The Bugout Buggy, by H. in Bradenton, Florida

Those of us who have considered the terrible option of having to leave our homes, our main domicile and primary place of normalcy and safety due to civil unrest or worse have had to ask the question of, “What do I take with me?”. Eventually this question comes down taking that hike to …. wherever we feel is best, a better chance for survival environment. Why hike? Because any rational consideration of events that could occur all lead to fuel being no longer able to be obtained, roads blocked, normal travel impossible. Furthermore, the roads themselves may not be the best option for travel for reasons we can all imagine as to why. So we mentally move on to the ‘Bug Out Bag’, that pack, frame and its contents that we hope will see us through to a place of peace and security.

The novice, the out-of-shape, the inexperienced all begin by assuming that they can fill their pack with everything that they’ve read is necessary and still perform a prolonged panic hike of some 20+ miles per day. Day after day; perhaps, week after week. Possibly even night after night as well. Packed is food, water, first aid, sleeping and/or tent gear, campsite needs such as utensils, axe, knife, machete, saw, rope and all the rest of those things deemed absolutely necessary. And should violence and the need to protect oneself be an issue, firearm(s) and ammunition.

Water alone weighs 8.34 pounds per gallon. And the average needed daily amount for an adult is 8 – 8 ounce glasses of water per day. In other words, your daily water weight load is right at 4.2 pounds (a gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds). Having at least two days worth of water is not an unreasonable amount to expect to be carrying. The rest of the weight math is subject to what is in the pack, in your pockets, pouches, bags…..; in other words, the traveler who’s trekked knows that weight carried is the one crucial factor in what is to be carried. The value of each item is scrutinized as to that factor and its worth, utility, need and multi-purpose potential.

Consider the weight of an AK-47, a set of web gear, and 120 rounds of ammunition loaded in magazines. Having actually weighed them, I’ve found that they come in at just over 20 pounds. I assume that most rifles of a similar purpose, with the same number of rounds, would be of a like measure. So, just water for two days and your rifle and a minimal amount of ammunition alone add up to almost 30 pounds. How’s the old back feeling now? And let’s not neglect the weight of clothing, shoes/boots, pocket and belt gear. Easily another five pounds if you’re carrying a good knife, binoculars, compass, mini-first aid kit, some ready-to-eat packets of food, then…

Anyway it goes, anyway you go – if on foot, the load quickly adds up. Many an Old West wagon train movie illustrated a trail dotted with belongings discarded when times got hard, animal power to haul having sickened, weakened or died or other trail hazards and dilemmas arose. That ‘sleeps 4 dome tent’, or extra foam rubber ground pad sure seemed to be ‘the thing’ when you bought it; until that is, you had to haul it for 5 days on the run. That axe or spare shotgun, handgun or two and their respective ammunition needs also seemed perfect for a last-stand home defense; but prove just too much to carry too far.

As I prepared by both reading and studying, and then actually packing a Bug-Out bag (or two, or three….) I came to the conclusion that it would sure be nice to be three people with 21 year old strong backs. I began to consider just how to beat the weight and transportation problem. Seeing an old street woman pushing a shopping cart reminded me of the movie The Road and the hero/father’s shopping cart. Supplies and the means to move them for him and his son were trudged along like that poor old lady that can be found downtown in any city. Like the old woman, there is plenty of room for all the necessities and even some ‘luxuries’ (everything is relative don’t forget.) in a stolen grocery store cart. But, a shopping cart makes a poor vehicle for overland use. Whereas those carts are fine on pavement and sidewalks, the tires are too small and easily fouled, not easily maneuvered on broken ground. Not wanting to reinvent the wheel, I looked around for an off-the-shelf vehicle people already use for valuable cargo that is highly maneuverable, light-weight and adaptable to many terrain types.

What I found was the everyday 3 tube-tired baby stroller. The more ‘upscale’ model with two 12″ diameter tires and a pivoting smaller tire. A load capacity between them of over 50 pounds for usage as a human baby conveyance. The stroller features I would recommend would be similar to the Baby Trend Expedition LX Travel System, Millennium with two 16″ rear tires and a 12″ front tire.

