Be honest. How long could you last on your own out there in the backcountry? No supermarkets, no fast food chains. Just you and a thousand grid squares. Chances are, not much more than a month. But there is a way to stretch this out by caching some survival supplies. Here’s what you should know about caching in remote areas.
When it comes to caching, now’s the time to get started, before the stinking stuff hits the fan. It’s all very well rushing about trying to put some sort of survival act together after the crunch comes, but by then it may be too late. Assuming you’ve already decided which piece of terrain you’ll claim as your own when the world turns apart, you’re still faced with the problem of staying alive.
Naturally, a large part of the answer is ensuring a continuing supply of essential stores, most of which won’t otherwise be available or reliable in remote areas. What you need is extra insurance: your own private stockpiles, hidden away at predetermined sites. Stores supplies, survival items, call them what you like. Most often they’re referred to as “caches.” Sound simple enough? Perhaps there’s more to it than one might at first think.
Know Your Area of Operation before caching
The first job you have is getting to know the terrain you’ve chosen, your Area of Operations (AO). And that means really know it: hills and valleys, rivers, roads and tracks, even the weather patterns. Everything there is to know about your region.
Sure, that will take time. Maybe even a year or two, but the advantage you’ll gain over potential opponents will pay off enormously. If you don’t already know the area reasonably well, start by studying a few topography maps. Get the general lay of the land firm in your mind. Where’s the highest ground? Which way do the streams flow? Tracks? Roads? Any other man-made features?
For a piece of real estate say 25 miles by 25 miles, the minimum AO recommended, this shouldn’t be too difficult. At the same time, get out there as often as you can. A 4×4 or an ATV are Ideal during these early days. Even more, you will have the chance to test if these vehicles can become your trusty bug out vehicles if needed.
Get to know the main roads, the minor roads, the tracks and finally, the more obscure trails. Study natural features such as vegetation and soil patterns. The lot where you will survive when forced to evacuate. That also includes “civilian” activity: popular campsites, fishing spots, weekenders, logging or mining operations, that sort of thing.
Related reading: Know Your Region Before Disaster Strikes
Gradually you’ll need to become Independent of your motor vehicle. Start backpacking since it’s the only way to see your AO in detail, particularly the areas not serviced by roads or tracks. Of course, map and compass are a must at this stage.
Some of the features you’ll need to record are obvious: campsites, water-points, natural hides, terrain varieties, “civilian” movements, etc. But write down the coordinates of the not-so-obvious areas also: possible observation positions (OP), dead ground, obstacles, and even possible helicopter landing zones.
After a few weekends on the ground, you’ll really start to feel at home, so eventually, you should carefully dispose of any notes you’ve made or hide them where no one could find them.
Start using and developing your memory and instincts if you want to dominate your AO. Maybe even travel without relying on a map or compass. But take them along just in case!
Here are two more Invaluable aids before caching:
1. Make a detailed, fairly accurate 3-D model of your AO (in sand or mud). Ideally, it should be about 6 feet square and show the high country, rivers, tracks, etc., all in relative scale. Models like this are the best way known to imprint the AO on your brain.
2. Try to arrange an aerial recon over your AO, by chopper If possible or even better use a drone (much cheaper). You’ll see all sorts of things you missed on the ground. However, for maximum value, don’t do this until you know the area well so you can quickly relate to landmarks as you pass overhead.
Finally, one thing to keep in mind right from day one: security. It’s most likely that somewhere out there you’ll come across “civilians.” So what? Sure, it’s best to avoid them, but if you can’t, just act normal. Dress, talk and act like the person you’re supposed to be (hunter, prospector, naturalist – whatever).
Whatever you do, don’t act suspicious or act weird. Keep it low-key and casual. People are quick to remember the strange or unusual. Besides, you can often pick their brains for local knowledge, like where they spend their time or other handy info.
