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Do-It-Yourself: Storage Vault
© 2006


If you have selected a "bug out" location, chances are it has not been developed. "Developed" generally refers to having water, electric and (hopefully) sewer services installed. If you are lucky, it may have an existing well on the property. However, most truly rural areas will have none of these luxuries.

Ever since I started the "ROGUETURTLE" series of articles, I have preached on having a pre-selected and pre-stocked survival location already prepared for the worst case scenario. But, how do you go about setting up all these things without everyone in the area knowing what you are doing? Secrecy is a high priority for keeping nosy neighbors out of your supplies while you are away from your selected bug out location.

Pre-positioning supplies can be done on an "as available" schedule. This means you don't have to take a semi-tractor trailer load of supplies all at once - you can take a few items at a time as soon as they are available - and as soon as you have the time to do the work. But, where do you store them safely so no one knows where the goodies are?

AN IDEA TO CONSIDER: The 55-gallon Drum

Most people consider that the 55-gallon steel drum is only for use by factories using heavy forklifts to move them around. Fully loaded with some form of liquid, you are probably correct. But, empty, they don't weigh much at all.

An open-top drum, new, with a removable top, gasket and lock ring is easily handled (empty) by one person. A new drum will run you between $60 and $65 dollars each (plus shipping). Most cities and towns have stores that can order them or you can use the internet and get anything you want in any size you need - and order as many drums as it takes. If you have access to good quality, clean drums that you can buy used, go for it. Plastic drums work just as well, but they cost more than steel drums - and plastic is edible by rodents.

Hiding a steel drum in the woods takes some thinking. A lot of how you store it depends on what is going into it, and if it may or may not freeze in the winter. You do NOT want to just dump them in the woods, easily seen by casual passers-by. So, do what the pioneers did: Bury it.

STOP: You can't just dig a hole anywhere... It takes some forethought.

Before you grab your shovel, check with your local building inspectors. Not for a permit (none is needed), but to find out what the frost line depth is in your area. Any water or foodstuffs that may freeze should be buried BELOW the frost line or your goods will freeze in the barrel, possibly breaking the water container. You will want to keep your barrels as dry as possible. A broken seal on a food container means contaminated food.

In Florida, there is no frost line, but there is an extremely high water table. In areas with a high water table, you have to make sure to protect your drums from floating out of your hole. Many (empty) swimming pools in Florida have been lifted up out of the ground by a rising water table. No, it won't "pop up" out of the ground, but will gradually be raised higher and higher. Sand or mud will be washed under the drum and it will never sink back down to its original level. New Jersey also has a high water table - and people in New Orleans should not even think of burying anything. Coffins come out of the ground in New Orleans.


Have you ever watched a large dog dig a hole? My dog, Beauregarde, is a canine backhoe. He can dig a hole faster than most machines. I can bury my drums by pointing at the ground and say "Don't dig here." The next morning, I have a hole large enough to bury a Volkswagen. But, what does he do with the dirt? I have always suspected that he eats most of it, because I can never find enough of the excavated dirt to fill the hole back up again. Mrs. RogueTurtle calls my back yard a "Moonscape."

The real answer is that the dirt is cast about in a thin layer in all directions surrounding the hole. Even with grass and bushes all around, the dirt appears invisible because it is spread out so much. In World War Two, American POWs dug tunnels under some prison camp walls, and spread out the dirt in very thin layers in the exercise yards. Most tunnels were discovered, but not because of the excavated dirt. Some went undetected with subsequent escapes through the tunnels. This is the same principle for hiding your buried drum.

In Figure 1, the excavated dirt is used to form a gradual slope up to the drum, to create an optical illusion that the ground is still level in the area. Only the very top of the drum will need further camouflage.

In Figures 2 and 3, the dirt excavated from the hole has to be evenly spread out above the drum to give the impression that nothing is there.

Note for snow areas: The empty space above the drum should be (at least) partially filled with some form of insulation above the drum. This will insure that there are no round "hot spots" that may prematurely melt the snow above the hole into a nice round "bull's-eye." The insulation will keep the top level of the ground the same temperature as the surrounding dirt.

Seems backwards, doesn't it? But, look at the roofs of the houses in your area. The roofs on homes without sufficient insulation always have the snow melt off first. Why? The heat from the house is escaping through the roof, melting the snow. A home with a heavy snow load is a well-insulated roof. There is no heat escaping to melt the snow. The same principle holds true for a (relatively) warm, buried drum.

A sheet of 2-1/2" Styrofoam insulation comes in 4' x 8' sheets. It is cheap and easy to cut into round circles. These circles can be stacked up on top of the drum for easy removal later on. They can be precut to size at home and buried later in the woods. Store them in large plastic bags for transport as the Styrofoam always has small flakes of foam fall off, looking a lot like a man-made blizzard. Very annoying.


Sand bags: If you take a bunch of empty sandbags with you when you bury your drums, you can use the excavated dirt to fill sandbags. For those drums buried deep such as shown in Figure 3, you can place some of the bags on top of the drum for easy removal at a later date. The rest of the bags should be strategically hidden anywhere you wish - but should be well away from the actual burial site.

Remember. All sandbags are susceptible to breaking down in direct sunlight. You only have to keep them covered with a thin layer of dirt or "something," to prevent this from happening. Protected sandbags will last a long, long time.

