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Building a food stockpile is the definitive sign of a prepper. Most of us started out by buying some extra food, even before we considered ourselves preppers. When COVID hit, we at least had food to eat. Others, seeing the widespread shortages, joined our ranks, building a stockpile of food and, of course, toilet paper.
But I don’t care how big or how good your stockpile is—if it’s all at your home, then it could easily be destroyed, leaving you in the same situation as those who didn’t bother to prepare. That’s what happened when Paradise, California burned to the ground in 2018, as well as when Hurricane Harvey stalled over Houston, flooding large portions of the city.
Granted, the flooding may not have destroyed all their food, if it was packed properly for long-term storage; but once residents had to evacuate, they no longer had access to it. So you have to ask yourself: What would I do for food if my home is destroyed or I have to evacuate?
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In the US, more than three million adults have to evacuate their homes every year due to natural disasters. At least some of those people were preppers who probably couldn’t take all their food with them.
The solution is to store at least some of your food off-site. One location where you should have an alternate stockpile of food is your survival retreat. If you don’t have an actual retreat that you own, you should have some other destination.
But that’s assuming you can even get there. The road could be washed out by a flood, or traffic could be a total gridlock, forcing you to make your journey on foot. In that case, the food in your bug out bag could run out long before you get there.
The solution is to establish a number of small food caches located along your evacuation route and any alternatives to that route. These small caches can be buried just about anywhere, as long as others are unlikely to find them and you can still locate them. The real trick is to bury these mini caches in a way that the contents will be protected from water, rodents, and insects.
PVC Pipe Cache
One of the more common ways of making a cache involves using PVC pipe. PVC is waterproof, insect proof, and difficult for rodents to gnaw through. This pipe is readily available, inexpensive, and easy to work with. For the purpose of a mini cache, we want either 4” or 6” diameter pipe, the larger the better; but make sure it doesn’t have drain holes.
In addition to the pipe itself, you need caps for the two ends. Most people just use plain glue-on caps, which will seal the pipe just fine, but might make it difficult to get the food out. You’re better off installing a threaded cleanout connector at one end, then using a threaded cleanout plug to close it off. While PVC tends to stick together, making it hard to unthread that cap, it will still be easier than cutting the pipe to get to the contents.
PVC pipe is assembled using a special adhesive and primer, which contains methylene chloride, which acts as a solvent for many types of plastics. The parts are designed and manufactured for an interference fit, ensuring an airtight and moisture-proof connection, when properly assembled. This requires both the primer (often referred to as “purple primer”) and the adhesive.
When applied to the fitting and pipe, the solvent in the adhesive quickly softens the parts, which can then be pushed together, disturbing the outer surface of the plastic and allowing it to fuse together. Once connected, it is all but impossible to break the bond. More often than not, the plastic is broken, rather than the bond.
Another option is to install a flexible rubber cap over the end. These are held in place with a large hose clamp, so you’ll need to have a screwdriver or nut driver available to remove the cap, but if you have a multitool in your bug out bag, that should solve the problem.
The one thing to be aware of with this sort of cap is that the band clamp is usually only zinc coated, not stainless steel, so it will rust eventually. To keep your cache usable, you will probably need to dig it up every three years or so and replace this clamp.
Removing the Cleanout
As I just mentioned, the threads in the cleanout and coupling can stick together, making it hard to open the container. When at home, the solution to this is to use channel lock pliers, otherwise known as water pump pliers, to give you leverage for unthreading it.
However, I doubt you carry those in your bug out bag. As an alternative, tie a stick to the square protrusion, then tighten the cord, using another stick as a windlass. This will provide leverage for removing the threaded cap.
Plastic Bucket Cache
The other option for a waterproof, insect proof and rodent proof cache is using a five-gallon plastic bucket. These are commonly used by the prepping community anyway.
The only potential problem with using one for a cache is that the handle, which is often no more than a piece of galvanized steel wire, will likely rust through. That doesn’t stop the bucket’s utility as a cache, but can make it a bit harder to remove from the ground. Some buckets have plastic handles, eliminating this problem.
