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Build a Winter Survival Kit for Your Car

In looking at the many options for creating a winter survival kit for your vehicle, the selection can be mind boggling and confusing at best. From camp stoves and weeks of supplies to small kits that seem to store readily in a glove box, the options seem quite diverse. You don’t want to be caught unprepared. But how do you sort this process? What do you really need to put together for a winter survival kit anyway?

It’s really easier than it looks.

Before you pack a kit or begin assembling the necessary items, review your travel plans and frequent routes.
  • Is your part of your path inaccessible and remote?
  • Do you mostly commute on main roads, close to urban areas?
  • Are you in an area of the country known for significant snowfalls and subzero temperatures?

Being aware of the potential hazards is one of the first skills necessary for survival. Ignoring or minimizing these hazards is a great indicator of failure. Even if you are a commuter on well traveled urban highway, being stranded for a mere 8 hours can be miserable and dangerous, if you aren’t adequately prepared.

Those who fare well, most often, are those who are prepared, both mentally and physically for the challenges of their environment.

Take for example, two opposite extremes:

1,000 Hampshire motorists in the UK were stranded during a record snowfall in January 2010. Some spent up to 12 hours in their vehicles. Upon rescue, one individual stated, “It was the worst night of my life.” If these motorists didn’t have adequate survival kits, and were trapped without food, water or warm clothing, it’s likely this did seem intolerable. Many abandoned their autos, opting to trek through the snow for help. Thankfully, officials were quick to aid those stranded or fleeing vehicles. These same practices of being caught unaware and unprepared (as well as leaving the shelter of their vehicles) could have been deadly- rather than miserable and inconvenient-given other circumstances.

In contrast, Washington state resident, Daryl Blake Jane, emerged in 2006 from nearly two weeks of snow-trapped survival on a remote mountain road. Fighting through seven foot drifts, the team of rescuers found Jane, alive and free of frostbite, despite his ordeal. He survived by staying with his Jeep Cherokee, rationing food, keeping hydrated and running his vehicle for a limited time each day.

The point is simply, commuters and those who travel on urban roads should prepare an essential winter survival kit - the basics to get them through at least 72 hours of cold confinement in their vehicle. It’s very likely you’d be rescued in less time in such areas and your kit would be more than sufficient.

Those who travel or live in mountain regions, areas with frigid conditions or rural zones would benefit from an essential kit, plus additional food and a wider range of supplies. There have been numerous stories of those, like Mr. Jane, who were stranded for up to two weeks in remote, snowy areas. Some didn’t fare as well and died of hypothermia or suffered severe frostbite as they starved in vehicles. Plan on having enough supplies to keep you alive 10-14 days.

Believe it or not, your essential kit won’t take up volumes of room in your vehicle.

Start with basics:

  • A large metal coffee can (with lid)
  • Twine – 4 ft.
  • Lighter and matches3 Safety pins
  • 1 Long burning or emergency candles. (2” wide)
  • 1 pocket knife and spoon
  • Bright colored cloth strips (use to tie on antennae)
  • Flashlight (plus extra batteries)
  • Instant hot beverages, tea, bouillon, soup packets etc.
  • Granola, long shelf life, high calorie Mayday bars, raisins or energy bars.
  • Water (keep a gallon in the car)

If you get stranded, use the coffee can to heat beverages for warmth. Melt snow for additional water as needed. (Remember, eating snow will cool your body’s temperature. Heat is your friend in fighting hypothermia). Before you pack your kit, punch three holes in the top of the coffee can. To use, simply insert twine through the holes and suspend with safety pins from the ceiling of your car. Place the candle on the lid under the coffee can. Many emergency candles will also raise the heat of your car several degrees as well. Most of these items will store nicely in your coffee can.

Include in the passenger section:

  • Warm clothing, (always have one extra pair of socks, gloves, hat)
  • First aid kit
  • Ice scraper
  • Collapsible snow shovel
  • Kitty litter
  • Whistle
  • Extra coat and warm blanket
  • Book or something to pass the time.
  • Pen and paper.
  • Map
  • Crowbar
  • Emergency kit - (Flairs, duct tape, fuses,)
  • Jumper cables or portable battery unit
  • Tools - (crescent wrench, pliers, screwdrivers)

At the minimum, store crowbar, first aid, kit and warm blanket or coat in the car. Use the crowbar to pry open the trunk if necessary to get to the rest of your supplies.

Enhanced Essential Kit:

For those traveling in rural areas or prone to severe winter weather, add the following:
  • Sleeping bag (far warmer than a blanket)
  • 3-4 additional Emergency candles or Sterno cans
  • 2 extra lighters
  • Chains for tires
  • Long underwear
  • Camping lantern
  • Solar charger for cell phone
  • Snow boots and snow suit
  • Extra change of clothes
  • UV filtering sunglasses or goggles
  • Compass
  • Water bottle (use to store melted snow)
  • Additional non-perishable food, (Mayday bars, canned soup, camp meals, or MREs (meals ready to eat). Keep enough for 10-14 days. If you are worried about space, opt for high calorie non-perishables like 3600 calorie Mayday bars. 14 bars will take up virtually no room, supplement with dried soup mixes)
Remember, your best chance of survival is to:
  • Stay with the vehicle
  • Change any wet clothing immediately
  • Keep snow cleared off the vehicle so rescue workers can spot you
  • Clear snow off tailpipe to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Crack window when running engine
  • Remain calm
  • Never leave your house without a charged cell phone
  • Always check the weather before traveling
  • Let others know your route, arrival times and destinations
  • Run motor only for a few moments each hour to conserve gas
  • Fuel vehicle completely when traveling in inclement weather and especially when traveling to remote areas.
  • If you don’t have phone reception, try sending a text to a contact person. Often these will go through when voice calls wont.

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