And this stroller, or such of a like type, can be found at virtually any thrift store for less than $20. I was fortunate and literally found one broken (the tray cracked, some of the upper pipes bent, and all the canvas shredded) being discarded by a neighbor. As in the picture above, there is a small triangular shelf above the front pivoting wheel (which you may discover can be locked in a straight ‘run’ position). As the stroller was damaged, I was able to salvage and saw off the rear axles, brake and wheels; as well as the front fork with the pivoting wheel and ‘table’ above it. This buggy originally sold for around $180.

As I looked at my parts with the eye to it becoming a ‘Bug Out Buggy’ and taking some quick measurements, I found that the pipe/tubing used was almost exactly the same outside diameter as high-pressure 1″ PVC water pipe internal diameter. Literally a perfect fit. To the sketch board!!!

What I did was design around what I had on-hand, the former baby stroller gleaned from my neighbor’s discards at the curb. The first consideration was to reverse the original wheel layout due to this vehicle being drawn rather than pushed. The second consideration being the main cargo area which consists of a large denim bag 18″W x 16″L x 12″D (which corresponded to the approximate size of 2 average day-backpacks. A table or platform area over and extending rearward from the axle of 18″W x 12″ L and the pair of forks to extend the length and stride of the puller – in my project this was 40″. The necessary 45 degree sloping run to the rearmost point consisting of the original front triangular table/foot platform added another 20″. This sloped area was in part determined by my decision to ‘fit’ a previously-purchased OSHA First Aid kit in that location – the slope toward the pivot wheel platform – where it would be quickly accessible. The overall length depending on which pair of forks is being used is roughly 5′. What needs to be pictured is a vehicle with the main load structure being pulled by a pair of poles and terminating in a small triangular platform at the rear with an average height from the ground of a foot and a half. From the rear to the front the shape from a side view would be of a triangle over the pivoting wheel, an open-bottomed square with vertical supports connecting to the axle, another square that is the cargo area and finally the poles extending forward from the main cart body.

A couple of bags of PVC fittings – ‘Tee’s’, Elbows, 45 degree elbows, caps, and some threaded adapters for the fork handles, some 15′ of PVC pipe, PVC cleaner and cement, some eyebolts, heavy cable ties to affix the upright sections to the remaining buggy axle, a couple of linchpins, a piece of fiberglass reinforced plastic and for aesthetics – some spray paint – all told no more than $60 worth of hardware; and, I had my frame built and fitted in about four hours. A technical note – PVC is easily molded and bent by gentle and careful heating of the material with a heat gun. This allows for curves of any radius or direction you may wish for your project.

I own a sewing machine and had many a pair of cast-off and no longer wearable jeans that were easy to convert into denim cloth to make a hanging bag with button-on straps to sling it off the pipe rails. I can see others may use zippers, velcro, snap fasteners or the like for the same purpose. I prefer buttons over those as replacement can be done with many available materials; whereas, the latter-mentioned all take specialized tools or are not obtainable in the field. A button only takes a pierced disk or toggle and a needle and thread to replace.  It all depends on the desired configuration of the cart, the builder’s preference and what and how much is to be carried. I do recommend planning on being able to remove any bag for cleaning purposes as assuredly will become necessary. In addition, having a large canvas bag for future uses independent of the cart cannot hurt. Just think of opportunistic harvest needs. A large bushel-sized bag would come in handy.

