Like most other survival authors, I'm a firm believer that most people should bug in, rather than bug out. My reason for that is that few people have the skills and ability to survive out in the wild. So, unless you have a well-stocked bunker (I don't like bunkers either) or cabin in the woods, bugging out is a risky way to try and stay alive.
Having said that, I still think that everyone should have a well thought out bug out plan and make the necessary preparations to bug out. While that may seem like a contradiction, it really isn't. Your Plan A should be to stay at home, living off your stockpile and having the resources in your home to help you survive. But you have to have a Plan B as well, because the time may come when you can't stay at home and have to bug out.
Knowing when that time is can be tricky, because there isn't one single trigger for all circumstances. The people of New Orleans should have bugged out, when Hurricane Katrina was coming. But that doesn't mean that everyone should bug out when a hurricane is coming, not even a category 4 hurricane. In other places, that hurricane wouldn't be as big a risk.
Your bug out plan (Plan B) must include a destination, a route to get there, supplies, equipment and an idea of how you're going to meet the basic necessities of life once you get there. It needs one other thing too, a bug out vehicle.
There's been a lot of interest in bug out vehicles over the years, at least partially because they are cool. Everyone like having a ride that declares who they are and preppers are no different. A nice big truck, decked out for survival says something that resonates with our soul, especially in men's souls. But how do you make sure you have the vehicle you need, so that you can accomplish the plan that you create?
Start with Your Plan
You've got to start with your bug out plan, before coming up with a bug out vehicle. Otherwise, how can you make sure that the vehicle you select, will meet the needs of the plan you create? Granted, your plan may be limited by your vehicle, but I'm working from the assumption that you're going to develop a plan which you can actually afford to accomplish, not something that's a pie-in-the-sky wish list.
Your plan is going to have a huge impact on the type of vehicle that you need. While we might all want that 3/4 ton 4x4 pickup, we don't all need it. If your bug out location is only 50 miles from your home and it's across flatlands, what do you need a four-wheel-drive vehicle for?
The other thing you have to consider here is how obvious your bug out vehicle is going to be. You can have near-perfect OPSEC, and give it all away by parking a camouflaged monster truck in your driveway. If you live in Texas, nobody would give a second thought to that pickup truck; but if you live in New York, Chicago, or Washington, D.C., everyone around is going to be developing their own conspiracy theories, and they'll all be about you.
How much of a part of your plan is that vehicle anyway? Is it just going to get you where you're going, or do your plans include staying in the vehicle, as a camper? If you can't set up a permanent survival retreat anywhere, then using a camper might be a good idea. You could either buy one of the heavy-duty, off-road campers that are being made just for bugging out (assuming you've got a pot of gold sitting around) or you could build your own. Either way, it affects the type of vehicle you need to start out with.
Selecting the Base Vehicle
Vehicles of every sort have been used as bug out vehicles. I've seen everything from motorcycles to military transports. Probably the largest bug out vehicle I've ever seen was an Army tank support vehicle. Converted busses and armored personnel carriers have made their appearance. One guy was showing off his horse and pack train. I've also seen a wide variety of heavy-duty campers, including one very nice rig that's made in Australia. Then there are the more mundane bug out vehicles, that's what most of us are going to need.
I'm not saying that you should ignore those other, more exotic options, if you have the opportunity. But you've got to look at it from a practical viewpoint. Most specialty vehicles and military surplus are extremely expensive. You might end up spending so much money on the vehicle itself, that you can't afford to set it up to be your bug out vehicle.
The other problem with military vehicles is that they are not all street legal. The military gets away with this, because their vehicles are actually intended for use off-road. But you're going to have to drive those vehicles on the road. So, if you're thinking of getting a military vehicle, make sure you look into what it's going to cost to make it street legal and license it.
Don't assume that you need a truck either. While a truck is a great bug out vehicle, it might not be the best for you. Start by looking at what you need, and if that steers you towards a truck, so be it. If not, then look at what it does steer you to.
Let's start with some basic criteria to think about:
- How many people do you need to carry? Are you setting up a bug out vehicle for yourself, for a married couple or for a whole family? Getting all the bodies in the vehicle is even more important than getting your supplies in the vehicle. A two-door pickup truck just might not work out for you.
- How much equipment and supplies are you taking along? You'll need to make sure you have enough cargo carrying capacity, even if that means towing a trailer or buying a used school bus. Don't even think about the idea of going back for more. You've either got to get it in the first load, or you're going to lose it. If you have an extensive stockpile of supplies, you might need some extensive cargo capacity.
- What kind of terrain do you have to cover to get to your bug out location? Flatlands are easier to negotiate than mountains. Climbing mountains takes a lot of engine power, so you might want to consider going with a larger engine option. You also have to consider traffic and how that might alter your bug out.
- What if you have to leave the road? The common understanding is that the roads are going to turn into parking lots, as people run out of gas or their car's overheat. That might force you to go cross-country, abandoning the road. High ground clearance will be needed, although four-wheel-drive may not. Any pickup truck or SUV should be able to give you good ground clearance, especially if you run oversize tires.
