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Bug Out Recreational Vehicles

The BORV is a “Bug Out Recreational Vehicle”.  These are as widely varied as standard RVs, because they are regular RVs – repurposed.

Evaluating the suitability of an RV for bugging out requires that you first set your expectations as to what you need, and how your RV can be used. While it saves money to use what you have, those of you that are newly searching for one have the advantage of being able to get what you need.

Most people considering an RV for bug out purposes are looking to do more than just get from Point Oblivion to Point Haven. They expect that they may be living with it for a very long trip to their chosen retreat locale. Some might even be considering it as an actual mobile retreat, with whatever destination (s) they reach serving as temporary bases. I suspect that grid down travel will take ten to twenty times longer than in normal times. Reaching a planned destination might even be impossible, requiring a redirect with all of the associated difficulties of living on the road.

If you are considering using an RV in this manner, there are several items to consider, either in shopping for one, or in using an existing RV. The following applies to motor coaches, travel and fifth wheel trailers and the larger pop-ups.

Storage Spaces

Long term living requirements make goodly amounts of storage important. The more storage compartments you have, the more stuff you can take with you.  The “beans, band-aids, bullets” concept still applies. Look at an RV as a portable storage container for the preps you already have, and you’ll see what I’m getting at. Storage volume is important, but so is GVWR, or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. The GVWR will limit how much weight you can take with you. See the following link to our main BOV page for an explanation of loads and ratings. If you overload your vehicle or trailer simply because there was room left to fill, you can end up in a bad place. Watch your weight!

Because RV storage is limited, it is very wise to thoroughly plan what you will need, and try to get by with the basics for a trip of specific duration. Don’t try to fill the unit to the gills. For one thing, a heavy rig will use more fuel. But planning light, you will most likely discover that you really do have extras weight and volume capacity. This found capacity is a gift. Treat it well. You can expand what you planned for, in proper proportions, to extend your bug out duration. Or you can add other items that might make living on the road more comfortable, and help preserve your sanity. Whatever you do, though, plan it out. The time to do this is before you leave home.

There are different types of storage, and some of it is cross purposed. External storage is mostly accessed via outside hatches, and is generally for things like chairs and tables, games, hook up equipment, cords and ropes, lighting and other items. Some of these compartments also have hatches within the unit, making them dual purpose. You might find that some RVs have pull-out platforms at the rear, integrated with the bumper and rated for about 200 lbs. Inside, storage is much like in a house, with cabinets, closets, drawers and nooks. They are available for whatever purpose suits you. Not many rigs have any kind of roof storage. This is for good reason. They are tall enough as is, not built to handle weight up top, and are already top heavy. Don’t attempt to add much up top, and be aware that it could be dangerous, unsteady and illegal.

A prepper will be taking along a large amount of food. External storage is usually insulated to some degree, especially if it also has access from within. Temperatures will range, though, so if you are planing on storing any food in a location other than an interior space with no outside access, be careful. I recommend inside storage only. Plenty of other gear can go in outside spaces, even clothing.

When loading up storage, it is very easy to unbalance the unit. Try for an even distribution front to rear. This is most important with trailers. Every trailer has a load limit for the hitch. When in doubt, weigh it at a public scale and verify that the total cargo capacity is within specifications (so your suspension wont buckle and your tires won’t blow out). If your hitch weight is too high, your tow vehicle will suffer from porpoising and steering issues, you could lose stability, suffer brake failure and even bend the trailer’s frame. Never exceed rated capacities if you wish to travel safely.

Tank Capacity

Most RVs have several tanks on board. The black tank is for human waste. Toilets empty into it. Capacities can range from 20 – 55 gallons or more. Anything under 30 will fill up quicker than you like. You might use 1/2 gallon per flush – less if you watch what you are doing. Keep in mind that as the black tank accumulates waste, the fresh tank is draining down. Expanding black water carrying capacity is possible with portable tanks. These come with wheels and handles, and a means to receive waste from the RV, so that it can be easily transported away from the site. They come in sizes from 15 – 30 gallons.  It is illegal to dump black water anywhere except an approved dump station. Exceptions are when camping out in the bush… some forest services specify allowable means of waste burial that take into account proximity to water. Check regulations for potential sites along your evacuation route.

