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Rural Winter Vehicle Emergency Kit Checklist

by Victoria Gazeley

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You’re driving down a long country road on the way to your weekend retreat, or maybe you’re on your way back to your rural home from the winter market.

It’s freezing out.  It’s snowing hard.  And you’re miles from your destination.

Suddenly, an animal darts across the road right in front of you.  You instinctively hit the breaks, and your vehicle skids across the shoulder and down an embankment, coming to rest against a tree.  You’re a bit banged up, but not seriously hurt.  Your car, on the other hand, is toast.

What do you do now?

That depends on how prepared you are.

This scenario is scary at the best of times, but in winter, your life can be at stake.

I put the question out to our Facebook group recently: “Do you have a winter emergency kit in your car, and if so, what’s the most important item in it?”  The answers ranged from “I don’t have one – what should I put in it?” to quite detailed lists of things I’d never thought of.

Part of living a prepared lifestyle is ensuring you and your family are covered no matter where you are.  Recently there was a 7.7 earthquake not far from us – and we were a ferry ride away and nowhere near all our emergency supplies.  I was thankful that at least we had the 72 hour kit in our car.  We didn’t need it, but it felt good knowing it was there.

So as you prepare for winter and get better prepared for emergencies in general, I thought it would be handy to put together a quick post on things you should consider having in your vehicle emergency kit in winter.  Some of these you’ll want to have in the car all the time, and others you’ll add if you’re going to be traveling to remote areas with little traffic (and therefore, less chance you’ll be found quickly).

The Checklist

  1. Blankets – Wool blankets are best, as they stay warm even if wet (1 for each person usually traveling in the vehicle).  You can pick them up on Ebay for relatively cheap, or at military surplus, consignment stores, etc.  They don’t need to be pristine – they just need to be in the vehicle!  The foil emergency blankets that come in first aid kits are also important to wrap yourself in first, then with the wool blankets.  Alternative for longer trips: low-temperature rated sleeping bags.
  2. Water – Water will be critical if you’re stuck in your car for any length of time.  The challenge in winter is freezing, so if you’re storing water in plastic bottles, make sure they’re buried ‘deep’ under everything else, or store them in an insulated bag.  Other alternatives are water bladders used for mountaineering that are meant to expand and contract, or emergency water rations in foil packets (again, stored in an insulated bag or wrapped in blankets to keep them from freezing).  Once the water freezes, you’ll have to melt it, which is a whole other issue that requires even more equipment.
  3. Flashlight – Preferably multiple flashlights: a big spotlight-style light for traipsing through the dark if you have to, and smaller hand-crank versions for using in the vehicle.  You’ll want to make sure everything is charged up at regular intervals (put a reminder in your calendar at the beginning of each season and again mid-way through).  Remember to reverse the batteries in the flashlights when not in use so they don’t drain as quickly.
  4. Small Shovel – This is a necessity for digging out if need be.  Just make sure you pick up a good quality one that won’t break the first time you use it (the reviews on most emergency/auto supplier websites are incredibly helpful).  The size of your vehicle will dictate what sort of shovel you purchase, but for most a shovel with a removeable handle will be the easiest to store.
  5. Cat Litter – Apparently, this works great as traction in the event you get stuck in a slippery situation.  Another alternative is a bag of sand, but it’s hard to find sand in nice, clean packages for vehicle storage.
  6. Magnetic Emergency Flasher – These make your vehicle visible to any passing vehicles, or to first responders if  you’re able to make a 911 call via your cell.  In many rural areas, there is no cell service, though, so whatever you do, don’t assume you’ll be able to call for help.
  7. Extra Clothing – An extra coat, warm socks, gloves and waterproof boots for each person usually travelling in the vehicle, sealed in a waterproof bag of some sort are critical.  One of our Facebook friends mentioned her car broke down in winter and she had to walk a mile back to her house in heels.  In extreme cold, this could mean the loss of toes to frostbite.  I also know of many people who put their children in the car for a quick trip to town without warm clothing on, because they’re going to be in the car the whole time.  In that sort of situation, extra emergency supplies become even more critical.
  8. Small Comfort Item – If you have children, you probably already travel with comfort items, extra games, books, etc., but if you don’t, it will make life easier in the event of having to remain in your vehicle for a number of hours.
  9. Heated Glove Warmers – These come up over and over again, and are usually included in most 72 hour emergency kits.  If you’re stuck in your vehicle for hours waiting for help or you have to walk through a blizzard to get to the nearest house or well-travelled road, you’ll want all the warmth you can get.  These are inexpensive, and might just save you from frostbite.
  10. Saw – A folding saw could come in handy in certain situations, such as cutting through ice or snow (to cut blocks for melting for drinking) or removing branches from the roadway.  It wouldn’t work for a big tree, of course, but it could be useful.
  11. Multi-tool or Pocket Knife – For cutting clothing after injury, small twigs and branches for a heat source, cutting duct tape, first aid tape and other materials, rope, etc.  Multi-tools are even better, as they pack a lot of helpful stuff into a tiny little package.  It’s worth buying an extra one and keeping it in your vehicle kit.
  12. A Heat Source – An emergency candle (the ones that come in a metal container with a lid) can throw a bit of heat for melting water if necessary.  Make sure to throw in a lighter and waterproof matches, and if you can swing something like a camping stove or a Kelly Kettle (or even a big metal coffee can), complete with a small bag of dry kindling, for melting water or heating emergency food, all the better.
  13. Battery-powered Radio with Extra Batteries OR a Hand-Crank Emergency Radio – Your car battery will run out eventually if you’re stuck for any amount of time. Make sure you throw a battery or hand crank radio in when you travel.
  14. Food – Most 72 hour kits come with a few rather unpalatable energy bars, so you’ll want to make sure you’ve got some non-perishable, high-energy foods in your kits such your favorite energy bars, trail mix, or even MRE meals that come with their own heat sources, etc. (these are full of preservatives and things you wouldn’t want to eat on a regular basis, but in an emergency, you just need the calories) or some dehydrated foods like jerky or dried fruit.  Be sure everything is sealed up so they can’t be snacked on by any critters that might get in your car – you want it to be there when  you need it – and remember to switch it out for fresh at the beginning of every season.
  15. Compass and Road Maps – Your GPS or iPhone may not work where you have your emergency, and eventually the batteries will run out (even if you have a solar charger, they don’t work so well at night).  You might have a hand-crank charger, but a better idea is to always have an old-school back-up – a compass and good quality maps of the areas you’ll be driving through.  I always think of that couple from BC who were driving to Arizona, took a shortcut and ended up stranded.   She was found I believe weeks later, alive but barely, and he was found months later – he’d tried to walk for help but didn’t make it.  This sort of tragedy just doesn’t need to happen.
  16. Cups – For drinking water if you end up melting snow to drink.
  17. Hand Crank Cell Phone Charger – Can’t hurt, if you happen to get stuck in a place with cell coverage.
  18. Rope – Not necessary, but could be useful.
  19. Large Plastic Garbage Bags – These can be used as a waterproof layer, or can be used to wrap feet inside shoes to keep them dry in case you end up trekking through the snow.
  20. The Obvious Things – These should be in our vehicles, year-round: pencil and paper for writing instructions/directions/notes to rescuers, jumper cables, fire extinguisher, tow rope, flares and road hazard reflectors, a vehicle hammer (for breaking windows and cutting seatbelts) and a first aid kit.

