That’s it. Time for the bug-out vehicle. You’ve had enough of the widespread looting, the dangerous changes in the neighborhood, the lack of utilities and societal norms. All of it disappeared as soon as the U.S. Army pulled out the week before—like the bottom just fell out of law and order. The streets are ablaze with barricades, mobs of marauders and militant protesters taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of your neighbors. With a map spread out under the soft glow of a few remaining candles in the house, you and your family plan your escape out of town.

You’re ready, but is your bug-out vehicle well-stocked for the trip and prepared to make the journey?

The Right Wheels

Choosing your bug-out vehicle may come down to whatever car is in your driveway when an emergency hits. Either you don’t want to pay for a tricked-out 4×4 to sit idle while you wait for the apocalypse, or the apocalypse came out of nowhere and caught you off guard. So, the Toyota Camry will have to do.

If you are preparing for the onslaught of the undead and are looking for a vehicle specific to the task, there are a few guidelines that will work in your favor. But first, a few questions: How many people will you be transporting? How much gear do you plan to carry? What is your destination, and how for away is it? What terrain will you be encountering, and what might the weather be like along the way?

It is important to discuss the options in an affordable base vehicle because we all can’t afford to park a Toyota Tacoma Polar Edition or a Terradyne Gurkha RVP in our driveway. No question about it, though, you’ll need four-wheel-drive and something with some decent ground clearance, like that of a Jeep or a half-ton pickup truck.

Since all good bug-out locations are in remote areas well off the beaten path, you may find yourself up against some uneven terrain. A moderately powered 4×4 will get you through the vast majority of what you’ll encounter. But don’t overdo it. A monster truck is impractical in an off-road environment because it is top-heavy, and imagine trying to find a replacement tire after a blowout. The larger the tire, the harder it is to find on the road.

Stealth & Storage

Let’s say you played it smart and were prepared for the difficult times ahead. Most people won’t be. Since desperate times call for desperate measures, you’ll discover someone who you considered a friend yesterday will gladly steal your supplies today. Because of this, design your bug-out vehicle to be as understated as possible. Don’t display that you are well supplied and have gear at the ready. Snorkels, roof racks loaded with jacks, shovels and lights, and fuel tanks and winches mounted externally are all great and useful, but they also advertise to everyone that you have something they might need.

The idea is to blend in with the rest of the masses as they escape the city too, so avoid a big, noisy, jacked-up four-wheel-drive vehicle. You want to get away while drawing as little attention as possible. Most basic four- and all-wheel-drive vehicles will get to the same places as the mud-bogging monsters, and the capability difference under extreme conditions isn’t worth the expense and exposure.

You’ll also need a vehicle that offers enough room to carry all of the people in your escape crew, their personal items, as well as the extra gear needed to support a larger group of people. This means more of the essentials, primarily more water, food, sanitation supplies and clothes.

Ideally, a truck works well in all situations and has the cargo capabilities to handle a lot of gear. Make sure you have a bed cover to conceal (and lock) your cache of supplies. However, if you only have one or two people in your group, a Jeep or small four-wheel-drive SUV will work nicely.

Gear to Include

The biggest problem facing those staring down an unknown future is what to pack. What gear should you take? Ideally, you’d like to be prepared for any and all situations, but that is simply not possible. There’s no way you can fit the gear required for a tropical hurricane and still have room for all the paraphernalia you’ll need for a trek into avalanche country.

Remember, this is a bug-out vehicle designed to merely get you from Point A to Point B. Though it could augment the gear at your final destination, it isn’t supposed to be the main supply ship heading to an empty cabin in the woods. Your bug-out shack or shelter away from the city needs to be an oasis of gear and supplies on its own. The vehicle and gear you include in it are only supposed to get you there.

This is where you have to be realistic. Realize that you can’t predict the future, and you won’t be able to know what dangers are around the corner. Utilizing some common sense and judgement, you can pack light, pack smart and protect yourself from a great deal of what may lie ahead for you. That said, you won’t know how long you’ll be on the road for sure, so prepare by including the essentials for survival on the road: food, water, shelter, fire/light, first aid, car maintenance and navigation.


