Preppers can spend thousands to tens of thousands of dollars on bugout vehicles. Unfortunately, most of us do not have that kind of disposable cash – even for an item of such supreme importance.
We live on our survival homesteading retreat and have no intention of bugging out unless completely forced to do so to save our lives, yet we still have multiple bugout vehicles. Well, we have multiple vehicles that serve a dual purpose: daily essential use on our survival homesteading retreat that, and bugout vehicles.
Just like when you are packing your bugout bag or making a decision about EDC items, any item that has dual or multiple potential uses is a major plus. The number of potential drivers, your budget, and local terrain will dictate what type of bugout vehicles or vehicles that will best serve your needs.
There are a plethora of articles circulating around the internet about the best bugout vehicles – most of which are absolutely awesome – but require you to have very deep pockets. If OPSEC is a priority (which is should always be) nothing screams “A Prepper Lives Here” louder or quicker than a military style truck painted in full camo, sitting in your driveway.
If you live in a rural area like I do (and all preppers should) it would be far easier to hide such a truck, but you will still have to shell out a hefty amount to purchase, rehab, and retrofit such a hardened bugout vehicle – and will likely be able to purchase just one. Remember the tried and true prepping mantra, “one is none and two is one.”
Now, I’m not chastising anyone with the ultimate bugout vehicle, especially if it has been hardened to hopefully withstand an EMP. I am merely doing what most best bugout vehicles reports don’t do: giving you low-cost, multi-purpose options.
You should think outside the box when contemplating what actually constitutes a bugout vehicle. That is exactly what this best bugout vehicles guide seeks to accomplish. There might just be few great bugout vehicles in the making sitting on your property right now!
Off road capable vehicles are the best option when contemplating a bugout transportation purchase. Not only will your vehicle need to be able to drive off of well-maintained pavement, so will the trailer it is pulling.
The type of terrain your bugout vehicle will have to traverse, especially if you are not fleeing your prepper retreat until well into the doomsday disaster, has to be taken into consideration when purchasing or retrofitting any vehicle. Carrying extra tires, parts, and tools to make repairs quickly while on the journey will likely vastly increase your chances of survival.
How To Choose The Best Bugout Vehicle
Ask yourself these questions before making a decision about buying bugout vehicles, or turning a vehicles(s) you already have into a quick escape transportation option.
How many drivers will I have?
This may seem like a simple question, but it might not be. It is safe to assume typical traffic laws really won’t be enforced during a SHTF situation.
This may mean your 15-year-old can be put behind the wheel of one vehicle while you drive another, doubling how much you can take with you when bugging out – if he or she are mature enough and mentally/emotionally stable enough to handle such a task.
Our Polaris Ranger is an automatic, making it easy enough to drive that a 10-year-old has been behind the wheel – as well as my 82-year-old mother.
The Polaris Ranger is equipped with a hitch and now a sturdy wench. It can seat two adults and two small children in the cab (and a baby on the lap) as well as two adults and a child in the rear (or gear). It has hauled the number of folks in the cab noted above as well as one adult and about 250 pounds of gear in the rear while pulling a trailer loaded with old barn wood up a steep gravel hill without any difficulties at all.
Mileage and Fuel Storage
Purchasing a large military style truck, old school bus, or a tractor-trailer would allow you to take a lot of preps with you when bugging out and provide a place to sleep (and have space for exterior vertical gardening) as well, but each of these modes of transportation have mileage issues and will require extensive refueling if your bugout location is not located fairly close.
A large bugout vehicle will provide enough space to store extra cans of fuel, especially if make use of its sturdy roof and/or also haul a trailer. But, if the primary seasoned adult driver becomes incapacitated, killed, on a scout, or is forced to take over defensive tactics if trouble arises, will another family member be able to assume the driving responsibilities of such a massive vehicle?
Ideally, purchase a bugout vehicle that is graded to get a minimum of 23 to 27 miles per gallon -MPG. A higher MPG would be great, but if you go that route the vehicle will be so much smaller, so you will be sacrificing substantial storage space. Remember, MPG is almost always calculated on highway miles, not when going up hills, making frequent stops, or when the vehicle is loaded from the floorboards to the ceiling with people and gear.
Should Finding a 4-Wheel Drive Diesel Bugout Vehicle Be a Priority?
There are at least two distinct advantages to purchasing a bugout vehicle that functions on a diesel engine:
- Fuel Flexibility – you can make your own biodiesel fuel after gas stations run dry or are no longer functional (or safe to drive to) and when your fuel stockpile is empty.
- Longevity – Diesel fuel remains usable long after gasoline becomes to sludgy to run through an engine – even if you use fuel stabilizer. On average, diesel fuel can last up to 10 times as long as gasoline.
