Bugout bags are a popular topic, and the content lists are long and varied, sometimes reading like a LRRP combat loadout. However, they have a couple of obvious problems, including that you have to carry it and keep it handy.
It takes a good degree of conditioning to carry a load any distance and a great degree of determination to do so while injured or frightened. Additionally, (unless your kit looks like a baby carrier and diaper bag), your chance of hitching a ride plummets the larger your bag appears to be. Any situation that requires a bugout bag automatically makes the holder a target to both criminals and authorities, and it would be a shame to surrender all those neat things at a check point, after carrying them so far.
Keeping a bugout bag within arms reach at all times is, for all intent and purposes, an impossibility. Employers seem to delight in decorating each employee with their own cattle tag and neck strap, but they frown on them wearing tactical bags on the job; yet, if it’s not on you you don’t control it. Having it in your trunk or locker is out of the question, if you just got a “Get Out Now” or “Shelter In Place” order, which is SOP these days.
This brings us to the use of caches. One can make best time over distance unencumbered, and running, crawling, or climbing is much easier. The simplest cache is buried. The largest, easily-buried cache is an igloo-type, plastic ice chest. I have found that buried with six inches of soil over the top, it can be driven over without damage. While PVC pipes with screw tops are popular, they can be difficult to re-locate, and they take a long time to place, comparatively speaking. A semi-buried cache might be an extra field tile drain next to a real one or two along side a field’s ditch. A tree stump placed among a few others is easily overlooked. One of the roots is used as leverage to raise and access the cache. Another would be the uphill side of a road culvert. They are sized twice the max storm flow, and a box epoxied or magnetized to the top of the inside is unlikely to be discovered, as road crews generally just look to see daylight out the other end, and humans rarely look up. Avoid the tubes that are silted; they are generally used as animal dens and critter crossings, which is why they are a favorite location to place animal traps.
Above ground caches are smaller, but you don’t have to disturb the ground to recover one. Let’s look at road signs. Nearly every sign in America is mounted on a U-shaped metal post, and there is a space between the sign and post. There’s enough room to hold a water filter and milk bottle bags to store water in, or food, a rain poncho, emergency bivy/space blanket, or what have you. Just avoid signs that are stolen, knocked down, or vandalized regularly, and there you go. Pull out the bottom bolt you loosened when you placed your cache, and no one is the wiser. Telephone pedestals are so common that no one notices them. Make a few replicas out of rain gutter or square PVC fence posts, paint them gray, add some stick-on numbers, and plant along a fence row next to a post. I’ve had three in the ground for over five years without discovery. Rural Water District vents and shutoff valves are usually found under a large white PVC tube with a flat black cap poking a foot or so out of the ground. One or two in line with but ½ mile or so from the actual water line won’t attract attention, when placed in a fence line where a mower won’t hit it. Closer to home, an extra PVC inspection tube for a septic tank infiltrator field won’t get any curious visitors, and it’s a better place to keep a spare key than that plastic rock or under the flower pot by your back door. Natural gas line markers are sealed, round topped, hollow fiberglass tubes that are buried only a foot in the ground, usually around five feet on both sides of the line in this part of the country, located on field boundaries and creek crossings. A friend came across a damaged buried electric service box in salvage. With a bit of repair and paint, this weather tight, cast aluminum box now sits along an alley in a housing development, and I noticed someone planted flowers around it. If you get one, change the lock; they all seem to be keyed alike. Have an easily climbed tree on your route? Cut a hatch in a basketball and make a fake squirrel’s nest or birdhouse with a painted on door. I’m co-owner of a little boat dock that now has a section of the dock that lifts up, revealing a plastic float, the top of which has been modified to open up like a chest. You can’t believe all the stuff that can be crammed in it. Railroad employees are notorious for tossing their trash and removed service equipment in the ditches along the track, rather than haul it back to the yard. Near me, a cement pedestal near a grain elevator that once held a signal control box, now has the cast iron box remounted (it was in the ditch), and the new key for the lock is hidden inside the weather cap.
Distance and Content
I hope I’ve given you a few possibilities and ideas that will safely see you home. Now, we shall cover distance and content and the reasoning behind my suggestions.
