13 Items You Need in a Winter Emergency Vehicle Kit

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13 Common Sense Items you Need in a Winter Vehicle Emergency Kit

By Bryan Black

Winter Vehicle Tips

As I type this, an “arctic air invasion” is pushing its way south to us in Texas, leaving much of the country feeling as cold as a mid-winter’s day. While I’m sitting here thinking of the precautions and preparations I’ll take for the impending cold spell, I wanted to share a list of the most important items I carry with me and how those correspond to preparing for cold weather.

During an emergency is a lousy time to think of all the things you should have been carrying. The important thing is not to wait until the last minute to prepare.

1. Keep Your Vehicle Serviced

This is a pretty comprehensive step, but extremely important, nonetheless. Keeping your vehicle serviced includes ensuring your fluids are changed at the proper intervals and topped off where applicable. This is the mindset portion of this article, take care of your vehicle and your vehicle will take care of you. Most emergencies can be prevented by keeping your vehicle in top condition.

Winter Vehicle Tips

While a list is below of what to check, cold weather makes a few of these even more important, such as ensuring your antifreeze level and type of mixture is good to go, putting a winter-specific “no-freeze” windshield wiper fluid mix into your fluid reservoir and keeping the gas tank as close to full as possible at all times.

One last note on your cooling system is to ensure it’s flushed every few years, the danger here is that after time, the rust inhibitors in antifreeze break down and make the fluid less effective. Flushing will also remove any particles that could potentially clog the system.

Vehicle Checklist

  • Antifreeze and Radiator
  • Windshield wiper operation and fluid check (no-freeze mixture)
  • Heater and Defroster
  • Brakes and Brake Fluid Level
  • Emergency Flashers
  • Tire Pressure and Tread Depth
  • Fuel Level
  • Oil Level
  • Battery Charge and Terminal Cleanliness

2. Have a Good Set of Jumper Cables

One of the best things you can carry with you is a good set of Jumper Cables, this isn’t a time to get cheap, and like your grandfather always said “Buy cheap, buy twice.”

Winter Vehicle Tips

There’s plenty of cheap “made in china” cables out there, so be cautious. I recommend getting cables with multiple-strand four gauge copper wire. The alligator clips should also be made of copper with pressed/crimped connections to the cables. Soldered connections should be avoided as the solder could potentially melt.

Winter Vehicle Tips

Many cables out there feature copper-coated alligator clips rather than solid copper, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Soild copper is always a better choice though if you can afford it.

You’ll want your jumper cables to be at least 12 feet in length, but longer is always better. 16 feet is ideal for most situations and should allow you to get a jump from someone behind you if need be. Go with 20 feet if you have a truck.

3. Carry a Flashlight

Having a flashlight with you should fall under the EDC (Every Day Carry) category for most of you, but it never hurts to have an extra in your vehicle. There are many different kinds of flashlights out there, but essentially two types of light, incandescent like the Surefire G2 in the photo below, or LED like the Princeton Tec Remix Pro shown. Both have their advantages, which I’ll quickly hit here in the article.

Winter Vehicle Tips

LED can potentially last longer than an incandescent and will keep running even as the batteries get depleted. LEDs nearly run forever and there’s no bulb to have to worry about changing. Incandescent bulbs are typically brighter than LEDs depending on what you buy, but they don’t typically last as long on the same set of batteries as LEDs. There’s also worrying about a bulb burning out with incandescent flashlights.

No matter what you choose, just get something that works for you and will allow you to change a tire or inspect your vehicle at night. Always carry extra batteries too.

4. Be Able to Change a Flat

A Jack and Lug Wrench (Tire Iron) are essential and without them you won’t be able to change a flat tire. Hopefully the items that came with your vehicle are still in it. If not, it’s time to take care of that problem. For those who could possibly be unfamiliar with a Jack and Lug Wrench, a Jack is what lifts the vehicle to change a tire, and a Lug Wrench is what you use to remove the lug nuts that hold your wheel on.

Winter Vehicle Tips

If you don’t know how to change a tire, now is the time to learn. I made sure I took the time to teach my wife, Kelly, how to change a tire and that she knows where everything is she’ll need in her vehicle and how it works.

Be sure that your Jack is complete and in good working order. With most Jacks, there’s a rod that’s used to turn the Jack to raise it, so make sure you have it. If you have an aftermarket lift on your vehicle, I’d hope you don’t need me telling you this, but your factory jack might not reach high enough anymore to enable you to change a flat. I’ve also upgraded my Lug Wrench to a Gorilla Power Wrench, which is a compact tool that extends to provide even more leverage when removing lug nuts.

Winter Vehicle Tips

I carry a Hi-Lift Jack and a few accessories to ensure I can always jack up my vehicle when necessary on the street or when off-road. Hi-Lifts are great because they double as a come-along for winching or a jaws-of-life to spread a car door open in an emergency.

5. Carry a Full Size Spare Tire if Possible

The most common vehicle problem is a flat tire, having a proper spare tire with you can mean the difference between making it to your destination or not. Of course, you also need to be able to change a tire as I mentioned above. Don’t rely on a can of Fix-A-Flat, I’ve seen those fail too often when people were depending on them.

