Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
Bugging out is one of the biggest challenges for the average prepper. Despite all the interest in bugging out, most of us aren’t prepared to survive it. Just having a bug out bag and vehicle isn’t enough; there’s a lot of knowledge required to survive away from your home. You won’t have the convenience of having your home for shelter, nor all the things that are in your home.
A good bug out vehicle may not be an absolute requirement to bug out, but it makes things much easier. Bugging out on foot limits the distance you can travel and the amount you can carry. While there may be challenges with getting to your survival retreat in a bug out vehicle, the challenges will certainly be greater if you have to start out on foot.
But just what sort of vehicle should you take on a bug out? I see lots of people dreaming about having the ultimate bug out vehicle, most of which are so costly as to be unavailable to 99% of preppers.
Many are either armored vehicles intended for urban warfare or police riot control, or just overstock military vehicles. In either case, they aren’t stealthy, easy to maintain, or practical for driving on city streets. Their main selling point is being “tacticool.”
A good bug out vehicle must be able to do a lot of things in addition to people’s daily commute. Few of us can afford a bug out vehicle that just sits in the driveway, waiting until it is needed. So, we might have to make some compromises in order to have a bug out vehicle we can use.
Requirements for a Good Bug Out Vehicle
Before rushing out to buy something, it’s a good idea to write out some basic requirements for our ideal bug out vehicle. Some of these are absolute have-to items, while others are optional. You’re going to have to decide for yourself which ones are the most critical, as each of us has a unique situation.
The number one requirement for any bug out vehicle is reliability. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got four-wheel-drive if you can’t be sure that the vehicle will keep running when you go off-road. Invest the time and money necessary to keep your bug out vehicle in top form, regardless of what it is. This includes tires, changing fluids, and even making sure the door locks work.
Don’t just count on the reliability of the vehicle itself either. Some things, like belts, hoses, batteries and windshield wipers can go out at the most inopportune times. Carry spares for these critical parts, just like you carry a spare tire. Speaking of that spare tire, if your vehicle has a donut, replace it with a real tire.
Speaking of reliability, we’re living in an age when the idea of electric vehicles is gaining steam. While only about two percent of the vehicles being sold are electric, that number is increasing. But the technology hasn’t yet reached the point where an EV would be a practical option for bugging out. It may get there, but it’s got a ways to go.
You’re going to need a vehicle that’s big enough to carry your whole family, your bug out bags, and any other gear you’re planning on taking along. Don’t skimp on the size, as that will mean having to leave things behind.
A lot of people make sure that they have adequate passenger space, but don’t pay as much attention to the cargo space they need. Pickup trucks and SUVs are usually the best for getting the most out of cargo space.
By and large, you’re better off going with a larger vehicle. But you need to keep in mind that there’s a tradeoff with that larger vehicle; it’s going to burn more fuel. While it will have a bigger tank, it probably won’t be big enough. So, you’re going to have to use some of that extra space to carry fuel.
Buying something that screams “Bug out vehicle!” to your neighbors might not be the best idea. There are few people around these days who aren’t aware of the prepper movement, even if they aren’t involved themselves.
If those people see a lifted 4×4 truck, tricked out with all the off-road goodies you can find, they will wonder, especially if you live in an area where few people have four-wheel-drive vehicles and there aren’t really places to go off-road.
On the other hand, if you live in someplace like Texas, you might be more conspicuous driving a passenger car than that big pickup or SUV. Color makes a difference too; pick something neutral that won’t stand out, regardless of what your favorite color is.
While not everyone can pull off a four-wheel-drive vehicle as being their daily ride, if you can, you’re better off having that capability.
Even if your planned bug out route doesn’t take you anywhere where you expect to need to go off-road, there’s always a chance that you will have to leave the paved road and go cross-country, especially if there are a lot of people bugging out at the same time and the roads turn into a parking lot full of out-of-gas vehicles.
If you can’t opt for four-wheel-drive, make sure your vehicle has good ground clearance. That’s the biggest thing that four-wheel-drive does for us most of the time, and just about any vehicle can have the chassis lifted, giving you added ground clearance. That’s the biggest thing that a four-wheel-drive vehicle does for us in most situations, as the four driven wheels isn’t always necessary.
What About EMP?
One of the biggest TEOTWAWKI concerns around is that of an EMP. The jury is still out as to whether or not cars and trucks will run after an EMP, as modern vehicles have so many electronics in them.
But it is known that pre-1970s vehicles, from before engine computers became common, are likely to run, even if the computers in every other vehicle are fried. If you’re concerned about EMP, then you might want to consider an older vehicle for your bug out vehicle, assuming you can find one in good condition.