The gray tank is for all other waste water. Sinks and tubs /showers empty into it. Regulations for dumping gray water are not as stringent as those for black. Since gray water poses no biological hazards, it sometimes can be surface drained. Again, check your regulations. These tanks are generally larger than the black tank, and similar in size to the fresh tanks.

The fresh water is for general use, and if properly sanitized at recommended intervals, it can be used for drinking water. As with storage, capacity is king. The larger the better. Fresh water will be used up very quickly if it is used for showers. When “dry camping”, (camping without hookups to electrical, water and sewage facilities), fresh water supplies are best reserved for flushing the toilet, wetting towels to wipe off your body (in lieu of showering) and necessary cleaning in the kitchen area. In essence, needed hygiene and cleaning tasks. Fresh tanks are gravity filled by a hose or buckets and funnels. The supply can be limited to as little as 30 gallons. To reduce the work of fetching water, then filtering and loading it, a large tank is important. Unless you are filling one with a hose, it takes a lot of lifting and pouring to fill one up. 30 gallons is the size of an average trash can. It’s hard to move all at once, and impossible to lift. The use of a 12 volt transfer pump can be handy in moving water from bucket, or from can to the fill spout.

Propane Tanks

All RVs of any appreciable size will have propane on board. It is used for cooking, heating the interior (and in some cases, the enclosed double bottom), heating water and running the refrigerator if equipped. Smaller units have one tank, but almost all of them have two. You can carry extra tanks with you. They are heavy, but not too difficult to move around. Be sure that however many you take with you, that they are carried externally to your vehicle and properly secured. Propane bombs are not a joking matter. Propane is heavier than air, and will settle to the lowest level. It pools like water, and can explode when sparked. Do not carry it internally to your vehicle.

The larger the rig, the better chance you have of getting good sized tanks… but don’t assume that will always be the case. Look at the specs. Most builders publicize them on their web sites. Look at this Keystone Cougar site for an example. This particular sped sheet also does you the huge favor of telling you what the actual load carrying capacity of each rig. All of the figures have meaning, and are important.

Electrical System

RVs come with a 12v electrical system for off-grid living. On most models, this will power the:

  • lights
  • water pump
  • furnace blower
  • kitchen cook fan
  • slide outs
  • radio
  • leveling and stabilizing jacks

12 volts are supplied by one or two 12v batteries, or a pair of 6v batteries, all of them of the deep cycle marine or RV type. Greater capacity can be achieved using two 6v batteries wired in series, even when compared with two 12v batteries in parallel. There are more amp-hours storable in the 6v units.

Any battery bank can be recharged by a solar system mounted on the roof, or on portable stands next to the RV. With a large enough system, some 12v accessories can be run directly. If the RV you are considering already has an extensive system installed, that might be a cost saving selling point if your plans rely on significant solar capability.

The 120v system is powered via a shore cable attached to a utility or generator. Models with internal generators are engineered for easier start-up, noise reduction and fuel storage. 120v is used for the:

  • refrigerator
  • A/C
  • TV, DVD player, etc.
  • power outlets
  • recharge circuit for the 12v system


A 4Kw generator (4 Kilowatts, or 4000 watts) can supply about 30 amps. Most travel trailers have a 30 amp system and hook up. These make for a good match. Larger trailers will have 50 amp systems. They would a require 6.5Kw generator to power everything with enough cushion for surges. When sizing generators, it is a good idea to go larger, by about 20% if you can. Much larger than this and you’ll waste fuel. Below this and you risk overworking it, or stall surging. A good practice is to not pull the max load on a generator if you can avoid it, and keep the extra capability in reserve. Motor coaches almost always have an on-board generator unless they are very old. If you are purchasing a used RV, along with everything else, test the generator, under full load for at least 10 minutes.

To calculate needed capacity, multiply amps by volts, and add 20%.

30A * 120v = 3600 watts.   3600*1.2 = 4320 watts.   3.6Kw is the maximum run load demanded by the RV. 4.3Kw is the surge load expected. A 4Kw genset is usually rated for a surge level of 4.5Kw (4500 watts).

