Buying a stockpile of bulk ammo might provide comfort when bugging in, but what about when you have to bugout? That “buy it cheap and stack it deep” concept might work when you have a basement with sturdy shelving, but what if you have to get on the move?
As you plan your survival options, make sure to include portable but long-term ammo storage solutions. There are about as many ways to store and carry ammo as there are survival calibers, but in the end three truths emerge: the ammo must be kept dry, clean, and quickly identified. Other than that, the way you do it is up to you.
Military surplus ammo cans are a popular storage choice, but the weight of a full metal ammo can is a significant drawback when going mobile. And worse, the handles on the lightweight plastic ammo cans are notorious for breaking off just when you need them the most. Another popular solution is to pour the ammo into clear, seal-able plastic bags. That solution scores the highest on light weight and identification, but turns in the lowest possible scores for durability.
Off The Shelf
Some ammo manufacturers are selling ammo sealed up like a can of beans. For example Fiocchi makes a sealed “Canned Heat” of 100 rounds of 9mm, and Federal makes a “Fresh Fire Pack” sealed can of 325 x .22 long rifle bullets. The cans are purged of atmospheric air and filled with nitrogen preventing oxygen corrosion on bullets and primers, and both cans have key-open lids that rip off like a sardine can.
The factory sealed ammo cans are an excellent solution for a very narrow problem. But since the can is not hermetically resealable, the S really has to Hit the Fan before you want to break the seal. A better solution and one without the single-use disadvantage is as close as a water bottle away. A wide-mouth Nalgene lexan water bottle to be exact.
The Bottle Basics
I was searching for a survival ammo storage solution that was durable, inexpensive, modular, lightweight, had visible contents, and provided unlimited shelf life. My choice was Nalgene lexan water bottles with large mouths. The two main sizes are 16 ounces and 32 ounces. After working with the bottles for a while, the advantages racked up beyond many other traditional ammo storage options.
Using plastic bottles to store ammo is nothing new, but in most other cases the bottle was the convenient novelty and not actually a well thought out component in the system. As evidence of the lack of foresight with other bottles, I offer the five-second rule. In five seconds or less, Can you empty the bottle of all .22 or pistol ammo. Soda bottle solutions are about as functional as a piggy bank. The fastest way to empty them is to slice them open with a knife. Not quite ideal in my book.
The Nalgene bottles are extremely durable, transparent, impervious to temperature change, puncture resistant, reasonably heat resistant, watertight, and cheap. Further, they hold enough ammo to make a difference, but not so much as to be too heavy, bulky or fragile. And in my mildly scientific tests, I can empty a 16-ounce wide mouth bottle filled with .22 shells in four seconds.
A brand name bottle is important. No-name plastic bottles can contain VOCs or volatile organic compounds that are common in Chinese made plastics of undisclosed material. The off-gassing inside a sealed plastic container can react with the contents so care is needed when selecting long term storage containers. Lab-grade Lexan is fairly inert, but ironically the reason I have these bottles available for ammo storage is because they were rotated out of our drinking water bottle collection due to the possibility of BPA (Bisphenol-A) chemicals leaching into the water from the particular polycarbonate plastic used at that time. As people convert their water bottles and other food storage containers to glass, stainless steel, polypropylene, and BPA-free polycarbonate, the older Lexan bottles are often donated to places like Goodwill so there should be a cheap source of such ammo storage at your local thrift shop. Since the airtight seal of the lid is critical, shop carefully, and don’t forget that new bottles are still inexpensive.
Dry = Bang
To keep the ammo dry, a highly efficient desiccant such as silica gel is the best option. Although the small “Do not eat” packets that are so common in about everything purchased these days are a better-than-nothing choice, the even better choice is to use quality bulk silica gel, especially with color indicators of viability.
The reason I suggest avoiding the free packets is there is no standard for purity or even evidence that they are real. If you are going to count on your ammo in the future, don’t save a buck or two on the most important element in survival ammo preservation. A popular emergency desiccant can be found in dry “Minute Rice,” but save that option emergencies. You need something you can count on for many years, not just a quick solution designed to prevent further damage to your iPhone after it took a swim in the toilet.
Rather than just dumping a tablespoon of silica gel into the bottle, the bulk silica gel should be kept contained in something so you can preserve it. A simple solution is to put the gel into a small zip-closure bag and then poke a few dozen holes into the bag with a pin or small nail. Another idea is to re-purpose those small drawstring bags that seem to come with a lot of other gear.
