Author of The Blackout Book and the online course Bloom Where You’re Planted
By now, you’re probably sick of the constant refrain on this website of, “don’t be there” when something dangerous is going on. While it isn’t as exciting as planning a revolution or turning your home into a supermax, it’s a boring yet essential foundational point that Toby and Selco taught us at the women’s survival course in Croatia and it holds true in just about every survival situation. And second to that is, “If you are there, then leave and don’t be there.”
Now, this goes back to a discussion we had here on the website about how the essence of survival is just – surviving. Some people have absolutely no intention of bugging out and have many valid reasons for feeling that way. This article is for people who find themselves in a dangerous situation in which leaving is the only safe option.
Why might you need to leave?
There are as many reasons you might need to leave as there are possible disasters – so – an infinite number. Here are just a few possibilities.
- Chemical spill
- Industrial accident
- Nuclear accident
- Civil Unrest
The reason you’re leaving has some bearing on what you’ll need in your vehicle, but keeping it in a state of general preparedness for the things most likely in your area should cover you. This article is about the vehicle itself, not the process of bugging out. For more information on planning an evacuation, go here.
What kind of vehicle do you need?
There are about a billion different articles and videos on the internet about the “essential” bug-out vehicle. But to me, it’s a lot like the never-ending gun debate – the best gun (or vehicle) is the one that you have and can use immediately. There are a lot of amazing vehicles out there like the one in this video and the one in this article, but not everyone has the funds to allocate specifically for a BOV.
In light of that philosophy, this article is about using the vehicle you have – whether it’s a commuter car, a pick-up truck, a Jeep, or a minivan.
Having your vehicle well-maintained, fueled up, and properly stocked is a lot more within reach for most of us than spending $100,000 on an armored Mad-Max equipped Sprinter van.
The suggestions that follow are not comprehensive. You have to do what you can with your budget and your variables.
Maintaining your vehicle
Keeping your vehicle in good working order is essential. Here are some basic maintenance tips:
- Don’t leave that check engine light on the dash “unchecked.”
- Keep up with oil changes and tire rotations.
- Don’t hope that “funny noise” in the suspension just goes away.
- Get the measurements on your brake pads every time you get your tires rotated. If they’re less than 4mms, you need brake work. You can’t go if you can’t stop and a panic-stop is no time to discover your brakes are, in fact, toast.
- Make sure all lights are in working order.
- If your battery is older than 4 years old, get it tested with a multimeter and make sure the voltage is sufficient. You’d hate to be surprised by a dead battery at the worst possible moment.
A lot of these things are just common sense. And keep in mind, in many cases when you let a needed repair go uncompleted, it can damage other components, making your eventual bill much higher.
Stay fueled up.
Usually, I like to go by the mantra, “Half a tank is an empty tank.” I rarely let my Jeep fall below that amount of fuel.
When times are tense, I’d edit that to say once you’ve used a quarter of a tank of gas, you should stop and refill it. You could find yourself in a situation in which the ability to drive without stopping for fuel is extremely important.
Stock the basics.
What you keep in the vehicle depends on what you drive and the kind of emergencies that are most likely. If you live in a place with widely variable weather conditions, you’ll want to change what you have seasonally.
- Food – be sure to rotate this regularly, especially in hot weather. I keep peanut M&Ms, some cans of ravioli, and trail mix in my vehicle. (Don’t forget the can opener.)
- Shelter – This can be as elaborate as a tent or as simple as a tarp or water-resistant poncho. (I have this one.) In most cases, the best shelter will be your vehicle itself. Have something for warmth too, for each person likely to be in your vehicle. A sleeping bag rated for your climate is your best bet here.
- Water – 1 gallon per person and a water filtration device.
- Essential medications – These may need to go in and out with you. When I’m traveling, I have a bag that I keep in the house at night and throw in the back of the Jeep when I’m driving somewhere. If you or a loved one has allergies, a heart condition, asthma, or any other serious issue, keep the appropriate medications close at hand.
- First Aid kit – I keep supplies to treat traumatic injuries in my vehicle. I have everything from band-aids for blisters up to chest seal and Israeli bandages. What you keep should be on par with the level of your training. This article talks about the most important skills and gear to have.
- Something for the kids to do – You want to keep your children calm because whiny, crying kids will add to your overall stress level. Be sure that you have something for them to do, whether it’s watching movies, toys they haven’t seen before, or coloring. You may have to sit in traffic for a while and it could be a long wait for little ones.
- A way to use the bathroom – It’s less than ideal to use the bathroom in your car, but if you are stuck in traffic for a long time, you may have no option. This is, of course, a lot easier for our male readers who can discreetly use a handy bottle. There is this portable toilet with handy plastic bags, or this unisex urinal, for a couple of ideas.
- Sanitation supplies – I keep baby wipes, disinfecting wipes, and hand sanitizer in my vehicle at all times.
- Maps – Keep a newer atlas and a detailed local map in your vehicle at all times. You never know when GPS might stop working or you might find yourself without a signal.
