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The Ultimate Bug Out Vehicle Guide (With Checklist)


Author:
Last Updated: November 12, 2020

Like most of my peers, I don’t plan on sticking around if SHTF.  As much as I love my home, I plan on getting out of dodge as quickly as possible.  To make this happen, I have:

  1. Bug Out Bags packed and ready to go (see my BOB checklist)
  2. An emergency communication plan so I can quickly get my family together.
  3. Practiced a step-by-step bugging out plan with my family.
  4. A reliable bug out vehicle

Let’s Be Rational!

It should be obvious, but disaster prepping is never the same for two people.  We live in different areas, face different threats, have different gear needs, and so forth…

Instead of going berserk trying to choose one “ultimate” bug out vehicle for all SHTF disaster situations, consider the folllowing:

  1. Look at the worst-case scenarios that you think are worth your time and effort to plan for.
  2. Consider how these situations will affect your mobility.
    • Will roads be passable?
    • Will fuel be available?
    • What security situations will you need to plan for?
  3. Then look at the MOST LIKELY disaster scenarios. Consider how these will affect your mobility.
  4. Find a bug out vehicle which suits both your worst-case and most-likely disaster scenarios.

Let’s repeat that because it is important:

Your bug out vehicle should suit both your worst-case and most-likely disaster scenarios!

Bug Out Vehicle Considerations

To make it easier to choose a bug out vehicle, I’ve narrowed the parameters down to a few key considerations.  Take a look at these and see how they suit your worst-case and most-likely disaster scenarios.

Space:

Is the Bug Out Vehicle big enough to carry all of your team members? Is it big enough to hold all of your gear? Can the vehicle be used as a shelter?

Fuel Requirements:

Does the vehicle require fuel? What kind and how much?

Speed:

Will the bug out vehicle be able to get you out of a dangerous situation quickly?

Terrain:

Can the bug out vehicle handle tough terrain such as broken glass on streets, snow and ice, flooding, and backroads?

Ease of Repair:

What are likely repair issues? Do you know how to make these repairs? Are spare parts readily available?

Imperviousness to Damage and Safety:

Will the vehicle be easily damaged from physical threats such as bullets, looting, or the elements?  Will the vehicle be able to protect you from these threats as well? Is the vehicle armored?

Cost:

Is the bug out vehicle within your budget? Will buying the vehicle take away from other parts of your disaster prepping budget?

Accessibility and Practicality:

Can you keep the bug out vehicle somewhere close by? Can you use the vehicle on a regular basis?

The Top 6 Bug Out Vehicle Choices and their Pros/Cons

There are a lot more vehicles which could be used for bugging out and, of course, there are so many different kinds of cars, SUVs, trucks, etc.

I’ve chosen to focus on the main categories of vehicles because they share the same pros/cons.  Hopefully this will help you make a decision suitable to your needs.

1. Car

car as bug out vehicle

Pros:

  • You probably already have one and it is likely to be nearby when a disaster strikes
  • Discreet
  • Can be used as a shelter
  • Can carry a decent amount of gear
  • Depending on model, spare parts might be easy to find

Cons:

  • Probably not 4WD; can’t handle tough terrain
  • Easily damaged by terrain or external threats
  • Could be affected by EMP
  • Requires gasoline, which might not be available
  • Must know how to make repairs

2. Truck or SUV

SUV as bug out vehicle

Pros:

  • Handles tough terrain
  • Provides protection to occupants
  • Can be armored
  • Can be used on a regular basis
  • Holds a lot of gear
  • Can be used as a shelter

Cons:

  • Has high fuel requirements
  • Might make you stand out and become a target for looters
  • Must know how to make repairs; spare parts might not be available
  • A good setup will cost a lot!
  • Could be affected by EMP

3. Campers/RV/Vans

bug out vehicle RV

Pros:

  • Make a great shelter, including for long-term survival
  • Many are already equipped with features like solar panels, bathrooms, and kitchens
  • Huge amounts of space for people and gear
  • Can be armored and equipped with protection elements such as gun turrets
  • Good for large groups (5+)
  • Rugged, off-road campers are available

Cons:

  • Very high fuel consumption
  • Very conspicuous – sticks out like a sore thumb
  • Many models don’t handle backroads very well
  • Hard to maneuver; difficult or impossible to turn around on narrow roads
  • Much slower speed than an SUV or car
  • Must have a place to park it
  • Isn’t used on a regular basis, so you probably won’t be driving it if a disaster hits while you are away from home
  • Very expensive
  • Could be affected by EMP

*See these Rugged, Off-Grid Campers! They will have you drooling.

