Most of us love a casual stroll through nature from time to time. No one can downplay the benefits of walking. However, walking indefinitely when SHTF could prove hazardous to your health. Is there any better solution?
Well…yes! With a bug-out vehicle, you can save yourself from walking hundreds and hundreds of miles while carrying backpacks and other gear. The following is a breakdown of bug-out vehicles in general, as well as some of the best vehicle classes to choose from.
Several vehicles from different classes can be adapted for use by survivalists during disaster scenarios. These range from ordinary sedans, hatchbacks, and estates to pickup trucks, SUVs, ATVs, RVs, and motorcycles. Bicycles, boats, and, in the rarest cases, aircraft can also serve as bug-out vehicles.
What is a bug-out vehicle?
In the simplest sense, a bug-out vehicle is a mode of transport employed by preppers. They are commonly referred to as "prepper-mobiles" or "doom buggies". As long as it's being used for bugging out, any vehicle can be considered a bug-out vehicle essentially.
The main purpose of these vehicles is, of course, mobility. The ability to get from point A to B quickly could save your life. Also, walking can get hard after a while. This is especially true if you’re out of shape or physically impaired. You might also be bugging out with a family and you might have pregnant companions, children, seniors or pets to consider. Don't forget that you'll probably be carrying some sort of bug-out bag and survival resources.
Vehicles, for the most part, also afford preppers another luxury…storage space. The ability to carry extra gear and supplies is more valuable than gold when the going gets tough. A bug-out bag is excellent, but it cannot compare to the storage space that you get in an SUV, for instance. You can store more food, water, supplies, tools, and so on.
Some bug-out vehicles can also shelter you from the sometimes-harsh outside world. This is especially important if you do not have a reliable bug-out shelter. Some vehicles can protect you from the elements and even wild animals. Remember, it's a jungle out there.
Vehicles without this protection (i.e. bicycles, motorbikes, ATVs) are best used as auxiliary vehicles. They are so-called because they are used together with a main bug-out ride like an SUV or an RV. If you have a bug-out shelter, these smaller vehicles would also be good for quick supply dashes.
A bug-out vehicle can also be loaded with various technologies which can aid your survival mission. GPS and police scanners are just a few of the tools that could draw the line between life and death. A winch is always a wise addition to any vehicle. Winches can be used to pull your (or someone else's) vehicle out of tricky situations (mud, water, quicksand).
Are bug-out vehicles worth it?
The answer to this question is entirely up to you…and the nature of the disaster you’re facing. If you need to evacuate quickly or to a distant place, a vehicle is probably your best bet. This is especially true if you have family members or companions who have trouble with walking.
Your living situation may also influence the need for a vehicle. If you have a fixed bug out home and can live off the surrounding lands, you might not need a vehicle as much as a nomadic survivalist. Vehicles like cars and motor homes offer a dry place to sleep, which is always needed.
Your storage needs are another major factor to consider. If you have a prepared bug-out shelter or home you can get to by walking, a vehicle would be less necessary. Again, nomadic survivalists would be more dependent on vehicles for storage.
Another key consideration is your budget. Your wallet will determine the caliber of vehicle you can get. More money, in this case, usually means fewer problems. All the best cars, trucks, boats, etc. cost top dollar, but there is a whole range of quality to be had at different price points.
The used market is a good place to explore your options. Depreciation is your friend here, as some vehicles can lose half of their initial value very quickly while still being in very good shape. For these or even new vehicles, you should take the time to research service and maintenance costs. Make sure to visit online forums to get user opinions on certain vehicles.
What makes a good bug-out vehicle?
Any vehicle that effectively and efficiently meets your survival needs is a good bug-out vehicle. An RV is a good prepper-mobile if it properly accommodates the family it belongs to. A sports car is a good bug-out vehicle if it gets its owner to the next truck stop or bed and breakfast when he/ she needs to. It all depends on what the owner requires.
Mobility is the first requirement. Preferably, your chosen vehicle should be able to get you where you’re going! This is a no-brainer of course. Ideally, the speed of the vehicle must be considerably faster than walking, while being less strenuous.
Survival rides should be able to support your essentials and key belongings. An ATV would be of little use to a rancher trying to move his horses to another farm, for instance. However, if you have a bicycle for supply runs, you won’t need much more than a backpack.
A good bug-out vehicle should be able to handle different terrains. Of course, this is only relevant for land vehicles. All-terrain capability makes a vehicle versatile and prepared for anything. If major roads and highways were to become jammed or otherwise unusable, you would have to improvise and go off-road. Good luck doing that in a Corvette.
