DIY Bug Out Trailer Built Your Way

As disaster prepping continues its precipitous rise in popularity it seems every conceivable gadget, defense rig or bit of advice has been done or handed out. Everything's been thought of, right? Not so fast. When you come right down to it, that advice, those how-to's are what works for them. “Them” are all the people out there on the internet writing blog articles and posting videos. Most of them have the best intentions. They want to impart their knowledge to others who might benefit from it. But how do you take what they offer and make it your own? How to tweak it, modify it and customize it to what works best for you? This is exactly what should be done for a bug out vehicle, or in this case a bug out trailer. It has to meet your specific needs and include those particular adaptations and improvements that will be comfortably functional for you when everything else is going down the tubes.
Build your own bug out trailer

Last Updated on March 9, 2017

Editor’s Note: This article was generously contributed by Brian Carter and continues in the current theme of discussing vehicular options for bug out scenarios. For many of us who don’t have the ability to live year round at our survival retreat, a bug out vehicle is the next best thing. A bug out trailer could give you much-needed storage space and other amenities that could keep you safe or simply make life better in a disaster scenario.


 

As disaster prepping continues its precipitous rise in popularity it seems every conceivable gadget, defense rig or bit of advice has been done or handed out. Everything’s been thought of, right? Not so fast. When you come right down to it, that advice, those how-to’s are what works for them. “Them” are all the people out there on the internet writing blog articles and posting videos. Most of them have the best intentions. They want to impart their knowledge to others who might benefit from it. But how do you take what they offer and make it your own? How to tweak it, modify it and customize it to what works best for you? This is exactly what should be done for a bug out vehicle, or in this case a bug out trailer. It has to meet your specific needs and include those particular adaptations and improvements that will be comfortably functional for you when everything else is going down the tubes.

Where to Start

First, select a base trailer to build up into the perfect survival masterpiece trailer. Lucky, for you there are a ton of choices out there. Trailers in all shapes and sizes have been manufactured for decades to meet all kinds of utilitarian needs from the professional contractor or construction firm hauling equipment to trailers meant for moving goods to those built for transporting recreational toys. Add to those variations all the recreational camping trailers on the market and the choices seem pretty much endless.

Do your research, envision the finished trailer in your mind, go look at potential buys in person, seek out used trailers for sale to save money, and pick the one that best fits your needs. Remember the longer a trailer is, the more restricted it will be for some locations. Longer trailers, obviously, need a larger turning radius and more space, in general, to maneuver. They are also limited to predominately flat roads as they are unable to manage rolling trails with narrow troughs between steep inclines.

Consider theses types as potential bases to build out from;

  • Box utility trailers
  • Compact horse trailers
  • Teardrop trailers
  • Airstream trailers (compact versions)
As disaster prepping continues its precipitous rise in popularity it seems every conceivable gadget, defense rig or bit of advice has been done or handed out. Everything's been thought of, right? Not so fast. When you come right down to it, that advice, those how-to's are what works for them. “Them” are all the people out there on the internet writing blog articles and posting videos. Most of them have the best intentions. They want to impart their knowledge to others who might benefit from it. But how do you take what they offer and make it your own? How to tweak it, modify it and customize it to what works best for you? This is exactly what should be done for a bug out vehicle, or in this case a bug out trailer. It has to meet your specific needs and include those particular adaptations and improvements that will be comfortably functional for you when everything else is going down the tubes.
To pull that trailer you need to first build your bug out vehicle.

These types provide solid bases from which to customize to your unique specifications offering enough variety to fall within particular budget constraints. The benefit of these trailers is they are already enclosed which is a head start, so to speak, which allows you to jump right into customizing the inside. Having said that, though, there are numerous examples of people who have built up open-topped trailers, or even homemade pickup bed trailers, into rugged, workhorse camp trailers capable of going anywhere the vehicle towing them can go. But more on those later.

Enclosed Trailer

Determine the type of space you want to have inside. Will the trailer be self-contained with room to sleep and move around or will it serve as a gear and supply storage and transport? Once the usage of the inside space is settled on you can set to designing the features; insulated walls, the sleeping and sitting areas, storage (gear, food, water), cooking equipment and fuel (Used inside or out? Is ventilation needed?) and windows.

The biggest decision to make (most likely made before even buying the trailer) is will it be a sleeper or a transporter. Will the environmental conditions require an insulated, indoor living area or will an expansion component like an attached tent or pop-up roof sleeper be sufficient and comfortable?

This trailer has almost every bell and whistle imaginable. Click the image for more photos and details.
This trailer has almost every bell and whistle imaginable. Click the image for more photos and details.