4. Motorcycle

motorcycle as bug out vehicle

Pros:

  • Very fast
  • Can handle many types of terrain and obstacles, including navigating through rubble, road blocks, and backroads
  • Low fuel consumption requirements
  • Easy to hide at base camp
  • More likely to be EMP-proof
  • Fairly easy and fast to make repairs

Cons:

  • Aren’t able to carry much gear unless you use a trailer, but the trailer will negatively affect your speed and which terrain you can handle
  • No protection from the weather or external threats like projectiles
  • Not suitable for snowy or icy conditions
  • Can’t be used as a shelter
  • Only suitable for 1-2 people
  • You probably don’t use it every day, so it might not be nearby when disaster strikes
  • Unless you already enjoy riding a motorcycle, it means an additional large expense

5. Bike

bike as bug out vehicle

Pros:

  • Requires no fuel
  • Can get around road blocks and navigate through traffic jams
  • Could be used on small trails which are inaccessible to larger vehicles
  • Impervious to EMP
  • Easy to hide at base camp
  • Can easily and quickly make repairs
  • Very affordable

Cons:

  • Manual labor to go anywhere – which means using much-needed calories
  • Must be in good physical condition to use; injury would immobilize you
  • Slow speed
  • No protection from the weather or external threats like projectiles
  • Only suitable for 1-2 people (as with tandem bikes or child bike seats)
  • Saddlebags only able to hold limited amounts of gear
  • Can’t be used as a shelter
  • Tires easily pop on broken glass and fire

6. Boat

boat as bug out vehicle

Pros:

  • Only option suitable for severe flooding
  • Can hold lots of gear
  • Can be rigged to serve as a shelter
  • Good option if you already live near a river or waterway
  • Can run on fuel or with paddles
  • With motor, a boat is very fast

Cons:

  • Require specialized knowledge to operate, maintain, and repair
  • Could be very difficult to repair in disaster situations
  • Will need to waterproof all gear
  • Inflatable boats are easily damaged
  • Boats which are more impervious to damage are very expensive
  • Unless you live very close to where the boat is docked, it won’t be easily accessible

You Always Need a Plan B!

When it comes to your Bugging Out and Disaster Prepping, you always need a Plan B (and ideally a Plan C, D, etc.).  This applies to your Bug Out Vehicle as well.

For example:

  • Plan A: You use your 4WD SUV as your bug out vehicle because you already use it as your everyday vehicle (i.e. no additional costs to you), it meets your space requirements, and could handle most terrain.
  • Plan B: You realize that the SUV might not be able to get around road blocks or traffic jams. So, you buy mountain bikes for each family member and equip them with saddlebags. When SHTF, you quickly mount those bikes on your SUV’s rack.  When you get to an obstacle, you leave your SUV and switch to the bikes.
  • Plan C: Your SUV could be rendered useless by EMP. In this case, you evacuate on the mountain bikes.
  • Plan D: Your SUV or bikes are stolen. You set off on foot to your bug out location.

Prepare Your Bug Out Vehicle

But let’s take things a step further.  Once you’ve chosen your Bug Out Vehicle, it is time to get it ready for bugging out.

Honestly, prepping your vehicle for bugging out doesn’t take much time.  Many of the items on this Bug Out Vehicle Checklist should be in your vehicle anyway.

Doomsday may never happen, but breakdowns inevitably will!

But in the event that something terrible does occur, you want to make sure your vehicle is ready to go.

As numerous disasters have taught us, the key to survival is fleeing early.

Each minute you save beating the crowds, road blocks, and looters drastically increases your chances of actually getting out unscathed.

Guidelines for Packing

packing a bug out vehicle

Guideline 1. You Need More than Your Bug Out Bag

It is highly recommended that you keep one Bug Out Bag at home and keep another in your vehicle.  The reasoning for this is that disaster could strike while you aren’t at home.

A lot of people also keep BOBs at work too.

But just because you’ve got a BOB in your vehicle, it doesn’t mean your vehicle is “ready.”

The whole benefit of bugging out by vehicle is that you get to carry tons more gear with you.  Why the heck would you limit yourself to what’s in your BOB when you can load more?

So pack as much survival gear in your vehicle as is reasonable!

Guideline 2. Don’t Touch Your Bug Out Bag Items

Consider your Bug Out Bag items completely separate from your Bug Out Vehicle items.  The only time you should use your BOB items is if you abandon your vehicle and have to set off on foot.

Why? Consider this scenario:
A major terrorist attack has just occurred and you flee by car. Your BOB is on the seat next to you.  You’ve got 50 gallons of water in the car, but it is all the way in the trunk and in large jugs.  So, you decide to drink the bottled water from your BOB.  “I’ll refill them later,” you tell yourself.

But then you notice an overturned car on the road in front of you.  You are forced to stop.  Seconds later, it becomes apparent that the road block was put there by a gang of masked hoodlums who are quickly approaching your vehicle…

You grab your BOB, abandon the vehicle, and set off on foot through your Route B.

