Like many of you, I consider having buried caches a critical part of being prepared. However, I don’t have the land or finances necessary to bury multiple 55-gallon drums full of food, guns, and ammo miles from my house, and in a time-sensitive situation spending an hour or two digging up a huge cache may not be possible. I’m not saying that larger caches are a bad idea (I have a few spread around), but like all of my other preparations, having a multi-layered approach makes the most sense for me. I live in a rural-suburban area, with 1-2 acre lots, and lots of woods and lakes within a few miles of my house. I plan on bugging-in and have taken steps to enhance the security of my house and land in a disaster scenario, but I also want to be prepared in case I’m forced out of my house post-SHTF by fire, natural disasters, overwhelming attackers, et cetera and need to evac the immediate area quickly. I even acquired and installed the components to set up a zip line from a second story window out to the woods behind my house so we can evacuate quickly and quietly if we have to!
My goals for this cache are to have supplies that a) I can access at a safe distance from my house in five minutes or less under almost any conditions, with the countdown starting the moment I leave my house, b) be easily transportable as carried by myself and/or one other person for a distance of up to one mile through wooded terrain, and c) have enough supplies to allow us to get by for 1-2 weeks under primitive conditions.
I wanted something that was rugged, waterproof, and relatively easy to carry if I had to grab it and run. I considered metal ammo cans, but I was concerned about the ability of larger ones to withstand lateral pressure without bending/unsealing and possibly rusting. I also looked at large-diameter PVC pipes, but they’re hard to find and expensive where I live. I settled on some military surplus 25mm plastic ammo cans; they’re incredibly strong and waterproof, and they have carry handles built-in. You can usually find them at your local military surplus store or on the web for around $25 each. This place  currently has them for $40 for two, including shipping. I used two for my cache, since I figured that’s what I could easily carry for a reasonable distance if I had to move quickly to evac the immediate area. Even though they had waterproof rubber seals I added a bead of exterior-grade silicone sealant around the lip before sealing them. Obviously the size of what you decide to cache is going to drive what you use for a container and how many of them you’ll need.
One note: The 25mm plastic cans have nylon carrying handles, which will probably degrade over time. So, I included some nylon/Velcro carrying straps on top of everything else inside each can. That way I can quickly pull them out and replace the failed straps if I have to. If the situation’s too hot for even that, I can still carry the cans under my arms for a short distance.
One nice thing about the ammo cans I chose is that you really don’t even have to bury them if you don’t want to; they’re completely waterproof and super strong, and they can stand up to long-term exposure to the elements. You could hide them in some thick bushes, under a brush pile, or in a hollow tree. Just make sure they’re still hidden in the winter when the leaves are gone! The down side of having them above ground is that you won’t get the advantage of temperature leveling that you’d have by burying them, so the items may be more subject to temperature swings and condensation. I decided to bury mine shallowly on the side of a 20’ tall dirt ridge about 75’ into the woods behind my house. (It’s still on my property but out of sight of the house.) The ridge has bushes and some trees growing on it, so I selected a reasonably open spot about half way up and buried the boxes about 12” down. We have a 3’ frost line in the winter, so I didn’t want to bury them on flat ground and have to break through a lot of frozen ground to get to them. Once a month or so I go check on them by sticking a thin rod into the ground to make sure they haven’t shifted. (This also helps me remember where they are.) I also practice navigating to the location at night and in bad weather so I’m comfortable I can find them in an emergency under any conditions. Keep the path to your cache clear of twigs and other things that can make noise or trip you up if you’re trying to get there surreptitiously at night. The goal is to have them in a location where you can get to them quickly, even under bad conditions. I experimented last winter after several weeks of freezing temperatures and snow to make sure I could easily dig down one foot in my selected location using just a branch I picked up to dig with. Note that by burying them up on the side of a ridge, I don’t have to worry about a rising water table floating the cans out of the ground.
For the contents I’m assuming that we’ll get out of the house with nothing but the clothes on our backs and whatever is in our hands/pockets. (There’s a good argument for always having clothes and an EDC on/near you, even when sleeping.) I followed the standard disaster planning categories for what I selected– defense, first aid, shelter, water & food, plus what I call “utility”. The insides of the 25mm plastic ammo cans have a little over ½ cu. ft. of space, which is actually quite a lot if you’re careful. I stored items that are more subject to degradation inside vacuum-sealed Mylar bags  with moisture  or oxygen absorbers  as appropriate.
For defense I chose a Polymer 80 Glock 17 clone that I built about a year ago. I put several hundred rounds through it at the range to make sure everything worked smoothly, then thoroughly cleaned it, and stored it inside a ZCORR anti-corrosion bag , along with two magazines. I included a decent nylon holster (since I didn’t want to have to ghetto-carry it in my waistband), a small cleaning kit, and a small tool kit. The last two probably aren’t critical for short-term use, but they’re both really small so I figured, “Why not?”. I also packed 200 rounds of 9MM JHP in plastic cases, sealed with silicone sealing tape .
For first aid I included a basic homemade first aid kit, an Adventure Medical Kits Professional Trauma Pak Kit with QuikClot , a couple of Israeli bandages , several pairs of nitrile gloves  and some extra odds and ends. I think the first aid items that most people tend to understock for disaster situations are anti-diarrheals  and pain relievers like Ibuprofen  (or as my Army dad used to call them, “light infantry candy”. So, I packed a bunch of extras of both inside Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers. I’ll probably need to rotate the meds every few years.
