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How To Determine The Best SHTF Truck For You

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We recently got another great comment on one of our posts that requires us to respond a bit more in-depth than the person asking would probably like.  While we love answering simple questions, some questions deserve a longer response as just telling you what might work best for us may be the wrong advice for the reader.  And since Jason Hanson has been really busy planning the upcoming Ultimate Spy Week, I get to answer this one.

Jason (yes, another Jason) asks:

What kind of truck would you prefer in a SHTF situation and why?

Well, there is no right answer for this.  It really depends on what the SHTF situation is for you.  I’m not saying you need to be Nostradamus.  But I am saying you need to consider what kind of situations may occur and how you would respond.

So let’s take a look at some of the considerations that you can consider.

To Bug-out or Bug-in

While we may not have the perfect plan for every single emergency that could be possible, we can break them into two categories.

Pandemics, local rioting, or ice storms are all SHTF situations where you are most likely to bug-in.  By bugging in, I simply mean that you plan to stay safe in your home.  Lock the doors, make sure your defense tools are at hand, and get your long-term food storage where you can reach it.  You’re going to be at home for the long haul.

Likewise, bugging out means getting to some other destination.  This may be a cabin in the middle of nowhere or a relatives house a couple of states away.  Hurricanes, tsunamis, and wildfires are all examples of when you may have no choice but to leave.

Neither of these considerations, by themselves, are enough to make a decision off of.  But you need to know what these plans are as they may have an impact on your decision.  Imagine you have to travel a long distance to your bug-out location.  Will fuel economy play a significant role?  And what is the terrain like at both locations?  Could a smaller vehicle allow you to move through obstacles better?

Another consideration that this may affect is what other resources are available.  If all of your friends have big trucks, might a smaller vehicle be better from a diversity standpoint?  If your bug-out location is remote or you don’t know many people in the area, you may need to make this decision independent of outside influences.  But make sure to consider outside influences when making this decision.

Hauling Capacity

If you have the resources, an RV is ideal in most SHTF situations.  While a motorhome (an RV that you drive) may seem optimal to some, I’d recommend a travel trailer (one that you pull).  This is simply a matter of fewer engines to maintain in a SHTF situation.

Even if an RV is not in the cards, towing and hauling capacity may be a consideration.  What kind of work and transportation will you need during a disaster?  Will you need to haul all of your supplies out in a bug-out situation?  Maybe you’ll simply need to haul firewood around if you bug-in.  Your situation will largely depend on where and how you live, both at home and at your bug-out destination.

For many people, hauling capacity might be completely irrelevant.  If your plan is to go stay with family away from the affected area, and you’re single or a couple, a Ford Mustang may be all you need.  However, if your extended family will also be in the affected area, you may now find yourself having to haul a lot more than you expected.

Hauling capacity is just one consideration when choosing the right SHTF truck.


Unfortunately, I believe we are going in the wrong direction as a society on this one.  Modern vehicles are becoming harder and harder to maintain.  Yet, parts for older vehicles are becoming harder to get ahold of.  Ultimately, you need a truck that won’t create the SHTF situation.

This is where I’d like to highlight some of those “super-trucks” that a lot of people like to recommend.  Humvees, Cut-Vs, armored Suburbans, etc. are all high-maintenance vehicles.  Towing and tire changes on these vehicles weren’t just regular drills we performed.  They were regular real-life occurrences.  The weight of these vehicles made them prone to failure.

I’d stick with something that is meant for regular use.  This has some other benefits that I’ll address later, but this consideration will play a huge role in dependability.

First, if you get a normal vehicle, parts should be readily accessible.  Sure you can get something like a Unicat Expeditionary Vehicle, but make sure you have the spare parts and knowledge to replace them.

Unicat SHTF truck
Unicat by Squob | Creative Commons 2

Ultimately, when we think of surviving or even thriving with a SHTF truck, we don’t want to think of the truck being the thing that created our SHTF scenario.  So pick a reliable vehicle.


I don’t think it will come as a surprise to anyone that we value obscurity around here.  From home security to disappearing, we always consider obscurity one of the keys to security.  The vehicle you chose could make you a target for attack if you stand out.

Consider what will look normal in both your local environment and your bug-out location.

If you plan to bug-out to a rural area, you may be fine fitting in with an old workhorse.  However, if you live in an urban or upper-class area, you may want to choose a nicer vehicle.  Neither of these examples are definitive, as a rural farm area may be filled with newer vehicles.  Just make sure you’re keeping aware of which vehicles you see in both of these areas.

If you find that your two destinations are clashing, consider something on the older side that might be played off as an affinity vehicle in the higher-end place.  An old Jeep, for example, might look like a normal vehicle in a poorer environment, while it might just show an outdoorsmen style for someone in a more affluent environment.

This is also another great place to point out that the “super-trucks” that are often touted as “the SHTF truck” may not help you blend in.

In addition, consider tinted windows, toolboxes, or bed covers.  Remember, out of sight – out of mind, and locks only keep honest people honest.

