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Is an RV the Best Bug Out Vehicle?

RVCamper
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When it comes to planning for the end of the world as we know it, thoughts generally turn to Bug Out Vehicles sooner or later. For most of us, our BOV of necessity will be whatever we can get our hands on in the moment. For those of you who have a little extra time or money, I wanted to discuss the concept of using an Recreational Vehicle (RV) as your dedicated mode of getting the hell out of dodge. The idea for this came to me from a reader named Alexander who asked the following:

I’d like to hear what you have to say about using an RV for a bugout vehicle. What would you stay away from and what would you do to get it ready?

Great question and I am happy to give my thoughts and opinions, this is a blog after all. For the record, I do not have an RV, so my thoughts will be centered on an analysis of aspects of both the RV and the practical needs for bugging out. I welcome anyone who does have experience to comment below and give you own side of things.

In thinking about the question of whether an RV is the best Bug Out Vehicle or not, I think it makes sense to start with a shared understanding of what exactly I mean by RV. For the purposes of this article, let’s say an RV is any vehicle you can drive or pull behind another vehicle that has living quarters built into it and was designed for one or more people to live in temporarily. Don’t get hung up on the temporarily part of that description. Essentially everything from Motley Crue’s tour bus to a truck camper fits into this category of RV. I’ll even add some photos below.

So now we know what an RV is lets discuss what Bugging Out is. From my perspective, Bugging Out is when you need to leave your home quickly to avoid a natural or man-made disaster. This can be a flood, hurricane, Tsunami or Wildfire. It can also be rioting, war, chemical gas leak, nuclear plant melt-down, zombies, ethnic cleansing, slow moving lava or any one of hundreds of other possible scenarios. You are bugging out hopefully with supplies you need to live for three days at a minimum and you may or may not expect to ever go home again.

Unless you have a fully stocked mountain retreat tucked into the woods within walking distance away from your home, you are going to need to get there somehow, so we developed this term of Bug Out Vehicle to describe our conveyance that could help us avoid the calamity we were leaving and be tough enough to navigate the terrain in a post-apocalyptic world. It is my contention that most of us do not have even a partially stocked retreat anywhere so if we are forced to bug out of our homes, we won’t have any place to stay or we will be lucky to shack up with friends far enough away from the catastrophe that we won’t be affected.

The RV seems at first to be a logical vehicle to consider when you are looking into what can take you down the road in style and offer some of the comforts of home at the same time. Some of these comforts can work against you and I’ll describe some thoughts I had when I considered if an RV was the best Bug Out Vehicle for my family.

How are you planning to use this RV in a bug out situation?

Campers have their own sets of problems.

Campers have their own sets of problems.

The first thing I think of when I consider RV’s as a bug out vehicle is their obvious ability to take a pretty big chunk of the conveniences of home with us on the road. Even pop-up campers can comfortably sleep 5 or 6 people and isn’t that better than sleeping in the woods? Larger 5th wheel campers have 2 bedrooms a full kitchen (for a camper) and even a living room! Worried about going to the bathroom in the woods or taking a shower? Have no fear because most RV’s have this covered too. In terms of roughing it, RV’s do their best to make that a non-issue.

So, we would buy one to live in if the grid went down, right? Or else you have one already or were considering the purchase because you genuinely want an RV to tour around the country. Nothing wrong with that at all. In fact, if you were away from home and the grid went down for whatever reason, having a stable place you could stay would be a huge advantage. However, if you were planning to fire up the old RV after a disaster was announced, or people were already fleeing from (insert your reason here) an RV could have a lot of liabilities.

Maybe the question shouldn’t be is an RV a good bug out vehicle, but rather, is an RV a good replacement for a survival retreat? If you have an RV parked in the middle of the woods away from society and we have some type of grid down disaster I think that you would consider yourself one of the luckiest people in the world. However, I think if you were trying to navigate the roads with one of these vehicles right in the middle of mass panic, you would not feel the same way.

For one thing, RV’s stick out like a sore thumb. Anyone who sees one knows that you most likely have room in there and you are driving around shelter. An RV would make a tempting target to anyone looking to better their position in life during a disaster, but that’s assuming you are actually moving. If you are one of the lucky ones who made it out of your town before the rest of the crowd, you might not be stuck on the highways but any plan involving bugging out in a vehicle faces the risk of traffic jams.