For the most part, the bigger concern with plastic buckets is the lid. Unless the bucket is cracked, it is moisture, insect, and rodent proof. However, the wrong choice of lid can negate that advantage, allowing the food stored in the bucket to be ruined.
In the photo above, we see three different lids. The top lid is not acceptable for a cache, as it doesn’t sit down far enough over the rim of the bucket to seal. Nor does it have a rubber seal inside, so it is not moisture or insect proof.
The middle lid is a standard bucket lid, as it comes from the factory, with the lock ring still intact. It contains a rubber seal, making it moisture and insect proof.
The bottom lid has a threaded removable insert, which can be removed to gain access and then easily reinstalled. These are great for your home stockpile, but not necessary for a buried cache, although they will work for it.
Notice the damaged part of that bottom lid, as indicated by the arrow. That damage was caused by a rat trying to gnaw through the lid. At the time, the bucket it was on was being used for storing dry dog food.
The threaded portion of the lid wasn’t properly tightened, allowing the rat to smell the food inside. Nevertheless, it was unable to gnaw through the lid sufficiently, so as to gain access to the food.
What to Put in a Mini Cache
The basic idea of your cache is to provide a means of restocking the food that is normally in your bug out bag. Therefore, you want to put the same type of food in your cache, what we could refer to as “homemade MREs.”
This is lightweight food that will include the three macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and protein), giving you the maximum energy, without a lot of weight. Avoid canned foods, sticking primarily to dried foods that you can rehydrate while cooking.
In addition to food, you may want to include a few other essentials in your cache, like toilet paper, a fire starter (in case something happens to the one you started out with), and a box of ammo. If you are carrying more than one caliber of firearm, then split the box, so that you have some ammo for each caliber that you’re carrying.
By no means do you want to put a firearm or anything of value in the cache. There’s always a chance that someone else will find your cache and get those items.
Locating Your Cache
Any caches you create should be located to ensure that you won’t run out of food before getting there. That probably means locating them a day closer to your home, on foot, than the amount of food that you have in your bug out bag.
You never know when things might go wrong, slowing you down. Putting your cache closer, rather than farther, helps to ensure that you won’t run out of supplies.
At the same time, your caches need to be located in a remote area where they are unlikely to be found. That means people won’t see you hide the cache, nor are they likely to encounter it accidentally.
These caches are usually buried, making them harder to find; but unless the ground where they are buried is cleaned up to look like it hasn’t been disturbed, someone who happens on your site might get curious about why someone had been digging there.
When digging in grassy ground, dig up a section of sod first and set it aside. After burying your cache, this will be the last piece for filling in your hole, hopefully camouflaging it well. given a little time, plant life will grow back, totally obscuring your digging.
One specific group of people who can cause problems for you are those with metal detectors. These people, who can be anywhere, like to look for coins and other things that were either buried or lost sometime in the past.
You can easily outfox them though, by burying your cache so that it is at least 18” below ground level and then putting a few coins in the hole, about a foot above your cache. Should they find the coins, they are unlikely to keep digging, looking for more.
PVC pipe caches are easier to hide than five-gallon bucket caches, due to their smaller size. On the flip side of that coin, they will hold less, meaning that you might need to bury several caches to accomplish the same thing. It’s a bit of a tossup which is a better solution.
The hardest part of this is making sure that your cache is well-hidden, while also ensuring that you will be able to find it. Avoid using trees and other growing things as your landmarks. Trees can die, be blown down in a storm, or cut down. Likewise, shorelines of lakes and rivers can change, making them unreliable points to measure from.
A rock outcropping, on the other hand, is unlikely to move or be moved. Digging your cache 10 paces north of a point on a rock outcropping is much more likely to ensure that the landmark will be there when you return, making it easy to find your cache.
Even better than that, have more than one landmark that you can use. Ideally, you should have two pairs of landmarks, each of which can provide you with a “crosshair” to accurately locate your cache. The two sets should use totally different items as landmarks, so that if something happens to one landmark, you still have a good pair to work with.
Be sure to return to the location of your caches periodically to check on them. Obviously, you don’t want to dig them up; but you also want to make sure that nobody else has either. You also want to check that your landmarks are still viable and that what you had selected as a remote area is still remote and doesn’t have buildings going up all around.
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