An army runs on its stomach, and so do you. Having a good supply of food for three or four days is necessary to stay healthy, alert and strong. There are dozens of options, such as freeze-dried meals, MREs and others that are storable long-term. Depending on what food you include, you may need a way to cook it. So make sure to include a stove, fuel and cooking utensils. You also may not be able to stop long enough to cook a meal, so consider bringing food that can be eaten quickly. Most survivor bars—though some lack in taste and texture—pack plenty of energy, nutrition and vitamins. Plan enough meals for as many people in your party and then add an extra day or two’s worth for good measure.


You can’t last long without it, especially on the road where it is usually hot, dusty and windy. These are three things that will quickly sap out your body’s much-needed moisture. Water is a must.

Not only should you include 1 gallon of water a day for each person in your group, but you should also have handy a way of procuring more. Water filter technology has come a long way in the last few years, so filters are not only smaller but can also filter out nearly every impurity, and some even improve the taste. Include two collapsible containers, one to gather dirty water in and one to store clean/filtered water. Make sure not to mix the two up; once dirty water gets into the clean container, it will need to be thoroughly sanitized. Did you pack any bleach?


You might say that you’ll sleep in the Jeep or the bed of the truck. Though that does sound like a good idea, it might not be practical for four or five people. Besides, you may have to abandon your car at some point, so including a tent, a bivvy bag or even a poncho or a tarp—something you can use to make a shelter—will be a godsend if the weather turns south and you’re stuck outside.


Having a couple of ways of starting a fire will not only stave off the cold, but it can cook your food, boil your water and provide a sense of security in an insecure world. Having several different forms of artificial light is important, too. Consider packing rechargeable flashlights, dynamo lanterns and chemical glow sticks. These items tend to last a long time and are renewable, providing light without relying on batteries.

First Aid

Unfortunately, bad things happen in life, and in life-or-death situations, you don’t often get by without a scrape. To that end, you’ll need a well-stocked first-aid kit to handle minor emergencies. Small cuts and abrasions can lead to life-threatening infections if not properly cared for.

Also keep on hand a SERE (Survive, Escape, Resist, Evade) kit. These are usually small bundles of the very essential supplies for if you need to make a quick getaway. They can include emergency supplies as well as survival gear like fishing tackle, signaling devices, fire-starters, etc.

If you live near a major city, you may wish to include in the cab of the vehicle as many dust and/or chemical protective masks in case of teargas, a biological agent, or if you are driving through spilled chemicals after an accident. Goggles are a good idea as well, at least for the driver, in case the windshield is compromised.


Much in the same way that people get injured, vehicles can suffer the same fate. You may think your car is impervious to a breakdown, but it’s not. You may find yourself on a desolate road with a flat tire, an overheating radiator or a dead battery. You’ll need to make repairs using what you have brought with you.

The gear should include a good kit with the appropriate tools for your vehicle (standard or metric), a proper jack and recovery gear in case you get stuck in the sand or mud. Bring an extra supply of gasoline in a secured container and a way of siphoning gas from one tank to another. And no matter what kind of bug-out vehicle you have, make sure you have a full-sized spare tire. Donuts may get you off of the highway, but they won’t solve your problem.


It’s helpful to know where you are going. Even if you have the route memorized in your head or you’ve been there a hundred times, be prepared for detours, road closures, congestion or an abandonment of the original plan altogether. If you had to go the opposite direction, would you know how?

GPS apps are prevalent on our phones these days, but you’ll need a compass and a paper map of the area in case the satellite systems go down or your phone loses power. So don’t recycle that old Thomas Guide or USGS quadrant map; stash it in your bug-out vehicle instead. It may come in handy.

Bug-Out Vehicle Ready

Once you’re on the road and headed (hopefully) in the right direction, obey the traffic laws, find the safest route, and try not to call attention to yourself. Avoid being followed, and as selfish as this sounds, don’t stop to help others. Depending on the situation, you have to look out for you and yours first. You don’t know their intentions or how long a stop will sideline you.

Although the gear presented here may not fit your exact lifestyle, terrain, environment or plans, these are good, broad suggestions of equipment to include in your bug-out vehicle (or reasonable facsimiles therein). Remember, your goal, and the singular job of your bug-out vehicle, is to get you out of town quickly and safely.

Godspeed and good luck.

This article is from the winter 2018 issue of Ballistic Magazine. Grab your copy at

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