Just having a bug-out vehicle is not enough to make it good though. You also need to stock it up with supplies. These supplies include things for your survival (food, water, medicine, etc.) as well as items necessary for the vehicle’s upkeep (oil, fuel, tire sealants, etc.).
Bug Out Vehicle Ideas List (By Type)
Let's take a look at some examples of vehicles that can adjust to the bug-out lifestyle. The new and used market has loads of great options for you, and modifications can be made for most vehicle classes. Make sure to look through Pinterest for awesome bug-out vehicle ideas.
Sports Utility Vehicles offer a good blend of power, fuel, efficiency, and storage capacity. They are also excellent tow vehicles, which allows for storage or camping trailers.
SUVs are usually excellent off-road performers, a distinct advantage over sedans and hatchbacks. Certain brands, such as Jeep and Land Rover, have built their reputations on producing specialist off-roaders.
Bigger SUVs can seat up to 7 people, which makes them great for families. SUVs are also more pet-friendly than smaller vehicles. Legroom and headroom are typically quite good, and modern SUVs are equipped with many luxurious features and amenities.
Storage is also a big benefit with this type of bug-out ride. Foldable seats, roof racks, and a trunk supplement your gear carrying capacity. SUVs also have several storage compartments for smaller items.
Rugged SUVs like a bug out Jeep Wrangler can be fitted with survival modifications like winches and raised suspensions which could prove to be lifesavers.
If you are completely lost, here are some notable SUVs you can consider:
RVs and camper trailers
If you don't have a dedicated bug-out shelter, you might want to consider a recreational vehicle. In addition to storage space, RVs and camper trailers offer excellent livability and amenities.
Smaller camper trailers have tiny sleeping spaces while larger RVs and fifth wheels can have full-sized bedrooms with royalty-sized bedding. Depending on the size of the RV, you can also get kitchenettes, showers, toilets, and lounging areas.
RVs can be a bit cumbersome when it comes to maneuverability, and the really big ones can be a little ungainly when you’re off-road. They also stand out a bit at times, which could attract trouble in the form of looters or raiders.
Here are some great RVs and camper trailers to consider:
For a more in-depth analysis of survival RVs and Trailers, check out our dedicated guides on the best bug out RVs and bug out trailers.
What if you could get a bug-out vehicle that is not just off-road but off-land entirely? Survival watercraft are not as popular as some of the road-going options, but that doesn't mean they are not as effective.
In fact, bugging out on the water may be an even wiser move than on land. Think about it…most of the planet’s surface is water. With an ocean-ready boat, you can set off to any continent or remote island you choose.
Depending on size and quality, boats offer many ways to store your gear and supplies. Preferably, you want one with sleeping quarters/ cabins and some kitchen facilities. With enough supplies (and sturdy sea legs) you can stay out on the water for days to months at a time, depending on the boat.
Of course, you don't necessarily have to bug out at sea. You can also use boats on inland rivers and lakes if you are far from the ocean. The Great Lakes are a good example of inland freshwater freedom. Living out on the water gives you access to tons of fish, which means you can at least stave off starvation if things get desperate.
Boating does have some serious barriers to entry, such as the price of the boats. Even when used, boats can be pretty expensive to purchase. Maintenance, service, and spares are all pretty pricey too.
With boats, you will have to come ashore at times to replenish supplies, replace gear, and make repairs. You might also have to outsource help for boat maintenance.
ATVs and side-by-sides
These vehicle classes were born for tackling rugged terrain with no excuses. All-terrain vehicles, or quadbikes, allow for great flexibility when maneuvering on any ground surface. These are excellent for scouting and supply missions that involve going off the beaten path.
Utility task vehicles, or side-by-sides, are pretty much the driven variation of ATVs. However, because of their car-like layout, UTVs have significantly more onboard storage space and people carrying capacity. You also get different types of UTV: from Dakar-inspired racers to farm-style workhorses.
ATVs and UTVs can perform similar functions, but the latter is better suited to people carrying and storing gear. However, it is easier to use an ATV as a secondary vehicle to something bigger like a pickup truck or an RV.
Here are some cool bug out ATVs for you:
And some survival UTVs:
For more information about ATV and UTVs used for survival, we have a dedicated article detailing the best bug out ATVs and UTVs.
