How to Turn Your Truck into a Mobile Bug Out Shelter

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Converting a Truck into a Bug Out Shelter

By now I am sure that you are familiar with the concept of a Bug Out Bag, that backpack or duffel bag you keep by the door which you grab in an emergency so you can hop into a vehicle and get to safety quickly.

Perhaps we can cut that sequence of events down.

Say, to getting into your vehicle and driving to safety. Nothing to grab, and you are now prepared everywhere—work, school, the big game, whatever.

If your vehicle is a Bug Out Shelter, it doesn’t matter where you are, you can always get away.

I have a pickup truck which is not only set up as an emergency vehicle, I have lived out of it for periods of time.


More comfortably than most hotels I’ve been to, in fact. Even though I am not living out of it right now (give it a month or two), I still maintain the truck as if I could at any time.

You do not need to use a truck to create a Bug Out Shelter. A small car will work, as will a big SUV or a van.

Trucks are practical, though, and are a smart option anyways.

You have space in the bed to work with which you don’t have with any other consumer vehicle (we’re not going to be talking about RVs or similar vehicles), except for a van with the rear seats removed. They are often available in four-wheel drive, which is recommended.

Now, there are a few more things you need to think about when turning your vehicle into a Bug Out Shelter. You can also take the concept to various depths.

We’ll start with those, then transition into recommendations about using your vehicle as a shelter.

Keep Your Bug Out Bag in Your Car

The most basic way to turn your vehicle into an emergency shelter is to take the Bug Out Bag you may already have, and keep it in your vehicle instead of by the door.

Even the smallest compact has room for a bag, and in a pinch you can sleep in the driver’s seat.

You’ll wake up with a crick in your back and cursing my name, but you can do it.

Or, if you have tent-making supplies with you, you can use the vehicle to get someplace safe and build off of it to create the shelter. This works as well.

Distribute the Supplies Throughout the Vehicle

This level of preparedness is a bit more permanent. Rather than having a bag full of supplies, you take the supplies and store them in certain locations in the vehicle. Something larger than a compact car works best for this.

If you have a pickup truck with a tool box or tonneau cover, then excellent. You have a safe place to put things.

If not, I would recommend getting one, or a camper shell. I prefer – and have – a camper shell, as it is far more useful for the “shelter” part of “Bug Out Shelter,” but they are not as secure as other options.

Bug out truck in snow
My truck (I wish)

It may take some ingenuity to figure out where to hide everything.

Depending on your style of seats, you may be able to hide some gear under there.

Glove boxes, center consoles, and door pockets are also good options.

My pickup truck has an extended cab, but not a crew cab. It is of an older style with rear seats that are jumper seats, so they fold into the side of the cab.

Those jumper seats are a great place to hold stuff!

I have a tool kit, first aid kit, hydraulic jack, and many more things hidden under the closed seats.

It can help to keep a list of where you have put everything. Otherwise you may come up with too clever of a place, and lose something important. I lost a Zippo lighter for three months because it was too well hidden.

If the bed of your truck is clear, then you can sleep in it. At minimum you can use a board and sleeping bag (the ridges would be quite uncomfortable without the board).

To keep the rain off, use a camper shell, or drape a tarp over a ladder rack or poles stuck into the edges of the bed.

Just make sure to tie the tarp down or stake it into the ground, or you’ll be gazing at the stars all night.

Build Up Your Truck

You can take a step beyond merely distributing your supplies throughout your vehicle. With some time, sweat, and carpentry skills, you can take your vehicle above the level of transportation and turn it into habitation.

The back of my truck is a literal bed. There is non-toxic foam insulation cut to fit around the rear wheel wells, cedar siding on top of that, and on that a futon mattress.Building the perfect bug out vehicle

Thrift store curtains block out the view into my camper shell, and I have a light and fan installed. It is the second most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in.

Plus there’s room for a companion.

You can take this a step further by building cabinets along the side of the bed, either to hold supplies directly or to hold plastic totes which contain your stuff.

You may be tempted to build so that you sleep on top of the supplies.

It’s doable, and you can store more stuff, but I would not recommend it; the experience is more akin to sleeping in a coffin than in a bed.

You can take this even further and install a second battery and a solar charging system, even putting a mobile fridge in there, but that is getting out of the Bug Out Shelter territory and into Vandwelling.

Which, oddly enough, is what you call it even when not living out of a van.

Unless you sleep in your truck so that you can go rock climbing nearly every day. Then it is called dirtbagging. Don’t ask me.

Maintain Your Vehicle!

The most important part of having a Bug Out Shelter truck is making sure that the darn thing is reliable in an emergency.

If you have spent a thousand dollars filling it with the highest quality emergency supplies, but the oil is fifty thousand miles old and the brakes fade at the sight of a hill, you have spent your money on the wrong thing.How to repair your bug out vehicle

So, keep your vehicle in good shape. Stay on top of the maintenance recommended by the manual (yes, I’m prescribing some reading).