It’s your AO, so get to know it as intimately as possible. It’s far better to know 500 square miles well than have a passing acquaintance with 1,000 square miles. Become part of your territory, then become reasonably familiar with a 10-mile “buffer zone” all around—just as a bonus
By now the purpose of all this homework on your AO should be obvious. If you want to establish a cache of vital supplies, you’ll need to be very careful where you plant it. You don’t want to come back 6 months later to find a bunch of teenagers camped on top of it.
But by this time you’ll know that piece of country better than any man alive, so the selection of cache sites should not be a problem. And at the outset, you’ll need at least six caching points: three primary sites and three alternatives.
It’s the old hunter’s principle of hedging bets: if one cache is good insurance, three must be better. Also, think of it this way, if each cache will sustain you for say 30 days or more, that’s at least three months you can continue to operate.
First up, before you determine the exact location of your cache sites, you will need to look for reference points. These should be— to you—easily recognizable natural features in remote corners of your AO, and well away from any base camp or retreat you may have established.
Huge trees or rocks, creek junctions: anything that will still be there a year or two later will be suitable And if you’re working in snow country, choose reference points that you can still find when there are 3 feet of snow all over or when its dark.
All you have so far is a reference point (not a cache site). If you really have to, write down the coordinates, but don’t mark your map. Eventually, you have to memorize these locations without the need for map or compass.
Next step: from the reference point, the caching site is plotted using your own standard formula. For example 30 paces due north, then 50 paces due east. Use two or three unchangeable legs to pinpoint the site where your cache will be planted. Then, when you’re standing at that spot decide if the position is suitable. If it’s not, find another reference point and start over. Do not vary your siting formula.
In deciding on the suitability of a site, you’ll need to consider things such as drainage, natural cover, soil type, if burying is necessary, and the presence of any nearby “attractions” such as campsites, hollow logs or mine shafts that could eventually lead to compromise of the cache. But do this assessment and make your decision quickly.
Don’t spend too much time crashing about in an area that may soon be hiding 30 days of your life! If the site looks good and there’s no problem finding the reference point again later, get out of the area. So for each cache, you’re planning, you’ll need to go through the same procedure.
This usually means at least six times before you actually plant your caches. That way you can plant your first, followed a month or two later by the second, then later again, number three, and so on. By the time the third is in position, the first will most likely have been out four or five months. This depending on the contents might be time to retrieve it and check it out for deterioration.
After the first cache has been checked/replenished/repaired, out, It goes again to the first of your alternative sites. This is important: no site should ever be used more than once.
That’s the drill. A cache goes out until the contents are at the limit of their storage life. It’s then retrieved for examination and finally replanted at a new site for another stretch. It’s a continuous process: site selection, planting, retrieval, checking and replanting.
Movement and Security when caching
The need for security during all phases of a cache program cannot be overstated, but during the early stages when there’s no operational pressure, security is often overlooked. And it’s your own movement through the AO that presents the main problem.
Always assume that you’re being observed. Stay within that narrow interface between caution and carefree so you can get about without raising suspicions or unnecessary attention. Obviously the two most critical stages are planting the cache and the pickup some months later.
When planting, move beyond and around the site in a broad “clearing patrol” action before making the drop. Then after circling back to the site, make the plant and extract yourself as rapidly, but cautiously, as possible.
Similarly, when moving in for a pickup, clear the area first in a wide “fish hook” sweep. Avoid walking directly toward the site if there’s high ground overlooking, clear that first (it might even make a handy OP to watch for “intruders” before moving in.) After pickup, move out quickly by the shortest possible route.
If additional security is needed during the final stages of planting or pick-up, a camo tarp can be quickly slipped on over your usual civilian clothing.
Suggested reading: A Few Considerations Before Bugging Out Into The Woods
An added precaution: develop some small, definite trigger to clearly indicate whether the cache has been tampered with. For example, in the type of cache to be described farther along in this article, a small stick, firmly lodged under the outer cover gives an immediate indication of compromise. If that’s the case, grab it and run! You’ve gone that far; you might as well take the goodies.
Of course, if the cache is gone, get out fast. Don’t start scratching about for it. That just makes it obvious who the owner is.
