Building out a Cache in a 5-gallon Pail

Hardy, waterproof work boots are a prepper's friend.
Digging a hole to burry a couple of five-gallon pails in rocky, root-filled terrain isn't going to be easy.

Now that my original ammo can caches are in place (no easy chore), I’ve begun assembling another cache. This one will be in a 5-gallon bucket and I will bury it in a new location. Actually, my list of gear is so long, it may have to be in two buckets. I’m not looking forward to digging that hole.

My prior caches focused on ammo resupply with some calorie-dense food and first aid supplies. The idea of those is much like my homestead defense bag, meaning if I have been chased out of my house, I can use the caches to resupply and keep my caloric intake up for a few days while I monitor and harass whomever has taken over our house. I set the caches up for 5.56 and .300 Blackout.

This new cache is different. It will be further away and designed to give me everything I need to camp out for several days. This will include a sleep system, adverse weather gear, a water purification and storage system, meal prep, and hygienic items. Let’s look at these categories one at a time.

Sleep System

I like Dave Canterbury’s idea of a three-piece sleep system: something to sleep in, like a bivvy sack; something to sleep under, like a tarp or poncho; and something to sleep on, which can be a ground cloth, but is better if it provides some insulation from the cold ground.

To sleep under, tarps are the obvious answer, plus a ridge line, tie downs, and some stakes. The other two are more of a challenge. I own a tent, but’s its move of a campground tent and is not at all low-profile. I would set it up in my yard if the house was unlivable, but it’s not the type of thing you would set up in the woods if you were trying to stay hidden.

Other than another tarp, I have nothing to sleep on except my shooting mats and my wife’s yoga mat, and they are all too large to fit into the bucket. I may have to settle for something inflatable or pile up leaves or pine tree boughs. I am also considering a hammock, which may alleviate the need for ground cloth, at least in warmer weather.

For sleeping in, I am thinking of a woobie and a wool blanket. We have sleeping bags, but I will reserve them for cold weather. One, they will take a substantial amount of space in the bucket, and two, I prefer to save them for use at home in an emergency. I have looked at bivvy sacks and most of them are so cheap as to be almost disposable, or so expensive you might as well buy a three-piece milsurp sleep system.

Adverse Weather Gear

We get so much rain, this has to include a poncho, preferably in woodland camo. I am also thinking of stashing my old, worn but useable lined hoodie in here. That thing is warm and I have a newer one. Then we are down to warm socks, knit cap, gloves, etc. I don’t think I am going to include any thermal underwear. Perhaps I will add a windproof jacket. I have one of those lightweight windbreakers that folds into its own pocket in my vehicle emergency kit. Something like that might be useful as a layer over the hoodie.

Because this area is mountainous and has lots of rocks, it’s easy to find what locals call “camping rocks.” These are big boulders or pieces of bedrock that stick out of the ground at an angle, creating an overhang. Underneath the overhang is a dry spot. As long as a wild animal is not denned up in there, these will provide some natural protection against adverse weather. They also make a good spot to build a fire in front of, assuming we aren’t worried about being seen.

Water Management

When all you need to water to drink, then a sports bottle water purifier that purifies water when you suck it through the straw is sufficient in an area with lots of creeks and streams. When you are in a base camp, rehydrating freeze dried meals or cooking rice, then you need water storage and a way to carry water.

I like the two-quart military canteens that are squishable and pack down when empty. They are durable and used to be inexpensive. I think I will also get a 32-ounce Nalgene or similar water bottle, ideally with a metal camping pot that it will nest in.

For filtration, I considered a water pump or a small gravity-fed or siphon system. Because the gravity fed systems need multiple containers, I will opt for a pump like the Katadyn Hiker.

I would not hesitate to drink from the local water sources in our mountains if I didn’t have a purification option. After all, this is a wilderness area and our normal drinking water comes from a mountain spring. But filtering will ensure no contamination or other problems.

Meal Prep

Heating or cooking food requires a heat source, and unless we need a fire to keep alive in the cold, I’d like to keep the fire as small as possible. This means digging a hole and lighting the fire at the bottom, and keeping it small to minimize smoke.

Even though this cache will be about three miles from the house in hundreds of acres of undeveloped wilderness, we’d have to be careful. The smell of cooking and smoke can carry. If they have patrols, that could draw them to us. So we are we’re talking heating and eating as quickly as possible with no elaborate meals. Maybe we meal prep somewhere that is not our campsite to minimize the chance of discovery. Maybe one person cooks while others stand overwatch or sets up an ambush. Or maybe we’ll eat cold beans from the can and the extent of our cooking will be to heat water and pour it on oatmeal or into a Mountain House pouch.

I think just talked myself into adding MREs with heaters to the bucket.

Hygiene and Sanitation

Although there are more important things to worry about if we are in a fighting retreat as we withdraw into the mountains, after a few days we will need to worry about hygiene. This is best done before we start to develop mold, chafe, smell too strongly, or develop other problems in hot spots. We also have to think about rinsing socks and underwear.

The streams provide sufficient water to bathe, but there is also value in what I call “Man Wipes,” large, pre-moistened towelettes. Actual towels for drying yourself off when it is cold are also nice. I have some microfiber towels which absorb a great deal of moisture for their size.

Going to the bathroom, disposing of toilet paper, and controlling litter also become issues that will need to be addressed.

Final Question: Should I Bury Guns?

I am in the position where I could bury a gun or two—maybe an old AR with a carry handle and an outdated pistol—and not miss them. After all, it is the shooter, not the gun, that makes the difference. Besides, even an outdated weapon would be better than nothing.

But what are the odds that I would be on the run without a gun? I would only need the gun if they forced me out of the house without one. Since I carry, that would be unlikely. Plus, in a post-SHTF scenario, I expect we’ll all be carrying long guns or having them within arm’s reach at all times.

The scenario I imagine is several of us are trying to fight off an assault, only to be driven off by superior forces. Our plan would be to fade into the mountains and either hide or use our knowledge of the geography to strike like guerrillas, taking out their sentries or ambushing their patrols. Granted, those may be the dreams of a LARPer, but it is better than surrendering.

My chief concern with burying a gun is security. There is some liability issues associated with guns in my name that are not in my control if it is found by someone else. After all, if I am exploring this forest, who is to say that someone else, even the absentee owner, does not also do so from time to time? What if they log the property one day? Do I have to run up there in the middle of the night and rescue my guns and bucket?

I am tempted. Maybe I will leave the bucket there for some months, check back, and if it isn’t disturbed, I can re-evaluate burying a gun. And some more ammo.

Last Minute Caching

After the SHTF and we know how many people are using our home as a retreat, we can re-evaluate the fallback location and how to cache enough supplies for more people. The nature of the emergency may give us a better idea of what we will need.

For example, infants and toddlers are going to be a challenge if we expect to remain hidden. If 12 people have to make a camp in the woods, a single water pump will not be sufficient, nor will the food last. It’s also unlikely we’ll all fit under the same camping rock. We may have to make alternate plans and expand our caches . Maybe our current caches, which are one or two ammo cans, will then serve as ammo resupply points for patrols. For now, I’m going to prep caches for two to four people. We’ll worry abut more when they get here.