For the larger bottles, I like to use the small cloth drawstring bags that companies like Benchmade include with their folding knives. I also recommend putting the silica gel at the top (lid side) of the bottle because that allows easy checking of the color indicators and oven-refreshing of the gel every so often without dumping the bottle.
I don’t have a firm rule for the amount of silica gel to include, but more is always better than less. You cannot make it too dry in the bottle, but you can err on the other side.
But my suggestion is about a heaping teaspoon of quality fresh silica gel for each 16 ounces of volume under normal conditions. If you are going to bury your bottle or live in a humid climate, double the recommendation at the minimum. Also, plan on refreshing the gel after the first week just because there was likely more humidity included in the bottle when first sealed. Quickly swap out the week-old gel for new gel and you should be good to go for long term storage.
There are many recommendations for refreshing silica gel but most suggest oven-heating the gel to at least 200 degrees Fahrenheit minimum and 250 degrees Fahrenheit max for between two and eight hours. I’ve found that my color coded silica gel is ready to go again using the minimum time and temp, but I live in a low humidity area.
Keeping ammo free from exposure to moisture is especially critical with rimfire shells because the case crimping around the bullet is rarely very tight. In fact many .22 bullets spin freely around in their case. This is in stark contrast to excessively crimped and more moisture resistant military cartridges.
Bangs per Ounce
A 16-ounce lexan Nalgene bottle will easily hold 425 rounds of .22 long rifle with just enough room for the silica gel and a note with the date, specific ammo brand and type, and manufacturer’s lot number. I usually just include the portion of the original box with the lot number and add the date and other necessary additional information. When filled with .22 shells, the bottle weighs about three-and-a-quarter pounds or 1.5kg, which is a highly portable and useful size for many survival and bugout situations.
If you mix brands or types of ammo in the bottle, but want to keep the lot numbers, just make sure you combine different brands where you can easily pair any particular cartridge with the obvious lot number. However in a true SHTF situation, the lot number will be little more than a bit of nostalgia from a better time.
On the 9mm side, the 16oz bottle will hold about 150 rounds with barely enough room for some silica gel. A packed pint bottle of 9mm weighs just under four pounds or 1.8kg. Obviously you could easily double these numbers by using 32 oz or one-liter bottles. Although the weight of quart of ammo is significant, the larger mouthed one liter bottle do allow an extra mag to occupy some of the space if needed.
I cannot speak for all guns, but both a Ruger 10/22 rotary mag and a Glock 9mm mag easily fit through the mouth of a 32-ounce Nalgene. In fact, the bottle will even hold one 25-round Ruger 10/22 mag if you want to really lower the density and thus weight of your quart of .22 shells. However, the 33 round Glock mag is too long to fit in the same bottle.
While we tend to err on the side of larger, don’t forget the small. A one ounce (30ml) bottle will hold a dozen .380 cartridges with enough room left over for a piece of gauze full of silica gel balls. A standard magazine for popular .380 including the Ruger LCP and the Glock 42 holds six rounds. The tiny one ounce bottle, therefore, holds two full mags of bangs. And remember, you can always carry more than one small Bugout Bullet Bottle, but if you only have large bottles, you might elect to walk away from your bottle out of convenience. Small bottles can be carried as second nature.
Other non-ammo additions to the bottle include cleaning supplies, a few survival tools (knife, fire starter, paracord, etc.), survival fishing gear, or just about anything else that fits both your survival paradigm and through the mouth of the bottle. You can get about 75 rounds of .223 into the 16 oz bottle, but it took me 15 seconds to empty it. Due to the shape of the .223 shells, the packing density remains low so the bottle only weighed 2.16 pounds, or about one kilogram when filled to the brim with .223 cartridges.
In addition to .223 ammo, you could toss in a bore snake and perhaps an AR-15 small parts kit. But if you get carried away, then the bottle loses its function as a long-term ammo mule.
The bugout ammo bottle is insurance that is too cheap to pass up. An added advantage is that there are many pouches, cases, and accessories designed to fit, hold, carry, insulate, and supplement standard sized water bottles, of which all of them will increase the functionality of the bugout ammo bottle. And even if you do shoot up all your ammo, you still have a water bottle.
All Photos by Doc Montana
Pretty good idea. I have a survival kit packed into a stainless water bottle but never thought about storing ammo in one. Good tip , thanks.
