Building a Bug Out Vehicle

You probably already have a bugout vehicle and just don’t realize it. If you own something with wheels and an internal combustion engine, if you can put an emergency kit in it or on it, and if you can aim it toward a safe place when everything goes south in your current location, then you have a BOV. Of course, not all BOVs are created equal.

BOVs come in many flavors; some call them expedition vehicles, some call them offroad RVs, and usually it’s just a pickup or a four-wheel-drive car. Whatever you call it, the idea is to have safe, versatile transportation for you and your family so you can get to your bugout location in a Big Crunch situation.

Global Expedition Vehicles

Pictures of Various BOVs


Unicat Expedition Vehicles

Ten-Best (WARNING: Some of the content on this page is not family-friendly).

During the next few months we’re going to track the “SNOmobile Project,” a BOV specially commissioned by Survival News Online and designed by Doug Tolbert at Powerhouse Coach, Inc. Doug is calling it “The Beast 4×6 Offroad.” Why “the Beast?” Because it’s huge. It’s gigantic. Basically it’s a Volvo VN780 converted into an offroad RV… almost: it’s not actually “offroad capable,” more like “bad-road capable.” More on this later.

I’m not sure we’ll stick with “The Beast,” but we’ll see. If you have suggestions, be sure to post them in the forums.

I wanted to design a long range vehicle capable of sustaining a family of 7 for several days or even a few weeks. It needs to travel primitive roads throughout the Americas, and endure freezing temperatures without damaging the water supply and plumbing. A few weeks ago I made a list of project parameters. (Text in black is the original list. Text in blue shows compromises dictated by budget):

  1. Range 3000 miles. Actual range will likely be 2000 miles. 3000 mile range would have required total fuel capacity of 425 gallons. This is doable, but not on the length of wheelbase I can afford.
  2. Flexible diesel fuel — not the new Ultra Low Sulphur Diesel engines. ULSD is not widely available in South America, and if I drive this thing to Patagonia I want to be able to burn the fuel they have down there. The engine had to be pre-2008, and we found a 2004 in great shape.
  3. All wheel drive. There were two ways to obtain a 6×6, neither of which I could afford: a) Start with a construction truck such as the Mack Granite and modify it by adding air-ride suspension (to keep from breaking all the dishes and slamming around the wife and kids), replacing the front and rear differentials to lower the final drive ratio (these trucks typically top out at 65 mph), and building a torsion-free subframe on which to mount the coach (true off-road capability requires keeping all six wheels on the ground, which requires a flexible frame, which would destroy the coach if you didn’t build it on a torsion-free subframe); b) the other way to get a 6×6 is to start with an over-the-road truck like the Volvo 780 and add a front drive axle. The problem with this approach is the cost of modifying the frame so you have room to put the front differential. Either way, it was too expensive. SOLUTION: settle for a 4×6 with full-locking rear differentials and design the coach with as much weight on the drivers as reasonably possible.
  4. Widely-distributed platform. Let’s make it easy to get parts and service. The Volvo 780 with a Cummins ISX engine fits the bill.
  5. Protective design for road hazards, rocks, and obstacles. Skid plates, a brush guard, and integrated bumper guard.
  6. Off-road design; maximize approach, departure, and crossover angles, as well as overall ground clearance. A shorter wheelbase assures a good crossover angle, which is improved by installing Super Single tires (+ 1 inch of height).  Also, the design calls for the air bag suspension to fully inflate at the touch of a button when needed (+ 2 inches of height). You can’t drive it like that for long, but it’ll get you out of a mess. To improve the departure angle, taper the rear overhang. Limiting factor will be the 40,000 lb. trailer hitch.
  7. Maximize self-extraction capability. The verdict is not in — not sure we can afford the hydraulic winches capable of extracting a 40,000 lb vehicle from the mud.
  8. Winter-ready. All water tanks and supply lines are in heated compartments.
  9. Adequate power to haul 4 dirt bikes. Not that hauling a trailer helps with off-road capability, but besides being a bugout vehicle, The Beast must do double-duty as an RV so my boys and I can ride our bikes!
  10. Fuel economy. By starting with an over-the-road truck designed for maximum fuel economy (instead of the 6×6 construction chassis previously mentioned) we’re way ahead of the game. The 780 is already aerodynamic, and the longer the body the better it gets, so adding the coach will help. And at 40,000 lbs. fully loaded, we’ll be at half the weight this truck was designed to pull. I wouldn’t be surprised to see 10 mpg or better.

Here’s the latest floor plan:

2010 4×6 Offroad

The sofas in the sleeper fold out into a big bed for me and my wife. We have five bunks in the rear for the kids, and one of the bunk spaces will give way to storage. The sofa in the coach shows a bunk overhead, but we’ll put cabinets instead; the storage boxes underneath the coach are going to be rather shallow so we can improve the ground clearance, and as a consequence we need to maximize storage in the coach itself. I’ll probably move the drivers forward a foot or so to make room for the generator behind them; we need as much weight behind the drivers as possible.

We’ll eat in the sleeper on popup tables. The front seats swivel and 68-in sofas will each comfortably accommodate three large adults or four kids, so we should have plenty of room for all seven of us plus two or three guests. We can even bring along a family of six, but we won’t all be able to eat at the same table and a couple of them might have to double-bunk or sleep on the floor.

Water capacities are limited because of size, but here’s how I feel about it; when we’re hooked up we’re fine, and when we’re not we’ll just bathe minimally and fill up the tank as frequently as needed. It’s not ideal, but it’s doable.

We have a ton of interesting features coming up soon: details about the design, changes to the floor plan, in fact the whole construction process. Stay tuned!


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