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How to Keep Your Car Prepped for Survival

Avatar for Chris Thompson Chris Thompson  |  Updated: April 15, 2021
How to Keep Your Car Prepped for Survival

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A common bug out or survival strategy is to simply outfit a vehicle with all the necessary supplies and resources you would need. When you’re preparing for an emergency, your vehicle is a good place to store certain items since it’ll likely be your quickest path to safety. More importantly, once you have supplies on board, you can keep moving. That is until something prevents you from doing so, like low fuel or a bad battery.

Don’t mistake this for a dissenting opinion, as vehicles are still a great option. The point is that you need to be prepared for anything — even a flat tire.

Certain events or problems can grind your movement to a halt, and depending on what’s going on around you that can be extremely dangerous. For example, you don’t want to have to stop at a gas station for fuel in an area where people are looting or rioting. It’s better to simply have backup supplies handy.

How to Keep Your Car Prepped for Survival

Where the Do You Store Your Supplies?

Before diving in, it’s important to point out that this list — while comprehensive — may include way too much as a whole. You’ll need to pick and choose what you store in your vehicle and what you toss in before leaving your home or property. You certainly won’t be able to fit everything, but if you plan appropriately, you can get pretty close.

A large truck with a decent truckbed is the go-to vehicle, but you can also hitch on a trailer or just hop in a large camper. However, there are downsides to the trailer and camper, as they increase your total footprint. It will be difficult moving through more populated areas, and you won’t be able to go off-road, which can also be problematic.

What makes prepping so difficult is that no one truly knows what kind of situation or event may happen, so a proper plan always incorporates multiple possibilities. That’s why you should use your discretion to decide not just what to pack, but how to store said gear. A trailer, camper or RV might be good for you, and it might not.

That’s also why this is an important thing to decide upfront because then you know how much storage space you have to work with.

Absolute Must-Haves

To break the supplies down even further, there are some things you must have if you have any hope to survive, and some gear that’s more optional. If you have limited storage space, you’ll want to be sure you have these 11 necessities first, before adding anything else.

1. Food and Water

Water is incredibly important not just for your survival, but for serving other purposes. You can also use water to clean or rinse, to cool down an overheating car or even power certain goods via hydroelectric energy.

If you can, you should also pack a water filtration system or tool. This will ensure that if you run out of water, you can still hydrate yourself from any source. LifeStraw is an excellent choice.

You’ll want to pick at least three to four gallons of water — or more if you have the room. As for food, non-perishables are the definitive choice, but there’s no limit to how much you should take. The bigger the group, the more food you should be packing. At a minimum, include at least two months of food for everyone on board. Most survival guides recommend at least a year’s supply, but that will be difficult to cram in a vehicle — especially if you have a big family.

It goes without saying, but if you have an infant, be sure to pack formula and baby food, too.

2. First-Aid Kit

If someone gets hurt or if you come across someone who is wounded, you’ll need first-aid supplies. It’s easy to forget how dangerous the world is until you’re working on a vehicle and slice your hand, or burn yourself on a hot engine. Unattended, wounds can grow infected pretty quickly, which is a death sentence on the open road, especially without antibiotics.

The easiest route is to purchase a pre-packaged first-aid kit, but it’s much safer to custom package your own. That way you can be sure everything you’ll need is included, from bandages and gauze to antibacterial ointment.

3. Fuel and Oil

Remember to pack extra fuel and oil in case your vehicle runs low. Some other fluids you might consider include wiper fluid, transmission fluid, power steering, and anti-freeze.

If you want to be extra resourceful, you can pack some extra filters and tools to change them out, as well. Blown head gaskets are another possibility during long trips. When this happens, it can put you down for good. That’s why it’s always a great idea to have a temporary fix or solution for blown head gaskets, too. If your vehicle doesn’t overheat after running for more than 15 minutes, you can often use a chemical repair product to repair the leak without having to take your engine apart.

4. Tools

Most vehicles have a lug wrench stowed away in the trunk, but that’s not the only tool you’ll need on the open road. Be sure to pack an entire kit and include everything you need to service your vehicle, take care of a potential camp or even protect yourself. Utility knives, screwdrivers, hammers, hatchets, zip ties, spare fuses, electrical tape, flashlights, duct tape, wrenches, pliers — the list is certainly expansive. Larger tools like shovels or pickaxes may also be good to bring along.

5. Batteries, Solar or Portable Power Packs

You cannot power everything using your car battery, especially when the vehicle is parked. Be sure to bring batteries for your devices and tools, and bring a healthy selection of sizes from AA to D.