- Is your vehicle going to be used as a shelter too? Few people actually own a survival shelter off in the woods someplace. The rest of us are going to have to count on building one or staying in our vehicle. Would you be better off using a camper; whether truck mounted or as a trailer?
- What types of vehicles do your neighbors drive? As I already mentioned, you don't want your bug out vehicle to act as a billboard, advertising that you are a prepper.
- What can you afford? Ultimately, you've got to be able to pay for whatever vehicle you decide to use as your bug out vehicle. If you can't pay for it, then it's just a dream, not a real plan. Make sure that your plans are achievable, even if you end up having to change them later.
- How are you going to use the vehicle once you get to your bug out location? Will you need to use it to haul water, feed for animals or other highly bulky or heavy items? Make sure you pick something that can handle the load.
As you go through these questions, I'm sure that an actual vehicle will be standing out in your mind. It might be what you were thinking of in the first place, or it might be something else, quite different. Be open to changing your mind, if that's what it takes. You're trying to come up with the best for your needs, not modify your needs to match your wants.
But I Can't Afford It
Most of us face a struggle paying for our preps to start with, let alone buying some sort of bug out vehicle. Compared to paying the mortgage and electricity bill, this one is usually pretty far down the priority list. I won't argue with that, because I face the same thing. I will say though, that you still have to come up with an answer to the problem.
There are several different ways we can attack this problem. The first, and probably cheapest, is to find a way to use what we have. If you have a car, you have a bug out vehicle. Maybe it isn't ideal, but it's still a vehicle you can use to get out of Dodge. The question then becomes, "What can you do to make that bug out vehicle better?"
The second option is to replace one of your current vehicles with something that would be more appropriate for bugging out. This is actually the most common option for people to select. If they decide that they need a pickup truck or SUV and already have two vehicles, with the associated payments, they trade one in.
If you're careful about your trade-in, there's a pretty good chance that you'll be able to make that switch without it costing you more per month. Or if it does, the uptick in your budget will be minimal. That makes it well worth looking at, as an option.
Another way is to go the "project truck" route. This one happens to be my personal favorite and one I'm planning on starting in the next couple of months. I've done it before, but it's been a few years since my last project truck.
What I mean by a "project truck" is one that needs work. In case you hadn't noticed, pickup trucks have gotten very expensive, especially new ones. But you can buy an older used pickup truck for a reasonable price. You can do even better, buying a pickup truck with a blown engine or transmission.
This is why I call it a project. Obviously, that truck is going to take a lot of work to get it back on the road; especially if you want a reliable bug out vehicle. Okay, but it's doable. Not only that, but it's the cheapest way around to get a good, reliable truck. By putting the work into it yourself, you save a bundle, while ending up with a truck that's mechanically as good as a new one. So what if it doesn't look as pretty, that will help keep the thieves away from it.
Assuming that the truck hasn't been in an accident and that you don't live in an area where vehicles rust apart sitting in the driveway, the body and frame of your truck should be good. If you replace the engine, brakes and a few other high-maintenance items, you'll have a vehicle that's as reliable as a new one. Then you can start thinking about setting it up for bugging out in.
Turning a Vehicle into a Bug Out Vehicle
Once you've got a vehicle to use, you can basically say that you've got a bug out vehicle. But that doesn't mean that you have the best bug out vehicle that you can have. You might want to consider making some changes to your vehicle, so that it is better suited to bugging out in.
Your bug out vehicle is a survival tool; so the more you can do to make it so that it will help you survive, the better. Looking at it as that tool, what might help you out? Specifically, what can you do to that vehicle to make it easier for you to survive in it? If you can do those things, than you should. Some of them might include:
- Adding a second battery - One battery is enough to provide power to your vehicle, but not enough to power electronic devices that you might want to use. Adding a second battery will give you the capability of pulling power off to use those devices, without the risk of running your battery down.
- Installing a voltage inverter - Voltage inverters allow you to pull power off the vehicle's battery and invert it up to 120 volt house current for plugging in devices that you would normally only be able to use in the house. This expands your options greatly.
- Put on a pickup shell - If you end up with a pickup truck, you might want to consider a shell also. The shell allows you to load equipment and supplies in the back and secure them. It can also be used as a sleeping area, although not if it is all full of supplies. A pickup shell combined with a low storage platform (say 8 inches above the bed) gives you a combination of storage and sleeping area.
- Raise the suspension - As I mentioned earlier, ground clearance, not four-wheel-drive is the most important factor when going off-road. Adding a couple more inches of ground clearance can make it possible to go places where you otherwise couldn't go.
- Adding a brush guard - Brush guards go on the front of the vehicle, over the grille and headlights. They are there to prevent tree branches from going through your radiator or headlights when pushing through heavy brush in a truck or SUV.
