Survival Cache Hiding and Recovery in an Urban Setting.

By on January 17, 2015

Principles of Hiding a Cache

There are three principles you need to learn: Disguise, distraction, and concealment.

Disguise is where you make your cache look like something it isn’t. You can hide canned food, tools, and weapons in a bin labeled “chicken feed,” for example. Just place the stuff in the bottom of the bin and cover it with chicken feed.

I found an old truck carcass in the woods. I removed the fuel tank, carved out the top, filled it with goods, then secured the tank back in place with a concealed cover over the hole in the top. I also drilled a couple of drain holes in the tank. From the engine compartment I cut through the firewall to access the space under the dash and stuffed some more goods in there. My cache looks exactly like a truck.

An effective form of distraction is the use of decoys and “false positives.” A decoy is what you want someone to find instead of your cache, so after you’ve hidden the cache you want for yourself, you can place another one that’s more easily found. That way the thief or whoever will make off with whatever you’re willing to sacrifice, safeguarding what really matters. For example, bury your cache two or three feet in the ground, then tuck the decoy under some roots and partially cover it with leaves.

A “false positive” is pure distraction — a failure for the thief. Your cache can most likely be found with a metal detector. If you bury guns and ammo, bury them under a junk pile or collapsed barn. All the scrap metal will make a metal detector useless, and a digging operation becomes a random search.

You can also scatter scrap metal like buried plugs of rebar and junk iron. This is controversial — it might signal the alert scavenger that he’s close to scoring. He might give up as night falls, or a storm approaches, but if he’s determined he’ll watch the area, and you’ll have to be very careful about your recovery methods. See the discussion of Recovery, below.

Another way to generate a false positive is simply to prepare an empty cache. Consider a scavenger on the hunt. You have two caches, one full, the other empty. By deliberate search he finds your empty cache. His likely response is to figure the stash has already been depleted, and move on. But even if he assumes he’s been fooled, he might well abandon the search in frustration and seek easier targets. If he stumbles across your real cache, well, you should have done a better job of setting the decoy, but you’ll then have to rely on redundancy (see below).

Concealment is that which impedes visual acquisition of your cache. Burial is the paradigm of concealment. Camouflage is a type of concealment in which your cache is made to blend in visually with its surroundings. If you paint a PVC tube brown and gray and hang it in a tree, it will be visually difficult to distinguish from the tree trunk, unless you know right where to look. Just an idea. Or imagine trying to spot a white PVC tube in a field of snow even with binoculars. You could frankly set a gray case in the open on a rocky mountain slope and expect to find it undisturbed many years later.

Strategic Location

The caches must be located along your path of travel, and within sustainable intervals. These intervals must account for your mode of travel. If you’re driving, you should place fuel caches in intervals you can cover with no more than 3/4 tank of fuel. On foot, the primary consideration is water. In areas with plenty of surface water, 3- to 5-day intervals are entirely doable, assuming you have the means to purify the water you find on the way. You can even go longer if necessary; it just depends on how much food you can carry.

On the other hand, if you’re in a dry climate and have to carry your water, your caches must be staged as frequently as necessary to replenish your water supply. You can only carry so much, and how much you need depends on the heat. In case you have to bug out in the hot dry season, figure a gallon per day, and in extreme heat, that might not do it.

If you’re “buggin in,” most of your caches will be close, and the primary considerations will be concealment and recovery.

Be careful about hiding your cache in areas subject to flooding.

Urban and Rural Caches

In rural locations you need to use natural features for concealment. Overhangs, caves, trees, stumps, abandoned vehicles and buildings, and simple burial are your best friends.

In urban locations your ability to conceal your cache depends to some extent on how well you know the movements and habits of the indigenous population. Identify buildings and lots that don’t get much traffic. Coordinate with like-minded neighbors, but also keep some entirely to yourself.


The key here is understanding ingress and egress. Ingress is when you go to the cache, and egress is when you leave it. Assume a scavenger is watching you. He’ll see you go into the woods with an empty bag, and come out laden with sardines, hard tack, and medicine. What do you think he’ll do when you’re gone?

Never approach the same cache by the same path. Never leave the cache by the same path you took to it. Check six (look behind you) frequently for a tail on ingress and egress. If possible, have a spotter. Put a team member on a viewpoint who can watch your progress to and from the cache, and spot a tail. Of course, you’ll need some form of communication.

Plan your cache placement with ingress and egress in mind. In a rural setting, enter the woods a good ways from the cache, and travel under the canopy to the cache. Your exit from the woods should likewise be far from the cache, but from another direction. Although counterintuitive, cloud cover is not your friend. The higher contrast of direct sunlight makes your progress through the woods more stealthy, so go to your cache on sunny days, if you can. Obviously, the darkness of night is the best cover, but it makes travel more difficult and dangerous.

The same concepts apply in an urban setting. If your cache is in an abandoned tenement, for example, use different entrances to the building.

Here’s another counterintuitive point. In an urban or suburban setting, travel in daytime for greater stealth, and in small numbers, or alone. Mobs at night attract attention.

By the way, it should go without saying that you need some way to find your caches again. Don’t trust your memory; you need a map. OPSEC dictates that your map be coded somehow, and that you have two or more, none of which indicates the location of all your caches.


Within any given sustainable interval, maintain two or three caches in case one is discovered before you need it. For example, if you have a cache in the New Mexico mountains three days from your previous cache, you might arrive there only to find it has been looted. Be sure you have another near enough that you can resupply. You might never use it, but if you need it, you’ll thank God you had the foresight to stash it.

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