For shelter I stocked a Yukon Outfitters Walkabout Rainfly 9’ x 11’ tarp , a two-person SOL survival blanket , a couple more inexpensive Mylar survival blankets , 100’ of paracord , and a bunch of reusable zip ties . With the tools discussed below, I’ll be able to handle setting up a quick and efficient shelter.
I’m actually pretty lucky in terms of water. I live next to a decent sized lake, and there are four other large lakes and a river within three miles of my location. Obviously, I’ll still need to filter it, so I added a Sawyer Mini filter , 100 Oasis water purification tablets , and a couple of soft folding 1-liter water bottles . I also threw in one of the straw-type Survivor Filters , which is small and allows you to get a quick drink from a water source without having to take the time to fill and filter a larger container. It also has a carbon element, which can handle VOCs.
Food is a little bit tougher, since it tends to be a lot bulkier. I compromised by storing a couple of Datrex 2400 calorie survival “bricks ” for quick meals and then some kits for obtaining food in the wild, such as a Vigilant Trails Pocket / Survival Fishing Kit . (Once again, we have many lakes and rivers close by.) I also included a copy of the “Edible Plants of the Eastern Woodlands” folding guide  (because no matter how much I practice I still can’t remember all of the plants), a couple of slingshot bands , and a homemade snare kit. For cooking, I have a 500ml titanium cup , an Esbit folding pocket stove , several feet of folded aluminum foil, ferrocerium rods , a waterproof plastic container with a bunch of strike anywhere matches  (coated in wax), a pocket Fresnel lens , and an assortment of tinder (cotton balls in petroleum jelly, cotton pads covered in wax, magnesium rod , et cetera). As much as I’d like to include a lighter, I’m not sure how many years it would last. I also tossed in two plastic sporks .
This includes all of my tools and other bits that help me accomplish various tasks. These include the following:
- Knives – I have a large fixed-blade Becker BK3 Tac Tool , which isn’t really a traditional knife, but I got it as a gift and don’t use it a lot so I included it in the kit. I figured that the pry blade might come in useful, since there are a number of light industry/warehouse buildings within a few miles we can seek cover in, and it actually does a nice job for light chopping and digging. If you don’t want to bury an expensive knife for years but still want something large and hefty, you can include something like an MTech MT-086 , which you can get for around $15. I also included two decent folding knives and a small pocket knife sharpener.
- Multitool – A spare Gerber Suspension  that I had laying around got thrown in. You could use one of the inexpensive ones you can find at Wally World or elsewhere.
- Light – I included a pair of single AA flashlights (a spare Fenix E12  I had and a cheap Chinese one), eight AA batteries sealed inside two plastic cases, a LuminAID PackLite Nova Solar Inflatable Lantern , and a couple of Cyalume light sticks . I chose single AA flashlights, since they’re small but provide adequate and long-lasting lighting, and AA batteries are probably going to be the easiest to find. Obviously you don’t want to store the flashlights with the batteries inside!
- Sawing – For this, I included a UST SaberCut pocket chainsaw .
- Transport – I chose a folding 35L Outlander backpack  to carry everything in once we’re in a secure location and can empty and unpack the ammo cans and one of those super compact nylon reusable shopping bags you can buy at the grocery store for some extra carrying capacity. I also included a bunch of Ziploc bags for dry storage of kindling, et cetera, and a 5’ length of nylon webbing  with a couple of slides. The nylon webbing is useful for rigging various carrying straps.
- Entry – A set of lock picks/shims/shove knife were included in case I need to gain entry to an empty building. I’m not planning on it, but you never know.
- Safety/Protection – Two pairs of leather gloves , a couple of fold-flat N95 masks, two pairs of safety goggles , and a couple of bandanas  were included.
- Navigation – A small compass and a folded topo map of my area were put in. I’m not planning on any long distance travel, but you never know.
- Repairs – I included a roll of 1” Gorilla tape , wire, and various types of thread and needles.
- Personal Care – For this, I included some small camp rolls of toilet paper, baking soda sealed in Mylar, some compressed EZ Towels , some BrushPick toothpicks , salt and pepper packets  sealed in Mylar. None of this is really critical, but it takes up almost no room and can easily fit into any gaps you have left over, plus it can make roughing it a lot more bearable, even if it’s only for a week or so.
With some careful packing all of this, it can fit into the two ammo cans with some leftover space. I filled the gaps with small odds and ends that might be useful, including some carabiners, plastic tarp clips, some of those Readyman survival cards  I had received as a gift , et cetera. Remember, the goal is to help me and mine quickly evac and then survive for a week or two until we can either return and recover our home, safely access our bigger caches near the house, or travel to our backup BOL (a friend’s house about 15 miles away). Note that I regularly practice with and/or use every single item in this kit, and a lot of them are duplicates of what I use when I go backcountry camping, so I’m comfortable with all of it. I also do a lot of walking/hiking in the woods in our area and have identified several temporary “bug out” locations that are well-hidden, easily protected, and have good access to water.
What you choose to store in your cache and carry kit and where you choose to store it will obviously depend a lot on your location and situation. If your attitude is “I’ll die defending my property” then this obviously isn’t for you, but if you want to add another layer of survivability to your preps, then it might be worth considering.