It’s also a great idea to pack a couple of fully-charged portable power packs, so you can charge any USB devices or electronics. You can find many of them that attach to a solar panel to keep them juiced up indefinitely. In fact, you can even find portable solar charging systems, which are excellent for any bug out situation.

If you have enough room, stow a generator. It doesn’t matter whether it’s gas or solar-powered, though the latter is the more convenient and sustainable choice. Either way, you’ll have enough power to energize several items or devices, including lights for a camp.

6. Weapons
If you have guns and ammunition, pack them. You might not need them, but you never know if you’ll encounter a situation when you do, especially on the open road after a disaster. This category isn’t just relegated to firearms, though — be sure to pack a number of defensive weapons. This could be anything from a baseball bat to a hatchet or climbing pick.

7. CB or Ham Radio

When you’re on the road, you’ll want to know what’s happening around you. The radio in your vehicle will be one of the first things to do in a widespread blackout. But if you have a CB or ham radio available, you can still pick-up live broadcasts from nearby areas. CB will even let you communicate with other survivors nearby, which may be crucial for resupplying or hunkering down.

8. Spare Tire(s)
You should always have at least one spare tire available, but it’s more ideal to have a full set. More importantly, do not rely on doughnuts or conventional spares. Instead, buy full-size tires that would work as a complete replacement — not just a temporary solution. When you’re driving hundreds of miles at high speeds, the smaller doughnut-style tires won’t last long.

9. Portable Cooker or Stove

It is fortunate that we live in a more technologically-advanced period where a huge selection of solar-powered items and goods are available. They are absolutely brilliant for outdoor and on-the-go adventures. Believe it or not, there are even solar-powered grills or cookers that can be extremely helpful in a pinch.

Regardless, you’ll want something to cook or heat up certain foods. If you go hunting for small game, you’ll certainly need a way to cook the meat. A campfire is always great, but you’ll want alternatives, too.

10. Arc or Weather-Resistant Lighter

Conventional lighters require Butane and different forms of fuel. When you run out, you’re back to the stone age. Arc or weather-resistant lighters do require energy, but the good news is that they’re quick and easy to charge. If you have a generator, solar power bank or even USB port in your vehicle you can charge up the lighter in minutes. Not to mention, they last for an incredibly long time and will provide enough sparks to start a sizeable fire.

11. Map or Navigation Tools

Getting lost with limited resources and fuel is not something you want to do, nor is taking a wrong turn. Be sure to include everything you would need to navigate, from a paper map or GPS tool to an analog compass.

Additional Gear to Bring as Space Allows

Once you have everything packed from the list above, you can move on to the rest of these items. It’s important to also mention that just because some of these items are listed in this section, doesn’t mean they aren’t important or useful.

A high-quality multi-tool, for example, can replace up to a dozen solo tools saving you much-needed space but also providing ample support for various events. The reason it’s not considered a “necessity” is that so long as you have other tools, you’re all set. Even so, it will definitely boost sustainability and your chance of survival.

Here are 13 additional items you may want to pack in your car in case of an emergency.

1. High-Quality Multi-Tool

Because it was already used as an example, let’s mention it right away. Any high-quality multi-tool can replace nearly an entire tool kit. While you should still carry specific items like a knife or fire-steel, the multi-tool works because it keeps you out of the toolbox. You can swap from pliers to scissors almost instantly, all while using the same component.

Resqme tools are capable of many things, from breaking windows to slicing through seat belts. Packing crowbars are also great and can be used to open just about anything.

2. Fire Extinguisher

Fire extinguishers tend to take up only a small amount of space, yet they are incredibly handy in the event of a roaring fire or road hazard. If you have some extra room, be sure to include a fire extinguisher in your vehicle. You may never have to use it, but you don’t want to find yourself without it when you do need one.

3. Alternate Transportation

What happens if your vehicle fails? What if you need to get out and traverse on foot for a time? You’ll want at least one alternate form of transportation, be it a skateboard, bike or even a fold-up scooter.

Bikes are the top choice because they are relatively easy to pilot depending on fitness levels and can get up to 10 to 12 miles per hour just while coasting. That’s fast enough to bypass or avoid dangerous areas in a jiffy.

4. Extra Clothing and Jackets

You’ll want to pack extra clothes and jackets to stay somewhat clean and prepare for varying climates. If it’s hot, you’ll want gear that’s breathable yet covers most of your skin. If it’s cold, you’ll need to bundle up. Consider where your trip will take you and what kinds of conditions you may be passing through.

