place your cache; then you sit somewhere nearby and check the traffic in the area. Pedestrian and motorized.

If everything looks good, place your cache and walk away.

For about the first six months walk past it about once a month, making sure that it’s still there, you’ll usually want to do this for your own peace of mind, but don’t go near it and don’t go poking at it, just do a quick visual check then walk off. If it stays in place during that time, the chances are pretty good that no one is going to find it and you can relax.

Sound involved?

Tell me, what level of involvement is too much to see to you and your family’s safety?

Too much like work?

Quit reading then and take up needlepoint …..

So ….. feeling big and bad? Think you’re a full fledged professional now?

Ummmm …. not a chance.

Your next step is to set up a series of caches to evacuate and care for your family along your planned route of escape. There are two styles of caching you can choose from for this one but the one I’m going to deal with here is a larger version of the one you just got practical experience creating. The nomenclature I was taught for these two are:
·        Drop Cache

·        Semi-permanent Cache
The Semi-permanent Cache is fairly involved and team effort is required to get it completed in any credible amount of time. This kind of cache would be the cache of choice if you were setting up for a covert action in hostile territory but it wouldn’t be your first choice as a civilian attempting to safely evacuate your family from the danger zone. So we’re going to leave this one by the wayside, just be aware that it does exist.

The Drop Cache is, as the name implies, a drop point of supplies; is meant to be unmanned and unwatched. The protection for this cache is largely misdirection and camouflage. Once again I would advise you to assign the supplies you plan on storing inside the cache before you even begin purchasing the materials you’ll need. A good guideline is to make certain that everything you store in the cache can be carried comfortably in one or two backpacks. If it takes more than that to carry your material out I would strongly advise you to reconsider what you plan on storing there. The general rule of thumb for loading your backpack is that the total weight for your equipment shouldn’t exceed about twenty five to thirty three percent of your body weight, and that is if you’re in fairly good physical condition. Depending on your health, adjust the weight of your load up or down as needed. If you have any doubts about whether the weight limit you’re choosing is the right one, the reasonable one; then strap that much weight onto your back and carry it for about five miles.
             If you can’t do it now, don’t plan on trying it later.
             Your next step at this point is to figure out how many and what type of containers you’ll need to store your equipment. Everything will begin with two main premises and those are that you need to minimize the electromagnetic signature of your cache (no, I haven’t forgotten what I wrote earlier, but why make it easy for people to find?) and you’ll need to protect your cache from damage by humidity or moisture. You’ll also have to keep the five goals; which I mentioned earlier, of building a cache in mind.
             Most caches I’ve built, over the years, have worked pretty well using either five gallon paint buckets, with the handles removed, or sections of PVC piping. Storing a firearm once meant using heavy layers of cosmoline, which meant that you also had to store some sort of solvent to remove the crud nearby. It was never a pretty sight even though it mostly worked out OK if you were very thorough in your application of the cosmoline. Thankfully, the technology for storing your firearm has changed enough that it simplifies the whole ordeal. These days you can get by pretty well by simply buying a storage bag which has been specially treated to minimize humidity, placing two over sized desiccant packs in with the firearm and sealing the whole affair inside a PVC pipe that’s been well sealed; then buried in a good location.

For using the five gallon buckets there are lids now, made by Gamma Seal Lids, which by all accounts make the bucket air and water tight. How they might hold up under the stress of being buried for extended periods, I honestly don’t know, but they’ve done well when I used them to set up a bear proof food cache for my canoe camps. They didn’t have the option when I still had regular need of my caches so I can’t relate personal experience with regard to that. For the PVC piping you’ll need a section of pipe with the appropriate diameter and length, a threaded end cap and a blind end cap. Assemble the whole thing using PVC adhesive liberally (best to do this part outdoors) and then give the joints a coat of RTV silicone sealant.
                 I don’t believe in taking chances if they can be avoided or minimized.

The first thing you want to put inside the container is some sort of grid or mesh across the bottom. This is to make certain that if the amount of moisture your desiccant packs can absorb is exceeded, you have a buffer. The amount of space you give with this grid is subject to your discretion because you should know what could happen in your own area better than I ever could imagine. Next in are the external desiccant packs; after that you put your supplies in, all of which should be packed in separate watertight bags. You won’t need or want a wax seal on these types of cache but you may want to give the threads on each type of container a good coat of food grade silicone grease to keep the lid from sealing itself into a friction lock. This will also help with the container’s ability to minimize moisture accumulation. After your caches are ready to go comes the hard part, burying them.
            There will be another article on choosing your route of escape and selecting the actual caching sites so we’ll limit what is said about locating your caches to this, you should be able to reach the caches whether you’re on your vehicular or pedestrian escape route. It should make absolutely no difference which mode of transport you choose as long as you follow your planned route as closely as possible. The main thing we’ll concern ourselves with in this article are the actual mechanics of burying the cache.
             To bury the cache you shouldn’t need more than an E-tool to dig with; the one with the built in pick is good but the WWII shovel and pick that were issued to jeep drivers is even better. You’re also going to need a tarp of some sort to store the dirt that gets removed from the hole.
When digging the hole you need to keep going until the hole is far enough to put the top of your cache below three feet. This is the minimum distance needed to protect your cache from frost heave and possible freeze damage. The hole also needs to be about four to six inches wider and deeper than the container, this is to allow enough space for bedding material; a fine grade of gravel is best. That way you’ve allowed some space for drainage around your cache and eliminated a possible source of pressure damage. Pressure damage is caused by the soil compacting around the cache and generally causes either the casing to crack or the lid to be shifted off the top of your container.  