RV's this size offer a ton of luxury, but not a lot of feasibility off road.

RV’s this size offer a ton of luxury, but not a lot of feasibility off road.

If you find one route blocked, quickly detouring to an alternate route could give you a better way to reach your destination. Most RV’s aren’t going to be able to quickly do anything. If you are pulling a trailer, turning around may be impossible if turning means leaving the road even slightly.

Another aspect of RV’s that my friend Captain Bill covered in a post he wrote for another site is the ruggedness of your RV. I think it’s fair to say that RV’s aren’t meant to haul tons of equipment and go jostling down country roads and over boulders. They are really just nice mobile homes and as such, loading them down with all the supplies you might need for an extended time away from home could cause mechanical issues. Captain Bill had purchased a 5th wheel and almost immediately saw the need to enhance the suspension to carry his extra weight and provide stability. I know there are extreme campers out there that can go off road like the Ford EarthRoamer, but starting at over $300,000 that is a little out of the scope of this article.If you have that much money you aren’t listening to me anyway…

Ford EarthRoamer - Closer to what I think would be necessary to handle SHTF.

Ford EarthRoamer – Closer to what I think would be necessary to handle SHTF.

So what’s the bottom line? I think if you want to purchase an RV to have fun, they are great. For bugging out, unless you are the first ones out the door you will run into problems. Even if you do leave before everyone else, RV’s aren’t designed to be highly maneuverable and off-road capable. For the cost, I would personally sink a lot less money into a Quad Cab – 4 wheel drive truck, add a cap to cover the bed, cargo rack on top, beef up the suspension, add winches and call that my Bug Out Vehicle. If I had to bug out, I would leave the RV at home and hit the trail in my truck first. I know there are a million different scenarios that each of us have that could make an RV a better choice, but for me they aren’t the most versatile vehicle I can think of to get me and my family out of dodge. What is yours?

 

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  • Hey Sparky

    Thank you for the write up. You make some good points.

    We live in a townhouse kind of in the country, and as much as we’d like to we have no funds for purchasing a BOL. However, I’ve often thought it might be affordable to find and purchase some well situated land and instead of trying to build a house etc, that it might work to purchase a used RV and just park it there well hidden and maybe disabled so no one could just drive off with it. Just to have someplace to go should the need arise.

    I can’t say I’ve thought it out real well (obviously) but it’s something I might give more attention to now that your article has stirred the thought process again. 🙂

    • obxster

      I agree with you. I’ve had the same thoughts. The big problem I see though is heating it in the winter once the propane gives out.

      • Hey Sparky

        Agreed on the heating issue. I’ve seen some videos online of people installing small wood stoves in their RV’s. I think that would be the best option.

    • Thanks Sparky,

      I’ve had those same thoughts. When you look at buying a piece of land without improving it at all, that would give you a place to go possibly. Once there, an RV, used Mobile Home or heavy duty tent could keep you sheltered and cost so much less than an actual home. It all comes down to money and if you don’t have enough to buy outright, is it a good decision.

      I don’t have enough to do it all either, but a phased approach like you mention would most likely be the way I would try to accomplish the same goal. Get a piece of land with some water, some forest (for wood and concealment) and pay it off so you only owe the taxes.

      Pat

  • Jules

    The big problem I see with an RV, having lived in one doing seasonal work for about a year-and-half, is high fuel consumption. Unless you have lots of propane for heat/cooling and lots of spare gas along for the 5-15 mpg mileage you may be making, you won’t get far. I think Pat’s idea of a heavy truck with a shell seems more practical.

    • Exactly Jules,

      I had that in a previous draft of cons, but I must have left that out in the rewrite for brevity. Campers that you drive are beasts.

