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Best Bug Out Van (3 Survival Vans For Preppers)

A bug-out van, or survival van, is a van for SHTF scenarios. If, or when, disaster strikes, these vans will usually be prepared to help the owner see it out. On top of providing mobility, vans provide significant storage and people carrying capacity, which is good for groups and hauling gear.

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A great bug-out vehicle must be reliable, secure, and more importantly…practical. Storage, people carrying, and fuel efficiency are just some of the attributes that contribute to this latter need. Today, we have a look at how vans stack up to the challenge of bugging out.

The utility of vans can never be in dispute. They are used for emergency response, deliveries, shuttling VIPs, and so much more. However, how would they fit in your survival mission? Which vans are the best to get for bugging out?

The best bug-out van is the 2021 Toyota Sienna Platinum. This technology-packed minivan features an all-wheel-drive powertrain and an all-new hybrid engine. The Sierra seats up to 7 people and has a towing capacity of 3500lbs. The best 4x4 van is the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4x4 Crew Van. The GMC Savana cargo is the best van for towing trailers.

What is a bug-out van?

A bug-out van, or survival van, is a van for SHTF scenarios. If, or when, disaster strikes, these vans will usually be prepared to help the owner see it out. On top of providing mobility, vans provide significant storage and people carrying capacity, which is good for groups and hauling gear.

Even before the rise of doomsday preppers, the concept of bug-out vans has existed for decades in modern culture. From the festival-frenzied hippy era in the 60s to the Scooby-Doo gang’s classic Mystery Machine, vans have inspired a desire to live free on the road. Even entertainers have a special relationship with these vehicles. Who knows how many famous musicians’ careers began in beat-up "tour" vans?

In the prepper context, mobility may be the difference between life and death. Depending on the nature of the crisis, and where you live, having a vehicle could prove absolutely crucial.

If a natural disaster, or a war, or even zombies were to strike your hometown or city, bugging out on foot would surely kick off the countdown to your demise. Worse still if you are traveling in a group. Even worse if you have kids or pets. Walking for days, or even nights, on end also requires significant levels of physical fitness. Not to mention the fact that you can only carry so much stuff on foot.

In addition to zippy mobility, vans offer significant people carrying and storage capacities. Several manufacturers make high-quality vans, so you are spoiled for choice. Also, the term “van” has a loose definition, which means it encompasses a wide range of vehicles. Some vans are faster than others, while others have more cargo space. Some manufacturers even allow you to custom build your van when you place an order.

Speaking of customization, the aftermarket can also help you trick out your ride with useful modifications. Winches, cargo racks, raised suspensions, and stealth paint jobs are just some of the ways you can take your bug-out van to the next level.

Oftentimes, vans are more livable than hatchbacks, sedans, and even most SUVs or pickup trucks. You can’t underestimate the importance of quality sleep. While they are not as livable as RVs, a lot of vans can haul decent-sized camper trailers for more sleep space.

With the refinement of engine technology, as well as the rise of hybrid and electric cars, modern vans are also very good for the environment. This means they are likely to be onside with emission laws in most states.

Best survival vans for bugging out

Now that we have established what a bug-out van is, it's time to take a look at some of the top models on offer. Traditional and upcoming manufacturers have really raised the bar for this segment of the automotive market. The cars listed below are just a small fraction of the quality out there.

For this list, we've factored in things like practicality, versatility, technology, value for money, storage and towing capacity, etc. Hopefully, we can point you in the right direction and help you get behind the wheel of your own bug-out van!

Best minivan for bugging out: Toyota Sienna

Many excellent minivans have proven to be worthy contenders of this category, but we can only have one winner. The best bug-out minivan you can get your hands on today is the Toyota Sienna. The Platinum trim package, to be more specific.

The Sienna continues its 23-year tradition of excellence and practicality. Toyota really outdid themselves this time, and that’s saying something. With stylish design, cutting-edge technology, and unrivaled practicality, this is the best minivan on the market.

The car has an Electric On-Demand All-Wheel Drive System which distributes the 2.5L hybrid engine’s 243 horsepower. There is also a front-wheel-drive version. The top-of-the-line Platinum features four driving modes: Normal, ECO, EV, and Sport. Each mode has its pros and cons with regard to performance, economy, and noise.

The all-wheel-drive Sienna has two electric motors in the front and one in the rear. The front-wheel version features two electric motors in the front. This setup has seen the Sienna awarded SULEV (Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle) status.

This is the best handling Sienna ever as well. There is an independent suspension in the front and a multi-link rear setup. Electric power-steering is standard of course, and this helps the minivan achieve a respectable turning circle diameter of 39.20 ft.

The minivan is almost 7 feet in length, with a 7-passenger capacity. It is nearly 80 inches wide and boasts a 6-inch ground clearance. Although optimized for leafy suburbia, the Sienna can definitely get its hands dirty in more rugged terrain.