A bugout vehicle that is not 4WD might be useless during a SHTF event. Traveling the roads will not only likely be unsafe at least in specific areas, but there’s absolutely no guarantee the roads will not be either jammed or intentionally blocked.
Even if you are not planning on driving very far (plans can change in an instant during a bugout situation) you may need to get off the road and travel through the woods or on dirt, gravel, or muddy secondary roads. Driving a non-4WD vehicle while attempting to do so will most assuredly leave you both stranded and vulnerable.
Top 10 SUVs With Best Gas Mileage
- Jeep Cherokee
- Land Rover
- Subaru Forester
- GMC Terrain
- Nissan Rogue
- Jeep Compass
- Honda CR-V
- Chevy Equinox
- Hyundai Tucson
Top 10 Pickup Trucks With Best Gas Mileage
- Dodge Ram 1500
- Chevy Colorado
- Ford F-150
- GMC Canyon
- Toyota Tacoma
- Honda Ridgeline
- Chevy Silverado
- Ford Raptor
- GMC Sierra
- Nissan Titan
Using your daily driver or a space 4WD vehicle also as a bugout vehicle means you can keep it loaded with beyond your typical EDC and bugout bag wherever you go.
This will allow you to bugout far more quickly – or get home, to your spouse’s work, or your child’s school with more than minimal supplies and bugout without having to return home for your gear – which might not be possible in either the short-term or long-term after a SHTF incident.
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If a truck will be a bugout vehicle, invest in a “truck tent” that can be set up in the bed of the truck or extent to the ground for sleeping quarters – they go up and down quickly.
Keeping a locked truck bed box in the back of an SUV or pickup – or two such boxes, will allow you to haul more preps and still have room for routine storage, like groceries or a child’s sports equipment.
We keep a locked truck bed box in our daily drivers, and two backup older Chevy Blazers with enough food, water, clothing, emergency medical supplies, ammo (and tools) so that we could survive for up to a week without returning home. A space tire is mounted beneath the vehicle in addition to a donut tire in a wheel well built into the truck.
How Much Stuff Am I Taking With Me?
How much space is needed to transport preps, people, and animals (both livestock and domestic pets) will vary greatly by family or tribe (my favorite term for mutual assistance group).
Before even thinking about buying, building, or retrofitting a vehicle of any type to become a bugout vehicle you must not only take a complete inventory of what you believe is essential to take with you, but factor in how the extra weight will impact fuel usage, speed, and tire wear.
Thoroughly review the specs of any vehicle you plan on using to bug out, and do a test run if at all possible to make sure it will work in reality like it does in theory.
Do SUVs and Trucks Make Good Bugout Vehicles?
The short answer is yes, but both have their pros and cons. If you want to harden any vehicle to make it more EMP-proof and bullet resistant, there will be a substantial cost involved – especially when converting a conventional vehicle like a pickup truck or SUV into a bugout vehicle, as opposed to doing the same with a military surplus truck or heavy-duty all-terrain vehicle.
Smaller vehicles, like a 4-wheel drive Chevy Blazer will haul fewer preps and people, but will have better gas mileage than a larger SUV or truck – and can still haul a trailer.
Benefits of Vehicles with Modular Interiors
A modular interior vehicle basically refers to a camper or motorhome – an RV. When using a recreational vehicle as a bugout vehicle you have two options: leave it as is, or remove the interior so it can hold more survival gear and people.
Even though my family’s plan is to bug in and not out, we have multiple potential bugout vehicles – including a camper and a motorhome on our property. Our plan is to use these RVs for living quarters for tribe members and outposts, but as all preppers know, even well-laid plans must be adaptable to sudden change.
Both a camper and a motorhome are multi-use bugout vehicles. They are great hiding in plain sight preps that won’t alert neighbors to your survival planning, can be used both for vacation and weekend self-reliance training purposes, as housing for members of your tribe, and as a bugout vehicle.
Reliability is key when purchasing any bugout vehicle. If your campers or motorhomes are primarily stationary (as ours are), try to move them or run them occasionally, just like you test your generators to make sure both they and all of their components are in working order and the tires are not allowed to bow, rot, or swell from sitting in the same place for months or years on end.
Do ATVs Have Value as Bugout Vehicles?
The answer to that question is a resounding yes. A 4WD ATV can get you in and out of about anywhere, especially when equipped with a wench.
Depending on the type, ATVs can haul as much gear or people as a small car when a trailer is attached. Trailers must not only be durable, but equipped with quality all-terrain tires to be able to follow the 4-wheeler into rugged terrain without getting stuck or tipping.
