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Survival Using RVs

William E. Simpson author badge, myoutdoorbuddy.com

ver the past year many people have reached-out to me asking the same question; ‘What can people do to survive a catastrophic event besides sailing to an island on a bug-out boat? This was of course a natural response by some people to my book; The Nautical Prepper (Ulysses Press).

My experience led me to believe that there was an option beyond just the bug-out boat paradigm alone. And so in appreciation of the people who had taken the time to reach-out to me with that question, I have given careful consideration to an alternative bug-out and survival paradigm that would offer a reasonable option to a wider range of people who cannot take to the sea for whatever reason.

Silver mobile home with striped awning, parked on a grassy field alongside a river with forested hills leading up to snow capped mountains. Photo by William E. Simpson
The Basics

This article will walk you through the basics as I see them, which are:

  1. Enhanced Situational Awareness (‘ESA’)
  2. Status-Ready Mobile Survival Assets
  3. Predetermined-established survival/bug-out location

Enhanced Situational Awareness (‘ESA’):
ESA transcends normal everyday situational awareness. In order to reach a level of ESA, you must be disciplined enough to maintain a daily security briefing for your own benefit. This means using various informational assets to determine (well in advance) if there are any developing threats. ‘Threats’ might include things like tornadoes, hurricanes, or extreme weather events which may be in the long-range forecast. ‘Threats’ might also include some other form of pending disaster including a collapse of critical infrastructure that would result in mass panic and chaos. The key to maintaining ESA is the adoption and daily use of advanced informational assets so that you will have a large head-start over the masses in making your next move, which depends heavily upon having the next vital step in place.

Status-Ready Mobile Survival Assets:
So once you have determined it’s time to bug-out based upon your ESA assessment, you need to have the correct bug-out assets ready-to-go and at hand (fully equipped and provisioned). Having advanced knowledge of a pending event is useless unless you are ready to take advantage of that critical information. The type of assets you may require will vary depending upon where you find yourself at the moment you realize it’s time to bug-out. If you’re already living in a remote self-sustaining location off the grid, you may be perfectly well-off right where you are, and therefore, this and the following steps are not necessary. Of course far too many people are living in highly populated areas where life is not sustainable during a disaster or if the infrastructure fails. In this later case, it’s important to use ESA to get enough of a head start on everyone else such that you can effectively get-out of harms way well before the traffic jams and all hell breaks loose. Having just a bug-out bag and a good vehicle may suit some people very well, only if however, they have utilized ESA and have a previously established (Step-3) bug-out location that is well supplied/equipped and which is appropriately located well-off the beaten path.

There may be some people, who have the ability to maintain ESA, but do not have a previously (pre-event) established bug-out location that is well equipped and stocked. There is good news for this category of people!

I have recently spent some time looking into affordable methods that would address this particular scenario, which I believe affects the largest percentage of people. And I have come-up with a method that I believe will work reasonably well if used in conjunction with ESA and the methods herein.

Silver mobile home, photo by William E. Simpson
Airstream travel trailer
My research was driven by the fact that I can still recall living out of an old Airstream® travel trailer up in the mountains at a logging camp where I was working many moons ago. Once a week we’d get to go down the mountain into town to get some supplies.

The use of an RV can in conjunction with ESA provide a workable escape and survival solution for the vast majority of people who do not already own or have a pre-existing bug-out location.

Inside the mobile home, seating area and kitchen, photo by William E. Simpson
Interior of RV
RVs today are fairly sophisticated and can offer much more than just shelter, which makes emergency disaster preparedness much more palatable for those people use to having some comforts. There are several types of RVs that are suitable to this use, each of which having their own advantages and disadvantages; let examine each of them:

« 1. Motor-homes: Motor-homes are great because they essentially integrate a truck into a travel trailer forming the ‘motor-home’, which eliminates the issues associated with towing a travel trailer or 5th wheel.

Another advantage is that in some cases, motor-homes can get into places where uneven ground prevents access by trucks pulling 5th wheels or trailers.

One of the compromises however is that when you arrive at your bug-out location and subsequently need to resupply or conduct some regional surveillance, you have to take the entire shooting-match with you.

And if you tow a separate vehicle behind the motor-home, you are subject to the issues related to towing.