This article has a comprehensive checklist, but that is a checklist that works for me. You may have very different needs, different amounts of space, and other variables. It’s important your kit work for you.
Vehicle repair supplies
I travel full-time and my vehicle is my hub. Because I’m often in remote areas, I carry a few things in my Jeep to keep it running in the event of an emergency so that I can get to an auto repair facility. I’m not suggesting that everyone go out and purchase all of these things (although you should always have a spare tire and at least a factory jack) – but they’re worth their weight in gold if you have a situation in which you need them.
I’ve included Amazon links to show you some examples, but you can probably find similar items locally at an auto parts store if you’re trying to do this in a hurry.
Spare tire and jack – I prefer a better quality jack to the one that came with my vehicle. This one is strong and easy to use. And if you don’t know how to change a tire, it’s really important to learn. A lot of women become victims of crime because they have to wait for help on the side of the road, instead of being able to help themselves. I consider this to be an extremely valuable skill that I taught my daughters.
Air compressor – This isn’t a necessity but it’s nice – if you have a tire with a slow leak, this compressor can help you air it up as needed until you can get it fixed.
Jump-starter with battery pack – If you have a dead battery, it’s nice to be able to boost it yourself without having to ask for help. This is similar to the one I have.
Fluids – In the event you spring a leak somewhere in your vehicle, having extra fluids may get you from Point A to Point B. (This, of course, depends on how significant the leak is.) I carry oil, coolant, and transmission fluid in my vehicle at all times. As a former service department employee, I don’t ever recommend dumping any of those “leak stop” additives. They can make your repair a lot more costly when they have to be flushed out of the vehicle at the shop.
Don’t go too crazy with the tools. Your goal is simply to get from here to there, not rebuild your vehicle.
There are certain supplies that would be handy in specific emergencies.
Fire extinguisher – In cases of wildfire evacuation or civil unrest, a fire extinguisher you can reach from your driver seat could save your life. Here’s an article specifically about using these small extinguishers in civil unrest scenarios.
Welding gloves – During a wildfire evacuation, these heavy-duty gloves can allow you to open metal gates or debris heated up by the fire without severely burning your hands.
Safety goggles with a seal – These can help to protect your eyes from smoke, tear gas, or pepper spray to some extent. Although they’re not going to completely prevent some irritation, they’ll help.
Masks – Anything from your basic N95 mask right up to a full-on gas mask could be useful for events of civil unrest, chemical spills, wildfires, or volcanos. If you can’t breathe, you certainly can’t drive. Here are some gas masks you may want to consider:
- Military CM-7M Gas Mask
- Tactical CM-6M Gas Mask
- Gas Mask Filters
- Children’s Gas Mask
- Gas Mask for Infants and Pets
The driver is the most important person in the car.
If supplies such as gas masks or goggles are limited, remember that the driver is the most important person in the car. You may really want to protect your children by giving them the limited gear but you’ll protect them more by properly outfitting yourself so you can successfully drive away from the emergency.
It’s sort of like how flight attendants tell you to put your own mask on first so that you can effectively help those around you. Your job, as the driver, is to get your loved ones to safety and the best way to do that is by using the appropriate gear.
Driving through a crowded area
This is a little bit off-topic because this article is specifically about preparing your vehicle. However, it’s timely.
One of the most pertinent questions on people’s minds at the time of publication of this article is what to do if you’re driving along and you get stopped by an angry mob.
Lots of people say really stupid things like, “Accelerator to the floor” or “I’ll just speed up” or even “I’ll open fire with my (insert gun here).” First, if you say this stuff on the internet then do it, prepare to spend your life in prison. Secondly, even if you don’t say it and do it, you’ll very likely face criminal charges unless you can prove that your life was in danger. And even if you’re found innocent, you’ll spend at least a year of your life in court dealing with it, not to mention a small fortune in legal bills.
Here’s some advice from the experts:
- Selco and Toby talked about it in this webinar. Toby had experience with this type of thing in South Africa.
- Surviving Mob Attacks on Your Vehicle by Greg Ellifritz
- How to Survive When You’re the Target of an Angry Mob by Terry Trahan
By far the best strategy is – repeat after me – “don’t be there.” You should already have planned multiple routes out of town and you can use social media like Twitter or apps like Waze to help you avoid these areas. That’s beyond the purview of this article, which is about getting your vehicle ready for a speedy exit. For more detailed information about bugging out, check out this PDF book.
Getting your family safely away from danger should be your primary concern – not showing those darn “liberals/white supremacists” that you’re a big shot. Focus on your goal and don’t be distracted.
How do you prepare your vehicle for evacuation?
What are the reasons you might need to evacuate from your home? How have you prepared your vehicle for the possibility? Share your thoughts in the comments.
For potty, of both sexes, I keep two of those large plastic coffee ‘cans’ (sans coffee). Inside of those I put plastic shopping bags with either TP or extra napkins you get at takeout/fast food places. It works, been used lol. Plus the opening is large for whatever needs to be done by male or female.
I also have an updated road atlas. Plus metal water bottles to keep things cold or hot, but most importantly you can boil with them.