There is a fair bit of storage in the van too. With foldable seats in the rear and middle rows, you can easily expand the interior storage space. With the middle and rear rows folded down, you can have up to 101 cubic feet of cargo volume!

You also have a 3500lb towing capacity to boost your storage capacity. You can also tow a decent-sized camper trailer for those precious home-style amenities. On top of that, the roof rails can also be used for securing extra cargo like kayaks or bicycles.

The Toyota Sienna packs some serious technology to add to the exceptional comfort. From a four-zone climate control system to the heated steering wheel, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and wireless charging deck…it’s a techie feast. You also have an integrated backup camera, as well as a Bird’s Eye View camera that allows for perimeter scanning.

Toyota’s Driver Easy Speak is also present to attend to your voice commands. The car has a 7-inch infotainment display for your basic driver’s information and radio. With 12 JBL speakers, the Sienna is a party on wheels when it needs to be. An 11.6-inch display with a 1080p definition is also available as an optional extra.

The interior is very comfortable with leather-trimmed heated seats in the front and middle rows. The front-wheeled Platinum edition allows you to convert the middle row into an ottoman. Other comforts and practicalities include 16 cupholders and 7 USB ports for your devices.

The Sienna, like most Toyotas, still carries Japanese tuner DNA. Doubtless, the aftermarket will have a wide range of modifications to make the minivan even cooler.

The list of Sienna's fun facts and features is seemingly endless, which only elevates the car's value for money. Preppers looking for something that can carry the whole family or crew, along with some gear and pets, should give this incredulous minivan a chance.

Best 4x4 van bug out vehicle: Mercedes-Benz 4X4 Crew Van

A four-wheel-drive configuration is always a useful feature in a car, especially if the road ahead is uncertain. Having power in all four wheels will help you get out of some tight jams if you ever venture off-road.

The Toyota Sienna we've just discussed is a perfect example of a four-wheeled bug-out van. However, since we've already spoken about it, let's take a look at another notable name.

The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is quickly becoming an icon in this segment, and the latest 4x4 Crew van ticks all the boxes we’ve come to expect. A simple design belies classic German engineering across all four trim packages. The 3500XD High Roof (170-inch wheelbase) is the top package, although all four trims share the same 3.0L diesel V6 engine and 7G-TRONIC automatic transmission.

The Crew van is a nice middle ground between the Cargo and Passenger Sprinters. It seats five while leaving ample storage for gear or even sleeping bags. You can even boost the storage space by removing the 3-seater bench behind the front row.

The long-wheelbase 3500XD has a cargo volume of 261 cubic feet and a total payload of over 4,500lbs. In addition, the van has a towing capacity of up to 7,500lbs. Not bad, as far as storage goes.

Although this van was made for rough conditions and an honest day’s work, the interior is still quite lush and inviting. It’s a Mercedes, after all. The seats are made from a comfy Maturin fabric but you can upgrade to hand-stitched leather as an optional extra.

In fact, the extras are where the Sprinter really shines. For a (not so) few extra bucks, Mercedes will throw in extras like sliding door soft close, high beam assist, heated wing mirrors, and the MBUX Multimedia system. It really is a smorgasbord from the German manufacturer.

With comfort, safety, and durability, the Sprinter Crew van shines and upholds the three-pointed star’s legacy of uncompromising quality. Whether on tarmac or wild backroads, this van and its awesome 4x4 capabilities will have your back. 

Best bug out van for trailers: GMC Savana Cargo Van

Although vans have impressive interior space on their own, some preppers might require that little bit more. The ability to tow storage trailers or campers is a serious bonus, and the higher the towing capacity, the better.

This category has to go to the 2021 GMC Savana Cargo Van, which can haul up to 10,000lbs of stuff. With an onboard cargo space of 283 cubic feet, the Savana Cargo is the ultimate mobile storage solution.

The van is powered by a 4.3L V6 gasoline motor, which produces a decent 276 horses. The rear-wheel-drive Savana features an 8-speed auto transmission and essentials like electronic stability control. As is typical with big GM cars like this, there is a coiled suspension in the front and a traditional leaf kit in the rear.

The van offers great practicality, with a sliding cargo door that makes loading and unloading a breeze. You can also get assist steps as an optional extra to make accessing the vehicle a little easier.

The van is not bad with tech either. It has a 4G Wi-fi router onboard, as well as 12V and 120V power outlets. An electrical theft-deterrent system will cut off the engine if anyone tries to hijack your ride. You also have a defogger for the front and side windows.

A cargo van worthy of the name.

What to look for when buying a survival van

Of course, not every van can make the grade. You want something that can do what you need it to do. Purchasing a vehicle is a major investment, so always keep an eye on the potential returns.