Winter Vehicle Tips

Always check your spare periodically to ensure it’s properly inflated and there’s no cracking in the rubber. Tires have a shelf life and a general rule is that a tire is only good for about five years before the rubber starts to deteriorate.

This includes a spare tire that’s never been used, especially if your spare is exposed to the elements like on a truck. I carry a full-size spare tire and do a 5-wheel rotation every other oil change. Not everyone has the space to carry a full-size spare, but it you can, you won’t have to worry about driving around on an insufficient tire until you can get your flat fixed.

6. Have Basic Tools for Repairs

Including a simple tool kit in your Vehicle Emergency Kit is always a great idea. At the very least, you should have the tools necessary to replace your battery.

Winter Vehicle Tips

A small wrench set, socket set and a pair of pliers will do most of the tasks required, but throwing in a few screwdrivers, some electrical tape, duct tape, a tire pressure gauge and spare fuses will make it even better.

While you’ll never know what you might need your tools for, you can get even more specific and just carry the common wrench and socket sizes for your vehicle. This takes a working knowledge of your vehicle and If you don’t have that, just go with a full set. If you can fit a full-size or folding shovel, I’d highly recommend one as well. It could mean the difference between being stuck or getting home to your loved ones.

7. Carry a Vehicle Fire Extinguisher

Fire Extinguishers are an often forgotten element in most Vehicle Emergency Kits. How many times have you seen a car on the side of the road that was either on fire, or nice and crispy from being on fire? While hopefully the answer is “not often,” it does happen and having a Fire Extinguisher with you could mean the difference between a burnt hose and a burnt car.

Winter Vehicle Tips

This of course goes back to proper vehicle maintenance to avoid anything like this, but who knows, it might be you putting out someone else’s fire. Don’t skimp on a good mount for your extinguisher either.

There are quite a few vehicle Fire Extinguishers out there and I’m currently looking to upgrade the Kidde dry chemical extinguisher that I keep in my vehicle. What’s really drawing my attention are Halotron extinguishers, which use an electrically non-conductive “clean” extinguishing agent that rapidly turns into a gas. It’s good on ABC fires and leaves no damaging residue behind to clean up.

Fire Extinguishers made for vehicles will typically come in two different dry chemical configurations (ABC and BC), to fight different classifications of fires. Here’s a quick primer on fire classes, using the wrong type of fire extinguisher on the wrong class of fire can make matters worse!

  • Class A: Ordinary Combustibles – Wood, Paper, Cloth, Trash, Plastics and Solids that are not metal.
  • Class B: Flammable and Combustible Liquids – Gasoline, Oil, Grease, Acetone and all Flammable Gasses.
  • Class C: Energized Electrical Equipment and Battery Powered Equipment
  • Class D: Combustible Metals – Potassium, Sodium, Aluminum, Magnesium (these require a special extinguishing agent)

Remember that dry chemical fire extinguishers need to be turned upside down periodically to loosen up the chemical that will settle at the bottom of the extinguisher. If the chemicals become caked, the extinguisher may not discharge properly when it’s needed. This goes for those extinguishers you have sitting around the house too. You do have Fire Extinguishers in your house, right?

8. Emergency Signaling is Important

The purpose of an emergency signaling device is two fold, it can be used to alert oncoming traffic to your presence on the side of the road and can also be used as a distress signal in an emergency.

Winter Vehicle Tips

Road Flares are great because in addition to the two uses mentioned above, they can also be used to start a fire. Carrying another way to start a fire with you is never a bad thing, but they do need to be monitored while in use on the road to ensure you’re not starting a fire and adding insult to injury.

Activating a road flare is accomplished with a simple strike cap, much like a gigantic match. Depending on the length, these can burn from 5 minutes to 30 minutes and don’t require retrieval from the roadside, as they’ll eventually burn themselves out. There’s a fantastic 2005 study (link to PDF) done by Penn State Transportation Research which analyzes the effectiveness of Orion Signals Emergency Road Flares in enhancing the “safety zone,” or the area which is created by the presence of safety devices.

I carry six of the Orion Signal 30 Minute Road Flares with an integrated wire stand to prop them up on the roadway when deployed. It’s somewhat thin wire, but even if the flare did fall, I feel they’d still be just as effective.

Other markers available include brightly colored flags like an MPIL and reflective items such as collapsible Warning Triangles. A flag can be tied to an open hood/trunk and reflective markers can be put out in a similar fashion to road flares, marking your location. Chemlights can work here as well, but may not be seen until an oncoming vehicle is close to your position.

I’m going to mention having a radio here under emergency signaling, but the type of radio, whether a CB or other variety is definitely a personal choice. I have a CB hard wired into my vehicle that can pick up Weather Frequencies and I also carry a backup handheld CB. There’s a comprehensive article I’ve recently written, called The Ultimate Guide to Learning about Radio Communication and Why You Should. I’d highly recommend it as a primer on all the different radio options out there.

9. Have Extra Food and Water

First off, as my friend Caleb from Lone Star Medics constantly states “Drink Water!” Staying hydrated can be especially important in cold weather, when you don’t have the heat to continually remind you to drink water.

