Where I live, last winter was a real challenge. Four feet of snow, and roads covered in ice.
Aside from making driving conditions difficult, that kind of weather can also turn a standard car break down into a potentially life-threatening situation. Stuck in a dead truck in very low temperatures, with no heating and no food, can be a real test...
Luckily, because I drive long distances quite often, I’ve got a survival kit in my truck that I think can deal with most situations.
A lot of (otherwise very competent) preppers and survivalists often forget about their car survival kit, being too fixated on the more romantic notion of the world ending…
But survival is not just about the apocalypse, but about the common everyday survival situations you’re more likely to encounter– like your truck breaking down – that can be lethal if it occurs during the wrong weather conditions if you’re not prepared…
I know everyone has their own ideas about what should go in a survival kit, and I know that some people will disagree with me. However, I think we can all agree on the basics – you’re going to need food and water, a few tools, perhaps a weapon, and a bit of knowledge to use all of these items effectively.
In this post, I’m going to show you what I keep in my own winter car survival kit. These are the items I think are essentials for your kit.
Make sure you have all the items on this list in your winter car survival kit to give yourself the best chance for survival in a winter emergency.
Let’s get started.
This is an obvious one, but if you’re going to be stuck in the middle of nowhere for who-knows-how-long, you’re going to need to eat something, and stay hydrated.
Yet it’s amazing how many people don’t take emergency rations with them, even when they are driving long distances.
Don’t just think of food and water as keeping you from starving, it’s about far more than that. Having sugary snacks available can give you the energy boost you need to think clearly during a crisis. It can also help to reduce the effects of shock, if you or one of your passengers is injured.
Perhaps most importantly, if you know you’ve got food in the car, your mind will be free to solve the true problems at hand. The most important factor in survival situations is to keep calm, and if you are constantly worrying about where your next meal is coming from you’re taking away from energy that could be spent getting you out of a survival situation and back to safety.
My recommendation is to carry a DayOne Response Waterbag. That way, you’ll always be able to prepare clean drinking water even if you only have access to dirty or muddy water.
For calories, snacks are good, but consider packing emergency meals as well.
Dehydrated ration packs, like those used by the Army, are good for this, because by just adding water you can make a filling meal.
You’ve got the food and water you need to survive, but don’t forget about your car! Whilst not often thought of as “survival” items, these three liquids are essential for your winter car survival kit.
Keeping your car or truck in top condition is the best way to avoid breaking down, and to do that you should check the levels on your vehicle regularly. And if you do get caught in a storm, having extra antifreeze and screenwash is not going to hurt.
In addition to helping ensure your car doesn’t break down, these items are also important for your mindset. Knowing that you can fix minor problems on your car, if they occur, will give the peace of mind necessary to focus on other aspects of keeping you and your family safe.
You don’t need to carry a whole workshop with you, but having some tools to maintain car upkeep are essential.
Your car probably has a dedicated space for a jack and wheel wrench – make sure they are there, and that you know how to use them. In addition, a set of wrenches and a decent hammer don’t take up much room and can often be enough to fix mechanical problems with your car.
Apart from tools to fix your car, you should also have some for other purposes. Among these, you should have a dependable knife and multi-tool that will allow you to fix and repair your other equipment.
If you break down or get stuck in your vehicle, it’s likely you’re going to end up spending a night in the field…
And in the winter, you need to seriously consider where you might sleep and how you will survive the night.
Most times, in terms of comfort and safety, the best tactic is to sleep in your car rather than setting out in harsh weather conditions.
An emergency sleeping bag is perfect for your winter car survival kit because it packs up small and can easily fit right in your glove box, trunk, or under the seat.
The best emergency sleeping bags reflect up to 90% of your body heat, helping you to stay warm and the Life Bivy from Go Time Gear includes a survival whistle to help you call for help and a paracord drawstring you can use to repair gear or as tinder to get a fire going.
Whilst it might sound romantic to share a bed – depending on who you are with! – in reality, if your car breaks down miles from anywhere in a storm, you are not going to be in the mood for sharing anything so it’s generally a good idea to have a few emergency sleeping bags stashed in your car.