The problem is that your Bug Out Bag is now lacking water.  If only you’d drunk the water in your trunk instead of depleting your limited BOB supplies!

Guideline 3. You’ll Have Some Duplicate Items

Because you are treating your BOB items as separate from your vehicle items, you will end up with some duplicates.

For example, I’ve got a survival knife in my glove box and one in my Bug Out Bag.  I’ve also got duplicates of survival food and water – there’s just tons more of it in my trunk than in my BOB.

I get that not everyone will be able to afford duplicates to keep in their BOV and BOB.  Since you should keep a BOB at home and in your car, and you need additional items for your vehicle, you can end up with triple of some items.

When budget is an issue, then you can remove items from your BOB to use – just put them back right away.

Or, better yet, focus on everyday carry survival items so you always have survival gear on you.

Bug Out Vehicle Checklist

Bug out vehicle gear

This Bug Out Vehicle checklist is made for people who plan on fleeing in a car, truck, SUV, or other “traditional” vehicle.  At the end, you’ll see some items for alternative Bug Out Vehicles too.

You might not need everything on the checklist but do start thinking about Worst Case Scenarios, such as if your BOV got a flat tire or you ran out of gas.

These types of thought processes are what help us get prepared!

Note this checklist is available as part of our checklist bundle.

Vehicle Emergency Items (with Amazon Links)

*If you are going to transport extra fuel, the safest way is on your roof rack or a rack on the back of your vehicle.  Never leave extra fuel inside your vehicle.

Signaling and Communication Gear

Shelter, Warmth, and Clothing Items

Navigation Items

Documents

  • License
  • Registration
  • Vehicle repair manual
  • Contact list with phone numbers
  • Firearm CWP permit

Water and Food

Survival and Personal Protection Items

Personal Hygiene Items

Items for Alternative Vehicles

  • Bike or motorcycle helmet
  • Life jackets
  • Paddles
  • Life raft
  • Dry sacks

Bug Out Vehicle To-Do Checklist

Yes, there is more!  You will need to make sure your Bug Out Vehicle is always ready to go.

  • Keep tank at least half full at all times
  • Service your vehicle regularly
  • Learn how to do vehicle maintenance
  • Rotate the food in your vehicle
  • Rotate the water too. Water bottles leak after about 6-12 months, especially when in a hot car trunk.

Is there anything I missed on the BOV checklist? Let me know!

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  1. A good list of all the stuff you “should” have. “BUT”—-how about a minimum list of what is absolutely necessary. Have you calculated the weight/volume of you ideal list? Would definitely not fit in a Rav4 SUV ( and have room for passengers) —-unless you pull a cargo trailer!

    Reply
    • As always you must prepare for your own individual situation. This is a general list – not everything is required – decide what you need for your own needs and priorities and go from there.

      Reply
  2. I have a for wheel drive pickup and a all wheel drive toyota highlander and a 7 X 14 motorcycle trailer. Which vehicle would be best and should I pull the trailer to put supplies in, and should I bring the motorcycle (Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic limited) or leave it behind.

    Reply
    • Hi Gary – totally depends on the situation. If you have the time and can plan ahead\travel back roads etc then bring as much as you can. If you need to get out of dodge quick then the Harley and a BOB might be your best option.

      Think about the most likely scenarios in your area and plan the best response.

      Reply
      • I want to speak to the use of a Motorcycle in a Bug out situation.. It is a very bad choice.

        1.. Motorcycle riding itself has increased risks for injury in any circumstance. Get injured in a Grid Down situation and you may well not leave the spot you went down.

        2. The inarguable increased concentration requirements to remain upright decrease the ability to perceive long range threats in advance.. Please do not argue this point.. Motorcycles worked as Military Courier Vehicles in the past but due to the nature of current threats and no “Front Lines” they no longer work in high risk environments. They were tried and abandoned again by the US Military most recently in the 70s. There will be “No front Lines” in a grid down situation.

        3. You are low hanging fruit..

        Reply
        • I agree with your arguments, but that assumes we are talking about a TEOTWAKI situation. Not every disaster is doomsday and, in some cases, a motorcycle makes more sense than a car — especially when it can go on smaller roads or around obstacles. A motorcycle is also a lot easier to roll off to the side of the road and camouflage when having to camp out for a night. And, as someone who has traveled a lot, there are plenty of people in the world who only have motorcycles and don’t have a car at all. I guess the main point I want to make is that there is no one perfect BOV. Everyone’s really got to look at their unique situation and which disasters they are prepping for.