While digging the hole you also need to carefully watch the sides and bottom for any sign that you’ve dug below the level of the water table; this will likely be water seeping in from the sides or accumulating in the bottom of the hole. If your cache is placed below the water table it can eventually be forced to the surface by hydraulic pressure and/or soil liquification caused by the saturation of the ground over top of the cache. If the ground gets sufficiently saturated it gets soft, and when the ground gets soft enough an air filled object can make its way to the surface.

So now, you have your hole and it looks pretty dry, now what?
You begin by putting about four inches of that fine gravel (yep, you’ll likely have to buy some and bring it in with you) into the bottom of the hole. Then you put the cache into the hole giving it a few twists to help bed it down into the gravel. As you fill in the area around the cache give it a few more twists from time to time to make certain you haven’t forced it too far up inside the hole. As soon as you get the area around the sides filled to the level of the top of the container you need to stop and measure the depth. It is critical that the top of the container be kept more than three feet under the ground. After you’ve checked that it’s time to put that final layer of gravel on top of your cache. Next you put a layer of broken branches over that and last, you put the dirt in that you’ve stored off to the side as you dug the hole. The branches serve two purposes, they occupy some of the air space that was created naturally when the dirt settled into the place that it had formerly filled, and it tends to discourage animals from digging down to your cache. If there’s a scent of food there (you; your packaging and your cache should have been as clean as possible during the assembly process) a bear might be tempted to keep at it; especially during the spring, but most other animals will give it up when they encounter the branches.
             The last thing you’ll do and this will depend on the time of year, is to finalize your camouflage of your cache. Pile some stones from the local area on top of the cache. Transplant some of the plants around the area to the top of your cache but you’ll need to make sure they’re plants that will actually grow where you put them. The idea is to have the cache site blend in with the rest of the area while still making it slightly different enough to help you pick it out.
            Why will you have to pick it out?
            Why can’t you just use a GPS and mark it as a waypoint?
            Let me tell you about the GPS unit that a lot of people like to depend on, it’s electronic, and it’s built to utilize a GEOLOCATION SYSTEM USED AND OPERATED BY THE UNITED STATES MILITARY. If it’s electronic it can eventually be compromised and the contents known. If it depends on ANY system operated by the USG, it will have a tag and the tag can be backtracked to a particular unit with the network probably still holding the last hundred or so (at least) waypoints that the unit checked in on.
            Still have your doubts?
            Still think your GPS unit is untrackable?

Here’s a couple of little morsels from the Multiservice Procedures for Survival, Evasion, and Recovery … U.S. Army FM 21-76-1 … June 1999

Page ii/Section 5/Line (c) – “Use of communications and signaling devices may compromise position.”

Page II-7/Section (1)/Line (b) – “Use GPS to confirm your position ONLY.”

Page III-1/Chapter 3/Section (f)/Line (5) – “Keep transmissions short (3-5 seconds maximum). Use data burst if available.

             I didn’t think so either
             Signals and electronics can be compromised and tracked, period, end of subject.
             We move on …

What you’ll need to do is to learn the fine art of following a terrain map, acquiring your position by pace counting and LOP (Line of Position approximation) and flat out horse sense. There are any number of places where you can learn orienteering (no, it isn’t some sissy sport for yuppies … it’s actually a pretty hard corps set of military skills) such as local colleges, park services and orienteering clubs. Give it a go; it’s really not as difficult as some people like to make it sound. For those people who enjoy the self taught route I’d recommend that you try Be Expert with Map and Compass: The Complete Orienteering Handbook by Bjorn Kjellstrom. This book is considered by many to be one of the best orienteering books out there and Mr. Kjellstrom has updated it a couple of times; I believe the most recent was 2009.  

So … once you have the position of your cache you’ll mark it on your topographic map and keep any ancillary notes about the cache in a 3x5 notebook. I mention a specific size because that’s the size that most map cases have a pocket for, and you’ll want a mapcase to keep the map and notebook in good condition. Do not make any more copies of the map and your notes than there are people whom you trust with the information. Remember, it’s not just your supplies you’re trusting the person with, it’s the lives of your family.
            Looking back over this article one last time, I don’t believe I’ve left anything out but feel free to message me if you think I have, I’ll be happy to look over any constructive criticism and add it if I feel it’s necessary, or slam it if I think you’re just another troll.
           So, until my next posting, keep your steel sharp and your powder dry ….. Storm

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