Tips for Caching Food & Water on the Hayduke

How It All Began. 

I crunched the numbers in my spreadsheet. I needed to purchase 33 days of food and 20 gallons of water, then figure out how to cache it all across the desert. How do you even successfully go about caching food and water on the Hayduke? After much research, I decided that storing food in buckets and burying them would be the best option. I went to Home Depot and bought a shovel, 6 buckets with lids and a roll of duct tape. At the checkout counter the cashier, hesitant and inquisitive, asked what I was doing.

It seems the combination of these three items could be considered a little concerning. I can understand why…

I told them that I was purchasing all these supplies to bury buckets full of food in the desert and that I would then pick them up weeks later. Not sure that did anything productive except make them wonder even more about what I was up to. Oh well….

Anyways, I headed back, labeled them respectively for each cache drop along the Hayduke and organized all 33 days of food into the buckets. As I packed my food I double and triple checked the mileage and amounts. I was hoping that I would be able to make the intended mileage each day between caches or else I might be in trouble. We would have to see. 

Big pile of bars and candy for food caching along the Hayduke Trail

Now came the process of squirreling away hidden food and water caches along the route so I could pick it up later. My hiking partner and I rented a car and spent 3 days driving around to different locations. At each location we either dug a hole or found a good hiding spot. There, we stashed our caches to pick up when we passed through days or weeks later. Once all the caches were set and we eventually made it to Moab, the trip really began!

 

Why Cache Food and Water?

Caching food and water feels similar to sending yourself a resupply box, except the spots that you are picking up your cache usually tend to be more remote than a post office or local business. It is unlikely that you will be able to purchase other items to supplement the food you cached, simply because there may not be a spot to do so. So, why even bother with all the work to cache your food along the Hayduke? 

Hiker along a remote section of the Hayduke Trail

Remoteness 

The Hayduke as a whole is extremely remote and the official route in the guidebook only passes through one town. That would be Moab, Utah which is within the first 30 miles. So, in order to streamline your resupply plan you may want to consider dropping a few caches. This may help in avoiding long hitches into towns that often are not well stocked with food. You never know what you will or won’t find at a gas station resupply. Many hitchhiking options can have long food carries in between them, and caching food will only help to lighten your pack. Often, a lighter pack leads to a more enjoyable experience overall. 

Dry sections

I wrote a post earlier on Water Treatment Along the Hayduke Trail, but it is inevitable that you will encounter long dry sections. Caching water along the route will help to alleviate long water carries. Once again, as stated above, creating a more enjoyable experience with a lighter pack. If you can swing caching water, I would do it. 

Have a more “wild” experience

The two folks who were the ones to “create” the Hayduke wanted the route to be wild. The whole idea of the route is not to take the most direct line through the landscape. Joe Mitchell and Mike Coronella have said they want people to have a truly wild experience on the Colorado Plateau. Caching food and water will only add to the feeling of being “out there,” that some folks believe the Hayduke experience is all about. 

 

The decision of how to cache food and water on the Hayduke is all yours. People do all sorts of things to make it exciting and possible for them. My advice is to do what works best for you and decide what kind of experience you would like to have!

 

How to Cache Food and Water

The nitty gritty of the food caching strategies. Below is the system that I used to cache food in buckets and water along the Hayduke. 

Step 1: Divide food items into necessary buckets – double and triple check amounts.

Keep a list of all the items that went into the bucket. I forgot to do that. Although it was interesting and exciting to not know what was in the bucket that I placed 35 days ago, it would have been nice. Something that I learned is to make sure to put something in the cache that you can eat immediately when you arrive. I did put sparkling and coconut water in every cache, but I wish I would have put a whole pack of Oreo’s in each one, or something like that. Consider ways to manage your hiker hunger. 

Buckets oragnized with food for the Hayduke Trail

Step 2: Close the lid of the bucket and duct tape the lid on. Write a note on top. 

Hopefully you remembered to get everything in there. Did you remember fuel? More toothpaste? Baby wipes? The maps for the next section? Sunscreen?

A good practice at this moment would be to write something on the top of the bucket to the effect of, “Hayduke Hiker Cache. Please do not touch! Our survival depends on these supplies. Will pick up on _____(date/month)”. The chance that somebody will actually find your well hidden cache is fairly low. Also, they would have to be pretty desperate to steal all of your food and water after reading all those notes. But hey, take all of the necessary precautions. 

A cache that a hiker uncovered on their Hayduke journey

Step 3: Transport bucket to intended cache location and bury or stash.

This took a ton of work. I drove around in the desert for about three days to get my caches to the right locations, and I was driving all day each day. If you are able to rent a car then that makes it easy to do the trip one way, or you could drive your own vehicle around to drop the caches. The logistics of the transport for the caches and to/from the trail termini can be very tricky. Good luck. Some of the roads for the caches can be long and bumpy dirt roads. Have fun and use these cache spots to continually reflect on your Hayduke journey!

When I did reach my cache spot I made the call at the location if it was best to bury or stash the supplies. If I decided to bury my bucket I chose a location that was obvious from the trail or road nearby (i.e a bush, a tree, certain number of paces behind a sign). Then, I would dig the hole deep and wide enough to fit the bucket, the water (in gallon jugs) and any other excess supplies. I would place the bucket and all supplies in the hole and then bury the bucket until it was covered by about 2 inches of dirt on the top. Then, I would build a small cairn on top of the dirt patch to be able to find it.  For me, I wanted to make sure I would be able to unbury the bucket without the shovel.