Remember that almost all of these are gasoline powered. Diesel gensets are found on diesel motor coaches only. Store your fuel wisely. I recommend steel cans, mounted externally to your rig.

Living Spaces

Preppers might balk at the thought of providing for creature comforts, but I assure you, if the stinky smacks the blades, you’ll be stressed enough without having to worry about getting in people’s faces. If you can go big, do it. Living space is what allows for eating, sleeping, privacy at certain times, cooking, cleaning, organizing, planning, doctoring, praying, etc….

Of major importance when under stress is the ability to bed down and sleep. RVs are designed to house a certain number of people, and this is determined by the sleeping spaces. A queen bed is most common, and is built for two. Dinettes and jack-knife couches are each built for one, though two very small children can arguably be stuffed into each. Convertible couches fold out into queens, and sleep two. Most bunkhouse models will sleep one to a bunk, with some occasionally handling two. If necessary, a few more can find room on the floor of larger units, those above 25′ in length. Take the time to study the layout of a unit, motor coach or trailer, before purchasing. Understand that what might appeal to the eye is not necessarily the best option. Consider living space, and the ease or difficulty of doing daily tasks from making up the bed to setting places for dinner.


Some manufacturers offer upgraded insulation. This is important in cold climates, but also for warm to a lesser degree. RVs typically heat up and cool down very quickly. The better insulated units slow this process. The sun, beating down on a thin roof and pouring into the many windows, will heat up the box faster than you might imagine. This can be offset by opening all those windows. On cold nights, though, a heating system is essential, unless everyone is bedding down with high quality sleeping bags. The upgraded insulation is something to consider. Compare the ratings offered by different manufacturers. You will find some eye opening differences.

Personally, I find the Keystone Cougar series of trailers to have some very nice options and configurations. Most can be purchased with the “Polar Package” option, which includes some very nice cold weather capabilities. Their is a “1/2 ton series”, which is a line of travel and fifth wheel trailers that can be towed by 1/2 ton trucks equipped with a towing package (upgraded transmission coolers, radiators and electrical hookups). There are others, so take a look.


Truck bed campers can be as expensive as some travel trailers. What they lack in room they make up for in maneuverability. Just about anywhere the truck can go, it can go with a camper on its back. It is easier to get one of these into a deep spot in a forested area, travel down some difficult roads, or park in tight spots in transit. All of the above concerns exists with campers, and to keep things going, it will take some planning. Tanks are smaller. Space is less. Carrying capacity is reduced, since there is very little bed space left over to store equipment and supplies. For a single person, or a couple used to living thin, a camper may be the best option. It certainly fits many people’s idea of an excellent BORV.

Tent Trailers (pop-ups)

Everything is reduced or eliminated in most tent trailers. About the only thing I can say about them is that they sleep a lot of people in a minimum of space. The larger units can be found with a slide or two, a cook stove and oven, perhaps a small dinette and a walk in combination toilet /shower. Like campers, they can get into a tight spot. If your idea of bugging out is to take a loaded truck, and tag a heavy tent behind it, this is your deal. A pop-up is basically a hardened tent with camp equipment already loaded within. It allows for a quick and moderately secure camp set up, and can get into some very tight spots. Being so lightweight, just about anything can pull one. As a camp site, it can provide protection from wildlife, heavy rains and cold systems (if equipped with a heater). They can be interesting in a strong wind storm, though, so it can be beneficial to park one within the shelter of trees or natural terrain features. For a minimalist looking to “harden” his camp system, this is a big upgrade. You won’t find much storage in one, so unless you go with the largest, your tow vehicle will have to take over that responsibility. As with any load up, be sure your weight limits and distribution are correct, and that your tow vehicle is equipped to tow what you hook onto its tail.

…in closing…

Finally, make a list of requirements that will fit your needs. Try not to compromise it. Test it out on others. Ask questions. When you get it home, load it up and take it out for a road test, a “shake down” cruise. If you really are not sure about what you need, rent an RV for a 3 day jaunt and see what it is all about. Your BORV will also serve as a regular ole camping unit that will add lots of fun to your life. It doesn’t have to be a single-purpose vehicle.