Two Letters Re: A Vehicular BoB

Mr. Editor:

I have been a reader of this blog for a little while now and one of the earlier postings I read caught my eye: In regards to a vehicle “bug out” kit. That list was certainly a good place to start, but it was missing a few items, so I thought I would put my “two cents” worth in.

To give you a little bit of background, I would describe myself as essentially being a realist. I watch the news, I read the papers. I know what is going on around me. I am aware of today’s political and economic climate, and I understand what that does (and can) mean; not only for today but for tomorrow as well. In my opinion preparation and knowledge are the keys to not only surviving, but for nearly anything in life.

I have worked both white-collar and blue collar jobs. I have been a soldier (an NCO – I worked for a living), and I have been what I term a “survivalist” for a little over a decade now. Along the way I have managed to learn some of the lessons the easy way; reading books, talking to people, experimenting, and practice, practice, practice. While other lessons were learned at the school of “hard-knocks”; try sitting on the side of the road in the middle of a blizzard for six hours on Christmas Day with three children praying for someone else to come along to help (I’m not kidding about that one) – all because you thought “it could never happen to you”. I am an active outdoorsman; camping, fishing, hiking, small game, etc. To date I have been lucky enough to live through them all. Sometimes with a few bumps and scrapes along the way, and sometimes with little more than a bruised ego; but I have survived nonetheless. Not surprisingly on my journey I have picked up a few things: “must have” items, advice, knowledge, and most of all experience.

As for geography I have lived in the cold and wet of Washington state; the extreme cold of Colorado; the hot and dry of West Texas; and now the hot, wet and hurricane-prone area of East Texas; and this list contains items that have literally saved my life on more than one occasion, while making crisis situations a whole lot easier to deal with in others.

While I am not going to lay claim at being an expert on the subject of survival or preparations; I have seen a done things that may genuinely surprise some people (while possibly boring others) and could probably go on for hours on end; but that is not my point here today. I now possess [what I feel] is enough knowledge that I can speak with at least some authority. My point in this is to allow others to learn from my own mistakes in the hopes that they don’t find themselves forced to repeat the same errors that I have made. Learn from others – that is the point in all of this.

As I write this I am proud to say that none of my vehicles are ever without the bare essentials. In my opinion it is one of the things that everyone should do, survivalist or not. I rank properly equipping my vehicles right up there with having them registered, insured, and inspected, to me it is simply a necessity, a requirement. In an attempt to make sense of this I broken the lists down into four basic areas:

Vehicle Supplies
Personal Supplies
Glove-Box Miscellaneous (loose throughout the vehicle)
General Miscellaneous

While there is some repetition between the 4 areas, this is done so for a reason – it is always a good idea to have a backup.

1. Vehicle supplies (most will fit in a small “duffle” or reasonably sized “tool bag”, kept in trunk, cargo area, or under the seat)
Jumper Cables (get the good ones)
Tow Rope (at least 1)
2 cans of “fix-a-flat”
Air compressor (cigarette lighter plug in)
Roll of Duct Tape (if you can’t fix it, duck it)
100ft of parachute cord (550 cord)
X style lug-wrench (more torque, safer, and more versatile than the ones that come with cars today)
2 1?2 ton bottle jack (again safer, and more versatile than the ones that come with cars today)
Roadside Flares (3 minimum)
Hand-held spotlight, plug in type is fine
Electrical Kit with:
Spare Fuses – vehicle specific
Spare Bulbs – vehicle specific
Small roll of Red Wire (14-16 GA)
Small roll of Green Wire (14-16 GA)
Small Assortment of Butt Splices
Circuit tester (Screwdriver type)
Electrical tape
Spare belts – vehicle specific
Spare hoses – vehicle specific
Spare thermostat – vehicle specific
Assortment of hose clamps, at least two large enough for your coolant hoses
Flashlight (2 minimum – generator type are best, LED Generator types are better)
Spare batteries – 1 set for each flashlight in the vehicle (if needed)
Tarp (8 x 10’ is usually sufficient)
Hand Tools:
Screwdrivers (4 minimum, 2 standard 2 Phillips-head)
Crescent Wrenches (2 minimum, 6” and 12”)
Slip-Joint Pliers
Needle-Nose Pliers
Wire Cutters
Channel-Locks (12”)
Socket set (basics only, 3/8” drive, SAE and Metric)
Combination Wrench set ((basics only, SAE and Metric)
Allen Wrench set
Small Hammer
Hatchet (axe)
Folding Shovel
Plastic Trash bags (2 minimum)
Coffee Can full of Cat litter (with lid)
Basic First Aid Kit, with the following additions:
Antacid Tablets
Water purification tablets
Small tube of Neosporin
Additional alcohol pads
Additional band-aids (common sizes)
Razor blade
Can of Sterno (large)
Wire coat hanger
Roll of bailing wire
Box of matches (at least 1 box)
Cigarette lighter (disposable, spend the buck and a half and get the Bic brand, you can’t beat them)
Water bottle
Small notepad
A small stash of cash ($50 to $100)
Spare compass
Rain poncho – 2
Emergency Blanket (foil type) – 2
Candles – 6
Basic Fishing kit:
Fishing Line

