Bugging Out in an RV or a Tent?

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While more and more people within the prepping community are learning the importance of bugging in – something likely to be your most practical response for most disasters – the fact of the matter is that there are situations out there that necessitate getting the heck out of dodge.

Perhaps it’s news of an incoming Hurricane Katrina type event. Maybe you just heard your government plans on locking down an area to the point of house arrest. Did armed thugs just make an autonomous zone of your neighborhood?

In any of these situations – and in many more – getting out of the area may very well be your best bet. But what is the best way to do so?

Is it better to bug out with an RV or is it better to bug out with a tent?

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each…

Bugging out in an RV

These must have some advantages to them, right? After all, there’s a reason that there was a national shortage of these throughout the past few years. Many discovered the advantages of using an RV to head for the hills, and so we’ll take a closer look at what some of these advantages are first.

What are the advantages of bugging out in an RV?

I think there are several of them, but first and foremost would have to be this:

An RV is fast.

If speed is of the essence, you can’t beat an RV. The ability to hop onto your local interstate and cruise at 70 mph can cause you to get as far away from the X as possible. You could literally get out of your state in a matter of hours with an RV.

In a similar vein, an RV gives you the opportunity to put some serious distance between you and the fan-spread, flying poop. It’s not just that you can get off the X fast, you can get hundreds of miles away from the X, fast. Consider volcanic explosions, such as Mt. St. Helens.

When a super volcano is spewing lava throughout the area and ash is clogging the air for hundreds of miles you need to bug out a long way away. Dust-caused pneumonia is what you’re looking at if you don’t. An RV is superior to a tent for allowing you to do so.

You can bug out longer with an RV than you can with a tent.

You can bug out for a much longer period of time with an RV as well. Think of the amount of gear and food you can haul with you in an RV versus with what you can carry on your back. It’s not even a contest. With an RV you can easily stock several months’ worth of food – what I believe to be the key limiting factor in most peoples’ bug out length – with little to no discomfort.

(All the more reason to check out our free QUICKSTART Guide on emergency evacuations, is it not?)

Bugging out in an RV provides better shelter from the elements than does a tent.

When winter comes you’ll be much better sheltered against the elements with an RV as well. Would you rather spend a freezing February night in a canvas tent or in an RV with solar powered electric? Yeah, I’ll take the RV. A month bugging out in winter in a tent is a test of endurance. That same month in an RV? Not so bad.

What are the disadvantages of bugging out in an RV?

I think the main thing here is that you’re relegated to traveling on a road. If there are traffic jams, dangerous road blocks (such as Rwanda saw throughout the early 90s), or washed out roads you’re not going to be going anywhere.

You have to have gas to keep that RV moving as well. In The Event will you have access to gas or not? That’s something of a crap shoot, but it is something to think about. An EMP, supply chain shortage, or the like isn’t going to leave you with the ability to find gas very easily. If, instead, it’s an incoming hurricane, wildfire, or something of the like, this isn’t something you have to worry about as much.

If somebody is actively looking for you (again, consider the Rwandan genocide, a deranged stalker, or the like) an RV also presents a greater signature. They have to stay on the road, and so roads are all that have to be searched. Again, your situation will determine if this is even something you need to think about, but it is a potential con of RV bug-outs.

Bugging out with a tent

Everybody understands that there are fantastic benefits from owning a tent. But just what are they? And are there times when a tent may not be the best solution after all? I think so, and I think you’ll agree with me here.

What are the advantages of bugging out with a tent?

There are many, but I think this is likely the most important:

It can remain close at hand.

One of the great things about a tent is that you can stow one away just about anywhere. Personally, I’m a fan of the Snugpak Scorpion 2 , as it easily fits within a bug-out bag, car trunk, closet, or office with little bulk or weight. This means it’s much more likely to be at hand when you need it.

Consider if you’re on a business trip 200 miles away from your home. You’ve your get-home bag in the trunk of your car, but you don’t have your RV. If The Event happens while you’re at this trip, it’s the tent that is going to be at hand – not the RV.

Tents are within reach of the common man.

Price point is another factor which tents have in their favor. It’s much easier to put $300 into a quality four-season tent than it is to put $30,000 into an RV. The preps you have are going to do you more good than the preps you were saving for in the event of a disaster, so this is most certainly a consideration to take into account.

Tents make for true off-grid capability.

I personally like the ability a tent gives you to go completely off-grid as well. When I’m backpacking, I can literally disappear off the face of the earth with my tent. I can drive to the trailhead, hike 20 miles into the wilderness, and then bushcraft off trail several hundred yards till I get to a spot I want to camp.