I put some of my ammo in vacuum sealed baggies. Mostly in small pocket sized batches, so you can grab an extra 10 or 20 rounds (.22 is about 10 rounds to the ounce) and toss it a pocket/pack/manbag when you’re headed out and about.
Really the idea here is to always have a little extra ammo around that’s easy to keep track of and to grab without trouble or thinking about it. Occasionally one the bags will lose its seal, but I haven’t had issues with any going bad.
I’ve been doing this for years.
I use retired cotton socks, for silica.
Though I applaud your efforts to reuse old water bottles, I don’t think carrying loose rounds (especially center-fire ones) in any container is a good idea! The possibility and/or probability of that container being dropped and firing one or all the enclosed ammo is probably quite low, but an unnecessary risk; especially in a SHTF situation; Murphy’s Law isn’t just a theory! I’ll stick to a metal ammo can (.30 or .50 caliber) lined with stiff foam and filled with plastic ammo boxes (MTM), thus keeping different calibers apart and protected with some room left for cleaning gear. Small desiccant packs are quite readily available and the rubber seal keeps the metal ammo can air- and water-tight. The ammo cans are not heavy; the ammo inside is though! Good Luck!
While an AD is pretty much a none issue and if a round did go off outside of a chamber it would pop like a firecracker not a round exiting a barrel. I would be more concerned with cross contamination from the ammunition with a container I would drink out of at some point.
In order for an AD from a primer strike to happen, three things would need to take place, and all are unlikely or impossible with the ammo bottles. First, there needs to be a pointed object lined up with a primer. Second, there needs to be enough of a mass to make it possible to dent the primer. And third, there needs to be an acceleration of the mass producing a great enough force to fire the primer.
In the first instance, very few auto pistol bullets have a sharp enough tip to dent a primer under non-catastrophic forces (all bets are off if in a plane crash). Further, lining up with a primer, while possible, is not likely, and even less likely that additional mass would be lined up as well like a sting of cartridges such as in a tube-feed action rifle. The mildly random distribution of the cartridges in the bottle prevents any combination of masses (point 2) along the same line thus a directional force could not translate and multiply through the series of smaller masses into one larger mass under a perfect acceleration direction.
And third, the structural integrity of the bottle prevents the concentration of a catastrophic force because any gravity-fed impact great enough to overcome the first two points would explode the bottle like a water balloon rather than allow small masses to act like one large one. Thus the ability to generate the necessary AD forces is beyond the capabilities of a traditional water bottle.
But on another note, the lighter forces generated by human muscle would make a quart of bullets a rather good club should things go all caveman.
Of course Murphy was a clever fellow, so I’m sure if an infinite number of monkeys dropped an infinite number of Bugout Bullet Bottles, at some point there will be an AD.
I’ve thought about doing this vs the CCI style 22lr boxes. A good way to carry ammo and saves space, plus you have the bottle still like you said. My concern is noise discipline, I’m not a high speed recon sniper that needs complete silence, but rattling gets annoying and attracts attention. Any thoughts on how to control the noise? Maybe line it with gauze or something, I know this decreases the visibility in the bottle but pros and cons.
If you load the bottle slowly shaking it periodically, then use the size of the silica gel to secure the load, the bottle will be 99% silent. Much more so than a plastic CCI container.
Once some rounds are uses, you would need to pack the bottle with something to keep the rounds from shifting and thus making noise. Another use for a bandana?
Just make sure your packing material does not interfere with the sealing of the lid.
Nalgene bottles rock for storage. To quiet things down, socks, extra clothing, bandana’s, and maybe a blown up ziplock. I have used a piece of soft foam too.
Good thinking, I was thinking maybe a bandana or other cloth that would double for weapons cleaning. Thanks guys.
I’ll use cloth lining, not just to quiet it down but to keep it less conspicuous.
Good idea. If you have to bug out, don’t forget the ammo.
Great idea to re-purpose those Nalgene bottles! Hadn’t even considered that one.
I re-purpose the plastic lemonade containers for this among other things. They’re free and fairly water tight. I run a strip of duct tape around the lid for good measure if I know it will be used in damp or wet environments.
I also use those, particularly the Kool-Aid/Country Time Lemonade canisters. Since the lid on those canisters doubles as a measuring cup, I can pour some rounds into the lid while at the range, to make reloading magazines faster.
