Building the Perfect Bug Out Bag for Your Car

November 3, 2012 by | 13 Comments

Unfortunately, the time may come when you’re forced to abandon your cozy location; possibly prompted by weather conditions such as an impending hurricane or flooding, the outbreak of a contagious illness, or even heavy riots or looting. No matter how much you may love your home theater system and DVD collection of every season of LOST, your survival (and the survival of your family) may depend on getting out of dodge quickly. If that time comes, you better have everything you need ahead of time.

To be honest, what we’re talking about here is actually more of a bug out kit than a bag, but the principals remain the same; especially since the foundation of a bug out kit for your car starts with a properly loaded bug out bag, but simply tossing your trusty BOB (Bug Out Bag) into a vehicle to cover  ground more quickly during your evacuation isn’t going to cut it. There are several other critical preparations you’ll have to make as well.

There’s no question; you can carry a hell of a lot more in a vehicle than you ever could on foot. That means you can ignore the three-day minimum for food, water, and other supplies by really stocking up; but don’t over-do it. Your vehicle will determine exactly how much of a load increase you can handle. For example, if you drive a Prius, you should stop reading right now, sell it and reclaim your man card, then buy a real vehicle. In all seriousness, a sub-compact car like my wife drives does have a reasonable amount of storage space, but every extra pound taxes her poor little engine which reduces both fuel economy and speed—critical if you’re trying to evade a threat. I prefer my SUV though, because while I could probably fit her cute little car inside of mine, my monstrous V8 engine is not going to be bothered in the slightest by a few extra pounds—it was designed for towing big things, like trailers, boats and mobile homes. An added bonus is that I can drive through or over damn near anything.

That being said, don’t rush out to buy a new SUV or truck; I suggest you work with what you have. In my opinion, it would be irresponsible to incur new debt for a loan on a vehicle just to carry more supplies, unless you can buy it in cash and the rest of your preparations are in good order. Most people would be better suited by investing in more food, guns and ammo, tools/equipment, and barter items.

In addition to my BOB, my vehicle contains seven days worth of food and water (three+ gallons per person, per day—far more than the minimum) for my family, as well as enough additional water to refill my radiator twice. If you’re unable to refill an empty cooling system after repairing it in the field, your vehicle becomes nothing more than a big, expensive tent that you can’t carry. It also draws more looters/thugs than a riot at Best Buy.

Food is simple; stick to freeze-dried food because it will be less susceptible to the temperature changes your vehicle will experience day in and day out. Though preparation is more labor intensive, it has a 25 year shelf life, which is significant longer than the 2-5 years you can expect from MREs. Don’t forget to include the utensils, bowls/plates, pots, cups, etc., that you’ll need to prepare your food and eat with. Jerky and energy bars are a good addition to your food supply.

You can carry your water in a variety of ways; I prefer these water jugs because they are built of a heavy-duty plastic, so they can take a beating, they’re translucent, making it easy to see the fill-level, they’re narrow and tall, making for a more efficient use of space, and they’re about $15 cheaper than the traditional military water jugs. Since Uncle Sam isn’t paying for my supplies these days, I’ll save some money and go with the product that’s just as durable, especially since either one will out last me by many decades.

Since you’re not going to be lugging everything on your back like a pack-mule, weight is no longer an issue, you should include additional ammunition. I recommend a a case (1,000 rounds) for each of your primary weapon calibers (in my case, that would be 9mm and 5.56 NATO) as well as a few hundred rounds for any additional weapons you plan to bring, such as 12 gauge, 7.62 NATO, or .30-06. You may never need the extra ammo, but it’s sort of like a parachute; if you don’t have it when you need it, you’ll likely never need it again. Besides, you can always use it as a barter item.

I would avoid adding a tent, as it increases the time it takes you to leave your position, and your vehicle already gives you the perfect shelter; however, I highly recommend sleeping bags. Their benefit in a cold environment is obvious, but in a warm environment, they can be used as padding for your sleeping area, or as a pillow. If you’re traveling with infants, be especially careful that the sleeping bag doesn’t bunch up around them, which could suffocate them in their sleep. Ideally, you should lay an infant between two pillows, swaddled tightly to keep them warm.

Anytime you’re forced to bug out, there’s a good chance you’ll have to navigate an environment your vehicle wasn’t designed for, but even if you’re vehicle was designed for challenging and off-road scenarios, you’ll still need to be self-sufficient. Since you can bet your ass AAA isn’t going to come save you, and other well-equipped drivers are not likely to be nearby, you need to be prepared to extricate your stuck vehicle on your own. Everything you’ll need can be picked up at your local hardware store.