That’s about as remote of a bug out experience as you can get – and in many cases, that’s what people are looking for in these types of situations.

Minimal upkeep is required for a tent.

Further advantages of utilizing a tent for bugging out is that it’s a one and done purchase – you don’t need gasoline to keep it moving – it’s not deterred by roadblocks, man-made or otherwise, and it has a lower signature than an RV.

If I was given an area to search, (let’s say a Russian soldier marching through Ukraine) I’d have a much easier time finding an RV than I would a tent. Whether that’s something you’re concerned about or not for your situation, well, that’s up to you. Either way, it is something that a tent has going for it.

What are the disadvantages to bugging out with a tent?

Chief of these I can think of would be that a tent doesn’t offer anywhere near the shelter that an RV does. Even with the best of sleeping bags, it can still get cold at night in winter. If you live in The Beautiful South, this may not be as bad, but if you live in Montana, Maine, Idaho, or anywhere else where deep freezes are the norm, you need to start thinking of what you’re going to do to stay warm.

Another con of tent bug-outs is the amount of gear you can carry with you. If I’m bugging out with my tent, I’m only going to be able to take what I can carry on my back. We’re looking at probably 50 pounds or so of gear including food. That’s not going to last you very long out in the woods even if you are trapping, hunting, and foraging.

On past backpacking trips I can typically carry three days’ of food with me with minimal discomfort, and that results in a 35-pound pack. If you throw in weapons, ammo, and other bug-out gear on top of that, you’re looking at a significantly heavier pack with not a lot of that extra weight coming from food. How effectively can you travel with that much weight on your back?

What you choose depends on what you’re preparing for.

As with everything, there are always going to be pros and cons. It’s no different with the debate between bugging out in an RV versus bugging out in a tent. If this is a question which has been burning in your mind of late, hopefully this will help to chisel away at some of your doubts.

Is there one which is better than the other? It depends.

What are your thoughts on the debate though? Are there other benefits and disadvantages we didn’t list here? Let us know in the comments below!

About Aden

Aden Tate is a regular contributor to TheOrganicPrepper.com and TheFrugalite.com. Aden runs a micro-farm where he raises dairy goats, a pig, honeybees, meat chickens, laying chickens, tomatoes, mushrooms, and greens. Aden has two published books, The Faithful Prepper and Zombie Choices. You can find his podcast The Last American on Preppers’ Broadcasting Network.


Aden Tate

Aden Tate

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  • We picked up an old RV last year; it ran fine awhile then something went bad, now it sits in the yard awaiting repair. But it’s got a solid Dodge motor with carberator and no computers, and makes a handy EMP proof option. And I can stick a couple teenage boys in the camper to act as security if needed.

  • Well, best of both worlds – car camping with a tent. You have the flexibility to hike away from your car if you need to hide, or can camp right by your car if you don’t. And with a 4WD vehicle, you can go onto roads that regular passenger cars (or an RV) can’t go. If it gets too cold, hop in the car and run the heater. Of course, if you can’t find gas, then you’re out of luck, but you’re not going to get to a trailhead away from home either unless you can get there on the gas already in your tank. Tradeoffs, no solutions, just tradeoffs.

  • Pull behind camper trailers are better than both IMO for my purposes. That being said I still have tent plans and preps BUT with a trailer because you need food/water.

  • I think the best of both worlds is having a truck (or 4×4), box or open trailer and a tent.
    With the truck you can go off road, and from there on foot if necessary.
    It also allows quite a bit of cargo space plus the box trailer and room for tools so that you can cashe any supplies, then ditch the truck and trailer elsewhere.
    Or you might be able to set up the tent in the truck bed if that was necessary. Instead of a box trailer filled with supplies, you could load up a ATV instead.
    Giving you a greater range to quickly escape into the wilderness.
    So for having a lot of options, I think this is the best choice overall.

  • There are many options beyond the RV and walking alternatives — especially if you are packing for an INCH [meaning I’m Never Coming Home] type trip. Part of the reason for such planning is that you may not know while bugging out if 1) your home will still be there if you’re able to return, or 2) if for other reasons your home may not be safe OR you might not be permitted to re-occupy your now-former home.

    Just a historical note: when thousands of ex-Confederates were treated like dirt after our mis-named “Civil War” (which was really a tax extortion war — not intended by Lincoln to free any slaves, but to deport them), they managed to travel to various southern ports long before petroleum motorized vehicles existed). From those port cities they boarded ships to take some to Cuba, some to Mexico, and some to Brazil. Some drowned during storm-caused ship wrecks.