Options to Consider on Your Bug Out Vehicle
How you set up your bug out vehicle may end up being as important as the vehicle itself. Regardless of what your bug out plans are, you may very well end up living out of that vehicle for days, if not longer.
That means being prepared for just about anything. While your bug out bag will help you with some things, the vehicle can help you with some as well.
If you have a pickup, you should probably consider adding a shell on the back. Open cargo areas all but invite theft, as it is just too easy to pick something up and walk off with it. In a bug out situation, where most people won’t be prepared and may very well be desperate, they probably wouldn’t hesitate to take whatever you have that they need.
Adding a roof rack is a relatively inexpensive modification for just about any vehicle, adding cargo space on the cheap. The big problem is that whatever is up there is not secured, unless you also have a lockable storage pod that attaches to the rack.
Still, even without it, things can be tied to the roof. With a little ingenuity, a cable lock of the type used for bicycles will make it harder for anyone to steal what’s carried there.
Whatever vehicle you get, it would be a good idea to add a trailer hitch to it. While you might not have a trailer available to you now, you never know what tomorrow might hold. That includes what you might encounter along the way while bugging out. A trailer hitch gives you more flexibility, even if it is for nothing more than pulling vehicles out of the way.
Speaking of trailer hitches, one largely overlooked piece of bug out equipment is a trailer. There are two ways to look at this; either an enclosed cargo trailer or a travel trailer.
While a travel trailer will mean burning more fuel and will cut down on your maneuverability, it can function as a portable survival shelter, wherever you go. They are already designed for living off-grid and with a few modifications, you can improve upon that capability.
A variety of different companies have come up with gear racks for use with pickup trucks and SUVs. These allow a means of organizing your gear and tying things in place, especially the gear that stays in your rig.
Making things more organized can help you haul more and make what you’re hauling easier to find when you need it. This can also help to keep things in place and avoid them getting damaged when you go off road.
A winch is useful for a lot of things, not just getting your bug out vehicle unstuck, if you happen to get it stuck. One of the better uses is for snaking logs out of the woods, so that you can make use of them.
Mounting the winch on the back of the vehicle, instead of the front, not only makes it easier to get the vehicle unstuck, as that’s the direction you probably went into the mud or hole from, but it also makes it possible to use it for pulling various other things, like the aforementioned log.
Let’s Look at a Few Good Vehicles
Everyone has their own opinion about what makes a good bug out vehicle, so I’m sure there will be at least as many people out there who disagree with these options, as agree with them.
I’m not so much trying to advocate any particular make and model of vehicle, as I am trying to give you some ideas to think about. What you actually choose to buy will depend on your budget, availability and personal preference.
Old Toyota 4Runner
I have to admit that I’m a bit prejudiced here, as this is my persona bug out vehicle. I can’t vouch for the newer ones, but the old 4Runners were rugged, almost indestructible vehicles. They might be a bit short on creature comforts, but if you’ve got to go off-road, you can count on them.
The Jeep brand has been going the way of other SUVs, turning their vehicles into family cars, more than off-road vehicles. But they still have about the best 4×4 system out there. The Rubicon can probably be considered their best off-road model, which comes with the capability for a lot of potential add-ons, such as a snorkel for fording streams.
The Suburban has been around for just about forever, debuting as the “Carryall Suburban” in 1935. It saw considerable service in World War II and has been used by the military ever since.
Any vehicle that can survive that long in production has to have something going for it, especially considering that most Suburbans have seen a lot of hard use. The other great thing about it is that it is huge, giving lots of room for both family and gear.
It’s hard to pick out a “best” four-wheel-drive truck, but the Tacoma is up there near the top of the list. The big advantage of any pickup is the cargo space it offers. Set up properly, it can be used as a camper as well, making a much more capable bug out vehicle.
Sportsmobile Classic 4×4
This is a converted van, designed specifically for off-road camping. As such, it could just be one of the best possible bug out vehicles out there, especially if you don’t have a cabin in the woods somewhere that you can go to. They’ve gone to extremes making sure that the vehicle is both rugged and comfortable.
Made by Conquest Vehicles in Canada, the Knight XV is an armored vehicle, with a luxury interior. While I’m not sure whether you’ll come under fire while bugging out, if you do, you’ll be glad you have this truck. Obviously more expensive than other pickups out there, this is not something you’ll want to use as your daily drive.
The Ripsaw is a civilian tank, complete with tank tracks and huge ground clearance. It doesn’t come with a main gun or coaxial machine guns; but if you want something that will get you anywhere, this is probably it. Not only that, but it will do so in the height of luxury. The only real drawback is the price tag, which is really out of the reach of 99% of the population.