Whether to escape a forest fire, flood or hurricane, or to help a family member at home or in the hospital, a truck camper is the ultimate Family Emergency Vehicle. Here’s why, and what you need to do to keep your FEV ready to go.
Back in the summer of 2007, my grandfather was recovering from a sudden medical scare and needed assistance at home. With short notice, Angela and I packed our truck and camper, drove to my grandparent’s house, and stayed while he recovered.
For my grandparents, there was no stress or inconvenience normally associated with having last-minute houseguests. We were able to stay in their driveway and help – around the clock if necessary – without being a burden.
It seems obvious now, but the idea that a truck camper rig offered this function was something of a revelation at the time. I remember thinking, “Even if there had been a bad snowstorm, we would have been able to get to my grandparents with four wheel drive.”
Equally important, we would remain fully independent with our onboard kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, food, water, clothing, and power. Nature is still ultimately in charge, but our truck camper rig gave us a fighting chance to be where we needed to be (or not be) when we needed to be there. What a concept.
When it finally sunk in, I remember feeling a weight lift. I don’t consider myself a prepper, but this kind of emergency plan seemed both logical and potentially vital. Sixteen years later, I can’t imagine not owning a rig for this reason. Our truck and camper literally give us peace of mind. If something happens, we have a plan ready to go.
Why Truck Camper Rigs Are The Ultimate FEV
The example of helping my grandfather did not require four-wheel drive or high clearance. The weather was comfortable. The roads were clear. The power was on. There was no escape component, nor did we have any issues finding a place to park.
Obviously, none of that may be true during a natural disaster. In the event of a forest fire, flood, hurricane, earthquake, tornado, tsunami, volcanic eruption or another natural or man-made disaster, you may need to navigate extreme weather, road debris, and other unforeseen challenges to get out of harm’s way. When you finally reach safety, you might need to camp off-grid for an extended period of time.
No other form of RV offers the, “Go Anywhere, Camp Anywhere” capability of a four wheel drive truck and camper. Yes, there are some motorhomes and towables that offer four-wheel drive and/or high clearance, but they are the rare and often exorbitantly expensive exception. Even then, a truck and camper are often significantly more capable off-road.
As for being able to stay off-grid, truck campers offer large holding tanks, large battery banks, solar panel systems, and an overall build designed for off-road travel and use. You can also unload a truck camper at a safe base camp and use your four-wheel drive truck to check on your house or run critical errands. The overall versatility of a four-wheel drive demountable truck and camper is simply unbeatable in an emergency situation.
If there’s another form of RV that offers all that, we haven’t found it. That’s why truck camper rigs make the ultimate Family Emergency Vehicles.
Keeping Your Truck Ready To Roll
Not every emergency situation advertises its arrival. Hurricanes and floods might be predictable days in advance, but tornadoes, earthquakes, forest fires, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and other emergency situations can strike with little to no warning. Due to the unforeseeable nature of many emergencies, it’s critical to keep your truck and camper in good working order and prepared to roll out; as in right now.
For your truck, that means keeping up with the maintenance basics; oil and filter changes, proper fluid levels, proper tire inflation, tire rotations, brake checks, alignment, etc. Many of you are able to do these tasks yourselves while others take their trucks to trusted dealers, service stations, and mechanics. What matters is that your truck is well-maintained and ready to go.
For trucks that sit for weeks or months, it’s important to start the truck, let the engine idle, and regularly take them for a short drive. If we’re not traveling for a period of time, we make sure to drive our truck every other week or so. It can feel silly to drive a truck around the block (or storage lot) a couple of times, but the practice goes a long way to keeping your truck healthy and prepared.
While researching what folks should always have ready in their vehicles, a few items were repeated. Check that your license, insurance, and registration are current and know where it is located. Make sure that you have jumper cables, a working flashlight, flares and/or reflective emergency triangles, an inflated spare tire, and the required equipment and plan in case you get a flat. A fire extinguisher, shovel, and WD-40 (for those locked lug nuts) are also good ideas.
For those in northern climates, cold weather gear is recommended including an ice scraper and snow brush, blanket, gloves, hat, kitty litter for traction, and non-freeze washer fluid. For hot or wet weather climates, bug spray, sunblock, sun hat, and an umbrella are essential. Finally, consider a cell phone charger, tire pressure gauge, and hand sanitizer. In a nutshell, think about what you would want and need in your truck during an emergency situation and keep those items in your truck.
Another obvious but essential point is to keep your fuel tank full. It’s no good to have your rig ready to roll if you’re on empty. Gas and diesel can be hard to source when a mass evacuation is ordered. Keep your fuel tank full.