    Prior to that war when Mormons had to flee for their lives to the western US states, some didn’t have the money for horses or oxen to pull large supply wagons. So those with lesser funds had to pull 2-wheel carts full of the goods and gear they could manage by muscle all across the country westward. The book “Handcarts to Zion” tells that incredible story of their historic on-foot INCH-class bug-out.

    If bugging out on foot today, it’s worth knowing that some Europeans are notable for hiking thousands of kilometers while pulling a 2-arm, 2-wheel load-carrying hiking trailer. Search on YouTube for HIKING TRAILER to see examples. Much along the lines of today’s hunters using a game carrying cart over rough ground, hiking trailers can greatly expand the volume and weight of supplies and equipment you might want to plan for. I regularly use a folding 2-wheel luggage cart rated for 150 pounds on my walks to and from a local grocery. If needed, it could easily be included in checked baggage if airline travel was part of the plan.

    I should mention that some long distance bicycle enthusiasts tow a small cargo trailer behind their bicycle. Some even convert thrift store deals on 2-child size people trailers into bicycle cargo trailers for significant cash savings.

    Back to motorized options: There are both complete cargo trailers available at retail and DIY examples such as open utility trailers that could easily be converted into a covered and lockable version — with size and weight commensurate with whatever capability your vehicle can handle. I’ve often “camped” using a lightweight camper shell on my pickup which even with its weight and space limitations, it can still carry a lot more that I could handle on foot. However, there are larger cargo/utility trailers that could have room to sleep in while having room for more cargo. Again, the towing capacity of whatever kind of vehicle you might have must be considered when choosing or DIY completing such a trailer. And that is relevant even if your motorized vehicle is a motor cycle or even a motorized bicycle.

    And if INCH planning is being considered, one might need to consider whether the political atmosphere makes airline or private airplane, ship, or even overland vehicle use to some other country a wise possibility. In that case some more planning on what you can bring along, what the rules might be under a different government, what kind of vehicles another country’s mechanics and parts networks are capable of maintaining, etc, etc. And that kind of planning can take years of research to dig up the relevant facts.

    The point again is that there are very many alternatives beyond just the RV and on-foot examples initially presented here.


  • If your “bugging out” without a pre-planned and supplied retreat you’re a Refugee. Don’t be a refugee depending on the kindness or at least benign neglect of others (aka Blind Eye).

    As far as RV’s for winter living, I know too many semi-homeless living in their RV’s RIGHT NOW in Freeze and Thaw NH and they can relate how much propane they burn every day to keep those pipes from freezing LET ALONE their families semi-warm. Just how many 20 pound propane tanks do you carry friend?

    Roads are VERY Limiting and those that desire to steal and harm you love road blocking actions.

    If you’re in decent health bicycle camping can get you farther than a tank of gas for that RV and if you notice a “Traffic Jam” from a Roadblock (Official or Robbers) you can go cross country to evade.

    Even “Normal Hurricane traffic” jams can have your RV nearly in PARK for hours. Do you think that dangerous folks nearby *Might* look at your Rolling Walmart of USEFUL stuff with interest as your trapped thusly?

    I’m over 60 and have ridden with my bike trailer over 60 miles easily per day. I’ve gone camping deep into woods and taken my bike and gear over many a fence with but a few moments of effort. Try that with an RV :-).

    But then again, I keep a folding bicycle for myself and my lovely wife in our car for “Exercise” and prudence. Emergencies often fail to send advance notice.

    I have “bug out” plans for serious emergencies, no die in place plans for my family.

    • I have toured by bicycle during winter in Canada and it was challenging but doable if properly equipped. Quality equipment, fitness and high fat/calorie food (not high carb) for efficient weight/energy to fuel you longer. Sub zero is no problems if you have an insulated sleep system and high quality tent. Stealth camping is the way to go although it never hurts to have conversations with local residents you encounter and ask the safest place to camp. It may lead to positive alternatives to camping in the wild.

  • Aden, I think the answer to which one, Tent or RV is YES!
    Your points are valid but layers should be the strategy if at all possible. EDC carried on your person, bug out bag with tent near you in whatever vehicle you have and a flexible, practiced plan.

    • Definitely agree. Both RV and tent. In addition to our travel trailer we have a -6’x24’ canvas all weather tent with wood stove for cold winter nights. We also have a 3 season tent and if we have to bug out we take both tents and travel trailer.