If you’re starting with what is, essentially, an empty box on wheels then it would behoove you add a layer of insulation, especially if you plan to sleep inside. The typical, recreational, camp trailer will already be insulated but it’d be worth checking its condition if the unit is an older model. Insulating a cargo trailer is done in the same fashion as insulating the walls of a house. The trailer will already have ribbed, structural support throughout, just as a wall has studs. Cut and fit sections of insulation between these ribs and cover over with sheets of plywood, measured and cut to fit properly and don’t forget to do the same with the roof.

From here, the rest is a custom job, built to your standards and needs. Aftermarket interiors such as cabinetry, foldout beds, convertible seating (into sleepers), and counters are available from various travel trailer retailers or you can build them yourself. Sinks and plumbing are easily found at supply stores and counters can be built to fit a typical camp stove. Research space-saving techniques online for innovative storage areas, utilizing every empty space inside and out. Add storage fuel and propane tanks, generators and batteries outside to avoid gasses from building up creating dangerous conditions inside. For additional energy supply needs beyond fuel, with most trailers’ flat roofs, consider installing solar panels or even a roof-mounted, wind turbine.

Sleeping tents are a popular add-on to some bug out trailers.
Sleeping tents are a popular add-on to some bug out trailers.

Open Trailer

The open utility trailer comes in a full range of forms and sizes. By the term “open” we mean what is essentially, a flatbed trailer with 1-2 foot sides all around or a shallow, open-topped box on wheels. A popular customization for these is to convert them into tent trailers. A number of companies have cropped up over the years that manufacture folding, or pop up tents that collapse into a zipped up square and overlays the open trailer. The tent and its support platform are hinged on one side and raise like a hatchback and serves as a cover lid for the open-topped trailer. The inside space is used for equipment and supply storage which can be partitioned off to effectively organize supplies. Or a portion of the inside houses slide out storage containers or even full, outdoor kitchen set ups with stove, sink and counter space.

Many people who go this route with their bug-out trailer make them into truly rugged, go anywhere contraptions. Fitted with independent suspension, off-road tires and specialized hitches with couplings that allow for extreme vertical and horizontal towing angles these trailers can go virtually everywhere the vehicle towing them can go.

Both types of trailers, open topped and enclosed, can incorporate external storage containers mounted to the outside walls, on over-sized wheel wells and to the roofs. There is often space on the trailer’s tongue for sturdy containers, propane tanks for cooking fuel or battery banks to store power. The customization opportunities are extensive, limited only by your imagination, time and to some extent, your wallet.

Trailers are really one of the most versatile, bug-out vehicle options able to carry all that’s needed for a survival situation – food, water, shelter and lots more – the essentials, all piled into a mobile home away from home.

About the author: As an environmental scientist and former County Emergency Planner, Brian lends his unique experience in emergency preparedness and wilderness knowledge to USPreppers.com for the sole purpose of helping you and your family better prepare for any emergency situation.

12 comments
    1. Mike, I humbly disagree. Picking up an older 6×12 enclosed trailer that needs a little work can be done on the cheap. A buddy bought one that was ugly, but structurally sound for $300. He rewired, added a work bench, a bit of storage, and floor racks for three motorcycles. Total cost (excluding elbow grease) was ~$600.

      The problem I see, is that many lack the vision to organize a small space to fit all their needs under the roof. Check out motorcyclist type forums. Many live out of their little 6×12 trailers at the races. Beds that turn into couches, storage for gear, work benches, etc… The only thing holding most back from hooking up a sweet little trailer rig is know-how.

      I’m torn on the subject. I’ve got a 29′ toyhauler that has a 10′ garage in the back of it. I’d love to modify it to serve as option A for a bug out. The size is not too big. I’ve got enough truck to move it with all the stores loaded in it, but its not terribly off-road worthy. 3 queen beds, dinet makes a double bed, range, 4k genny, two pods for propane tanks and batteries. The question would be moving it to site ‘B’ with the massive exodus that one should expect to see from major cities. If I increased the lift, added large off-road tires (ala HMMVWs), and an offroad hitch setup, it would pull like shiz, but would be suitable for whatever comes our way if the shiz hits the fan. Drop it anywhere and you have a fresh new home base. But it lacks survivability if anyone came knocking… to do to do…

      1. I meant the trailers imaged pre-built fantasy vehicles for the very affluent. I have a unit I built myself as well as a gas hogging 24 foot sub-urban escape vehicle with a 270 gallon fuel tank. The trailer has two sleeping racks and storage for a years supply of food for a family of 6.