Motorcycles can serve the same purpose as ATVs while offering even more nimbleness and speed. Another good thing about these vehicles is that DIY repairs are much easier than on most modern cars, which are basically supercomputers.
Not to say there aren’t any high-tech bikes out there. Check out British company Arc’s Vector e-superbike and its Tony Stark-Esque rider suit and helmet.
From a prepper perspective, a dual-sport motorbike would be ideal simply because of its all-terrain capabilities and general comfort. Most manufacturers and aftermarket dealers also have some really good storage accessories and rider gear.
Of course, you can only carry so much stuff on a motorcycle, which is always a bummer. They are also quite easy to steal as well if you're not careful.
The following are some of the best motorbikes out there today:
Check out our comprehensive bug out motorcycle guide for even more info on these great survival vehicles.
Make no mistake about it, survival is tough work. To make it through the mire, your steed will need to be even tougher.
This is where the pickup truck comes in. Born mules, pickups are no strangers to hard work and roughing it off-road. With their trademark load bed, they are excellent for hauling a lot of personal gear and tools.
Modern trucks are also catching up to SUVs when it comes to comfort, tech, and overall fanciness. Performance numbers for pickups are also at unprecedented levels thanks to the monsters like the Dodge Ram TRX. Diesel engines are also available for most pickups if you are more concerned about the economy.
There’s an excellent range of large and mid-sized SUVs you can choose from today. Here are some of them:
For more survival truck ideas we cover the topic in more detail in our dedicated bug out truck guide.
A bug-out bike is a good choice if you need something maneuverable and quiet. Bicycles come in different formats: from road racing bikes, mountain bikes, and BMXs to motorized and electric bicycles.
Although they are significantly lacking on the storage front, bicycles are quite easy to store in/on a larger bug-out vehicle. This makes them the perfect auxiliary vehicle if you ever have to abandon your main bug-out vehicle or go on short supply runs to save fuel.
Modern bicycles feature some cutting-edge innovations and technologies that make riding so much easier, whether you're on the road or not. Ever improving gear technology and suspensions enhance the riding experience like never before.
Bicycles are perhaps the easiest type of vehicle to repair by yourself. Parts can also be pretty salvageable, depending on the bike, and you only need a few tools to fix them. Other maintenance costs and supplies are also fairly affordable, which is nice.
You should definitely check out these babies:
Our comprehensive bug out bicycle article covers more info for any prepper looking into this option as a survival vehicle.
Finally, we have the van, perhaps the classic bug-out vehicle. Whether willingly or unwillingly, people have been living in vans for as long as they've been making them. It is doubtless that they will have a role to play in the not-so-distant future dystopia.
Vans offer very good people carrying capacity and storage space. Since a lot of them are manufactured for industrial and commercial use, vans are also very reliable and durable vehicles. they are also decent tow vehicles if you have a camper or storage trailer.
Vans, like most other vehicles here, suffer from the curses of modern complexities. It is almost impossible for you to service and repair one of the new ones yourself because of all the gadgets and gizmos. Older vehicles are much easier to fix.
Check out these wicked vans and find your potential survival mobile:
If you want to learn more about vans as survival vehicles, check out our dedicated article on bug out vans.
What to pack in a bug-out vehicle?
Simple. You should pack everything that won't fit in your bug-out bag! Seriously, your bug-out bag is your last resort. This is where you keep the essential essentials. If storage capacity is a major requirement for you, it may be best to stay away from motorbikes, bicycles, and ATVs.
In addition to food, water, and basic hygiene supplies, you will also need tools, weapons, and sleeping bags. You will also need signaling kits, fire starting kits, medical kits, and other key personal items.
Of course, it won’t just be you who needs taking care of out there. You must also carry tools and supplies that will keep your vehicle in tip-top shape.
Here are some of the essential items you will need when bugging out. We've split the items in a few categories:
- Personal survival items you should have, regardless of your survival vehicle of choice
- Survival gear for a bug out Car, Truck, SUV or RV
- Prepper items for an ATV, UTV, Motorcycle or Bicycle
- Survival gear for a bug out Boat
General bug out vehicle survival items
Bug out car, truck, SUV or RV survival gear
Bug out ATV, UTV, motorcycle or bicycle prepper items
Bug out boat survival gear
Bug out vehicle: diesel vs gas
Engine choice is a key consideration for any vehicle you choose. Commercial supply chains in the U.S. and Canada use a delivery schedule system known as “Just-in-time” (JIT). For example, dairy farms supplying a supermarket with a fresh batch of cheese and milk as soon as the shelves run out.
