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The Practice Load-Up, by Papa Papa

For most of us who don’t live at a retreat [year-round] our plan is to G.O.O.D. [1] When the time comes we plan to load up our bug-out vehicles and head to our own “Shibes Meadow” as the family in the movie Panic in Year Zero did. At least that’s the plan. But how well have you considered this plan? In other words, have you done a practice “load-up”?

Some of the characters in Mr. Rawles’ novel, “Patriots [2]“, had to implement their bug-out plans and pack their vehicles for the trip to the Gray’s retreat. In that packing process they discovered that due to limited cargo capacity they couldn’t take everything they wanted. The choice came down to a triage of their equipment and supplies into three piles “Essential”, “Second Priority”, and “Nice to Have”. Since this bug-out would be a one-shot trip (no return trips for what was left behind) they had to wisely choose those items they needed.

I too have always had a bug-out plan but I had never down a practice load-up. Sure, I had sort of a mental list of things that I’d grab and go but really had no firm plan. With uncertainties in the current economic situation I finally decided that maybe it was time to actually see if my bug-out plan was feasible. So with a day off for the Columbus Day holiday I decided to run a practice load-up by myself.

My primary bug-out vehicle for cargo is a 1994 GMC [3] Suburban which I calculate has about 128 cubic feet of unencumbered, interior space. This area will accommodate larger items that won’t fit in a car and is also protected from the weather and prying eyes. The first items to be loaded were the many boxes of a one-year food storage. After one hour of lifting and carrying I was done. Notice that I said I was “done” and not “finished”. Despite the large amount of space in the Suburban, the food storage quickly filled the entire cargo area. No room left for a generator, guns, books, kerosene, winter clothing, etc. Hmmm…. that’s instructive, I thought. My mental load-up plan hadn’t survived the reality of limited cargo capacity. It was a good thing this was only practice and not a real emergency. Decisions on what to take and what to leave are best made when you are not under stress.

With aching muscles I unloaded the food storage boxes and returned them to my basement storage area. As I did this I wrote down the contents of each box, weighed it on a bathroom scale, and recorded all of this information. From this list I can now identify some of the boxes that could be left behind. But the larger question remained – “How can I formulate a plan to take everything I want?”

The goal of any practical exercise such as this is to evaluate how well the current plan worked and to compile a list of “lessons learned”. After some time to reflect on this experience I’ve come up with several things to keep in mind when I have to do this for real.

1. Obviously, pre-position as much stuff as possible at your intended destination. For some people this just isn’t practical. I had much of my stuff stored in a rural location until last year when a changed in ownership of the property compelled me to remove my pre-positioned items. The more things that can be stored securely at or near your retreat location the better.

2. If you decide to run a practice load-up (or during the real thing) remember to practice OPSEC [4]. The last thing you need is a nosy neighbor to ask questions about why you are loading all of these boxes and things into your vehicle. Have a pre-planned excuse for all of your activity – “The wife wanted me to clean out some of this junk and put it in a storage unit.” If possible load vehicles in your garage with the doors closed. I have a detached garage which means I have to move items stored in the house to the garage out in the open. Fortunately, I ran my practice load-up on a minor holiday when most people had to work so most of my neighbors weren’t home. Also, my garage is behind my house, not easily seen from the street, and relatively concealed from view. In a real bug-out situation I might choose to load up at night while being as quiet as possible. If you are loading a pickup, have a tarp or topper to protect your items from the weather and conceal them from uninvited inspection.

3. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Obviously, a first priority is food. Second, is water purification equipment. Third, is clothing and shelter (such as tents). Arms and ammunition also rank highly. Only you can decide what you will need based on the available cargo capacity and items you have.

4. Make a list or spreadsheet of all the items you intend to load and weigh each item or box. I was surprised to learn that my food storage weighed in at nearly 1,600 pounds total. This has implications for weight capacity and distribution in your bug-out vehicle. Check your vehicle owners manual for suggested maximum load limits. With increased loads you may also have to increase air pressure in your tires. (You do have a compressed air tank in your garage to fill your tires [and adjust shocks] don’t you?) Realize that with a heavily loaded vehicle all performance characteristics (braking, acceleration, turning, etc.) will be much different than what you are normally used to.

5. Make a diagram of the cargo area and indicate where items will be placed. Your practice load-up will help you determine the most efficient use of space. Pack heavy, dense items (such as ammunition boxes or books) on the floor of the vehicle. For some SUVs and pickups too much weigh that sits too high in the vehicle raises the center of gravity for the vehicle which could lead to a potential roll-over situation. Light items such as bulky clothing can be packed on top of heavier items in the cargo area. Just make sure that in case of an accident those items don’t move forward on impact. Cargo netting can be used to help secure these items.

6. Observe LIFO (Last In, First Out) when packing. Cans of gasoline (and funnels) used for in-route refueling should be easily accessible. (Gasoline should only be stored in Explo-Safe or Eagle safety cans.) The spare tire, jack, tow straps, and any other emergency equipment should also be equally accessible. For a car you may want to remove the spare tire and jack from under the trunk floor and put them in the back seat. The last thing you want to do is unload your whole car trunk so that you can change a flat tire.

7. Employ labor saving devices whenever possible. I used a two-wheel hand truck to move boxes to and from my house to the garage. This did save some labor and speeded up the process. Hoists or block-and-tackle could be used to load heavier items such as generators. It is also a good idea to store items close to where you will be loading them. Obviously, leaving your food storage in a garage where temperatures can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit is not conducive to long shelf life. But items that are not affected by temperature change like winter clothing can safely be stored in a garage or storage shed.

8. Use proper lifting technique when handling your items. The last thing you want is to “throw out your back” or have a mishap while carrying things up or down stairs. Make sure you are in good physical condition especially with regard to arm and upper body strength. Even though I bicycled to and from work all summer my legs were still sore and fatigued the next day. It may be time to hit the gym again or begin lifting free weights at home to increase strength.

9. Organize your family into a work detail. Everyone should have a job based on their age and abilities. Young children may only be able to carry light object or locate specific items for their parents. Older children may be physically able to help with the heavy lifting. The more hands available the faster the task can be completed.

10. Drive part or all of your intended escape route with your fully loaded bug-out vehicle. Due to a lack of time I was not able to do this. However, if you intend to drive on unpaved or gravel back roads out of the city you should get some idea of how your vehicle will respond under load conditions. You may find you can’t drive as fast as you would like or drive on some roads when muddy or snow covered. My Suburban is only a 2-wheel drive model which limits somewhat my selection of escape routes.

With a fully developed load-up list I am now concentrating on finalizing details for a vehicle convoy. Since all of my family members are adult drivers we will have several vehicles to convoy, most of which will have passengers. I am still developing the actual convoy plan based upon military tactics and have more study to do. However, I am planning for two basic scenarios – one in which civil orders remains pretty much intact (i.e. natural disaster evacuation, etc.) and one in which “all bets are off” (ABAO). An ABAO scenario could include a nation-wide grid-down situation or the aftermath of a “dirty bomb” terrorist attack. An ABAO situation will require more emphasis on personal and convoy security.

Some of life’s best lessons are those that are hard-learned. My practice load-up was such a lesson. Now my bug-out plans have a more practical basis rather than one based upon wishful thinking or mere speculation. Even so, I will continue to refine those plans in the future. What about you? Is it time to get moving?

JWR Adds: Papa Papa’s experience underscores the importance of pre-positioning the vast majority of your storage food and gear at your retreat. I’ve stressed this repeatedly in my writings and in my consulting work. I tell my clients: You may have only one trip “outta Dodge”, so 90% of your goodies need to be at your retreat well in advance!