2. Personal Supplies (with a little patience and forethought, this will all fit inside of and/or attached to a medium sized book-bag, i.e. backpack)
Basic First Aid Kit – duplicate of the aforementioned kit
1 pair of socks
Flannel shirt
Baseball cap
“Swiss Army” knife
Fixed blade knife
Basic Camping Mess Kit
Travel Toothbrush
Toilet paper
Flashlights (2 minimum)
50 ft of parachute cord (550 cord)
Can of Sterno (small)
SPAM – 1 can
Tuna fish – 1 can
Rice – 1?2 lb
Lintels – 1?2 lb
“Gorp” (Trail mix) – 1?2 lb
Packet of powdered Gatorade
Zip-lock bag with:
Sugar packets
Salt Packets
35mm film canisters full of All-spice
Tea bags
Bullion Cubes
Vitamin Pills
Energy bars (3 minimum)
P-38 can opener
Rain poncho
Poncho Liner
Tarp – 5 x 8” is usually sufficient
Candles – 3
Cigarette lighter
Emergency blanket (Mylar foil type) – 2
Signaling mirror
Basic Fishing kit:
Fishing Line
Small Hikers Trowel
Plastic trash bag (2 minimum)
A small stash of cash ($40 to $50) [JWR Adds: I recommend that be in rolls of Quarters, so you can also use pay phones.]
Water purification tablets
Canteen cup
Web Belt

3. Glove-Box Miscellaneous (kept loose in the glove box, in the vehicles console, or in door pockets)
Package of Tissues
Cigarette Lighter
Small Multi-tool
“Button” or other small compass
Map of local city you are in, and the state(s) you are traveling – or expect to travel.
Small tube with a mix of aspirin, Motrin, and Tylenol.
Small notepad
A small, durable pocket-knife
Small Flashlight
One $20 bill

4. General Miscellaneous
Fuel can – store empty; you never know when you will run out of fuel two miles form the nearest gas station. If you are evacuating, fill up as you leave – this will reduce your risk of fumes/explosion.
One gallon of potable water
1 Qt Engine Oil (minimum)
1 Qt Transmission Fluid (minimum)
1 Pt Power Steering Fluid (minimum)
Assortment of “bungee” cords

Now I am sure that I have probably missed a few items here, but this list is fairly comprehensive. Please feel free to add items to it – I am always eager to learn more.
If you look through it, you should be able to think of one (and most of the time multiple) uses for each and every item on this list. With this setup you basically have what you need whether you are accompanied or alone and whether you stay with the vehicle, leave the vehicle, or are for some reason forced to separate your party (never a good idea – remember there is always strength in numbers). But you get the point.

In colder climates, add more food, and more warmth items (sleeping bag, snow boots, candles, or a heavy coat?). In warmer climates add more fluids and more shade (bottled water, additional hats, or maybe an umbrella?).

On to the next topic – How much does all of this cost? Well that can vary widely. Many of these items can be had at the local dollar store, while other may take a little bit of searching. Check Wal-Mart, your local Military surplus dealer, the flea markets, and pawn shops. You might be surprised just how far you can make your dollars go. Plus don’t try to do it all in one shopping trip – you will just frustrate yourself. Keep your eyes open when you are at the grocery store or out doing your normal shopping; pick up a few items here and there, and just slowly equip your vehicle. Within a month or two you will suddenly find your vehicle is much better equipped than it ever was before.

As to the vehicle preparation mentioned in the earlier post, this is all good advice. But again I would add to it. Create yourself a short checklist of items that you check weekly and monthly. Follow the owners manual that came with the vehicle, they tend to be fairly comprehensive.