5th wheel being towed behind red pickup truck, Photo by William E. Simpson

2. 5th Wheel Trailers (above):
5th Wheel trailers are towed from inside the bed of a pickup truck which intelligently distributes some of the load of the trailer over the rear axel of the pickup truck. This in-turn provides increased stability when towing and reduces the turning radius of the overall vehicle-trailer combination. 5th wheel RV trailers also tend to have more inside headroom than regular travel trailers that are towed from the rear bumper area on vehicles. 5th wheel RVs also have excellent payload capacities so that you can have a significant amount of equipment and supplies onboard and ready before you bug-out. One of the other advantages common to both 5th wheel and regular travel trailers is that you can easily un-hitch the trailer from the truck, and then use the truck for other needs without disrupting the living space once you have settled-in at your site. One of the disadvantages with 5th wheel RVs is that they are taller than most travel trailers. On the monetary side of things, 5th wheel RVs are generally more expensive than travel trailers. Factory 5thwheel RVs and motor-homes are under 13-feet 6 inches tall; generally speaking an average 5th wheel might be about 12-feet 6-inches total height. This height will limit access to some areas that have overhanging trees or overhead obstacles. Most public bridges and over-passes have a designed clearance height of 13-feet 6-inches.

Travel trailers camped in a tree shaded park, photo by William E. Simpson

3. Travel Trailers:
Travel trailers that are towed at the bumper of a car or truck have some advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are; ability to unhitch from the vehicle, and a lower height profile. Overall heights of travel trailers varies with make and model, but generally they may be anywhere from 10-feet tall (above the ground), up to 12+ feet. So the lower height profile allows easier travel into areas with trees that are overhanging and/or private (low) bridges. Financially speaking, you can usually find a travel trailer with similar features to a similar length 5th wheel for a substantial savings, and there is a larger selection of travel trailers to choose from, both new and used. One of the disadvantages to regular travel trailers includes issues with stability during towing and the larger turning radius.

Camper on truck, Photo by William E. Simpson

4. Campers:
Campers are a good option if you are one or two people who are bugging-out. I say this because of the small space that is afforded through the use of a camper on a pickup truck. If you go this route, you will have severe limitations on the amount of supplies and equipment that you can carry, and there is of course diminished creature comforts as opposed to the larger RVs discussed herein above. However, if you can get by with less, then the camper solution may be a good option. However, be forewarned; campers that have decent features (polar insulation package, all metal tubular framing, etc.) are as expensive as a good used 30-foot 5th wheel, and much more expensive than a 30-foot travel trailer. As with trailers, campers do have the advantage of disconnecting from the truck. The other advantage is that normally, campers can get into locations that are inaccessible to most 5thwheels and trailers.

Predetermined-established survival/bug-out location:
Obviously, the best scenario with regard to having a predetermined-established survival/bug-out location is that if you own the location, you can control the area. The advantage is that; unlike at a State park or some other public lands, you will have some expectation of what will be at the location when you arrive. In other words; with the appropriate amount of fencing, gates and ‘Keep Out’/’No Trespassing’ signs posted, hopefully your site will be free from squatters when you arrive. Of course if you have utilized ESA, you should be arriving at your bug-out location about the time most people are beginning to realize they may have a problem.

However, if you don’t have the capital to own your own bug-out location, there is an option that is afforded you by the time you gain through the use of ESA.

In this case, you’ll have to do a little homework using detailed topographical maps that also show the roads, including BLM and Forestry roads. Using maps that show the area around your normal locale for a distance of 500 miles in all directions, find remote locations that have forest and year-round water (creeks, rivers, lakes). The next step is to visit two or three of these selected locations and carefully evaluate the terrain and location in regard to the capabilities of your bug-out vehicle and RV combo. Look for issues with the roads or overhead obstacles that could be problems beyond the use of a chainsaw or limb-saw. Once you have located two or three good locations, mark the locations and the route to each on the map and keep copies in your RV and vehicle. As a further step, you could also use some vacation time to then actually take your RV to one or more of your selected locations and conduct a dry-run by living at the site for several days. If you want to risk losing assets, you could also cache some simple supplies and basic equipment at key sites.

At this point, you have completed the 3 key steps that will allow you to have a course of action in the event of some emergency or disaster. And in the meantime, you’ll also have a great time camping with family and friends!

Cheers! Capt. Bill

William E. Simpson spent his formative years growing up on a working ranch in the Applegate Valley of Southern Oregon. William (aka: 'Capt. Bill') is a retired U.S. Merchant Marine Officer with decades of boating and expedition sailing experience, having logged more than 150,000 miles at sea. Capt. Bill has successfully survived long-term ‘off the grid’ at sea and at remote uninhabited desert islands with his family for years at a time. In early 2013, he appeared on National Geographic’s hit TV show Doomsday Preppers (Season-2 ‘A Fortress At Sea’) and received the highest score in two seasons for disaster preparedness and survival, earning the title of ‘Best Prepper’.

Capt. Bill is also a commercial airplane and helicopter pilot and a PADI DiveMaster. Simpson is an accomplished writer covering all aspects of disaster preparedness, including a recent book ‘The Nautical Prepper’ (Ulysses Press). His articles have been featured via numerous magazines and websites and he has been a featured guest on various disaster preparedness radio talk shows. More info at WilliameSimpson.com

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