Legacy Caching - Message in a Nalgene Bottle

The idea came to me when I was sitting in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. It was one of those moments you experience when traveling: the feeling of mystery, intrigue and wonder. I was in awe; architectural feats of high arched ceilings, intricate artwork details and masonry surrounded me.

It was hot and sticky outside, yet the inside of the cathedral felt cool, dusty and grey, like a scene from an old spy movie. With all of the nooks, passages and obscure locations, I couldn't help but wonder how many secret messages and clandestine signals had been etched into the history of this inviolable place by Cold War spies.

Having personally employed many of these "spy" tactics as a SEAL, the cathedral began to look more like a canvas of opportunity. A bit obvious and grandiose and, yes, even a bit sacred for such seemingly nefarious acts, but inspirational nonetheless.

The "Operative" within me began to surface - I missed those "Cloak & Dagger" days and I needed to find a way to get them back.



How amazing would it have been if my grandfather, father or some other distant relative had been here before me and left me something? Some piece of wisdom scribbled on paper, an old watch or some sort of antique - anything would do in such a circumstance because of the manner in which it was given.

The instant the idea crossed my mind, a huge sense of purpose and adventure filled me. That's when I started what I call "Legacy Caching." From that point forward, I began identifying the places I wanted my children and grandchildren to visit. I would go there before them and hide the greatest gift of which I know: adventure.



As I mentioned earlier, part of my job as a SEAL was intelligence work. Specifically, the government would send me ahead of other units to prepare the environment for them. This mission is commonly known as "Operational Preparation of the Environment," OPE for short.

To prepare for such missions, I had the opportunity to train with some amazing organizations. The very FBI agents that brought down the likes of John Gotti would be the type of gentlemen who would hone my skills, allowing me to enter denied areas around the world and pave the way for larger forces in the future, easily one of my favorite duties as a SEAL.

A major part of that work would require detailed reconnaissance and extremely detailed map creation. These "maps" would need written instructions and supporting pictures and video - the perfect foundation for "Legacy Caching."

This discourse can take years to learn and many more to master, but getting started is what's important. Below I've provided some very basic steps for those looking to add some adventure and purpose to their world. You don't have to travel to Europe for this to be exciting. The first "dead drop" (the name for hidden things) I left for my kids is located in the Sierra Mountains. You can hide yours anywhere.




The first family legacy dead drop I created was very easy. I simply went to the parks gift shop, bought a blue water canteen and some park trinkets and then sat down and wrote notes to everyone. Once the notes were complete I took pictures of them just in case the dead drop got destroyed or lost forever. With the contents of the dead drop safely stored electronically on my camera, I buried it and then created detailed instructions, a treasure map of sorts, for its later discovery. Take a moment to pause right now. How would it feel to unearth a note written to you from your grandfather? It doesn't take much for "Legacy Caching" to be a game-changer.


One of the reasons I enjoyed this part of my SEAL job so much was because we literally made and followed treasure maps. Yes… it's as fun as it looks on TV. You are, no kidding, making treasure maps for generations to come. I don't care how old or how stale life has become. You just can't beat a real treasure hunt.

First you want to go "big picture" and then work your way down:

  • Continent
  • Country
  • County
  • City
  • Location
  • "Objective Rally Point" (ORP); i.e. Parking lot

Ultimately, you will want to produce a single map with all of the locations on it. I use pictures of maps with annotations. I don't want to be dependent on any particular mapping software since this stuff needs to last a lifetime. Pictures and handwriting aren't going anywhere anytime soon.


Once at the "ORP," you'll need to get very detailed. You'd be surprised how difficult it is for someone else to follow your directions. Remember these things are hidden so that they can't be found by others, and time can change the immediate environment.

In this example, I'm working outdoors. You'll adjust for urban dead drops, but the principles are the same:

  • Start from the ORP
  • Move to the trail or street
  • Find the "place" - in this case it's a meadow
  • Identify an "anchor point" - something easily identified and not likely to be moved by nature or by a human

After this step, you'll understand why this is like a pirate's treasure hunt.


This seems like it would be the easiest part, but after you try, you'll quickly realize it's a skill to be developed. This is especially true in an urban environment:

  • From the anchor point, shoot a magnetic bearing to the next point
  • Pace off the distance to the next point
  • Identify a "sub-anchor," like a tree or a rock in this case. Remember trees can burn!
  • Establish an "o-clock" location from the sub-anchor; i.e., 1:00 from the sub-anchor (much like the bearing - just smaller)
  • Measure a distance (should be small, like inches or two feet max)
  • Hide your dead drop

The hiding spot is key. Think about fire, flood or theft and realize the importance of particulars in maps and instructions. I'd recommend starting simple and outdoors; as you advance, there are some much craftier ways to hide things. I'll get more detailed on how to produce tighter more elaborate directions and maps as we use things like the hollowed out bolts and a variety of other objects that can last for 20-plus years.


Eric Davis

Eric Davis served our country as a U.S. Navy SEAL and decorated veteran of the Global War on Terror. Eric has been recognized as one of the premier sniper instructors in the U.S. military and has served as a Master Training Specialist at the SEAL sniper school in Coronado, CA.

He is an expert of technical and physical surveillance and was part of an elite group hand-selected to perform intelligence collection in denied areas around the world.

Eric has spent years developing, writing and executing curriculum for the SEAL Teams. By leveraging his expertise in the development of systems, structures, processes and practices Eric was instrumental in significantly reducing the failure rate, of Naval Special Warfare’s internationally recognized Sniper course. 

Since departing from the SEAL teams, Eric has worked in corporate performance, sales and leadership training bringing an unprecedented amount of innovation, efficiency and structure to the domain of business and performance.