In terrain where there’s insufficient undergrowth, burying the cache may be the only alternative. This means more time at the site with an increased chance of compromise. You might have to plant at night. Whatever method you choose to hide the cache, plan in advance, even rehearse, to minimize the time at the site.
In all your movements, think security: avoid patterns or predictability in your routine, make stops at irregular times, keep off tracks and roads and don’t take the “easy path” all the time. Above all, leave no sign of your passing.
Well, just what sort of things are you going to store in your cache? The secret is remembering the primary aim of any cache program: to replenish supplies essential to sustain life and thus allow continuation of operations.
This raises another question: what is “essential to sustain life?” The three basics: water, food and shelter. What your AO can’t provide in sufficient quantity, your cache must. Caching should be mainly considered for essential survival items.
Obviously, beyond the essentials, there are a few “desirables” to consider. These are items which provide warmth, self-preservation and protection.
Let’s look at some examples for caching:
- Water: water (difficult to store), water purifiers and water gathering items (tarp, collapsible containers, etc.)
- Food: Basic meals (freeze-dried, dehydrated or canned), meal supplements (soup, rice, macaroni, flour, salt, sugar, coffee, tea, biscuits, fruit, vegetables)
- Food procuring items: fishing line and hooks, snares, etc.
- Shelter: Basic shelter (e.g., poncho or space blanket), twine/rope.
- Warmth: Matches, fire starters, solid fuel, candles. Self
- Preservation: Hygiene kit (soap, toothbrush, toilet paper), first aid kit (pocket size), survival kit (pocket size), multi-vitamins, spare socks and underwear (one set).
- Protection: Ammunition, knife, backup gun, gun cleaning kit.
Whether you add any extras, such as clothing or footwear, it will depend on your own operational circumstances. Of course, how bulky your cache is, depends on how long you want it to extend your “operations” after pickup. One month is ideal. In fact, all one person needs for 30 days (or more) can be packed Into the average backpack. And that’s how it should be planted: in the pack.
By using a properly adjusted, protectively treated backpack (Army surplus Is ideal), pickups will take less than a minute or two, excepting buried caches. By going in carrying basic gear only, it’s simply a matter of grabbing the cache, removing any outer protection, followed by speedy extraction. And if someone stumbles across it, more than likely he’ll think it’s been left (or lost) by some back-packer off exploring or rock climbing.
Related article: Choosing Caching Containers To Make A Secret Stash
As for the food, freeze-dried stores longer and packs easier than most other types. Depending on the brand, you can expect at least 6 to 12 months of life, usually more. A bit of time in your supermarket or outdoor supply center will give you plenty to consider regarding different long-life foods.
But the hick is in testing items for yourself. Trial and error is your best guide to storage life, not the manufacturers’ claims. It’s not uncommon to find products still perfectly edible after twice the “recommended” storage period or putrid after less than half. The only way to find out is to cook and eat it yourself. Discard anything that smells, tastes or even looks compromised.
Cans and other metal components should be given a light coating of oil or even sealed in plastic, with all other items—waterproof or not —stored in plastic bags. Other storage methods to try are screw-top cans, garbage bags, jars and plastic containers of all types.
Build up a collection of them for testing during the early days of your program. Airtight seals can be achieved by taping, spray paint, adhesives or even the lowly rubber band. All this can be tested at home, long before your first cache goes out.
After it’s been out a few months check the cache and contents for deterioration. Repair, replace, repaint, replenish, whatever it needs. Get it ready, ASAP, to go out again. If things suddenly turn nasty, you don’t want to be caught with only two caches in the field.
One final consideration on caching
If your operations look as though they will extend beyond 12 months, plan for a one-off, long-life cache of non-perishables such as boots, clothing, hardware and other key items. Try to keep it to backpackable in size for easy extraction when the time comes.
To restate the rule: if you can live and operate without it, leave it out.
There you have it. You won’t get It together overnight. Caching needs planning, research, testing and practice and lots of hiking in the field. This all takes time, but how much do you have? Who knows? One thing’s sure, you can increase your chances out there if you establish—in advance—suitable caches of essential stores. After all, caching it’s your life insurance.