  • Winch or come-along with a sufficiently rated cable
  • Tow strap (preferably two or more) sufficiently rated cable
  • Short handled shovel
  • A few boards (two 2 x 4s cut into 2′ sections are perfect) for traction in sand/mud
  • One or two heavy-duty (at least 1″ x 48″ or longer) steel bars to pry/provide leverage

The techniques for maneuvering off-road or extricating a vehicle are beyond the scope of this article, but you can find all of the information you need on that, as well as anything else you could ever want to know about the subject in the Four-Wheeler’s Bible. Also, the forums at offer a wealth of free, up-to-date information from people with plenty of first-hand knowledge on all aspects of off-roading, including location specific terrain advice. Books and websites are great, but nothing beats hand-on experience though, so if possible, I recommend getting some real-world practice in before you need the skills. A quick Google search (or a post on’s forums) should turn up more than  few off-road clubs/groups in your area, and even if your own vehicle isn’t suitable, you could probably arrange to ride along to learn what they know, offering to help clean their vehicles in exchange.

The need to bug out is an indication life in your area has gone downhill in a big way, so your chances of finding a mechanic are about as likely as Honey Boo Boo being accepted into Harvard. That means you better be able to handle at least the basic problems that arise with your vehicle on your own. A backup supply of all vital fluids is critical, including oil, steering, brake and transmission fluid, coolant, and if you have a way to securely attach it to the outside of your vehicle, extra fuel. After you toss in some basic tools (various sizes of flat and Phillips head screwdrivers, pliers, a set of open-ended wrenches, and a socket set, at a minimum), at least two of each type of belt your vehicle needs, a roll of duct and electrical tape, a tire patch kit and a can or two of Fix-A-Flat, and some extra fuses, you will be substantially better prepared to deal with a long-range bug out situation.

Most of your supplies/gear should fit neatly into a large plastic storage bin (you can find these at Walmart, Target, or most any large retailer). You can then tuck your full storage bin, water jugs, bug out bag, shovel, and 2 x 4s into the back of your vehicle, and if possible, strap everything securely in place with ratcheting tie downs.

It’s also worth noting that you should follow your vehicle’s maintenance schedule, including regular fluid changes, tire rotations, brake jobs, etc., as well as keeping a full tank of gas at all times. A disaster situation is not the time to fix a broken vehicle or perform routine maintenance.

Do you include any other gear or supplies, or make any other preparations not mentioned here? Please let me know in the comments section so we can share with our readers!

Melanie Swick (a.k.a. Survival Chick) grew up wanting to be a rocket scientist, but when she realized she that required way too much math, she took to her second dream—spending time in the wilderness. Today, when she's not hiking, camping, or hunting, she's blogging about it. You can connect with Melanie on Facebook.

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  • Al Spaulding says:

    This is a great post, I think you should turn it into a 2 or 3 part series.

  • Monte says:

    Not sure if you meant to not include the individual items for the BOB. Fire starter, first aid, para cord that can be divided for fishing line or sutures or as rope. Large knife, machete, axe, batteries preferable rechargeable, medicine, extra clothing the list can go on and on.

  • Monte says:

    OK I reread the article. Ignore my first comment. You could add a tarp if you need an outside shelter.

  • Karlton says:

    I would include a siphon hose and jumper cables, zip ties and and a selection of hose clamps.

  • Trevor says:

    I would love to see a follow up of like top 10 bug out vehicles. Alternative fuel types, like bio diesel, things like that.

    Great read !

  • derek says:

    jumper cables/ siphon pump/ heavy chain/ spare tire(s)/full tool kit i recommend harbor freight’s 301 piece professional kit
    i use this kit daily as a mechanic and it gives me no problems, plus its pretty compact and gives you even the oddball sockets such as hex and torx./ axe or hatchet/ rope/ fishing line/ heavy winter grade clothes/ flashlight/ zip ties(amazingly useful for a variety of fixes)/ air pump/ spare fuel pump/ depending on your needs spare alternator, water pump and gasket, heater hoses or equivalent heavy water hose and clamps, coil of brake line and ‘union fittings’ and emergency repair hose for fuel lines, fluids, tire plugs, SLIME tire repair ‘good for 2 years puncture repair in the tire’ jack preferably a manual ‘high lift’ style jack, spark plugs and wires (if your car has a coil pack grab a spare, if its all coils well, you need an older vehicle lol) straps/ water/ if possible a solar powered battery trickle charger/ theres always more but this is a pretty comprehensive list for a bug out vehicle BOV

  • Billy says:

    Every article I read about a BOV everyone forgets 2 very important items. There are more, but the ones I’d want would be a Tire Plugging kit and an onboard air compressor or tank of some type.

  • Kevin says:

    Great article, I would add some work gloves, anyone who has worked on vehicles has probably experienced the occasional slipped wrench and the pain that follows which could lead to an infection in a SHTF scenario. Coveralls, rope, solar battery charger, inverter (for sh*ts and giggles)and a hands free flashlight/work light would round out the additions. Seems to be a lot of things to store in a vehicle but I would rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Two is one, one is none philosophy

  • Benjamin says:

    Wal-Mart has a siphoning hose in the fishing/marine section that has a marble bracketed into a metal casing at the end of the tube. When the opposite end is inserted, simply shake the marble end and it creates the suction w/o your mouth having to come into contact with the hose.

    Slightly noisy, but could be worth it.

  • Conner says:

    Cat liter… Great for traction

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