You can use the sandbags to refill the empty hole when it comes time to remove the drum. But first . . .


1. The first use that immediately came to my mind is to use the now-empty drum as a septic tank for an out house. You know, a privy. You've already made the hole. You just have to be able to let out the liquids. Using a sharp metal tool (such as a shotgun), punch a few holes in the bottom and the sides of the drum. Or, if you want, leave it to Mother Nature to rust the drum and put in her own holes. Cover the top of the drum with a suitable lid, and with a few boards you will have an outhouse. Two uses for the price of one hole.

2. The buried drum can also continue to be used as a secure storage location for valuables you don't want others to find. It would make a good weapons and/or ammo cache, a storage locker for canned food, or (in the winter) as a root cellar. If you do use it store weapons, check them frequently for any signs of a moisture buildup that could lead to gun-damaging rust. If you placed a tent on top of the drum, you can get in and out of the cache in relative privacy. Even marauding bandits would probably not take the time to look under a tent for hidden valuables.


For any buried cache of goods, you need to keep good records of the location. If you have a GPS navigation aid, write down the Latitude and Longitude as exactly as your equipment will allow. Share these numbers with every member of your party who needs them.

You need to have some form of PERMANENT MARKER for your site. A pile of rocks can be moved. A tree can be cut down or burned. Directions such as "50 paces from the tree with the fork in it" will guarantee the cache is lost forever if the tree is cut down. I prefer to make a circle of markers, made from molded concrete (in advance), to mark the location of my cache. I use 5 of them, so that even if 3 are lost, the cache will be found between the remaining markers. (See diagram to follow.) The size and shape of the markers are known only to me and my family, no one else. I keep the distance between markers down to around 10 to 15 paces. This helps limit the search area later on.

To find the exact location of the drum, use a long, thin metal rod to push down into the ground. When it hits the solid drum, you've found it. This prevents you from having to dig out larger holes than necessary to get to your "stuff." Contractors use this technique to identify buried underground utilities, sewer lines, water lines, etc.


In this day and age of super plastics, why do I recommend the use of steel drums? Simply because of burrowing animals. Rats, mainly. A hungry rat, or a family of mice, can chew through a plastic drum in a few hours. Truly hungry rats can eventually eat through thin metal cans and containers. I personally don't like sharing my survival supplies with rats. Of course, if you want to, it's your food.

One last note that is closely related to rats: Many snakes use the burrows of small animals for shelter in the winter. In both Figure 2, the partially buried drum - but, particularly in Figure 3, the fully buried drum, there is a space above the drum that could potentially be used by snakes (who follow burrowing animals) in your drum's location. Mice and rats love to nest in insulation. Snakes like to eat mice. Works out well, don't you think. The snake gets to keep the den for the winter.

The moral is: Before you reach into your well-concealed hole, check for "critters."

Don't ever tell Mrs. RogueTurtle you found snakes around the drum. She'll starve before she eats any of it. She HATES snakes.

A Word of Caution

In today's society, if you are seen "skulking" about in the woods burying a 55-gallon drum, you will be turned in to Law Enforcement by the first law-abiding citizen who sees you. Of course, they will assume that you are burying toxic chemicals; or they will assume you are a "Bad Guy" burying explosives to perform some diabolical act of sabotage at some later date. The "Law" will arrive at your site in force to investigate your activities. Hopefully, your 55-gallon drum will contain only legal items such as food, water, clothing, tents, etc. Buried explosives or illegal pharmaceuticals will be sniffed out by dogs better trained than Beauregarde. At the very least, they will dig up your drum for investigation.

Nowadays, the "appearance" of criminal activity is assumed to actually "be criminal activity" until you prove it is not. The "Law" will react without the presumption of innocense. I can't blame them, either. So would I. The net result will be that your "secret" hiding place is no longer a secret. CNN knows all and you will watch the cops dig up your stuff on the 10:00 o'clock news with photos taken from a helicopter.

What is a "Permanent" Marker?

A permanent marker is something that will not usually be destroyed by fire, wind, rain, earthquake or flooding. Wooden telephone poles are not permanent. Many are now being replaced by either underground utility lines, or by huge prestressed concrete poles. The new concrete poles, however, could be considered as "permanent" since it takes a major disaster to knock one over.

You probably will have to settle for a monument a little smaller than the Pyramids of Egypt.

Log Bridge: While the wooden (log) bridge, left, may burn, the foundations of the bridge will not. This type of "permanent marker" would be a good one because of the heavy stone foundations of the bridge.

This small wooden beam bridge will burn up and leave no trace of its existence. This would NOT be considered a good marker.

Rock formations, particularly large ones like the one on the left, would be excellent markers to help in finding your cache. No one will mess with this rock since it weighs several tons. You can count on it still being in place after both fires and floods.

You get the idea:

The worst case scenario is to hide your drum and later find out that the property has been sold and your buried cache has been excavated by giant earthmoving machines and taken to the dump. A lot of research is needed to find a spot where this will NOT happen to you. Public places such as state and national parks are too "public," unless you really know what you are doing - and where you are going.

If at all possible, purchase the land yourself, or lease a small section of land that is not usable by local farmers or ranchers. If they can make a buck on a piece of useless land, they'll usually do it - as long as you are NOT doing anything illegal.