Vehicle survival kit.

Where to Get It

A lot of these items you can pick up second-hand at garage sales, consignment stores, and the like.  You can also ask family members if they have any extras of certain items lying around they’re not using.  Finally, you can purchase these things separately at your local discount store, automotive supply or department store OR you can buy ready-made kits at emergency supply vendors like The Ready Store.  However you decide to get your kit together, make the commitment to get it together now, not next week.  Winter is here in many parts of North America, and extreme weather and accidents can happen at any time of year.  If you live in the country, and travel regularly through sparsely populated areas and on roads not well travelled, you need to be prepared.

Time to Share

Did we miss anything?  What else would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below – you never know when you might save someone’s live by sharing what you know…

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Revised on November 22, 2012

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

disqus_YDdWY0HCJK November 7, 2012 at 9:42 pm

Sleeping bag and pad

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lgd113 November 7, 2012 at 11:14 pm

First aid kit

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Julia Dickens November 18, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Sleeping bag, some tarps with sewn edges and eyelets( three is an idea number for one person), possibly a sleeping pad, although you can get away without it if you are starting to run out of space by this point

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Dave Batts November 22, 2012 at 11:08 am

Marine matches. They will light in wind and when wet.
You can never have enough firestarter. I like petroleum jelly and cotton balls.
In the least a magnesium block. May take practice but they are handy too.
If you don’t do a lot of camping, its good to practice with firebuilding. It’s handy for any situation.

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Duanenet Auditor November 26, 2012 at 6:21 pm

We travel with an emergency vest (bright orange w/reflector tape) It’s always good to be easy to see..maybe even a small white flag to carry or stick out the vehicle window.

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Victoria Gazeley November 26, 2012 at 6:33 pm

Great idea!

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Jody Kerr December 15, 2012 at 3:48 pm

At an absolute minimum tool-wise you need to have a wrench in the glove box the correct size to disconnect the battery. You don’t want the car catching on fire. Additionally, if you have a full set of wrenches you can remove the hood/boot lids and use them as sleds to haul people home if injured.

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Skip Thomsen November 20, 2013 at 8:44 pm

When we lived where we got four feet of snow in the winter, some of the most useful things I always carried in my pickup was my two 50′ chains and two “come-a-long” winches. I’ve pulled quite a few others out of ditches with that setup, plus our own vehicle a few times. Another thing that is still super useful, even in these days of remarkable cell phones, is a good old CB radio. CB’s will work in many cell dead zones. We had several neighbors, separated by a mile or more each, and we all kept our in-house and in-vehicle CB’s on all winter long and they saved the day many times. Even if you can’t call a neighbor, you can reach somebody with a phone to call a friend to come help.

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Victoria Gazeley December 14, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Excellent advice – thanks so much for sharing. You may just have saved a few people…

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