Whether it’s hitting an animal, getting a flat, running out of gas, a blizzard, mechanical issues, or something else, cold weather is a factor that can take any one of these situations from being minor annoyances to being a life or death situation.
I’m not going to go into the details of what you want to have in your car preparedness kits and/or first aid kits in general, but I am going to talk about some items to consider keeping in your car during the winter.
1. Hand, body, and/or foot warmers
I’m talking about the small pouches that simply heat up when exposed to air that you can put in your gloves, boots, or the big ones that you put in your coat or sleeping bag. I never truly appreciated these until I found myself in a situation where my hands were too cold to start a fire. Jumping up and down and running around may help warm up your hands, but the combination of activity and glove warmers do it a lot quicker.
The larger ones, called body warmers, are a much better option than using candles or other fuel based heaters in a car. They’ll last 10-15 hours and you can put them inside of your clothing so that you absorb as much of the heat as possible. While 100 hour candles don’t put out MUCH carbon monoxide, I would feel much more comfortable going to sleep in a car being warmed by a body warmer or a couple of hand warmers than a candle.
I prefer wool, synthetic, or one that has one side that’s waterproof/water resistant. The waterproof/water resistant ones are normally sold as picnic blankets and they’re very handy for giving you a dry place to sit on wet grass, snow, or even pavement.
3. Emergency Reflective Blankets
You can use the inexpensive, compact, mylar ones, but SOL has some great alternatives that are quieter, more flexible, less likely to rip, and suitable for multiple people.
4. Trash bags
Trash bags are almost, but not quite as multi-faceted as duct tape. In a winter survival situation, you can use them as a moisture barrier to keep you dry when sitting/laying on snow, you can melt snow in them on a sunny day (you will get a significant number of nasty chemicals in your water from the plastic that affect the taste and quality of the water.)
You can use them to make improvised rain/snow gear. You can stuff them with leaves, crumpled paper, or other debris and have an improvised sleeping bag. You can even boil water in plastic bags over indirect heat, although you’ve got the same chemical leaching problem that you’ve got with melting snow.
5. Warm clothes, coveralls, socks, gloves, hat, boots/shoes
This is especially important if you wear heels, dress shoes, drive to the gym in workout clothes, or ever find yourself leaving the house during a warm time of day and expect to come back at a cold time of day. Remember, most people who die of hypothermia do so when the outside temperature is between 50-60. Why?
Because when it’s colder than that, people dress in warmer clothes. When it’s in the 50s, people can stay active with relatively few clothes on but cool off quickly when their activity level drops off or the sun goes behind a cloud or down for the night.
6. A way to make warm drinks
This means having a fire source, liquid, and a container. Here’s why, conceptually, this is so important. Let’s say you have a gas camping stove and you’ve got 2 options…run it for 1 minute close to your body with your hands as close to it as possible to get warmed up or run it for 1 minute to heat up a cup of water that you’ll hold in your hands and put into your body.
Heating, holding, and drinking warm water will convert a much higher percentage of the fuel to perceived and actual body warmth than simply warming yourself by the fire for a minute.
What kind of drinks should you use? Drinks that are semi-sweet will give you the calories you need to keep your body warm. Try to get or make drink mixes that use complex sugars like raw honey, maple syrup, agave, or fructose.
Try to avoid table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, refined honey, and artificial sweeteners. Why? Complex sweeteners will break down slower and are less likely to cause an insulin response that will cause a roller-coaster of blood sugar levels.
7. Camping shovel or fixed shovel
Carrying a fixed shovel has saved my bacon (or at least saved me from a long, cold walk) more than once when I found myself high-centered trying to drive through a fresh snowdrift during or shortly after a blizzard.
Speed and aggression are vital in this situation, as you’ve got an incredibly short window between when your vehicle starts compressing the snow, it melts, and starts to re-freeze…perfectly forming to the contours of the bottom of your vehicle. In situations like this, a long, sturdy handle not only makes the job quicker, it is also a significant safety factor since it can allow you to keep your arms out from under your vehicle.
Of course, there are less extreme reasons to have a shovel with you…excavating to make changing a tire simpler, digging a hole for a fire, as a defensive tool, scooping gravel/rocks under or in front of your tire if stuck.
8. A STURDY snow scraper & brush
This isn’t much of an issue if you’re not in snow/ice country, but if you do run into ice and snow, the bigger and stronger your scraper and brush, the easier life will be.
9. At LEAST a half tank of gas at all times
There’s nothing like the sinking feeling of running out of gas and realizing that the only reason it happened was because of a series of bad choices to postpone filling up…except for running out of gas when it’s freezing cold outside. The combination of no fuel and cold weather is another case where a simple inconvenience can quickly turn into a survival situation.
10. ScrewAFlatEasy (SAFE)
This is somewhat gagety and gimicky, but it’s also very functional, useful, and something that I keep in our cars. There are two different products from ScrewAFlatEasy that I recommend: First, they’ve got a FAST tire puncture repair product.
You simply take a special screw that’s included with the kit, dip it in a vulcanizing solution, screw it in the puncture hole and your puncture is fixed. The next step is to use a can of air (included) to re-inflate your tire. If you want, the next thing you can do is use their tire pressure equalizer tube. This is simply a tube that you connect to both a fully inflated tire and an under inflated tire to transfer air from the inflated tire to the low tire.
You can also carry salt, sand, kitty liter, or a number of other items with you to help with ice and snow. Because of the effect that cold weather has on batteries, we make sure our battery jump packs are charged up and in our cars when the temperatures get below freezing.
The editor of Resounding Earth, and pursuer of relatively interesting information, Simon has a Masters Degree in Creative Writing and Journalism from the University of Wales, and is a photo-journalist and writer whose written and photographic work has been represented by the AFP news agency and appeared in newspapers across Europe and Asia.