Each cache should be less than half a day’s walk apart, along the route to your home. Less is better. First, you have to determine if it’s safe to approach the cache. Second, if it is empty or circumstances make it too hazardous to open, you still have the time and the option to head for the next one safely.
Your first cache should be no more than one hour’s walk away. It should be long on water and nondescript warm clothing. An N95 mask would not be out of place if you are at risk to an NBC hazard, and they really mess with the facial recognition wonks. A vacuum sealer reduces clothing to a minimum package size and protects them from the elements. Plastic water bottles completely frozen will swell but rarely leak, and they’ll thaw out inside your clothing after a few hours of hiking, or you cut the plastic off the frozen ice chunk and melt it in a pan or chips in your mouth. Do include gloves and ear warmers. Frozen ears are no fun, and gloves, not only for protection and warmth, reduce physical identifiers, such as fingerprints and DNA.
Your next cache should contain spare communications, food, and cook kit as well as a tracfone purchased for cash in another zip code and a match box-sized backup charger for it, as they cost little. Charge the battery and remove it, and it will stay charged for almost a year. Don’t install the minutes card number or activate the phone until needed. A call to your home’s answering machine with a “Honey, I picked up a pizza and a movie and will be home by six”, or whatever your prearranged code for exfiltration by foot happens to be, isn’t going to alarm the local doorkickers monitoring their Stingray, and it informs anyone at your home of your status and location. A two meter Ham HT can be bought at throw-away prices, and if anything will be working in an emergency you can count on Ham radio. Carry it on a strap across your chest, along with a fluorescent vest, hard hat, and maybe a tool belt, and you disappear by standing out. Few would question the presence of a service worker on foot in a utility easement, and you are forgotten within minutes. Joe Surplus, who on the other hand is camo’ed, backpacked, and packing heat, is going to be reported every time he’s spotted or barked at. Don’t be that guy. Always assume you are being observed.
Your overnight cache contains your bedding, shelter, and toiletries. Handy wipes are a waste of space. Instead, fill a little spray bottle with water. A couple of ounces of water are enough for a pretty good bath, and three more will wash and rinse your hair. Funny thing about human nature is that no matter what harrowing experience they survived, the first thing a victim worries about after the danger is over is a self-conscious concern about their appearance. You are a fleeing refuge, but it is vital for your mental fortitude not to look like one. Like many hard core campers, I favor liquid dish washing soap for cleaning anything. A couple of drops is all it takes. Include a small nail brush. Nothing beats down for weight and warmth. Even in the dead of summer, a 20+ drop in nighttime temperature will make you miserable without shelter from cold, dew, or precipitation. I find a sleeping pad, down Stealth quilt from Jacks ‘r Better, and an inexpensive bivy or nylon tarp to be about the smallest, lightest, and best ultralight sleep system going. The quilt has the added benefit of having a velcro sealed head hole in the center, so that it can be worn as a down poncho. It all packs down to about a two-liter bottle in size. You can easily cook in just one pan, but a second, for beverages and washing, is quite a blessing. A hot drink in the morning predates recorded human history, and for that you need tea. Coffee is bulky, bitterly unpleasant if not carefully prepared, and nasty if instant. Stick to the drink of real outdoorsmen and the Tea Party, and leave the coffee addiction to the poofs in the city where it belongs. Crackers will keep fresh for decades, if vacuum packed in a glass jar.
I recommend caching twice the meals you need. First, food tastes better outdoors, and you are burning lots of calories. Second, you may have to skip a cache on your journey. Third, you may not be traveling alone. Last, you may need your cache to return, to recover tools, belongings, or supplies at a later date.
Finally, the old saying about keeping a secret remains true. Disclosing the location of your caches to anyone may mean you are the one that ends up dead. Someone that has a need to know, should never be told about half of them. You should never place one with your smart phone in your pocket, geocache mark it on a map or device, or place it while driving your on-star or GPS-enabled personal or company vehicle. Leave nothing that identifies you, including prints, hair, bodily fluids, or items you have worn or used. Everything to fill a cache is available for a few dollars at any big box store, and with the popularity of the Engel and Yeti coolers, an old igloo chest is a buck or two at flea markets and garage sales.
Now, get out there, and cache like your life depends on it. It just might.