Useful Space

While it may seem as though this could be included in hauling capacity, I believe it deserves its own section.  As someone who’s done long, extended trips in a vehicle, I know very well how important organization and space are in a vehicle.  This is especially important in the cab of a truck.

If you expect to be alone during a SHTF situation, a regular cab may be fine.  If your truck is going to play an important role in your life, and you won’t be alone, I think you need something a little bigger.

Size isn’t the only consideration here.  The space needs to be organizable.  While pouches and cupholders can be added with aftermarket products, getting key components built in is important.  I recommend getting something with a center console.  Either a traditional bench with a center console or something like a 40-20-40 split.  Several years ago I had a Dodge Dakota with bucket seats at one point.  I was constantly frustrated that I had to reach the floor to get things out of that center area.  I like to have things in my “workspace”, where I don’t really need to take my eyes off the road to reach them.

The other advantage to a bench seat is that you can spread out and take a nap if needed.  It may seem trivial to some, but being able to lock the doors and close your eyes for a few minutes can mean a lot on any road trip.  It would only be more valuable in a SHTF situation.

Ability to go where you need to go

I doubt it comes as any surprise that many look towards motorcycles as the best bug-out vehicles.  This is because people see these vehicles as more maneuverable.  Whether that means weaving through traffic or going off-road, there are very few limitations on where a motorcycle can go.

Trucks, however, do have some advantages.  If storms or other water issues may be your SHTF situation, a pickup or other high, four-wheel vehicle will have a definite advantage.

Generally speaking, I think a standard or just slightly lifted vehicle is optimal.  This goes back to daily use to some extent.  But more importantly, I think maneuverability should be a consideration.  High vehicles can have difficulty maneuvering in some situations.

However, coming from a state that is prone to hurricanes, I would probably go for a truck with a high lift.  Flooding is obviously a regular occurrence during hurricanes.  Otherwise, I’d probably go with a standard height truck.


We rarely know when or where we are going to find ourselves in a SHTF situation.  We need to be ready to deal with one at all times.  This means having a vehicle that we will use as our daily vehicle.

Can you see yourself driving a Humvee to work every day?  Can you afford the gas on that F-450 Super Duty?  Will a standard cab Ford Ranger fit your family?

Of course, you could have a dedicated SHTF truck that serves no other purpose, but you’re really going to be limiting the value of that vehicle.  But having your SHTF truck as your primary vehicle means you’ll never be running home to get the “other” vehicle.

And only you can determine what will meet your daily needs.


I don’t think I’ve ever owned an automatic transmission.  There’s just something about that level of control that makes me feel like I’m in charge, not the vehicle.  But the truth is, you’re probably better off with an automatic.

You could make the argument that manual transmissions tend to last longer and need less maintenance.  I’ve also found that I tend to be less drowsy when I have to monitor the transmission.  But in a real SHTF situation, you want to limit your distractions as much as possible.

While working in Baghdad, I often drove an armored BMW.  That thing was a lot of fun to drive and I’d often put it in the manual transmission mode just because I enjoyed it.  But anytime we had heightened tensions, the first thing I did was put it back in automatic.  It’s just one less thing you have to worry about in a stressful environment.

Additionally, if you’re injured or for any other reason someone else needs to drive, that whole argument about a manual transmission lasting longer is out the window if the person driving doesn’t know how to handle a stick.

Additional Features for a SHTF Truck

Good lighting can be beneficial.  Of course, I’d have flashlights on hand, but a well-lit bed can save you time and frustration.  The same goes for the cab.

It probably goes without saying that a good set of tires is important, although that can be added later.

Security features are also important.  Most modern vehicles have the same general security features, but it’s something to keep in mind.

If you have a toolbox, make sure it’s bolted in.  I’ve seen several trucks with toolboxes thrown in and screwed into a liner or something else that could rip out easily.  It’s important that it be secured not only to keep thieves from just ripping it out, but also so that it doesn’t add to the carnage in an accident.

Definite Requirements

While my needs have changed over the course of my life, there are a few things that I would consider absolutes when choosing a SHTF truck.

  • Secure space for go-bags.  Your go-bags should be with you at all times.  That means being able to securely store it in your vehicle when you’re going about your daily business.  Whether this is the cab or a toolbox, it’s a critical consideration.
  • A place to store my pistol.  Once in a while, everyone has to leave their firearm in the vehicle.  My first vehicle was a standard cab Tacoma with a bench seat.  The glove compartment didn’t have space for my pistol and there was no center console.  So I would always have to store my pistol behind my seat.  It just added a lot of unnecessary time in retrieving the pistol, as well as drawing a lot of attention.
  • All-wheel drive (4X4).  I really can’t think of any negative aspect of having a four-wheel-drive.  If you don’t need it, you just turn it off.
  • A CB.  Of course, you can add a CB (Citizens Band) radio after you’ve purchased.  In fact, it may be better that way.  But I would consider it a critical component of a SHTF truck.

Are there any other considerations you would add to your SHTF truck selection?

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