The Road Less Trav­eled

Tips on Prep­ping Your UTV for an Emer­gency

RECOIL OFFGRID - - Contents - By John Schwartze Pho­tos by Mark Saint

Tips on Prep­ping Your UTV for an Emer­gency

The dreaded, high-pitched buzz of the Emer­gency Broad­cast Sys­tem si­mul­ta­ne­ously came across my phone and tele­vi­sion. I was fin­ish­ing my cof­fee and brac­ing my­self for Fri­day morn­ing rush-hour traf­fic, but re­al­ized there was some­thing un­usual about this broad­cast. I was so used to hear­ing the word “test” af­ter these alerts be­gan that I ini­tially ig­nored what was be­ing said. As the mes­sage con­tin­ued past its usual du­ra­tion I re­al­ized things were about to get hairy real quick.

A mas­sive chem­i­cal spill had oc­curred at a rail­way junc­tion less than two miles from my home. The broad­cast was un­clear about the con­tam­i­nants be­ing re­leased into the air, but what I knew for sure was that stay­ing here was dan­ger­ous. It was time to beat feet. Since the free­ways were grid­locked due to time of day and oth­ers surely look­ing to bail af­ter hear­ing the broad­cast, I de­ter­mined that the best thing to do was to drive my UTV (Util­ity Task Ve­hi­cle) away from the di­rec­tion of the ac­ci­dent us­ing an es­cape route I’d plot­ted a while back. I grabbed my back­pack, strapped down some other an­cil­lar­ies as fast as I could, started up the UTV, and split like a bat out of hell to­ward my bug-out lo­ca­tion.

This is Only a Test … This Time

Although the afore­men­tioned prompt is fic­ti­tious, it’s meant to get you think­ing about your means of trans­porta­tion and evac­u­a­tion plans if you were faced with a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion.

The train crash men­tioned was based on the Gran­iteville, South Carolina, rail dis­as­ter in 2005 where tanker cars haul­ing chlo­rine rup­tured af­ter a col­li­sion, re­leas­ing poi­son gas into the at­mos­phere. It was con­sid­ered by many to be the worst chem­i­cal ac­ci­dent in U.S. his­tory. Nine peo­ple were killed, sev­eral hun­dred were in­jured, and thou­sands were forced to flee their homes. Had winds been stronger, the death toll would’ve un­doubt­edly risen.

Ac­cord­ing to a Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion re­port, Train Wreck and Chlo­rine Spill in Gran­iteville, South

Carolina by A.E. Dun­ning and Jennifer Oswalt, “The emer­gency re­sponse com­mu­nity has rec­og­nized a need to re­duce the chaos of the type ex­pe­ri­enced in Gran­iteville. Poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween agen­cies and lack of clear de­ci­sion-mak­ing author­ity ex­ac­er­bated the dis­as­ter. Re­spon­ders dis­agreed over how to evac­u­ate the town, and this disagreement re­sulted in in­ac­tion. While the Re­verse

911 sys­tem worked, the tim­ing and de­ci­sion mak­ing of the evac­u­a­tion ac­tions ren­dered the sys­tem only marginally ef­fec­tive. Re­spon­ders couldn’t quickly and pos­i­tively iden­tify the haz­ardous ma­te­rial or the proper procedure.”

What does this tell you? As we’ve said in RE­COIL OFFGRID be­fore, some­times you only have your­self to rely on. Un­for­tu­nately, in in­stances like this, haz­ardous ma­te­ri­als are often trans­ported through ru­ral ar­eas that are ill-equipped to deal with such a large-scale in­ci­dent. When you combine that with bu­reau­cratic bungling, some­times it’s bet­ter to pre­plan rather than risk your life wait­ing for res­cue per­son­nel who could be hours away to han­dle the sit­u­a­tion. That be­ing said, how do you plan to evac­u­ate if flee­ing on foot may not be re­al­is­tic?

Get­ting Out of Harm’s Way

Here we’re ex­plor­ing the use of a UTV (also called a side-by-side) dur­ing bug-out for sev­eral rea­sons, in­clud­ing the num­ber of ad­van­tages it of­fers over a con­ven­tional ve­hi­cle. We won’t get into cri­te­ria for se­lect­ing a temporary or per­ma­nent bug-out lo­ca­tion, as that’s a whole other list of pri­or­i­ties to cog­i­tate on. This ar­ti­cle is more fo­cused on what trans­porta­tion you’ll use to get there and related con­sid­er­a­tions to make when trav­el­ing off-road.