5. Camping Gear

If you want to stop or take a rest, you’ll need a place to hang your head. Camping gear is a good idea to pack if you have the room. Tents are relevant, yes, but you’ll also want to consider sleeping bags, blankets, pillows and the like.

6. Quick Fix Items

Duct tape is super versatile, but you should consider packing similar items that can be used to quickly fix problems — including those with your vehicle. Friction tape, super glue, J-B Weld, WD-40 and more are all suitable choices.

7. Protective Gear

Be sure to include face masks, respirators, eyewear and goggles, gloves and knee pads for everyone in your group — provided you have the room, of course.

8. Food Dehydrator

They can be bulky and require a source of energy — which is why it’s included in the optional section — but food dehydrators offer a lot of convenience and usability. You can toss a wide variety of perishable foods or goods inside and preserve them for long-term storage. On the open road with limited supplies, you take what you can get, so a dehydrator would be invaluable.

9. Hunting Supplies

Crossbows and weapons are already on your list, most likely, so this entry is more about the other items necessary for hunting. You’ll want tools to clean and gut your catch, as well as something to store the meat and additional parts. You might also need tools to tan hides or work with them once they’ve dried out.

10. Element Protection

When it’s raining, water-resistant jackets and clothing are beyond helpful. In fact, they can be the difference between catching pneumonia or staying dry. Other supplies are necessary to retain protection from the elements, too. Consider things like umbrellas, tents, and hats or cover-ups for sun exposure, too.

11. Seeds and Gardening Tools

If you decide to stop somewhere and hunker down, you can plant any seeds you have brought along, which take up minimal space. But, you can also plant seeds and garden while on-the-go, believe it or not. Buckets or storage bins filled with soil and seedlings can be tended from anywhere. You’ll want to ensure you have the right amount of water, the right tools and the right nutrients and supplies.

12. Pet Supplies

Cat, dog, lizard, bird — it doesn’t matter. In a disaster situation, you need to be able to provide for your animal companions, too. Make sure you have enough supplies packed for them, including any additional care items like kitty litter, medicine, toys and more.

13. Tarps and Rags

Plastic or durable tarps are great for so many things, from rain and moisture protection to ground cover. Be sure to pack at least one tarp, along with a few rags. The rags will be handy in the event of a spill or leak situation.

In a Disaster Situation, Preparation Is Key to Survival

Whether your plan is to drive directly to a bug out spot or to keep on moving indefinitely, you’ll absolutely need to bring enough supplies to sustain yourself in an emergency. The items you see listed here are great to include, but if you only have enough room for the bare necessities, be sure you at least have everything in the “must-have” section. A lot of items are easy to forget or overlook, and this list can serve as a reminder.

The most important thing to remember is that you should plan and prepare for just about any contingency. You would do the same if you were hunkering down inside your home, so you should do it in case you need to take your escape vehicle, too.

Author’s Bio

Scott Huntington is a writer and blogger who lives in Vermont and loves the great outdoors.

Follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington or check out his blog, Off The Grid

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6 Responses to “How to Keep Your Car Prepped for Survival”

  1. Most of your camping gear can double as car survival gear.
    Pack in labeled, easy to handle boxes/bags that you can throw in the car quickly

  2. If your vehicle is your daily driver and you can’t keep it loaded pre-position your supplies in easy to load bins. Food and cooking bin, tool bin, light and power bin, etc. If using a trailer keep the crucial items in the vehicle incase you need to dump the trailer.

  3. 1. You will not survive in a city
    2. If you have not prepared a site ahead of time, you probably will not make it to a safe place either.
    3. If you can secure a supply of fresh “lifeboat rations” do so..they take little space, last 5-10 yrs and can keep you from starving and from having to shoot animals and thus give away your position to looters.

  4. Where you going?
    Need to have some number of places in different directions, already selected, and make trial runs. One should be very close to the house.
    You need agreements with others near these locations that you are welcome and they, inturn, are welcome at your location, weather yoiu /they show up empty handed or not. The issue may be unfolding 100 miles away and your area may be where your team rallys to.
    At these places stash a lot of what is on the list to carry.
    If you are loaded down you just became a source for the looters – if you waited that long to make your move.
    55 gallon drums, are a great container to bury and hold a lot of stuff. Can be had here. 50 min order but buy as a group.
    On the Ham radio – look a waterproof hand held.

  5. Would suggest low wattage inverter say 15amp 12v DC to 200 watt AC
    Run off cigarette lighter, all sorts of chargers run off AC, also simple AC tools or charge lithium batteries for all sorts of power tools need low wattage AC.
    If plenty of gas have almost unlimited power from car alternator if you don’t try to push system too hard.

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