  • OK. So here I am. 79 years old. Recent Below Knee Amputation, learning to walk again with a prosthetic lower leg / foot. Wheelchair bound mostly. However, there ARE all terrain wheelchairs with large tires that if you have the arm and shoulder strength you can go a long ways. (LASHER wheelchairs, Top Ten Crossfire all terrain wheelchairs, etc. These are not your old black hospital wheelchairs. These new ones weigh only 20 lbs, less when the wheels come off. Prosthetics require constant care and need to be sanitary. Bugging in right now is better for me at this point. An Rv without a destination to go and a distance to go would make me a refugee, to say the least. All things must be considered before bug out. I am searching for a destination BEFORE I might need to go. Otherwise, I would try to “hide in plain sight” hoping my wood stove smoke would not excite someone. In my case, I need a younger, stronger friend whom I can trust, bugging in or bugging out. Thanks for the rant.

    • welcome,
      i’m in similar situation dependent on lots of things (medically) but out of wheel chair, im fortunate to have bought a BOL i got a simi livable trailer,no water on in winter since im not there to prevent damage ,but relying on electic heat , did have all Amish around me all 4 sides. but 55 acre across the road, they sold out to retired air force guy in medically BAD shape,not a benefit as for being at BOL. there are no phone lines,no internet, cell phones & GPS dont work there either. why i had to move closer to hospital, driveway gate locked whether im there or gone. there just isn’t any one to set up a group, when i leave hunters know your gone prime time to see & or take what they want. county sheriff could care less NO way to call them any way, Fire dept same, only close gas station, closed up.population decreased a lot last 2 years. county last close to 1500.many lost jobs,moved away. i would really like to have friend/to help out if needed. just no one around. my RV is fully self contained. which is my best back up.staying or leaving. now in richmond, no one around me here understand ,being self substainable/ie prepping, stores couple miles away, they go shopping as needed store nothing.
      snow tonight,im all ready .

  • We are lucky to have both! Tents can be bought at second-hand stores so they are easy to obtain. Our “RV” is a decked-out van that we bought used. Plus we live out in the country and have a bug-out location in mind if SHTF. Bug-in, bug out, we’re more prepared than many! However, truth be told, the more dramatic scenarios like the ones we see on TV are less likely to occur than things like job loss, supply chain disruptions or hyperinflation or grid-down situations caused by weather events. They aren’t as exciting, but they are just as traumatic and highly more likely.

  • Yeah, that fuel thing can be an issue.
    Bugging out in front of a hurricane and a few other hundred thousand or more like minded individuals all heading in the same direction, your once full gas tank heading for the big ‘E’ and every gas station you have passed for the past 5 hours sign says “NO GAS!” makes things real interesting. Seen more than a few vehicles on the side of the road, out of gas.

    Winter camping is doable and can even be comfortable with the right gear/clothing. I have SungPak sleeping bag, liner and one of their bivvis. Too bad the stopped making their Rocket Pack.

    Bicycling is doable, but I question the calorie intake and resupply. I used to race back when I was a teen, and have done TOSRV twice.

    ATVs are great, but they can be stopped by dense woods, or even get bogged down in wetlands (I know this one from experience). Best used on blazed trails for ATVs. Even hiking trials may not be ATV accessible. Same thing goes for snow machines.

  • Rv for bug out with enough fuel to get to bug out location plus. At final resort, have 250 gallon propane tanks, water wells. Generators. The rv is only a tool to get you to a better location. Yes you can continue to use the rv. but you really need a fixed location to bloom from in a SHTF problem. And dont forget the Green Crackers…. lol

  • As far as being able to take you RV or travel trailer off road, it all depends on the amount of clearance your RV and truck ou SUV has our Expedition and trailer have plenty of clearance. Our SUV has the to pull it off road. In fact that is our plan should we have to bugout. We also keep our travel trailer well packed so getting out of dodge doesn’t take us as long as it would that it would those that have to pack up their tent and camping gear.

  • IMHO none of the options described here are realistic. Anyone who has read Mac Slavo’s? harrowing story of the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the 90’s, would arrive at the greatest takeway from the apocalypse, which is that ‘Lone Wolf McQuades’ have a very minimal chance of survival over the long haul. One or two armed lunatics could easily sniper your entire family and your stuff is now theirs. Your best chances lie in BEING the force to be feared and reckoned with, which requires being in the midst of like-minded, able bodied family and community. This is a group with a plan, one that is able to coalesce quickly should the need arise, and capable of defending a specific parcel of real estate. The most cursory examination of human history reveals the wisdom of this, as it is ‘tribes’ – the larger the better – that have survived the millennia, not wandering, isolated ‘escapees’.