Although an ATV might not (and likely should not) be your primary bugout vehicle, it can be used to scout in front of your main bugout vehicle or convoy, go on runs after you have reached your bugout location, or be used as a quick escape vehicle.
If the SUV, truck, camper, etc. gets stuck or is blocked due to stalled traffic on a roadway as conditions become too dangerous to wait for the congestion to clear up, you’ll be glad you had an ATV.
A side-by-side ATV, like our Polaris Ranger, a Gator, Rhino, or other similar models readily available on the market can carry more people, supplies, and pull a heavier trailer than most 4-wheelers.
While both types of ATVs are readily capable of climbing steep and rugged hills and traversing rugged off-road conditions as you will see in the videos below, the width of side-by-side ATVs can make them a bit more difficult to navigate between trees in heavily wooded areas – as can a wide or long trailer.
Both 4-wheelers and side-by-sides are capable of hitting speeds of 40 miles-per-hour. Leading your bugout caravan with a 4-wheeler or side-by-side will also help pave a safe path for your primary bugout vehicle.
Another advantage to using an ATV as part of your bugout plan is their small stature. They can be parked on cardboard or wood inside of a standard garden shed or metal pole barn garage – turning it effectively into a Faraday cage that can protect them from an EMP.
Over the weekend, my husband and I took the Ranger through an overgrown and marshy part of our woods to clear out a path by our “private beach”, and a secluded berry picking area.
The beach is a soft section of sand about as long and wide as two pickup trucks that has a river birch tree growing on it right next to a creek. The grandkiddos love going there to play, explore, and learn self-reliance skills.
The Ranger quickly knocked down small trees, tall weeds, briar bushes, and even some entwined grapevine that had grown over the trail we used frequently several months ago during the spring.
Should I Invest in Trailers for Bugging Out?
Every vehicle in your bugout vehicle “fleet” should also have a trailer to pull. There are trailers of a suitable weight and length to fit any ATV, UTV, camper, SUV, or truck.
Building sides onto a trailer will allow you to haul more supplies and/or people in it, as well as increasing the likelihood that it could double as sleeping quarters during a bugout situation.
This trailer is ideal for pulling behind an ATV or side-by-side. Ball dimensions are not necessarily universal, you may need to purchase several to attach to hitches, so any vehicle is capable of pulling any trailer you make or purchase.
This trailer can be pulled behind an ATV, side-by-side, SUV, or pickup truck.
Put your livestock to work for you, and train them to cart so they too can pull a trailer over rugged off-road terrain.
During a long-term disaster, horses will make not only dependable bugout “vehicles”, but can be used on the survival homestead both now and after disaster strikes for agriculture work, logging, and to have transportation during the rebuilding phase after TEOTWAWKI event creates a new normal in society.
Horses do not require traditional fuel to “run”, but you will have to stock up on bags of grain, and have enough land to bale hay for winter consumption – in addition to pasture during the warm months of the year.
If you do not have adequate land to keep horses today, it might be possible to board them nearby to use during a bugout situation, and allow them to live and eat via your fenced lawn and your neighbors (as a barter) during a SHTF event after retrieving them from their boarded stall.
Any bugout mode of transportation that is not present at your home is not advisable. If the boarding location is located between your work and your residence, the horses could be a life-saver if roads become impassable before you can reach your home and family.
Yes, even livestock trailers can be highly beneficial during a bugout situation. Not only can they haul preps and people, they can also be easily and cheaply be retrofitted to be used as primitive living quarters.
Having a livestock trailer in your bugout vehicle fleet will help make at least part of your survival homestead portable. If you incorporate a livestock trailer into your bugout plan, you can haul rabbits, chickens, ducks, and goats – along with some feed, straw, and hay, with you to your next location – it’s the survival version of meals on wheels.
Consider investing in a section of portable step-in electrical fencing and a solar charger so you can create a small containment area for small to medium livestock. If you buy some bird netting as well, the containment area can be used to let the chickens and ducks forage for bugs, too.
Other Great Non-Traditional Bugout ‘Vehicle’ Options
We have several other multi-use bugout vehicles in the works on our homesteading retreat. If you live in an area with waterways, or especially if a creek runs along your property, investing in a boat, canoe, kayak, or amphibious vehicle for use as a bugout “vehicle” might be especially useful.
However you choose to define exactly what a bugout vehicle is, and determine the best types to suit your needs and location, three constants remain. All bugout transportation options must be affordable, dependable, and easily “fixable.”
When buying a vehicle of any type to use during a bugout, it is highly recommended to invest in something that not only can you fix yourself, but parts are readily available in your area to buy both new and used – and to “source’ from abandoned vehicles throughout a long-term disaster.
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, ‘Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out’, Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.