      Pat

  • grammyprepper

    I bought my popup specifically for camping at NASCAR races. And while it isn’t the most practical option, I did have in the back of my mind that it could be a temporary shelter if needed. We don’t have a BOL either, but heading to an isolated campground is a good short term solution, IMO. Make connections now, they could be useful in the future. We have a long-term relationship with a private campground, and are working on building a relationship with another private campground. Both have natural water sources. Campgrounds also usually have larger stores of propane and/or gasoline, which could be helpful. Perfect solution? Obviously not, but a good starting place…Just a few thoughts…

    • Thanks for the comments!

      I think that would be great for your initial bug-out plan, but that propane would run out and being in close proximity to a lot of other people who could eventually turn desperate is something to consider. Maybe you could ride out the first few days or weeks like you said but after that you would be looking for a better location and by that time, the roads could all be congested.

      Your pop-up set up in the woods down an old logging road might offer better long-term survivability.

      Pat

      • BobS

        I see a lack of research in most of these answers, unfortunately. Thete are multiple methods to keep warm, navigate on/off road conditions, store supplies, etc in an “rv”. Just look at the efforts of do it yourselfers using surplus military vehicles. An M925 truck is available in completely repaired and rebuilt condition for under 10,000. Building out the inside into a serviceable camper will cost about another $5000. The advantages are obvious. The DOWNSIDE is that these trucks are more akin to a steam locomotive in the maintenance requirements..m
        TANSTAAFL. Can it be done economically) y? Sure, BUT not performing due d illigence will cause a massive fail.

        Are you prepared to bet your family’s lives on your research?

        • Thanks for your comments Bob.

          I think we are talking about two different things here though. You mention rebuilding and modifying a surplus military vehicle. I love the 5-ton and drove them all over Germany, but that isn’t what I would call an RV, its a surplus military truck. If the post was titled, “could a refurbished military truck be the best bug out vehicle” and I voiced those concerns with off road ability, storage, weight capacity etc., I would know precisely what you meant.

          I was talking about traditional RV’s that are routinely pulled behind other vehicles without modifications to make them off-road compatible or self-contained models that still don’t have the minimum off-road ability. If you do all that work that you mention to increase storage, plan for heat and make them off-road ready, I am sure they would be better than a stock camper, but that again defeats the whole point of the article.

          Would you agree that the majority of people aren’t going to buy a military surplus vehicle and rebuild it in the first place? Even I can’t see parking a 5-ton in the neighborhood, but a little 5th wheel would go largely unnoticed. It is from that perspective that I was writing and commenting.

          So to answer your question about would I bet my family’s lives on my research I would have to say yes. I would go with my quad cab truck built to go off road before I used an RV. If that argument is out the window and I have unlimited funds and can custom build my own modified 5-ton truck with a camper set up in the back well I would have to change my mind. I don’t think most people would find themselves in that position though.

          Pat

          • BobS

            That is the mistake you made- you HAVE made a marginal vehicle into several forms of a deathtraap (and also why the Earthroamer costs so much). You simply make invalid assumptions. For example consider an 2.5 ton shop van (an M109 to be specific). What does this consist of? Answer: a footprint smaller than a Ford usually crew cab, with a third less turning circle, twice the load carrying capacity, AND the ability to sleep between 1 to 6 people, depending on how many amenities you built into the van body, for starters.

            Commercial RV’s are built in the absolute most cheaply constructed manner possible. There is good reason they are nicknamed “sticks and staples”-they fall apart under continual use.

            Is it possible to post links on here to demonstrate what I am referring to? If not let meknow as I can put together a list of build threads to show how why and what to do. I ask this because you have been only one of the few that have taken a serious look.. m instead of being a flake about this subject!

            • BobS

              Addendum to last post:

              The issue of cost is a nonstarter when you look into it-the MOST expensive homebuilder I have seen built was a total of 13000 USD for chassis and body, rv conversion AND supplies contained for a year for 2 people
              . That took a grand total of 2 years to assemble.

            • BobS
            • Bob,

              Yes, you can post as many links as you like. They will come to me for approval first, but I add links all the time.