If you are going for a van, you are likely looking for people carrying capacity, storage, or a balance of both. Vehicles like the Sprinter and Savana are great for balancing both, while the Sienna minivan is an excellent people carrier, especially for families.

Towing capacity is also something you should not overlook. You never know how long you'll be stuck in a bug-out situation, so you want to stock up as many essential supplies as possible. You also need a safe place to get some proper rest. A camper trailer could save you from sleeping outside, so a van that can haul one is a huge benefit.

Your budget is also a major consideration. A Mercedes Sprinter is great and all, but what’s the point in going broke to get one if you won’t be able to stock it up? The Savana is much more affordable, as far as new vans go. You can also get a used van, provided it is in acceptable condition.

You must also factor in reliability. Your bug-out van should be durable enough to withstand most of the conditions you will come across. Build quality is of the utmost importance. Don’t be suckered in by a car’s gadgets and gizmos alone. The Honda Odyssey, for instance, is a great minivan but it has a significant history of poorly built automatic transmissions…so beware.

The ease of DIY repair is another thing to think about. As is the availability of parts. Modern vehicles all share this problem because of all the electronics and sensors they have these days. Older vans are much easier to work on yourself.

Sourcing parts could prove to be a major problem, especially if you are cut off from manufacturer support.  To minimize this risk, you ought to go for a common van that is locally made. General Motors vehicles like the Savana also have the advantage of sharing parts with multiple other vehicles.

Desperate times will give rise to desperate people, which is a problem for you. A post-apocalyptic society is bound to be teeming with opportunistic looters and robbers. A flashy van could be your downfall, so you should consider getting a non-descript van to avoid unnecessary attention.

Fuel efficiency is a big one. No one knows what the fuel situation will be like when trouble strikes. Your best bet is to stay ready by getting a fuel-saving van and some extra canisters.

The van you choose should also be a decent off-roader because you might be forced to veer off the beaten path to avoid traffic or unwanted attention. All-terrain versatility is almost a must for all road-going survival rides.


Survival vans: benefits & drawbacks

Like with all other bug-out vehicles, vans have positives and negatives. Make sure you familiarize yourself with them before choosing one.

The benefits of a bug out van are:

  • People carrying (5-15+ people)
  • Onboard storage capacity
  • Towing capabilities
  • Better livability than sedans, hatchbacks, SUVs, and pickup trucks.
  • Good fuel efficiency
  • Reliability and durability
  • Built for work and hauling
  • Comfort (especially minivans)
  • Usually, they are non-descript
  • Easy to modify

Now, the drawbacks of survival vans:

  • Not the fastest
  • Not very maneuverable, especially in traffic
  • Can attract looters
  • DIY repairs are difficult/impossible on modern vans
  • New ones are quite pricey
  • Not as fuel-efficient as small hatchbacks

Bug out vans vs other bug-out vehicles

A comparison with other vehicle classes is also a good idea before you commit. Just how do vans stack up against other vehicles?

Compared to hatchbacks and sedans, vans have way more space for people and cargo. They can also tow more. However, they are often not as quick or as fuel-efficient as these light vehicles.

SUVs and bug out pickups are, on the whole, better off-roaders than vans. They tend to be faster as well. However, vans offer more livability, pet-friendliness, and (in some cases) similar towing capacities.

Bug out bicycles and motorcycles are much more maneuverable than vans. They are also much easier to repair. That said, vans have them beat when it comes to people carrying, storage space, and shelter from the elements. Vans aren't the quickest things on wheels but they are still much faster than bicycles.

Bug out van ideas: how to modify your van for survival

You would be amazed at how many ways you can modify your van to enhance your chances out there. Head to Pinterest today and get inspired!

Vans are like a blank canvas in some ways. You can implement things like DIY bunk beds, or side-mounted awnings. A bull bar is a handy tool for protecting your van's face…or squashing zombies. A good old winch isn’t a bad idea either.

We’ve already discussed the importance of fuel. Some Jerry can mounts would be smart. A roof rack is another great addition if your van doesn’t come with one. Bike racks would also allow you to carry an alternative means of transport to help you save fuel.

Tints and curtains are also useful for privacy. A solar power setup will electrify your van even further and a kitchenette/galley would drastically improve your bug-out meals!

Essential items for a bug-out van

Bugging out in a van is certainly not easy and, to stand any chance, you will need key gear and supplies. The recommended survival gear for vans includes, but is not limited to:

For a comprehensive overview of all the gear, tools and checklists you should have in a survival vehicle, check out our article with 5 essential lists for bug out vehicles.

Survival Vans Conclusions

The road to survival is long and unpredictable.

With many loud and boisterous bug-out vehicles out there, you may be surprised to learn that the humble van may be your best bet of making it through the end of the world.

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I've been prepping for a long time, but 2020 convinced me that I need to take it to the next level.

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