When everything hits the fan, the world is immediately divided into two groups: the prepared and the unprepared. Those who thought ahead have the reaction time, resources, and planning to take care of themselves and their loved ones. Those who didn’t…well, they’re going to have a rough time.
It’s nearly impossible to predict exactly what emergency will arise, when it’ll happen, or where you’ll be when it does. It could be economic collapse. Breakdown of the supply chain. Foreign invasion. Nuclear war. Flood. Famine. Disease. Blackouts. Earthquake. Fire. Tornado. All those emergencies have something in common, though: you need to get somewhere safe.
You can assume that public transportation will be a nightmare, so you need your own wheels. And you need something that can get you off the main roads—which will be a chaotic and potentially violent mess—and take you (and those with you) somewhere far away from the madness.
Basically, you need a bug-out vehicle.
A little car for commuting is great as long as everything’s going fine, but when things go down the toilet, you’re going to need something a lot more robust. A bug-out vehicle is a strong, flexible, practical machine that gets you to a safe place as efficiently and effectively as possible and meets your daily needs until things get back to normal.
What kind of vehicle is right for you?
There’s no single “best” bug-out vehicle. The right answer depends on your specific situation and needs.
Here are some key questions you’ll need to ask yourself:
- Where are you coming from? You need to find something appropriate for your everyday needs as well as a possible bug-out situation. If you live in Manhattan, for example, a giant pickup truck might not be the right answer for you.
- Where are you going? You should have a primary destination in mind. Getting “out of the city” isn’t enough. You need to know the fastest routes out of the city and have some idea where you’re trying to go. Small town up the road? Cabin in the woods? Camping in the mountains? Hiding out in the desert? Where you intended to escape to is a major part of the vehicle decision you need to make.
- Is this a daily driver? In a perfect world, you’d have different vehicles for different needs, but none of us live in a perfect world. Unless you’re independently wealthy, you’re going to want a dependable multi-purpose vehicle because the chariot you plan to ride out of the flaming hellscape of post-apocalyptic civilization is likely the same one you’ll need to take to the office each Monday to file your TPS reports.
- How many passengers will you be taking? Hint: It’s not just you. Even if you’re single and unattached, there’s safety in numbers during emergency situations. You’ll need space to transport other people. And if you’ve got a family, you’re definitely going to need that space. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to be able to take at least 4 people in your bug-out vehicle, and the number could go up from there depending on your needs.
- Should you get an older or newer vehicle? Older vehicles have the advantage of being more affordable generally easier to repair, but they come at the cost of requiring more frequent repairs. Newer vehicles often have more sophisticated electronic systems that can’t be effectively repaired in the field, but they’re also less prone to part failures, and they include significant safety upgrades that could save your life in a crash.
Off-roading is fundamental
When planning a bug-out vehicle, you almost definitely need to be focused on those that offer off-road capabilities. You’re going to want to get away from civilization, and a minivan probably isn’t going to get you down that washed-out old forest road.
Here’s what you’ll need to look for in off-road capabilities for your bug-out vehicle:
- 4X4 / Four-Wheel Drive: Most modern vehicles are powered only by the front or rear axle, but not both. This means that either your front wheels or your rear wheels would be doing all the work. That’s totally sensible in a city-driving situation, but on potentially rough roads, you want the torque going to all four wheels. When your front wheel’s stuck or spinning, you need the rear wheels pushing to get you out of there.
- High clearance: To successfully navigate rocks, ditches, or other irregular terrains, you’ll need to make sure your vehicle is high enough off the ground to avoid getting high-centered and to prevent hard objects from banging against sensitive parts of the vehicle. You don’t need a ridiculous lift for this (often that just causes other problems), but a sensible high-clearance vehicle can help you get past almost anything your route will throw at you.
- Differential lockers (ideal but not required): The “differential” is a brilliant set of gears located inside the pumpkin-looking thing in the middle of your axle. It takes the rotation of the driveshaft and distributes it to the wheels individually, allowing them to rotate at different speeds—which is essential when making a turn. However, it also creates the potential to lose traction during challenging driving situations because it would divert power to a “fast” wheel (e.g., one up in the air spinning) instead of a “slow” wheel (e.g., one trying to get over a large rock). A differential locker gives you the ability to distribute that power to both wheels evenly, allowing you to get out of some otherwise tricky situations.
- All-terrain tires: City tires are great for your daily commute, but they’ll betray you as soon as you get off-road. Your best bet is almost certainly an all-terrain tire, built to provide superior traction on unpaved surfaces, but without going to the extremes of “mud terrain” or other specialty-use tires. All-terrain tires are a great compromise that can be used on your daily driver but will be there for you when you need them to perform under pressure.
SUV or Pickup?
When you start narrowing down your vehicle search based on practical needs, you’re almost certainly going to narrow down to two options: a pickup truck or a truck-like SUV.
Pickup trucks are fantastic bug-out vehicles because they’re tough and they’re flexible. You can carry whatever you need to carry, pull whatever you need to pull and go wherever you need to go. It’s hard to beat a pickup for a real-world disaster situation.
An SUV is basically a truck with an enclosed back. It typically offers more convenient seating and provides a single contained interior (compared with a pickup truck that has a wall separating the cab from the bed).
Both are great options, and which way you lean depends on your particular needs. If you’re going to be sleeping in your vehicle, you might appreciate the convenience of an enclosed SUV that lets you get whatever you need without going outside. If you plan to haul a lot of cargo, a truck might be a better fit for you. Additionally, you’ll want to consider your everyday needs at work and home, since that’s probably the more important factor here.
And when considering SUVs, be careful to look at more truck-like options. A majority of modern SUVs are really passenger cars disguised as “sport utility vehicles.” A Honda Pilot, for example, uses the same platform as the Odyssey minivan. A Ford Explorer shares its platform with the Taurus sedan. Even the Jeep Cherokee, once a rugged off-road option, has evolved to use the same platform as Chrysler 200 sedan and Pacifica minivan. When considering SUVs, make sure you’re getting a true sport utility vehicle and not just a sedan with a sporty-looking body.
Whether a pickup or SUV best suits your needs, you’ll also need to consider the size. A full-size vehicle offers more space for people and supplies but comes at the expense of gas mileage (a real concern during a bug-out situation where fuel will be scarce) and the ability to navigate trails. A mid-size vehicle doesn’t offer quite as much space but can be much nimbler on backcountry trails.
Depending on your needs, you might also consider some of the sportier mid-size crossovers, such as the Subaru Outback or Toyota RAV4. They’re definitely more on the “car” side of the spectrum and don’t offer a ton of space for people or cargo, but they can definitely get you off the paved roads and into the backcountry, and they might be the right fit for your daily driving needs as well.
Here are some of the very best options you should consider for a robust, battle-tested bug-out vehicle within an affordable price range (i.e., excluding luxury SUVs):
- Toyota Tundra
- Ford F-150 / Raptor
- Chevrolet Silverado / GMC Sierra
- Dodge Ram
- Toyota Tacoma
- Ford Ranger
- Chevrolet Colorado / GMC Canyon
- Jeep Gladiator (NEW!)
- Toyota Sequoia
- Toyota 4Runner
- Jeep Wrangler
- Toyota RAV4
- Subaru Outback
Your individual needs and preferences (not to mention brand loyalties) will help you narrow down that list, but the honest truth is that you can rest easier at night if you’ve got any one of those vehicles in your garage.