I’d never thought of this one as well – it works well, especially considering there are belt and shoulder carrying systems that would work with carrying it – Thank you for the tip! The silica material – maybe folding it in square of cotton would do as a container ?
u can find DIY, empty drawstring tea bags in the organic section of many groc stores that would be good for that
I wonder how well you could put in the boxes of 50. For 22 ammo. Just stack them up the best way to fit as many as you can. After all you are trying to keep your ammo safe from the outside conditions. In my mind it’s not about how much you can cram into a container but more or less keeping it safe. In my mind the ammo cans work well for bulk storage, but having these bottle packs makes for great last ditch efforts at getting some ammo and getting your family and gear out of harms way.
Where this idea really rocks is as an ammo or hard currency ‘cache’, digging and placing under a marked fence post would be easy to do. A Depression Era ‘bank’ of sorts.
While I agree that an accidental discharge (AD) is unlikely in a fully-stuffed container of any shape or material, have you considered that as you use that ammo, (you probably won’t use every round in the container each reload) you’ll have a air gap in the container that will allow the contents to move/bang against each other, possibly damaging the rather thin-shelled ammo, and making unnecessary noise! Can a rag (then two, three, and so on) prevent this? Probably, but again, Murphy’s Law, if you’re in a hurry, you could easily forget; people lose all kinds of gear all the time, usually at a bad time. Also, living and camping in the Rockies has taught me that anyone can take an unexpected fall and a metal ammo can is a whole lot tougher than a plastic bottle! I was, unexpectedly and some time ago, involved in a incident wherein a group of young, somewhat intoxicated men were indulging themselves around a bonfire when one of these young men, bold but not known for much fore thought, decided to throw a box of blank .22 caliber ammo into the bonfire while telling us not to worry since they were blanks, not live rounds! While the other young men were running at panic speed away from the bonfire (followed shortly by the ammo thrower), the ‘harmless’ blanks were exiting the bonfire at speed! (Probably all 50 of them!) For every action there is a equal and opposite reaction, thus the shell casings were ‘fired’ by the escaping burning gases; much like a full balloon suddenly released does and in this instance with a quantity of burning embers to boot! Fortunately, this occurred in wintertime, with several inches of snow on the ground, so no forest fire was started, and ALL the young men returned to camp, unharmed and very sober! My wordy point being that even blanks firing off in a camp fire can be dangerous, what about something like this happening in your pocket! This helps explain why tube-fed-magazine firearms are not as popular since the possibility of AD in the tube limits the type of ammo (projectile really) that can be safety used; and please don’t tell me that this type of AD isn’t possible since I’ve seen the remains of this happening at least twice, not pretty, rather scary actually! Lastly, especially with .22 cal. ammo, (since many 50 round boxes are tightly packed with no insulating material in between) I sincerely doubt you can fit ammo in a round bottle anywhere as tightly as these cardboard boxes with out a lot of tedious effort which would probably fall into disorder as soon as you remove some of that ammo! If air/water proofing is a concern, then I suggest that you either vaccum-seal or zip-lock that ammo in the appropriate amount, meaning if your magazine holds fifteen rounds, then place fifteen rounds in the baggie, seal, place in appropriate container, then you won’t have loose rounds in your pocket, container, etc. No mess, no fuss! Good Luck!
How do you know for sure if it’s a Nalgene lexan water bottle? Wouldn’t want to get the wrong kind.
You cannot squish the lexan plastic with your fingers. The polypropylene bottles are softer. lexan is fairly see through while polypropylene is cloudy.
Just the tips I need for my next hunting trip. Thanks
I didn’t see a link for the small 1 ounce bottle. Any idea where I could find one? Google brings up mostly bottles that use medical droppers. Thanks!
Walmart sells them as does other sports retailers… They label them for things like shampoo and soap.
AD’s are rare, I have two old .22 tube rifles that spent most of their life loaded bouncing around the floor board of a pickup through the swamps and woods of south Ga. over a period of 40 plus years with no AD’s. A better example is the literal fact that my friends and family that served in Afghanistan have taken 7.62 rounds to their fully loaded mag’s on their mole vest’s with no Ad. Can it happen? Probably, nothing is absolute. Will it? Not likely, I’ve shaken rounds in a plastic bottle like ice in my sweet tea with nothing happening.
I recently discovered these for storage. Nice variety of sizes and a very reasonable price.
Good article. Nice to meet you.