  • Another option is a converted van. An example being the Ford Transit high roof. RAM and Mercedes Benz make similar models. The Ford and Mercedes models also have the option of 4-wheel drive, which gives some off road capability. They get better gas mileage than a RV and more room than a pick-up camper. While I have seen ads for ready made campers, the only ones I’ve personally seen are DIY conversions. They are narrower than RVs, hence easier to get into parking spots. I have met and know people who live full time in their vans.

    If I were to go with a van, I would want to DIY the conversion, because I want certain non-standard options.

    Another option I’ve considered is getting an empty shell of a camping trailer, then installing the options I want. However, two things have made me hesitate: I haven’t found a company that sells just an empty shell of a trailer, and the weight limits of towing vehicles. I was amazed at how little can be towed by most vehicles.

    • Try Scamp Trailer in Backus MN. They are solid people and can help make the right decision to fit your needs.

      • Yes, thank you, the Scamp trailers are cute and light weight. But looking at the website, it appears that they offer only a limited number of pre-fab interiors, none of which fits what I would want to do with the trailer. Now if they sold a model with the shell with insulation but just hard points where one could attach interior fittings of one’s own design, I may have signed up for one already. As it is, I would have to tear out half to three-quarters of the pre-fab interior in order to make it useful to me. Cute, but designed for short term vacations, not for emergency bugging out.

  • If I had to leave ;
    It’s has taken a long time & lots of saving to get pretty well set up.. I Have a BOL some ways away from where I stay now , I fixed up (2) bug out vehicles, & 2 years ago bought a 22 ft Class “C” motor home has lots of comforts. all are full of fuel, I can have any of them ready to go in a couple hours, fill water tank in MH. Food & clothes .including the cat & all her stuff. & car on tow dolly if i thought need too.

  • “Bugging out” again. I read all the replies. Thanks, Sam, for the dose of reality. If you reside in a location where ‘bugging out’ is really your plan… maybe your only plan…, then you should relocate to someplace having a lot less risk,… now. I’m not thinking of just a temporary evacuation as might be necessary ahead of a hurricane or similar event. I’m addressing the real horror that too many seem to romanticize about tossing on that pack, loading up the RV (or whatever) and getting the hell out of Dodge maybe forever. Tent or RV? Its kind of like asking, “When going towards your untimely demise, what footwear is best, boots or sneakers?”

  • I would vote RV because an enclosed, hard shell around you is a lot safer than a tent than can be ripped with a knife. Pop-ups are easily pulled by a car, are very affordable, and have a complete camper within them. Some also now have the hard shell, rather than a fabric tent. Toy haulers also have the advantage of a bed that is up against the ceiling unless being used plus an extra bedroom. Travel trailers can be towed off road with 4WD. Class B & C are pretty thrift for a complete camper that is good on gas. I wouldn’t count on a Class A or 5th wheel as they are so big that you are very exposed and they are slow. I refer to my friends’ 5th wheel as “the guest house”. This being said, I advise everyone to have folding electric bikes and a towable folding bike trailer. If you are bugging out, you want to be mobile. Make some plans to fortify your RV beforehand. You want your list of needs easily accessible.

  • My adult kids have a ShiftPod, which they’ve used multiple times, and which has a port for a heater or an A/C, with a generator, of course. It can sleep 4 comfortably and they use a bunk bed cot. They were both Boy Scouts and backpackers, but they learned the most about self-sufficiency and survival from Burning Man, of all places! The disadvantage of the ShiftPod is that it is heavy and takes up some room in the back of a truck. But, it is easy to set up and appears to be sturdy.

    Also, I’ve known friends who put a Tepui on the top of their CRV/SUV.

    I have decided I don’t want to sleep on the ground any more. We have a pop up, but I’m angling for a 4 season RV of sorts.

  • A few years ago I wrote an article about using a small trailer yacht as a bugout/survival tool. I was able to pick up a few for very little as they are not as popular here in NZ as they used to be. Kind of a cramped camper trailer ( or caravan) as we call them , more waterproof than a tent. But it’s a boat, with its own means of propulsion if there is no fuel to be had. Lateral thinking.. may suit if you bugout to a lake or ocean location.

  • micro-farm where he raises dairy goats, a pig, honeybees, meat chickens, laying chickens Every thing needs MONEY!!

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