There’s no right or wrong an­swer when it comes to the method you use to evac­u­ate, but there’s no per­fect so­lu­tion ei­ther. While ev­ery ve­hi­cle has strengths and weak­nesses, con­sider that var­i­ous catas­tro­phes may ren­der sur­face streets and high­ways im­pass­able. Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re in the mar­ket for a UTV. Your initial in­ten­tions to buy an off-roader may be strictly re­cre­ational, but let’s ex­am­ine how it could also dou­ble as a very prac­ti­cal es­cape ve­hi­cle.

Why a UTV?

Mo­bil­ity and Ac­cess: Re­mem­ber that grid­lock men­tioned ear­lier? The UTV can get places a stan­dard car or truck can’t. When the usual roads and high­ways are in­ac­ces­si­ble or jammed with com­muters, you may find your­self wish­ing you had an al­ter­na­tive to your daily driver. If you’re forced to cut through fire­breaks, ac­cess roads, horse trails, or other off-road thor­ough­fares, a ve­hi­cle de­signed specif­i­cally to ne­go­ti­ate that kind of ter­rain could prove in­valu­able.

Main­te­nance: The more fea­tures you have on a ve­hi­cle, the more things can break. You won’t care about the con­ve­nience of cruise con­trol or park­ing sen­sors dur­ing an emer­gency. A UTV’s sim­plic­ity makes it de­sir­able since it’s de­void of the abun­dance of elec­tron­ics most stan­dard ve­hi­cles are be­com­ing de­pen­dent on. UTVs are built for dura­bil­ity and easy main­te­nance or re­pair in the field.

Size/Sig­na­ture: Not only does its smaller size and de­sign en­able a UTV to tra­verse un­for­giv­ing to­pog­ra­phy and ob­sta­cles, but it also in­creases your abil­ity to re­main hid­den if nec­es­sary. It’s much harder to con­ceal a larger ve­hi­cle when parked, as well as the foot­print it leaves be­hind. Hav- ing a smaller ve­hi­cle will draw less at­ten­tion to your es­cape route. While you may be con­cerned about the noise UTVs make ver­sus a car, there are plenty of muf­flers and ex­haust sys­tems you can use to min­i­mize sound out­put.

Mod­i­fi­ca­tions: The af­ter­mar­ket sup­port for UTVs is huge. Tons of com­pa­nies of­fer mod­i­fi­ca­tions for your UTV’s driv­e­train, sus­pen­sion, light­ing sys­tem, cargo stor­age, fuel ca­pac­ity, and other fea­tures. One can eas­ily up­grade a stock UTV to sup­port a heav­ier pay­load or haul a trailer. It all de­pends on what your in­ten­tions are and how much weight in peo­ple or sup­plies you in­tend to carry. But rest as­sured that con­sumers have plenty of choices to im­prove upon the ve­hi­cle’s ex­ist­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Many re­quire only ba­sic tools and knowhow to in­stall.

Where Are You Go­ing?

Although many be­moan the range and car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity of UTVs as be­ing lim­ited com­pared to stan­dard ve­hi­cles, that may not nec­es­sar­ily be a deal breaker if you’ve pre­planned your es­cape routes and destinations. The first de­ter­mi­na­tion you should make is whether the range of a UTV you’re con­sid­er­ing is con­ducive to your des­ti­na­tion. For in­stance, if your bug-out lo­ca­tion is 100 miles away, can you get there on a full tank of gas with plenty of mar­gin for emer­gency de­tours? How will that range be im­pacted by the amount of peo­ple and sup­plies you’re load­ing? Re­search the range, fuel ca­pac­ity, and pay­load ca­pac­ity of the ve­hi­cles you’re con­sid­er­ing.

De­ter­min­ing pos­si­ble routes out of the area shouldn’t be some­thing you put off to the last minute. Un­less you al­ready have a bug-out lo­ca­tion in mind, find some suit­able spots that are reach­able in a UTV. Plan al­ter­nate routes and re­visit them ev­ery few months to con­firm they’ve re­mained un­fet­tered. Bet­ter yet, test them out with your UTV, prefer­ably loaded up with sup­plies to en­sure they’re as ac­ces­si­ble as you think they are when you’re fully laden. Con­tin­ued ur­ban and sub­ur­ban de­vel­op­ment has a way of throw­ing up ob­sta­cles and chang­ing to­pog­ra­phy from when you ini­tially scouted out ac­cess to a lo­cale that works for your pur­poses. You might re­turn to an es­cape route you’d planned out six months ago only to find much of the prop­erty has been built up, which forces you to re­think the whole strat­egy.

What Should You Bring?

Your load-out, and the weight thereof, will be just one of the fac­tors that af­fect fuel con­sump­tion. The range rat­ings for ve­hi­cles are mea­sured on flat sur­faces, so rough ter­rain, other pas­sen­gers, and how heavy your right foot is are vari­ables that make it dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine the to­tal range you’ll get out of an off-road ve­hi­cle. If you have friends with UTVs, bor­row­ing theirs would be another way to help get

an ac­cu­rate idea of the range be­fore you make that initial pur­chase. Do some test runs loaded up with the sup­plies you plan to bring so you have an ac­cu­rate base­line of the fuel con­sump­tion. That will help de­ter­mine how much ex­tra fuel you should carry.

