When it comes time to bug out, proper planning is the key. There may be a lot of other people trying to bug out at the same time, most of who will probably end up stranded on the road.
But with a good plan and a good bug out vehicle, you can get away from those crowded highways and get to your bug out retreat, while everyone else is still trying to figure out what’s going on.
Of course, leaving early is the best way to avoid the crowded highway, but that may not be possible. Since you’ve got to plan for the worst possible situation, you’d better plan on trying to make it through the crowd and out into the wild, without dragging all of them along with you. With that in mind, what does it take to make a great bug out vehicle?
To start with, I’d have to say that there is no one perfect design. Each person’s needs are different, so you have to seek out a vehicle that will meet your needs. Don’t try to match somebody else’s idea of a perfect vehicle, but glean from the lessons they have learned. Then, build your vehicle as you see fit.
I say “build your vehicle” because no matter what you buy, you will probably end up doing some modifications. In fact, there are a few modifications that I think every bug out vehicle should have, just to increase its ability to help you get away from the city and out to the wild, where you’ll at least be away from the most dangerous predator… the two-legged one.
Picking Your Vehicle
To start with, you need to decide where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. Don’t forget to think about alternate routes. If the highway is blocked, as it probably will be, how can you get there? Are there routes where you can go off-road and make better time?
Are there minor roads or dirt roads which you can use? Selecting a vehicle, without knowing how you’re going to use it can be a bit tricky. While you could create a generic bug out vehicle, it may not get you where you need to go.
For most people, the questions I just asked are going to make it sound like you need a four wheel drive truck or SUV. While that will probably be a good choice, you want to make sure that your bug out vehicle isn’t going to stand out.
If you have the only 4×4 truck in your town or subdivision, it might be just a bit conspicuous. You might need to tone your desires down to something that will blend in a bit better.
Of course, if you can come up with a good reason why you have that four-wheel-drive vehicle, than you don’t have to worry about it destroying your OPSEC. But it had better be a good story, one that people can readily believe.
So, what should this vehicle have?
1. Lots of Room
When it comes time to bug out, you’re going to want to take lots of equipment and supplies with you. That means having a large vehicle, which can provide you with a lot of cargo carrying capacity. You’ll need enough room for all your family members too; so you’ll probably end up having to balance between space for your family and space for your supplies.
Don’t forget to consider the weight capacity of the vehicle when you’re thinking of space. All those bodies and supplies are going to be heavy. A five gallon bucket of food can easily end up weighing 50 pounds. It doesn’t take all that many of them before you’re overloading a half ton pickup truck.
2. High Ground Clearance
I know I said that you might not want a four-wheel-drive vehicle, if it will make you stand out. But if you can, that’s great. Actually, you don’t need the four-wheel-drive as much as you need good ground clearance.
About the only time you actually have to engage the transfer case is if you’re on really rough terrain, trying to get through deep snow or navigating through the mud. The rest of the time, two-wheel-drive is enough.
You can actually get good ground clearance out of a passenger car, minivan or crossover by putting air shocks or hydraulics on it. In most cases, that will give you as much ability to hop a curb or drive down a rutted dirt road as a 4×4 has.
3. A Powerful Engine
By the time you load up your bug out vehicle with your family, equipment and supplies, you’re going to have a lot of weight. A powerful engine will pull that weight easier, especially if you have to go off-road to get where you’re going. While that large engine may not get as good a fuel mileage as a smaller one, when it comes time to bug out, it will pay for itself.
4. A Secondary Fuel Tank
Some pickup trucks and SUVs are built with a second fuel tank. This greatly increases the range of the vehicle off of internal fuel. If your vehicle doesn’t have this, I’d highly recommend getting a little creative and adding an extra tank or even two if you can find the space.
In addition to adding another fuel tank, it would be useful to have some jerry can holders, so that you can carry several jerry cans of extra fuel. You want to be careful about this though, as those externally mounted jerry cans can make your bug out vehicle look a little too much like a bug out vehicle.
5. A Cargo Cover
If you end up using a pickup truck as your bug out vehicle, then invest in a cargo area cover or shell. You don’t want people to see what you’ve got in the back of that truck, as it may just end up being an invitation to attack you.