Repair minor issues before they become major issues.

By all means, practice the maintenance of your vehicle yourself. It helps in an emergency to know how to change your oil, replace a flat tire, or change the spark plugs.

If you do not know these things yet, I would politely recommend learning them, and in the meantime, give your local mechanic some business.

Who knows, perhaps if you have a good relationship with him, he’ll help you out if something goes down and you come across each other booking it out of town.

Also, try to refuel your vehicle before the light on the dashboard asks you to. If you put off buying gasoline until tomorrow, tomorrow may be the day the stations are out of gas.

Even the threat of something bad can cause gas prices to jump and lines to form, so stay fueled. Having a spare gas can (properly stored, of course) would also be a good idea.

Know How to Use Your Supplies

Just as important to having a vehicle capable of getting you out of town when you need to bug out is knowing what to do with your emergency supplies when the emergency happens.

If you don’t know how to use the Life Saver 3000, it is not worth the money or space.

So learn and practice.

Take a first aid course so you know how to use your first aid kit.

Take your fire starter into the woods and roast some marshmallows.

Build a tent in your backyard for the fun of it.

The time to learn how to use your kit is before you have to use the kit.

Also, some of your emergency supplies will be perishable. Food and water specifically, but also medicine and perhaps other things.

Your vehicle will get warmer and colder than a Bug Out Bag kept inside, so cycle through the perishable items more often than you would otherwise.

What To Pack in Your Bug Out Vehicle

The list of everything you need for a Bug Out Bag can get pretty long. As this article is focusing on a Bug Out Shelter instead, we will assume that you already have a fully stocked BOB, and will instead focus on vehicle specific items instead.

First of all, you will be taking care of the truck in addition to emergency kit

Bring along the basic tools necessary to work on your vehicle. Commonly replaced small parts are also a good option.

Bringing some liquids like oil and radiator fluid are wise, but be careful so they will not spill.

Every vehicle should have a jack and method to change the wheels. Bring jack stands as well to help support the vehicle.

NEVER get under a vehicle which is supported only by a jack. It can roll and crush you.

I’ve always had jumper cables in whatever vehicle I owned at the time and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to use them. You should have a set whether you’re stocking your Bug Out Vehicle or your daughter’s first car.

Vehicle emergency supplies such as flares, a warning triangle, and an auto escape tool should be standard. I have a battery which can pump air into my tires and jump my truck, but I still keep cables as a backup.

Zip ties and tape, both duct tape and electrical tape, are life savers. Rope and tie-down straps can help you out, literally, if you get stuck. Sand and/or kitty litter can help you gain traction in a slippery situation.

I carry an axe in the bed of my truck. No, it is not there if I want to go medieval on someone. I have used it for clearing wood out of my way and to prepare a campfire.

If you are going to carry a sharp tool, make sure it is of high quality and you know how to safely use it.

Good axes come from the Scandinavian nations nowadays or from places in the USA with lots of logging history. Typical tool store axes are soft steel and not worth anything.

Also, be sure to pack something to sharpen your axe with, in case it loses its edge after a lot of use.

Finally, I recommend a Get-Home Bag. This is like a Bug Out Bag, except in reverse.

If your vehicle breaks down and you cannot get it repaired, carry with you a backpack which you can fill with a change of clothes, some food and water, and some other supplies, so that you can leave your vehicle behind and get to where you need to go.

Like any shelter, you may have to abandon your Bug Out Shelter truck. Be prepared.

A Word on Security

One of the downfalls of a Bug Out Shelter vehicle as opposed to a Bug Out Bag is that your vehicle is more open to predation than is your house.

When a thief walks by your vehicle, if there are bags and such sitting in the open, temptation may overcome and they can easily beak and enter, alarm or not.

There are a couple of things you can do to reduce this possibility.

Keep your stuff out of sight of potential thieves. Reduce the temptation, and you reduce the likelihood of getting robbed. Window tint helps with this as well.

A flashing light on the dash can convince would-be thieves that the vehicle has an alarm. It does not actually have to be an alarm, as just a flashing light can help. You can find those on Amazon or make one yourself if you like to tinker with electronics.

Owning a crappy looking truck can help as well. My beige truck with rust in the wheel wells certainly does not look like nearly as big a prize as the big fancy truck with immaculate paint and all the upgrades. It can help to stay below the radar.

Bug Out Truck = Freedom

I have used up multiple rolls of tape, broken out my toolkit many times, and spent many a wonderful night dozing in the back of my truck.

Bug Out Truck Escape

At any moment I can leave the building I’m in, start my truck, and know I’m prepared for where I need to go.

My truck is transportation, a mobile shop, and a hotel room on-the-go.

Even better, your vehicle could be the same thing. With a little bit of effort, or as much effort as you want to exert, you too can have a vehicle that is far more than just a method of going from point A to point B.

And if you’ve turned your truck into a Bug Out Vehicle, share some pictures of the end result or process on our Facebook page, we’d love to see what you’ve come up with!

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