Fuel Stor­age: Aside from pos­si­bly adding a sec­ondary tank, Ro­topaX or Cam Cans are great ways to store ad­di­tional fuel or wa­ter on the ve­hi­cle and take up a bare min­i­mum of space. Due to the ad­di­tives and com­pounds found in modern pump gaso­line in the U.S., as­sume fuel will be­gin de­grad­ing within a year or so to the point where it loses much of its volatil­ity and gums up with resins. This may clog fuel lines and pumps. Even with sta­bi­liz­ers added, gaso­line sup­plies should be ro­tated at least ev­ery six months if you plan to cache any fuel.

Maps: Re­mem­ber those? Lo­cal au­to­mo­tive stores and on­line re­tail­ers are great re­sources for maps. These will show off-road trails that your smart­phone’s map app or GPS might not clearly iden­tify (as­sum­ing you’ll even have re­cep­tion).

You can also visit for USGS Topo, satel­lite, and even lake maps. Re­place your maps ev­ery year or so to en­sure you have the most up-to-date ver­sions avail­able.

Tools: Bolt cut­ters or a small breach­ing saw will come in handy if you have to cut through locks, chain-link fences, or barbed wire to save your skin. A tool­kit con­sist­ing of wrenches, a ratchet and sock­ets, screw­drivers, lock­ing pli­ers, zip ties, duct tape, epoxy, and a multi-tool should be enough for the re­pairs you may en­counter dur­ing a break­down. Many UTVs come with tool­kits de­signed specif­i­cally for that ve­hi­cle. Af­ter­mar­ket ac­ces­sories such as a winch, Hi-Lift jack, and MaxTrax ramps can help you bail your­self out if you get stuck on a re­mote trail.

The rest of your sup­plies are only lim­ited by your imag­i­na­tion. Car­ry­ing a tent, stove, cooler, flash­lights, first-aid kit, binoc­u­lars, cloth­ing, ra­dio, fire-mak­ing sup- plies, power sup­ply, and firearms/ammo is re­ally up to the user. As­sem­ble your de­sired con­tents and start Tetris-ing them onto the ve­hi­cle to fig­ure out the best con­fig­u­ra­tion to econ­o­mize space and to get an idea of how much weight they’ll add.

Do Your Home­work

A golf cart is not a UTV, so don’t think it’s a suit­able ve­hi­cle for driv­ing on any­thing other than nicely man­i­cured lawns. If you own a large piece of prop­erty and use con­struc­tion or ranch­ing-style ve­hi­cles to get around and per­form me­nial tasks, don’t as­sume these will work for bu­gout pur­poses ei­ther. Visit trusted man­u­fac­tur­ers, test-drive as many as you can that are within your bud­get, ask about their war­ranty pro­grams, and spend some time get­ting off-road train­ing from cer­ti­fied in­struc­tors. Driv­ing a car on sur­face streets is vastly dif­fer­ent than driv­ing an open­cock­pit ve­hi­cle like a UTV through rough ter­rain dur­ing an emer­gency, es­pe­cially if you have no prior ex­pe­ri­ence.

Also, ask your­self if you can save weight by tak­ing off any­thing that you feel is un­nec­es­sary for your in­ten­tions (and con­sider if re­mov­ing those items will void your war­ranty). Spare tires or fea­tures meant to pro­tect your sus­pen­sion like glide plates should not be sac­ri­ficed to save weight. Spend some time chang­ing parts your­self and out­line some prac­tice sit­u­a­tions that would sim­u­late prob­lems you might en­counter in an emer­gency. Ex­trac­tion in wa­ter cross­ings, deep sand, mud, and low-light con­di­tions are all great ways to be­come fa­mil­iar with how the ve­hi­cle han­dles and what to do to mit­i­gate po­ten­tial ob­sta­cles. The more time you spend get­ting the feel for a UTV’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties, the bet­ter off you’ll be if you have to make a quick de­par­ture. For a full re­view on the Yamaha Wolver­ine X4 SE seen here, check out Is­sue 37 of our sis­ter pub­li­ca­tion, RE­COIL.

Don't wait un­til an emer­gency arises to scout out po­ten­tial bug-out lo­ca­tions. Do your home­work on suit­able places to hold up well in ad­vance.

Keep­ing cur­rent maps of the ar­eas you need to travel through dur­ing an emer­gency ises­sen­tial in the ab­sence of GPS ora cell sig­nal.

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