    2. Shoot. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before. If the brown mushy stuff has really and truly hit the fan and the BOV still works, why not run down to the local RV storage joint, bust in the crappy chainlink fence, and grab one of those little tear drop trailers? If the fan is mucked up, 99% of those puppies will never be moved by the actual owner.

      I’d never think of stealing something in ROL times, but if chaos has ensued, no one is going to blink at it, except to try to steal the one you just took.

  1. If I didn’t have my bug out rig, and I wanted to go with a trailer… I would go with a refrigerated trailer. It is already weather resistant and will be set up for a heating and cooling retrofit as it has a refer unit on it already.

  2. The concept makes sense for camping excursions and possibly for local/regional SHTF scenarios where the overall infrastructure is still in tact. However, what do you do when your bug out towing-vehicle won’t start because the electronics were fried in an EMP, or your local gas station ran out of fuel 30 minutes before you got there? Are you going to pull one of these units by hand?

    1. That’s a good point Bolo, but wouldn’t that also apply to almost everything we acquire in the realm of prepping? Everything we have is only as good as our assumptions we conditioned it’s use on.

      1. I thought about the range of assumptions in the realm of prepping and came up with this conclusion: The planned mode of travel in a bug out scenario carries the greatest risk of failure. Nothing else (food, weapons, tools, first aid, clothing, etc.) has the exposure to unanticipated developments that could affect your intended/desired bug out method. For example, there are no SHTF scenarios that would alter the value or necessity of a knife or firearm, your selection of food, or the ability to provide shelter from cold or rain.

        On the other hand, there are innumerable circumstances that could lead to a breakdown in transportation modes (including any scenario that involves a towed unit). Among these are massive traffic jams, military or police roadblocks, no gas, washed out roads or bridges, loss of electronics that control the functioning of vehicles following an EMP event, and a host of other potentials that no one can accurately anticipate.

        IF I could afford it, I’d love to have one of those customized tear drop units, but economics and practicality dictate otherwise. Speaking only for myself, I would rather anticipate a worst case scenario, where circumstances require that I be on foot. Anything short of that is pure gravy, but I have built my bug out plans around the worst case. If an EMP event didn’t take out my truck, then I would use it as long as possible. I have a shelter frame made of PVC pipe that can be assembled in less than 10 minutes in the truck bed, including the tarp. It keeps me dry, out of the wind, and I haven’t frozen yet!

        1. A little late responding, but your comment just made me think on this.

          What your thoughtful commentary leads me to is a single bug-out plan with multiple branches. Think of it as a decision tree.

          1. We’re bugging out.
          1a. Does the BOV work? Y – go to 2a. N – Go to 1b.
          1b. Do the motorcycles work? Y – go to 2b. N – go to 1c.
          1c. Can we move on the bicycles? Y – go to 2c. N – go to 1d.
          1d. Prepare to hoof it. Go to 2d.

          2. Loadout
          2a. Load BOV per load plan. Go to 3a.
          2b. Load motos per load plan. Go to 3b.
          2c. Load bikes per load plan. Go to 3c.
          2d. Load packs per load plan. Go to 3d.

          Kinda like the old Choose Your Own Adventure books from my youth. Anyone can do this kind of planning. Just look at what your options for movement are, and develop a bug out plan for each option. After 2. Loadout, each option of movement will have different variables to contend with, like 1a. The BOV works. Ding Ding. Option 1 is a go. Then other issues associated with that course of action come up. Can I get to the trailer? Can I get the trailer back to the fort? Do I have the manpower to guard the trailer while I’m loading? Do I have the manpower to protect the BOV/trailer enroute? What if I have to jettison the trailer enroute?

          Lots of variables to consider and contend with. Develop contingencies for each question. Then develop contingencies for the contingencies.

          This isn’t some strange military method. They just use what is referred to as the scientific method. Follow each branch (option) to its conclusion. Then review each plan for viability, desirability, and sustainability. Account for risk exposure.

          When all that’s done, fold all options together into a single document outlined roughly like I’ve shown above. Re-review, then brief the team on the plan. They will point out things you missed, or just looked past. Refine as needed. Laminate it (along with all those load plans) and put it in the ‘rainy day’ binder.

          1. BobW,
            I am a great fan of Decision Analysis and have used it throughout my career. This discipline is as useful for Prepping as it is in business!

  3. To who this may concern I would.like anyone who thinks he or she could use a off road trailer look to my design ,go to my site at http://www.getoffroad.us .I can explain how.To.creat a trailer from a 5×8 trailer that will be a solid rig giving you a 3room design with a better type.hitch using a max coupler .

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