I am a 23-year veteran of the Recreational Vehicle (RV) industry. I have been in survival mode since the early 1980s after seeing the movies Mad Max and Red Dawn. I started selling RVs in 1984 and thought they were really cool. As the world changed and my concerns grew I started looking at them as a great survival tool. RVs have changed a lot since then. any RVs are fully self contained, meaning you have on board water for drinking bathing and cooking, toilet, climate control, refrigeration and sleeping. Many have onboard generators, deep cycle batteries, power invertors, AC to DC power supplies, and photovoltaic solar power. The following is should help you decide which one is right for your situation.
Types of RVs
Towables.The tow rating for you vehicle will determine your limitation. the following links are the resource I use every day to determine tow capabilities. www.campinglife.com and www.trailerlife.com You will need to consider the weight of the passengers,fuel,water and gear. Considering you will be bugging out and taking everything including the kitchen sink, you should find a unit with the least weight that accommodates your needs. Towing a trailer that is too heavy is dangerous and hard on the tow vehicle. You can’t afford an accident or breakdown.
Motorized Vehicles. There is a wide variety to choose from. Class A motor homes (“bus style”), Class C motor homes “van front with cab over bed” Class B motor homes Van conversions. Class Bs are small and easy to drive but are limited to one or two people. They are a great for towing a trailer. Class Cs offer the most sleeping capacity. The cab-over bed will easily accommodate two adults or three children. A 28ft motor home can accommodate 8 to 10.These too make good tow vehicles. For those of you with out budget concerns, Class Bs and Cs are available with 4 wheel drive! Class As are available in gas or diesel. Generally larger and more expensive making them harder to manage both driving and on the budget. They offer the most basement storage and the highest carrying capacity.
Truck Campers. Campers that slide in the back of pickups. If you own a 4×4 pickup you can take your home just about anywhere. Depending on your set up you can still tow a boat or trailer.
Sport Utility Recreational Vehicle (SURVs) [aka “Toy Haulers”]. My personal favorite! Trailers, Fifth wheels and Motor homes with a garage! Perfect for taking the ATV, Motorcycle or just a lot of gear.They come in just about any configuration you can imagine. Most have onboard generators. They usually have 20 or 40 gallon built in gas tanks with 12 VDC pump fueling stations. Fuel stations allow you to fill your ATV or motorcycle’s fuel tank.
You need to consider your budget. Cash or finance? You are better to keep you cash in your pocket if you can. Most dealers offer competitive financing. Depending on your situation the interest may be tax deductible. To calculate a payment you can figure on about $10 per every $1,000 that you borrow. That’s about $200 per month on a $20,000 loan.
You can find older RVs for as little as free. I get calls from people who just want to get them out of their yards.Try putting an ad in the local paper. “will remove unwanted RVs”. Generally they need some work, but if your handy, they aren’t that hard to fix. Stay away from vehicles with leaks! Check for soft floors and rippled ceilings or walls. Look in the cabinets for signs of water damage.
Hitch Equipment. Let me make this very clear: Buy the right stuff! People die everyday because the don’t have the right hitch set up. Check the weight of you trailer and buy equipment that has a higher weight rating than the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of the trailer you are towing. Always use sway control. Make sure you [electric trailer] brake control is adjusted properly every time.
“Shore power” RVs are either 30 or 50 Amp when your on the grid or running off a generator. AC power runs to the converter and is split to an AC circuit breaker panel and also converted [with a AC to DC transformer] to 12 volt DC. The AC runs to the outlets and appliances such as refrigerator, air conditioning, microwave and water heater. The 12 volt side of the system can also run on just deep cycle battery. The battery will charge when plugged into AC power. It can also be charged from your tow vehicle if wired properly. You lights,water pump, spark ignition for water heater and the blower motor for the furnace all operate on 12v. Extra batteries and a way to charge them are a must. Deep cycle batteries are preferred but auto batteries work if you have no other choice. Solar power is a great option. I get all of mine from ICP Global. They have a great calculator to determine your needs. You should also consider a power inverter. They change battery power to AC power.
Your furnace [space heater], water heater, stove and refrigerator all work on liquid propane (LP) gas. Most of these appliances also require 12 volt DC power. Most motor homes have built in tanks mounted to the frame, which can be a problem for refilling unless you by an adapter to fill the tank from a portable tank. Trailers and fifth wheels have 20 pound or 30 pound tanks that are removable. They are the same as your [back yard barbeque] gas grill’s tank. LP is safe when stored properly so stocking up on extra takes is a good idea. I watch for people throwing away old gas grills and take them just for the tank.
When choosing your RV you need to consider where you will be living. Look for one with good insulation. Newer units with ducted roof air conditioners have much thicker roofs. Look for an enclosed and heated underbelly. This help keep the tanks from freezing. You should also find away to skirt the bottom to stop airflow underneath. Straw bales work great for this. Heat strips work well if power is not an issue.
Maintenance & Storage
Have your vehicle loaded and ready to go. Make a check list of monthly inspection items.
Check tire pressure on all tires including the spare(s) once a month.
Test electric, pluming and gas systems
Check for water leaks at roof line, doors and windows
Check Hitch equipment and Brake control/wiring.
You can use your RV as a pantry. Keep it stocked with food and water. Rotate it with your supply in your home.
Keep it supplied with sleeping bags, towels, health products and a comprehensive first aid kit, including prescription meds.
Maps, compass and a list of easy to get to out of the way gas and grocery stores.
Hunting and fishing equipment.
If you are storing it for an extended period of time use an RV cover. Plastic tarps will trap moisture and create mold. This tends to destroy the roof membrane.
This is not a complete list by any means but remember to check the weight of your vehicle when it is loaded. You can take your towable or motor home to a truck stop or gravel pit and get the actual weight.
JWR Adds: See my comments in SurvivalBlog on August,10, 2005 on RVs as “Get Out of Dodge” Vehicles and other “land mobile” retreating options. This approach has some huge drawbacks! With the exception of wealthy “snowbirds” that can afford to have two fully stocked retreats, I do not recommend buying RVs! But, as they say, your mileage may vary.