If I just stashed the bucket (i.e under a rock, in a little alcove, under a tree) I would make sure to cover it with sticks, rocks and other brush to make the cache a bit more discreet. With the stash method I wanted to dissuade animals from trying to drag the cache away.

Hiker burying before the journey along the Hayduke.

Step 4: Drop a GPS point, take a photo and/or take some notes. 

This one is important. When you do approach your cache, however many days later, you may be approaching it from a different angle. You may have driven in one way and walked in the other. The random tree that you did decide to hide it behind may look like all the others now. Ensure that you have a way to find it again.

I dropped a GPS point, took a picture of the location and noted where the picture was taken from. I knew that I would have my phone with me and I could reference these photos if needed. Fortunately, I was always able to find my cache and didn’t have to reference that information. I learned from past experience on the Low 2 High Route in 2017. On that trip I was unable to find my water cache for a few hours in one-hundred degree weather. Luckily I eventually found it, but the process was brutal and I never wanted to repeat my mistake! Here is an example of one note I made (haha!!)

Example of notes to find food and water cache on the Hayduke

Step 5: Come back and pick up your cache afterwards.

Hopefully this one is obvious. Practice Leave No Trace (LNT). Make sure to plan on the necessary time to come back afterwards to collect your bucket full of month old trash. I don’t think people would appreciate Hayduke hikers leaving trash all over the desert. Unfortunately, the desert already has plenty of trash blowing around in it.

 

What I Would Do Differently

Overall, I learned that caching food and water on the Hayduke is extremely logistically involved. By far, it was one of the most planning intensive hikes that I have done. It seemed, to me, to be one of those long distance hikes that needed some focus in the planning of it. The consequences of poor planning are high, especially if you are miles and miles from a road that will have any semblance of traffic on it. Also, purchasing much of your food items ahead of time will most likely save you time and money in the long run. I found that because I had already planned on my food ahead of time that I spent less money on more expensive items along the way. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that I didn’t splurge on some good food cravings as I went.

 

What I Learned about Food and Water Caching

There are always things I would have done differently in every thru-hike. The big ones involving caching food and water on the Hayduke were to put immediate food in the buckets to eat, and to write everything down. 

Leave yourself something in the cache that you can look forward to. I did run low on food a few times and had to dip into the food for the next section at the cache. It all worked out, but I was still (very) hungry at times.

Write it all down. Have notes on everything in your cache. This would have helped me tremendously. It would have alleviated questions like: Do I have a tub of peanut butted in the next cache or should I buy one now? Did I pack enough chips in the next cache or do I need to save some to roll-over?

Hiker standing next to tall spire on Hayduke

Caching food and water on the Hayduke made for a unique experience. The landscape, challenge and unknown nature of the route truly make for an unforgettable trip. To read more about my trip check out this site for the details. Also, follow along @jeffpod to see more of my trips in action.

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Comments 6

  • Avatar
    Chris : Dec 27th

    I never understand why people doing something so athletic are eating nothing but candy. How can it be good for anyone to eat pounds of refined sugar?

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Jeff : Dec 27th

      Hey Chris! You are right. I ate so much candy. That wasn’t all I ate though. I maybe eat more than others, but it always gives me a great mental pick up and some fast acting energy. Hah. Just falling into and a part of one of the biggest addictions out there….oh well. It most likely isn’t great for me. But it works.

      Thanks for the thoughts!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    J.D./ La Loon : Dec 29th

    I had to laugh at all the candy bars in the desert; did burying them keep them from melting into packets of gooey bliss? I hike a lot around Moab – this was a fantastic post! I have been wanting to do the Hayduke but have been a bit intimidated by the knowledge of what the desert can do to a person who isn’t as prepared as they should have been. My last trek had me carrying four gallons of water each time through the various stretches, and that was brutal. (Lots of remote canyons around Escalante). I think after that adventure the Hayduke is looking a bit more like something I can accomplish with well planned caches.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Jeff : Dec 30th

      Hey J.D.! Thanks for reading the post. Surprisingly, no! The candy bars did not melt into gooey bliss. As you know, the temperatures dropped pretty low each night. Because we buried our buckets in the ground, it seemed to prevent our food from getting to destroyed, though we were fully prepared for melted candy bars. I am sure you can accomplish the Hayduke after your water carrying adventures. Truly an amazing experience. Let me know if you have any questions on planning as you keep dreaming – I am open to assisting in any way that I can. Hike strong.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    PseudoSloth : Jan 5th

    Interesting to hear about your caching experience as I also cached food for my long distance hike this year (San Luis Loop).

    I am curious how difficult it was to retrieve your buried buckets while hiking? Did you use a shovel or something like the Deuce of Spades to get them out?

    Also I feel your pain on being hungry!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Jeff : Jan 5th

      Hey Pseudosloth,
      It actually was not that difficult to unbury them. We just found a nearby rock or stick. Because we only buried the buckets about 2 inches below the surface, we were actually able to leave the bucket buried in the ground and just open up the lid to retrieve our items. That helped with the reburying process. We used our shovel until, you know, we lost it. Hey, stuff happens. It all worked out in the end. Never heard of the San Luis Loop – I will look it up and check it out! Thanks for reading!

      Reply

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