I prefer a shell, as it gives me more enclosed cargo carrying capacity than a cargo cover will. I covered over the windows on the inside, so that nobody can tell what I’ve got in there.
Many people use their pickup trucks for other things than bug out vehicles. That’s fine. You can still have a cargo cover or shell for it, just don’t keep it mounted. Hang it by pulleys in your garage, so that you can back your pickup truck in, drop the shell down in place, and attach it. In just a few minutes, you’ll be ready to start loading.
For SUVs and cars, an enclosed cargo pod that mounts on the top of the vehicle can add a considerable amount of cargo space. If it’s enclosed, then people won’t be able to tell what’s in it. Hopefully, they’ll assume it’s nothing more important than suitcases full of clothes. SportRack A90275 Aero XL Roof Box with plenty of room.
6. Dual Batteries
One of the easiest problems to have during your bug out is a dead battery. Having to ask for a jump start just might put you in a perilous situation. So, solve the problem by installing a secondary battery.
You can buy a switch from any RV center, which will allow you to use one battery or both. That way, you can keep the second battery disconnected when you’re using a voltage inverter and always have a fully-charged battery to make your getaway.
7. Foam Filled Tires
The easiest way to stop any vehicle is to shoot out the tires. The trick to that is to stand in front of the vehicle and shoot at them. That’s a whole lot easier than shooting at a vehicle that’s crossing in front of you. But if you have foam filled tires, they can’t be shot out. While the bullets still won’t be all that good for your tires, you’ll be able to keep driving.
Make sure you have tires with some serious tread on them too. While this may make extra noise when you’re running down the highway, it will provide you with much more traction for off-road, snow and mud.
8. Shatter Resistant Windows
This is a modification you may have to do yourself, although there are people around who can do it for you. Lots of people put window film on the inside of their windows to tint them, but that’s not really going to do much for the security of your vehicle.
However, there is another type of window film, designed for use in preventing windows from being broken; window security film.
This security film comes in a variety of thicknesses, from two to twelve mils thick. It essentially makes the window function like the front windshield of a car. Those are designed that even if they do shatter, the glass stays in place, held there by a rubberized core.
The security film does the same for the other windows, so that while they may break, the glass will stay in place.
9. Push Bar
You might find it necessary to push someone off the road, in order to make your escape. Since most people won’t be prepared for the bug out, they’ll either run out of gas or have their engine overheat.
The roads will turn into parking lots, full of angry, frustrated people and their stalled cars.
When things get to that point, you’ll want to get your family off the road and away from the people as fast as possible. That just might mean that you have to give someone’s broken down car a bit of a nudge.
I’m not talking about a battering ram, like in the movies, I’m just talking about pushing it far enough so that it’s out of your way. A push bar will make that much easier and keep you from damaging your front end in the process.
People who go four-wheel driving for fun tend to mount a bunch of extra lights, so that they can see what’s in front of them at night.
Standard headlights don’t do a very good job of illuminating, as they have to balance between allowing the driver to see and not blinding the rest of the drivers on the road. When driving off road, the more light the better; especially for navigating rough terrain.
Don’t go Crazy
There might be a temptation to add a turret with coaxial machine guns to the top of your bug out vehicle, I’d advise against that. Remember, you’re trying to be stealthy. If you put that turret up there, someone is going to wonder just what it’s there for. It will probably end up attracting the kind of attention that you don’t want.
For the same reason, I’d avoid the gun ports in the side walls and the armor plating. Those are tempting as well, but unless you want to have to battle your way to your destination, I think the risk that they create is greater than the benefit that they provide.
Your finished bug out vehicle has to work well for your family. Do some trial runs, loading it up and heading out cross-country, to see how it does. That may give you some ideas of how you can improve it or improve the way you’re packing it. You want to be sure that the vehicle and you are ready when the time comes.
With that in mind, keep your vehicle well maintained. Having the best bug out vehicle in the world and forgetting to change the spark plugs or oil isn’t a good combination. Take care of your trusty steed, so that you’ll be able to trust it when you need it.
Sam Hardy is an outdoor enthusiast with a penchant for survival skills. He writes about the great outdoors and his favorite equipment here.