Some tricks I have learned include:

Remember to check the air pressure in your spare tire regularly. A spare doesn’t do any good if it is flat too.
Don’t forget to check the brake fluid, power steering fluid, and windshield washer fluid too, these are often over looked.
Never, ever overfill any of your vehicle’s fluids.
Keep all of your lights clean, headlights, brake lights etc. The better they work, the better you see, and are seen.
Whenever adding accessories to your vehicle: make additions that work, and that matter before you worry about “pretty”. Think of it this way – which is more important (and useful) on a full-size truck – a good trailer hitch, or a pair of fancy mud flaps? You get my point.
When adding electrical accessories, always use the next heavier gauge wire, it will handle to load better, last longer, and prevent not only short circuits, but fires as well.
A good CB is always a wise investment, but make sure that it is installed properly.
Engine and Transmission oil cooler can extend the life of your vehicle – and mean the difference between getting there and getting stuck – especially in hot weather and heavy traffic. They are definitely worth the money.
Own a truck, van or SUV? Look into an oversized fuel tank and/or a spare fuel tank with a transfer pump. It may be expensive, but it will pay for itself over time; between having the ability to fuel up for a cheaper price per gallon, combined with the extended range the vehicle will now have – it is definitely worth at least considering.
Consider installing an aftermarket, oversized fuel filter. Cleaner fuel means longer engine life. Plus some of the newer vehicles don’t even have an inline fuel filter – they are mounted inside the tank itself. Who was the genius that came up with this gem anyway?
If your vehicle doesn’t have them, install tow hooks both front and rear. They do not have to be conspicuous, but they need to be there.
Don’t skimp on wiper blades, buy the good ones and replace them often. If you can’t see, you can’t drive.
Keep the engine bay clean – it makes finding a leak a whole lot easier, and makes life a whole lot more pleasant when making repairs.

It also it isn’t a bad idea to add seasonal items to your kits. For example if you live in area prone to snow, you should probably have a set of tire chains/cables with you in the colder months, but then why would you want to carry them in July?

Lastly a few words of advice:

First: know how to use everything you put in your kit. Practice with it before you put it in the vehicle – few tools are as dangerous as the ones in the hands of the uninformed.

Second: check your local laws on exactly what is considered a weapon, and what is considered concealed. You may want to think twice before you run out and buy that shiny Rambo knife with the 12 inch blade and have it strapped to the outside of your back pack sitting under your seat.

Third: in regards to knives, multi-tools, hand tools and the like – you generally get what you pay for. That cheap knife at the flea market is normally just that – cheap. It may be better than nothing at all, and the truth is that if that is all you can afford – then fine. But understand that up front.

Fourth: when choosing the storage bags to put these items in – think about the size, shape, and color of the bag you buy. There is not a right or wrong here, get what fits your situation. And think about the straps. There may be a situation where you find yourself forced to carry these bags, so good shoulder strap are important. And just as with knives and hand tools – you generally get what you pay for.

Lastly, a word about any and all foodstuffs you keep in your kit: remember that all food expires sooner or later – a even water can only sit for so long before it is no longer fit to consume. Trust me when I tell you that yes, even SPAM can and will go bad with time (you really, really don’t want to know how I know that). So rotate your foodstuffs regularly.

The long and the short of it is that some sort of vehicle kit really should be in each and every car, truck, SUV, or van on the road. With a little bit of thought and not a whole lot of money we can all prepare ourselves better. No traveler should be without what they consider to be the basics. – David H. in Southeast Texas

[JWR Adds: Thanks for those great lists! The only additions that I’d make to your lists are a fire extinguisher, and depending on whether off-road travel is anticipated, more robust pioneer tools. These should include an ax, pick, shovel, and if space permits, a Hi-Lift jack.]

Hugh D. sent in a good letter about using his trailer as a large bug-out kit. The concept isn’t bad (as long as he’s on the road and off again before the masses figure out something is wrong) but then he said this:

“This has been overcome with careful planning on our part. First, we have mapped out likely hide spots for ourselves and the trailer – mostly campgrounds on National Forest lands,” and then regarding some cabins near the campground, “…we can move into a nice, if rustic, survival retreat.”

No offense, but I wouldn’t exactly consider this careful planning. If Hugh doesn’t think that for every marked camping site in America there aren’t 100 guys (who also own guns) already thinking about that same site, he’s crazy. Worse, he has no claim of “right” when it comes to those cabins. He is no more entitled to a cabin there than the next guy that comes along and wants to evict him and take it for himself. Furthermore, he’s got kids in diapers (I do too) – he isn’t going to be able to defend both his family and his “stuff” in a public campground whose location is published on every map and travel guide in America.

I’d suggest that Hugh reconsider his plans. The trailer is good but find somewhere else to go. As an example, I live in the Dallas area and have friends who own a ranch about three hours away in central Texas and can be reached using a number of combinations of country roads and state highways. It’s on 500 hilly acres twenty miles from the closest town, whose population is a couple thousand people. You can’t see a single building on the ranch from the state highway – you have to drive a winding county dirt road a few miles to get to the houses and barns. My friends who own the ranch think I’m nuts (they aren’t survivalists by any means, but retired city folk who wanted to run a peach orchard in retirement). Nonetheless, they have agreed that if I need to get out of town I can come down there with no prior notice. – Matt R.