The power I intend to use is my own motive power and strength to pull this cart like a rickshaw style (with pipe insulation handgrips). But…. a major alternative ‘power source’ that I’ve made are two additional forks/tongues that can be interchanged for the angled handles in order that my dog can pull it when I desire him to. As the owner of a large German Shepherd weighing some 130 pounds, it was a case of “why not use all my resources?” Initial experimentation with him in the traces/harness I rigged and on leash went well; though, I do counsel anyone considering this option to engage in a multiple exposure and training sessions with your mutt. Some dogs may not readily take to becoming harnessed ‘sled’ dogs.  And thus, that is why there is a second/spare set of forks with threaded adapters/couplers on the ends of the forks to mate to the forward ends of the cart bag frame. I took the liberty of color coding the left side with red tape to insure that the threaded adapter fittings for the two fork pulling options were always installed on the correct sides and aligned with the linchpin holes drilled through the threaded adapters to prevent any accidental fork rotation while in use. The linchpins are secured to prevent loss by two nylon lines from the pull-ring to conveniently placed eyebolts just behind the threaded adapter fittings. Additional eye-bolts are installed on the dog-forks and in the center of the upper ‘U’ pipe forward of the bag compartment for dog harness attachment (or to be used as ready-to-hand lash down points).

Remember, if you will, that I reversed the original buggy design direction of travel, with the smaller pivoting wheel being to the rear. This allows for far greater maneuverability and affords the larger tires to surmount obstructions easier than would a forward-most small tire. In addition, the formerly front triangular shelf is perfect to sit on with feet on the axle while the dog pulls; or, for a 5 gallon water carboy, ammunition separation and availability – whatever purpose you deem this platform is to be used for. If you consider this cart is designed to be pulled not pushed, it will make better sense.

I load tested and found that the cart as built easily handles over 140 pounds of weight – with an estimated maximum of 180 pounds – while pulling easily and smoothly. As a precaution, I emptied the air out of the tubes and replaced same in all three tires with ‘Fix-A-Flat’ for some puncture hazard resilience.

The load I used on the initial build, pre-painting or threaded adapters for the alternate forks, was, as stated above, of two average-sized backpacks, one medium duffel and an ammo pouch containing over 400 rounds of 7.62 x 39 caliber rifle ammunition on the rear ‘deck’. It is easy to picture how at least 2 long-guns and more cargo could be placed on top of the hanging bag and following fiberglass-reinforced plastic table behind it. The packs and pouch were loaded with over 90 pounds of gear and supplies and the cart pulled easily and ‘lightly’. I tested the now-rear shelf with a filled 5 gallon carboy of water – some 42 pounds – lashed to 3 eye-bolts installed for that purpose and hardly noticed the extra effort needed to pull the cart.

It is an enjoyable project, a quick week-end affair to accomplish, inexpensive and as designed above; or however you may wish to configure it for your own needs, a thing that it easy to do. The big plus is a man on the move can still carry a pack, a rifle and pockets goods on his person while pulling this; effectively quadrupling the normal load if need be. Many things too bulky or weighty to be conveyed by one’s own upright strength – such as 5 gallons of water on the rear shelf – can now be moved with ease. I consider it to be sort of an automatic cache if the need to be free of longer-term needs must be abandoned due to hazardous circumstances arising. All that would be needed is to find cover for the cart and move off already packed out with a short term needs regular pack arrangement and/or defensive weapon.

I’ve not completely explained many of the design considerations. Some important ones are why no bag compartment is behind the axle – in order to lessen the accumulation of mud, dirt and debris on the canvas. Another thought is to make the cart as well-balanced see-saw-fashion fore and aft of the axle. The height of the fork handles to pull – either human or canine – is crucial for comfort and ease of use. Good heavy-duty cement rather than the weaker strength compounds is a must. The entire cart should be able to be picked up with little strain when unloaded/empty with one hand. The ability to remove the forks allows for ease of transport in a pickup truck, van or on a car roof, giving the owner the ability to take it in a ‘bug-out’ situation on and then off a fueled (or just ran out of gas) vehicle and move away from a hazard or traffic situation readily by paring down its overall length initially. The poles/forks too can be used for temporary tent poles and other campsite uses. The overall length of the cart cargo platform including the bag area should be approximately that of an adult body – around 3-4′ – with the knees bent at the aft over-axle platform so that in an emergency you have a wheeled gurney at hand.

There are many other design parameters that could be included ranging from sewn-on pouches on the sides of the bag, rain cover fabrication, mud-flaps and more. It is all a matter of what the builder wishes to include. But as I began this essay with – weight, weight, weight and the consideration of that is what is crucial.