My previous car was a bit of a retro machine – a Mercedes from the mid-1990s – and it came with a first-aid kit as standard. The previous owner had helpfully replaced all the items that had gone out of date, and there was even a special cupboard in the car, custom-designed to take the first aid kit.
Today, this doesn’t seem to be the case with most modern cars, and that’s a shame, because to my mind it’s absolutely essential that you carry a first aid kit in your car.
I’m not saying that a first aid kit is going to be much use if you are in a serious auto-mobile accident... But remember most car accidents are not serious – especially in the winter, it’s pretty easy to slowly slide off the icy road and into a ditch.
An accident like this will incapacitate your car, at least until you can dig it out, but might also leave you and your passengers with some minor injuries that need fixing.
You should make sure your first-aid kit contains a few key items. Carry a good quantity of gauze and bandages, because even small cuts can cause quite a lot of bleeding if not treated properly. Tape, cleanser for cleaning wounds, and pain-killers are also must-haves.
You can buy a kit that already includes all these items, or construct your own – just make sure, if you make your own, that everything is waterproof!
A decent flashlight is something a lot of people forget to carry with them. You’ve probably got a few lying around – one in your garage, another in the basement, one that you take out hunting – but most people forget to toss one in their car.
What you’re looking for in a flashlight for your car survival kit is battery life. It depends on where you live, but if you break down on a long journey it could be you have to survive in your car for several days if you end up stranded and a lot of otherwise good flashlights won’t last longer than a night or so.
There are several solutions to this. LED flashlights don’t use much power, and can keep going longer than the older style flashlights. In addition, with LEDs you don’t have to worry about the bulb on your light burning out. Carrying a couple of extra batteries can also help, especially if you can make it so the same batteries power a range of different items.
A lot of people say that mechanical flashlights, where you pump a lever in order to generate power, are a useful item to keep around. To my mind, however, the problem with that kind of flashlight is that you have to keep it in your hand more or less continuously, which is not good if you’re trying to fix your engine or change a tire.
Take my advice – a good LED flashlight and a couple of spare batteries is more than enough for anyone.
Now we move on to some more technical items, which we hope we will never need to use, but might make all the difference in an emergency.
In Europe, drivers are required by law to carry a fire extinguisher in their cars, and I’ve never understood why the same law doesn’t apply in the US.
A fire extinguisher is, of course, important if your vehicle has a serious problem and catches fire. Not only is this dangerous in itself, but if your car goes up in flames it will take all of your other survival gear with it.
Remember, also, that fire extinguishers come in various types, for different types of fires. Make sure you’ve got the correct one for the job at hand – I would recommend carrying at least a Class A extinguisher for wood and cloth, and also a Class B for flammable liquids such as gasoline.
I know a lot of you have a full-sized rifle in your truck anyway! Equally, I know a lot of people really don’t want to carry a potentially dangerous firearm in their car.
I would say, though, that a good air rifle should be included in your vehicle survival kit, no matter which of these groups you fall into. For those of you who don’t otherwise carry and shoot guns on a regular basis, handling a full-sized rifle is a lot to ask. For those of you who are experienced hunters, keep in mind that if you need to hunt food in a survival situation, especially in the winter, you are more likely to be shooting at squirrels than deer.
Having an air rifle can allow you to hunt small game, if you have to wait a few days for rescue. In addition, though even the most powerful air rifle might not take down a bear, it can be extremely useful at scaring off potentially life-threatening wildlife.
I know, I know, this is not really an “item” you can put in your survival kit. Yet of all the things I’ve mentioned above, a bit of knowledge is by far the most important. You can have all the survival gear in the world, but unless you know how to use it, it is just wasted weight.
Specifically, if you are driving long distances in the winter, you need to know how to fix some common problems with your car. It’s amazing how many people drive every day, but don’t know how to change a tire. A bit of research about how your engine works, so you can re-attach belts or re-fill your radiator, won’t go amiss either.
In addition, make sure you’ve done some basic training on how to survive in winter conditions. You’re probably not going to have to dig a snow hole for yourself if you breakdown in your car, but knowing how to signal for help is essential.
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