- Adding additional headlights - For seeing better when you're driving at night, especially when driving off road.
- Installing a trailer hitch - If your vehicle doesn't already have a trailer hitch, adding one gives you the capability of adding a trailer, increasing the cargo capacity. Most people don't bother, unless they have a truck or SUV, but I have a hitch on my small car, so that it can do a truck imitation, towing a trailer back and forth to the local building material center.
- Adding gas capacity - Whether by adding a second gas tank or simply racks to hold Jerry cans, adding capacity for more gas is a good idea. You probably won't be able to get where you're going with the gas you can carry in the tank, so whatever spare gas you can bring will be worthwhile.
- Spare tires - Most vehicles today come with a space-saver spare. If you're going to use a vehicle for bugging out, it's a good idea to replace that with a real, full-sized wheel and tire. It's also a good idea to have a second spare, along with some way of carrying it, even if it's on the roof.
- Solar charger - If you have a SUV or a truck with a camper shell on it, adding a single solar panel is not a big problem. This will give you the capability of constantly recharging your batteries, so that they don't go dead from you overusing them. Even if you do overuse them, you can still charge them back up and get your vehicle going.
- Storage for emergency equipment and supplies - If you're a prepper, than you'll want to have your vehicle ready for anything. Add storage filled with emergency equipment, supplies, a first-aid kit and some tools. That way, you are sure to have what you need to make it back home.
It's probably clear to you that this list is more focused on a pickup truck, than a passenger car. But that doesn't mean that you can't do many of these same things to a passenger car or mini-van. All it takes is a little imagination and the right parts. Take the time to think it through, looking at various scenarios and various problems, and finding solutions for them.
How About a Trailer?
Any vehicle's capacity can be increased with the addition of a trailer. If you look around, you can find old trailers of every type, for a very reasonable price. Maybe you can't afford a pickup truck right now for a bug out vehicle, but your car can tow a trailer, allowing you to take a lot more supplies with you if you have to bug out.
One really good option is to find a trailer that is in poor shape and buy it for the structure. Typically, what goes bad on a trailer is the body, not the axle and structure. I've bought a few that way; torn off the body and made a new one. That gave me a good trailer for a very small investment.
I currently have three trailers, all of which are rebuilds of other trailers. One was a boat trailer that I bought for $50.00. It has a 7' x 12' box on it now, with built-in shelves. While I use it more as a storage building right now, back when I made it, I hauled it behind my motorhome for a couple of years of full-time travel.
The second trailer is a low-slung open cargo trailer, with roll-back capability. I can use it to haul my lawn tractor, as well as a motorcycle or 4-wheeler. This is the one I tow behind my small car. If I had to do a bug out today (without my project truck being finished) I'd hitch that trailer to my car and load it up. I can carry 1,000 pounds of supplies on it, turning my small car into a fairly reasonable bug out vehicle, even if it can't go off-road.
The third trailer is just a frame right now. I tore off the box I'd built on it and am ready to make it part of my truck project. It's just the right height for pulling behind a pickup truck and very rugged. So, I'm going to make it into a bug out trailer, complete with built-in water tanks, solar power, a slide-out kitchen, solar hot water for bathing and a collapsible shower stall. The main part will be storage for the supplies I'm going to carry along and I'll be sleeping in my custom-built shell in the back of the pickup truck.
Another way to look at the idea of a trailer is with a travel trailer. You can buy older used travel trailers really cheap, especially if they need some work done on them. If you are fairly handy with tools, there's not much on these that you can't fix yourself. Once you do, you've got a mobile survival shelter, which you can pull along behind your pickup truck or SUV.
I lived in a motorhome for nine years, so I know it's possible. It might be a little cramped, but you can handle that. The biggest problem for most people is trying to take too much along with you. You have to pare down and only take what you need; otherwise, it won't fit in the trailer.
When we were living in the motorhome, each of my kids had a cabinet about 30" wide, 12" high and 12" deep for their clothes. Each had a cabinet about double that size for their toys and other personal items. My wife and I didn't have much more. The rest of the storage was for the normal items we all need, like dishes, towels and food.
But if you have a truck and a trailer or a SUV and a trailer, you could use the storage space in the back of the truck or SUV for additional food and supplies. That would make living in the trailer much easier, especially off in the middle of nowhere, where there are not grocery stores to restock at.
The main thing you'll need to do is to make the trailer as self-contained as possible. That means adding in solar power, increasing the size of your water tanks, adding additional propane capacity and making sure that you have good water filtration equipment to filter water you get from streams and lakes. With these modifications, you'll be able to do quite well, living in a trailer during a bug out.
Of course, towing a trailer can limit your ability to go off-road. I've seen people take smaller travel trailers off-road before, towing them behind jeeps, but to do that, you need to reinforce the standard travel trailer. Most aren't built for that sort of abuse. The cabinets and furnishings could tear loose of the interior walls. You'll also need to reinforce the corners, giving the body of the trailer more strength.