Finally, are there any outstanding repairs or maintenance items that could become a problem in an emergency situation? For example, maybe you’re starting to push your luck on your tire mileage or wear, or there’s an intermittent light on the dash that you haven’t taken care of. To maintain your FEV, take care of those items.
Keeping Your Camper Ready To Support
Like the truck protocol, keeping a truck camper ready to go means two different things; basic camper maintenance and stocking the camper with basic essential items.
Routine camper maintenance means inspecting and maintaining the roof seals, side seals, and underbody seals. This can’t be underscored enough. Emergency situations are not the time to find out you have a camper leak. Not maintaining the seals on a camper is like never changing the oil on your car. Sooner or later, non-maintained camper seals are guaranteed to be a problem.
For advice on how to maintain your camper seals check out, How To Inspect and Repair Camper Seals. It can be a big job, but nothing destroys campers more than neglected exterior seals. If you either cannot do the work or don’t want to, have it done professionally at a local dealership.
It’s not advisable to leave water in a camper for an extended period. In fact, you should always dump your water heater, fresh, black, and grey tanks prior to storing your camper for anything longer than a week or so.
Over the years we’ve made the mistake of leaving water in various holding tanks for a little too long and paid the rotten-egg water heater smell, god-awful grey tank stink, and don’t-ask-it’s-that-bad black tank. What’s most concerning is allowing fresh water to go foul. In general, it’s best to keep your holding tanks empty.
In the event of an emergency situation, the ideal is to have fresh water jugs filled at home for drinking water, and to fill your camper’s fresh tank from a potable water supply prior to evacuation. If that’s not possible, you can at least bring full fresh water containers from home. Hopefully, you will find fresh water along your route, or when you arrive at your destination.
Believe it or not, full propane tanks can be stored indefinitely. Unlike gas or diesel, propane does not degrade over time and can literally be stored indefinitely. Propane even outlasts Twinkies. Seriously, you can keep propane tanks full and ready to go without worrying that the propane will go bad. Fill your propane tanks before putting your camper into storage, and sleep easy.
From experience, the hardest camper system to keep ready is the battery bank. That said, with a battery disconnect switched to on (cutting power to everything in the camper), a decent size solar panel (70-watts or better), and controller maintaining the battery bank, the battery bank should be fine. I say, “should” because there are a lot of variables with battery bank systems.
When we store our camper, we check our camper inside and out every other week at the minimum. Part of this inspection is to see where the battery bank charge is. If it’s low, we instantly know there’s a potential battery problem. Stored battery bank problems we’ve experienced over the years include dry cells, an unknown parasitic draw, extreme cold weather, and a solar controller that needed to be reset.
Unfortunately, there are far too many battery bank variables to explore for this article. The point is to get to know your specific battery bank and system and keep close tabs on its overall health. The last thing you need is a dead camper battery in an emergency.
The last piece of camper readiness is creating a packing list of everything you need. This might be different from your non-emergency packing list as it includes more critical items (jugs of fresh water) and forgoes the more frivolous (your camera tripod). If you have ten minutes to pack the camper, what do you absolutely need; food, water, clothing, cat/dog, truck, camper, etc? Have that list ready and keep it somewhere central.
FEV at the Ready
Twenty years ago, I may have watched a natural disaster unfolding on the other side of the country and thought, “That looks terrible” and continued with my breakfast. Not anymore.
Now when we see a flood in Alberta, a wildfire in California, or a tornado in Tennessee, chances are we know someone who lives in that area. That’s part of the wonderful gift of traveling. Even in areas where we haven’t met people in person, we almost always know fellow truck campers living there. We’re connected.
Now when I see a derecho in Iowa, a hurricane approaching Louisiana, or a devastating Ice Storm in Quebec, I say, “I hope our friends and fellow truck campers had their rigs ready to go.” You can’t always escape a sudden disaster, but at least having a truck and camper gives you a fighting chance to escape with everything you need.
As a bonus, keeping your rig 100 percent ready to go makes going on adventures that much easier. You might even be more spur-of-the-moment if you know your truck and camper are in ready-to-go condition. After all, you probably bought your camper as a Family Entertainment Vehicle more than a Family Emergency Vehicle. Either way, it’s the best FEV on the planet.
Further Family Emergency Vehicle Reading
We have published a number of incredible articles with fellow truck campers who have gone through emergency situations with their truck camper rigs. These remarkable stories serve both as warnings and inspiration for the need to keep your truck and camper ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice, and possibly live in for an extended period of time.