Everything else on your list I have including a ‘quick’ pack which is a small backpack with a ‘bleeder kit’ and body armor. It can be pulled by anyone in the vehicle, at any time from any position.
I can’t believe I left the atlas off my list – thank you for the reminder. The coffee can potty is a great idea too!
I also want to mention, don’t throw away your old wipers or air filters. If there’s ash or something else in the air, there’s only so many times you can clear a filter. Putting in an old one will bring needed oxygen to your cars system.
I also carry behind my drivers seat a Tomahawk Downrange. Basically a super tough axe/crowbar. It could help you or someone else in an emergency. Sorry for a ‘two post’.
Y’all be safe out there!
crowbar/wrecking bar, short shovel, short pick
for fire extinguisher, just a few plastic bottles of baking soda. cheaper, lighter, works great.
“goggles” – also great if the wind is blowing a lot of sand at you.
Thinking ahead: Choose the right model (that would fit your needs) of a folding wheelchair, four-wheel walker w/ seat, and adjustable forearm crutches (the “underarm-type” crutches will put the sides of your rib-cage in agony). And PRACTICE with them to get what will work best for you. Go to a thrift store that has used (very cheap) equipment–no one seems to remind/recommend basic post-injury equipment you may need also.
Mark, Truly agree with you about PRACTICE!!! I am not familiar with the forearm crutches but to follow up on your comment about the “underarm-type” crutches, improper use of these types of crutches can cause permanent nerve damage if the arm pits or general area of the arm pit leans/presses into the crutches while using them. Prior to foot surgery a few years ago, I was given pre-op patient education. This involved being referred to Physical Therapy for training on how to use crutches. I just assumed you hopped on them and hobbled along. Was I wrong! I was informed by the therapist to never lean your armpits on crutches. There are certain nerves that run in this area that can be permanently damaged. As part of preparedness, I would suggest anyone who has old crutches lying around to watch a you-tube or read up on the proper use of crutches before the need arises. Improper use can cause more harm than good. If you feel like you have been through a strenuous workout after going a few feet on crutches ,then you are probably using them correctly. After you get used of it they become a lot easier to ambulate with..
That “don’t be there” expression originated from the greatest line in “North Shore…” or probably any surf movie ever. Turtle, a North Shore, local tries to explain to Rick Kane, the “Arizona Surf Champion,” why he’s Not Ready to paddle out at the Banzai Pipeline.
Turtle: “There’s a reef that starts right Here, and goes all the way down to There.
And when the wave breaks here, Don’t Be There….or YOU’RE GONNA GET DRILLED!” 🙂
Something we rehearsed a lot in peacetime in the army.
Will it all fit? What’s the max load/haul weight? What is the ground clearance loaded? What’s you fuel range loaded?
Where’s the heaviest items go so your not side or too heavy. You might have to do evasive driving. You other have to drive off road some.
Have copies in the vehicles and/or trailers/camper.
I keep a tool that Has a blade at one end & a sharp metal point at the other. It can break a window & cut through a seat belt.
Be careful that your fancy device really works in a bind. I had purchased one of those combination tools and was in an accident that trapped me in a burning car. The centerpunch didn’t break my window because it was not spring loaded. Someone had to break my window from the outside and rescue me. Go to any hardware store and buy a spring loaded center punch which only costs about $15. Have a blanket that you can place over the broken window so you can crawl over it and not be cut. Lastly, the weakest part of a car window is in the bottom corner, not the center. Buy a center punch for everyone you love. You may save someone else’s life if you see an accident wirh trapped passengers. God bless!
I wear a uniform to work. If for any reason I drive into trouble or my car/truck breaks down,I have a set of the most ratty looking clothes in both my vehicles. I do a Clark Kent right there.
Right there with ya. I’ve been using a plain black pullover even just to drive.
I hear that! The other night I was going to the supermarket, cops all over the place. I pulled into the gas station across the street to get a look-see. More cops pulled into the gas station an yelled at me to “Get out of here!!!” I went Duh, OK and went down the street a block or so.
Turns out there was a crazy guy waving a gun in the store, shot a cop, and ran iacross the street into the convenience store at the station I STOPPED AT!
Whew! Thaaat close!!!! :-/
added skid plates front / read to protect the engine, trans, read diff, AND the trans oil lines.
Front cattle/brush guard
A GHB for 7 days
Extraction gear and a 40′ snatch strap
Factory tow package and trailer e-brake controller
Full size spare tire
EMT backpack & training to use it.
9mm in the center console
a couple of 185650 powered tac lights w chargers – plug & solar
secure storage under rear seat for 2x long guns
topo maps for the state and all surrounding states
radios – VHF/UHF/HF plus FRS.GMRS/LEO freqs
One thing I want badly does not exist: a bug-out/SHTF vehicle that will run when there is no gas or diesel available. An external combustion engine, such as a Stirling Cycle engine could burn wood chips, paper, orange peels, etc. etc.
Decades ago, Mother Earth News ran an article with a pickup that ran on wood. So there must be a few, but they are so rare that I have not seen anything about this on prepper sites.