              Pat

      • BobS
  • Capt. William E. Simpson

    Greetings Pat / Readers:

    Some people know me by my handle ‘The Nautical Prepper’, which coincidentally is the name of the book I wrote about using boats to bug-out and survive long-term off-grid. Over the past 6 months I have been looking into alternative methods to deal with bugging out and living off-grid. And over the last 3 months of that period, I have been field testing an RV combination (truck & 5th Wheel) that I feel presents the most versatility during a crises. I have a few articles that are now online about:

    1, RV Survival: http://goo.gl/UKkWw9

    2. Converting an RV into an off-road Prepper machine: http://goo.gl/vMVL2G

    3. Acquiring Off Grid Property: http://goo.gl/ie26Xo

    I hope this information provides some value.

    Cheers! Capt. Bill

  • obxster

    I’ve gone back and reread all the comments. What some have failed to realize is that a lot of us have one vehicle and couldn’t afford a second to be used only for bugging out. In our situation bugging out is the second choice and hence would get the least amount of money dedicated to that situation until our first choice of bugging in is taken care of. On a tight budget you can only do so much. Even if bugging out is a first option then our family vehicle is our only option because we couldn’t afford a second vehicle. So we would have to make sure our family vehicle would serve the dual purpose of everyday use and bugging out.

    • I’m in the same boat obxster,

      I can rationalize a truck even though a quad cab is probably more capacity than I would routinely need. A truck is perfectly at home any day of the week, can pull dual duty with chores and helping friends move, etc. That same truck can be outfitted with some pretty common aftermarket upgrades and enhancements that most people wouldn’t even notice except to say, that’s a big truck. If I parked a military 5-ton truck in my driveway, there isn’t much I can say to convince people that is just for hauling mulch or wood from the hardware store.

      Pat

  • funnybaldman

    I have thought about this one a lot. I have been a avid camper since I was a kid. They have a lot of good things going for them depending on how they are set up. Most campers and 5th wheel campers have some type of water filtration and a fair amount of storage. But unless you are pulling it with a souped up HD truck with off road package you will only get so far. But another thought is kinda like what Vivous is doing with that underground massive shelter in Kansas set up for RV’s and you buy into it like a time share. I have also thought about a mid size ship as a bug out vehicle since I have lived in Florida for a couple of years. I think there are a lot of options that can fill the bill depending on location and availability. Heck a mountain bike could be a bug out vehicle.

    • I agree there are a lot of options, but I think for most of them it requires you to bug out before anyone else does. The underground shelter is great if you have the money and can get there before the roads are closed, or they stop allowing travel.

  • Joseph Oravec

    I have to Disagree with your perception of RV’s. 1.) Too Expensive. If you decide to buy the NEWEST, fanciest unit, then maybe you will spend a lot. But, if you like me purchase a used RV, then that purchase can be very affordable. My Motorhome cost me $6800. 2.) Off Grid Disasters. My Family lived off Grid for 6 Days after Hurricane Sandy took out power. 3.) Being a Target. Conceal Carry and NRA sticker prevent much of that. 4.) Drive-ability. Many RV’s can navigate rough roads. Mine drove the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) From LA to Oakland. Two twisty lanes, sheer cliffs, and curves. Made it fine, except wife wants a drink or two next trip. lol RV’s are more than able Bug Out Vehicles.

  • Ca. Girl – LOVE THE USA !

    well being the burbs on los angeles I’ve got an offer in on BOL that’s perfect remote area, but also I’m looking for an RV, if we are great depression times ahead and have 6 people, after things calm down it’s easier to use, I do plan in the event to BUG out to take a small car, the rv I”m looking for to the bug out location, but also I can pull off anywhere even a quiet road off a mountain and hide and have all I need, so if you have a plan A B C and D like I do, then yes, just like the pc of land with fruit trees across from some farming in a rare area closest to me, I mean you must have many plans, I do have the money to do these things so because of that its a good choice, also you can pick up a used RV on line for 5k if you want, if you have a family it may not be a bad move, if things go bad, take more than 1 car, I mean my kids have cars and 1 or 2 cars can follow rv, I may not have time and just need to stuff 7 people in my mini van which is a good thing too. GET OUT to BOL or make your own, you can’t go wrong to have many different plans, Don’t forget having bicycles at BOL too.

  • Steve

    the EarthRoamer like most fords LOOKS like it is capable of functioning but in fact is not. it does not have locking hubs so if you get stuck off road the winch may not be enough to get you unstuck.

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