The same thing happens at gas stations. These days, for safety, gas stations don’t keep excess reserves on site. They keep it in the metaphorical pipeline but a disaster scenario could significantly hinder deliveries. That means you need to store your juice and, perhaps more importantly, get a vehicle with good fuel economy.
Unfortunately choosing between diesel or gas is a game of compromise. Diesel packs more punch per volume, an advantage that leaps in value exponentially as we move up the engine scale. This is known as thermal efficiency. In a nutshell, diesel is great for endurance on the highway or open seas. It is not as good at stop-start driving, and most diesel cars have terrible city MPGs.
At the same time, gasoline is great for the lower gears, which is why little hatchbacks like the Chevy Spark LS are great for running around. Also, were you to need a quick get-away vehicle, a V8 gas car’s acceleration would be better than anything running on diesel. Compromise.
Gasoline bug out vehicle advantages
- Low repair costs
- Low emissions
- Low noise
- Gas is more popular
- Higher speeds and better acceleration
- Better suited for small, comfortable vehicles
Gasoline bug out vehicle disadvantages
- Lifespan is limited
- Storing gas is more dangerous
- Low thermal efficiency
- Prone to overheating
- Resale value is relatively low
- Less suited to towing than diesel motors
Diesel bug out vehicle advantages
- Better efficiency, especially for big engines
- Great for long distances
- Good resale value
- Long lifespan
- Rarely overheats
- Better for hauling cargo and towing.
Diesel bug out vehicle disadvantages
- Diesel engines are bulky and heavy
- Poor efficiency in the city
- Diesel variants may affect engines differently
- Not as fast as gas vehicles
- Service is pricey
Bug out vehicle: truck vs SUV
For the most part, you can lump SUVs and pickup trucks in the same category as they share many characteristics. Size, space, towing, off-roading, and so on. However, there are some differences worth noting.
Firstly, SUVs are more focused on the driver and passenger. Whether it is their seating capacities or their level of relative comfort, it is all about the people. SUVs typically have a lot more comfort than pickup trucks in terms of ride quality, amenities, and insulation. The bigger SUVs can seat up to 7-8 people, more than any pickup out there.
Pickup trucks, on the other hand, are more focused on haulage and transporting goods. The load bed is evidence of this, and this feature gives pickups an edge over SUVs when it comes to storage space for gear.
Also, the increased refinement in American trucks combined with European and Japanese influence on the pickup truck market has raised the overall quality for drivers and passengers. The 2021 Ford F-150, for example, is the lap of luxury as far as interiors go.
While both vehicle classes are great at towing, pickup trucks have a significant capacity for bigger trailers. This is especially true for the big boys like the Chevy Silverado Heavy Duty, which can haul up to 36,000lbs. The best towing SUVs like the Ford Expedition top out at 10,000lbs.
The haulage disparity is because modern SUVs are built on crossover platforms, which enhance personal space and comfort at the expense of pulling power. Truck platforms are built specifically for haulage and the big trucks are better engineered for those massive gooseneck fifth-wheels. SUVs can only do a medium-sized camper or cargo trailer.
Bug out vehicle: second hand vs new
Buying a new vehicle simply to bug out is, understandably, a bit baffling for some. I mean, why spend top dollar for a vehicle that could suffer unspeakable bruises, scrapes, scratches, or worse in an unprecedented SHTF storm? Will insurance still be a thing during the end of the world?
The good thing is you don’t necessarily have to purchase a brand spanking new vehicle off the showroom floor. The used vehicle market is loaded with fantastic deals on cars, bikes, boats, and more. Of course, as news of impending doom spreads, the really good vehicles could sell like hotcakes, so stay ahead of the curve.
One serious recommendation before buying a vehicle is that you have it inspected by a trusted mechanic or technician. Make sure to check for things like rust, different paint shading (could indicate an accident). You should also run diagnostics tests for more modern cars to reveal hidden electronic defects.
However, if you can afford it, you should still consider buying new. By doing so, you will have a vehicle without a murky history and potential problems. Stick to reputable brands like Chevrolet, Toyota, Ford, etc. Luxury cars like Mercedes and Range Rovers require lots of expensive maintenance.
Bug Out Vehicle Types Conclusions
The range of choice when it comes to bug-out vehicle types is mind-boggling.
To make the best decision though, you must factor in your budget, repair skills, environment, and storage needs.