          Reply
  3. I have an extra BOB in the car, and a Get Home Bag with water and extra food, just in case. The GHB sits right where I can grab it if need be. The BOB is in the trunk along with a emergency tent. Many items are duplicate but it will be worth it. Additionally I have an extra US Army sustainment bag with food and condiments to supliment my two bags. Overall I have about five days worth of food and water for two. Instead of filled water bottles in the back I have 1 liter pre packed and sealed packages of water with a five year shelf life. No leakage with these so far. Overall my car preps are still a work in progress. I do worry about being able to get into or have access to the trunk under certain conditions. I might move the extra BOB to the back seat for better access since the front passenger seat might be occupied if we can’t take my wife’s car also.

    Reply
  4. If you’re going to have anything of value, including a BOB, visible in your vehicle, consider storing it in an empty dog food (or goat chow or horse food, etc) bag. Having a bag of bunny chow in the backseat of your vehicle isn’t nearly as attractive as a well-stocked BOB. 😉

    Reply
  5. Oh, and about that siphon & pump… please realize that most cars have anti-siphon technology in place that will prevent you from siphoning fuel from a vehicle.

    If there is truly a dire need to do so, and you have the manpower (at least two people, but three is much better) and tools (an awl or screwdriver, a rubber mallet, vinyl gloves, a drain pan or like container in addition to a gas container), you c-o-u-l-d punch two holes in a gas tank from under the vehicle, one hole up high to be the air hole and one hole down low to drain the fuel into the drain pan. When the drain pan is fairly full, have person #2 pour the fuel into your gas can while you’re plugging the lower hole in the gas tank. Repeat the draining/plugging/pouring process until your gas can is full or the gas tank is empty.

    Of course, person #3 is your look-out/security.

    Reply
  6. Way back in the seventies when there were such long lines to fill up and alternate days depending on your tag number people were going through urban neighborhoods at night and tapping an oil can spout that could close or open into vehicle gas tanks. They would get what fuel they could and keep coming back because the spout could just be turned back on and the tank drained again.

    Reply
    • Desperate times require improvisation skills and this is a good example that could come in handy in a SHTF situation. not that we condone such behavior of course!

      Reply
  7. The question remains: where do you bug out TO?
    Unless you are leaving some dangerous urban center for a relative’s farm or cabin, one who has their own supplies and welcomes you, just getting out of Dodge may be the classic, out of the frying pan into the fire.
    With Metropolis burning behind you, and cars going bumper to bumper, it is like a hurricane evacuation. Disabled cars along the side of the road, people trying to walk and other unpalatable situations.
    I live in the mountains and my neighbors are like-minded friends. We will just defend the ridge and live off the land after our supplies run out.

    Reply
  8. There isn’t really a big out option in the South of the United Kingdom (UK). My vehicle preps are all aimed at me getting home and hunkering down. I therefore have a 4 x 4 suv, stocked for 3 days travel (my commute is usually 45minutes) and an additional Bob in case I have to abandon my vehicle. Being ex military, I’m used to preparing for the worst, hoping for the best.

    Reply
  9. I’ve never heard of a Harley that could be used to seriously ride “off road”.
    You should have an older vehicle(one that DOES NOT have any electronics in it). In case of an EMP attack.
    Your personal hygiene list did not mention any female hygiene
    items.

    Reply
  10. Every single transport vehicle that the article reviewed, except a bicycle, which can’t carry much, can be affected by an EMP. EMPs can be caused by terrorists, bad political actors, antagonists, and solar storms. A large EMP (such as one created by severe Solar activity) will wipe out many electrical systems, which our societies have evolved to rely on. Economies will be devastated. The Amish will be better off than the rest of us, except that they have relied upon us “English” to transport them locally and distantly. Primal Survivor should do an article about EMPs and how devastating they can be. The Carrington Event in late August and early September of 1859 was identified as a Coronal Mass Ejection, but back then we were not as reliant on electricity as we are now (computers, phones, radios, televisions, GPS, lighting sources, electrical appliances, and transportation devices (Planes, vehicles, trains, boats, and many other things). I’m not sure how much it would affect independent solar panel systems but transformers and other electrical system components would be impacted. The Van Allen belts provide some protection but they can be overwhelmed.

    Reply
  11. I didn’t see any mention of children here, I often have my 2 year old grandson with me. The emergency situation I’m most prepared for is Cascadia as I live on the central Oregon coast. I keep an umbrella stroller in my car at all times so I can haul the little one with me. Carrying a kid would seriously slow me down if we had to run for it (earthquakes tend to make roads impassable). That’s along with my bob, water etc.

    Reply
    • Good note. To avoid going down a rabbit hole, we usually try to focus on the key points. There’s a big article on prepping with kids here – https://www.primalsurvivor.net/disaster-prepping-children/. I also have a two year old and keep a backpack-type carrier in the trunk of the car as well as trekking poles for stability while using it. I debated having a stroller in there too but I like the fact that I can go off-road with the carrier — though the stroller is certainly easier on my back for long distances.

      Reply

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