Winter Vehicle Tips

The potential of being stranded with just the items in your vehicle is a sobering reality and while food is important, water is even more important. Most of us drive along busy suburban roads where a Quik-E-Mart is just a few blocks away, but you’re not always in that situation, especially when traveling.

MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) are great to carry, but they’re temperature sensitive and need to be rotated out on a regular basis, especially if you carry them in your vehicle during the summer. It wouldn’t be right to mention MREs and not mention carrying some toilet paper too, unless you have one that refuses to exit.

The best plan is to try and stay with your vehicle if possible until someone finds you and having food and water can help make that possible if you ever find yourself stranded.

10. Carry a Blanket and Extra Clothing

A blanket is truly a multi-purpose item and can not only keep you warm in the winter, but can be used to treat victims in shock year round. If you’re tight on space, at the very least toss a couple of space blankets into your trunk.

Winter Vehicle Tips

If you have the space, a Sleeping Bag can also be a great addition. I carry an Elephant’s Foot Sleeping bag in my FJ, which is just the lower half of a sleeping bag that has suspenders to go over a jacket. It’s a space saver that’s designed to work in coordination with a good jacket to make up for the lack of a top.

Speaking of jackets, it never hurts to have a full change of clothes, warm undergarments, an outer layer and gloves to help keep you warm when changing a flat tire.

11. Have a Rescue Tool Within Arm’s Reach

The primary purpose of a Rescue Tool is escaping from a vehicle, which in the event your vehicles takes a dive into a body of water, you’re most likely not going to be able to simply roll down the window to escape. Look for a tool that has both a seat belt cutter and a glass breaker and locate it centrally where the driver or passenger can reach it, or have one for each.

Winter Vehicle Tips

I have a CRKT ExiTool on each of the front seat belts, which features a seat belt cutter and a glass breaker. They’re supposed to clip onto the seatbelt and be removable in an emergency, but mine kept falling off so often, I wired them on. I’m still looking for a tool that offers the versatility of the ExiTool, but is made better.

A reason to not go with a permanently attached rescue tool is that you can use it for rescuing others that could be in a similar situation, or need to be pulled through a window to escape a vehicle.

12. A Good Knife is Indispensable

While a good knife should already be part of your EDC like a flashlight, it’s never a bad idea to have a spare with your vehicle. In addition to a knife, a good Multi-Tool will also come in handy and can replace needing to carry a few of the tools we mentioned above.

Winter Vehicle Tips

I’m partial to the SOG PowerLock because of its leveraging capability, but also really like the Leatherman Wave I have. While more of a weapon-specific tool, my favorite pair of Multi-Tool pliers is on the Multitasker Series 3, hands down.

13. Don’t Neglect a First Aid Kit

This list wouldn’t be complete without discussing a first aid kit. Having the basics with you like bandages and common medications is always a good thing and is why in addition to our ITS ETA and EDC Trauma Kits, we also assembled a Boo-Boo Kit.

Winter Vehicle Tips

While a full-on Trauma Kit isn’t always practical for everyone, having at least the minimum to stop traumatic bleeding is a necessity in my book. I won’t turn this into a sales pitch for our medical line-up, but I think we have some of the best kits and supplies available out there. Owning the company does make me a bit biased though.

Winter Vehicle Tips

Whatever you decide to carry, just carry something that can stop traumatic bleeding and fix the bumps and bruises that come up. Preventing infection should also be at the top of your list.

Honorable Mentions and Further Reading

There’s a few things I didn’t cover that aren’t necessarily in my top 12, but that deserve an honorable mention.

Winter Vehicle Tips

I touched on fire starting with the road flares, but having the tools to start a proper fire if necessary is worthwhile to mention. Also carrying an empty fuel tank or collapsible container that can be used for fuel would be a great addition, but I did mention to try to always keep your fuel level as full as possible.

Winter Vehicle Tips

In today’s fast-paced world, not many of us carry cash anymore. Stick some cash and coins in your vehicle to be prepared and don’t spend it on fast food when you’re scrounging for change on the floor board. Last, but not least, a windshield scraper for ice is a cheap tool to toss in your glove box.

Our resident Eastern Sierra correspondent, Jeff More, wrote a great article on how to assemble your own emergency kit after realizing most out there are junk. His write-up isn’t cold weather specific, but still has a lot of great points, like spending your money well and buying quality items.

It’s important to be prepared out there, because you never know what’s going to happen. Having some important supplies and keeping your vehicle in top condition, move the odds further in your favor.

To quote the movie Spy Game, “When did Noah build the Ark, Gladys? Before the rain, before the rain.”

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  • George

    Could you tell us about the tool kit? Specifically the ratchet set in the zippered bag. I need two of those in metric.

    • @George This is a pretty standard cheapo set that I think I picked up at O’Riley auto parts. It has standard sockets up to 3/4″ and metric up to 13mm I believe.

  • Beardedtraveler

    Excellent article! Very simple and easy to follow! I live in West Virginia which is not by any means a high risk location dangerous weather but just a couple years ago hundreds of people were stranded on one of the heaviest traveled interstate for over 24 hours during a sudden snow storm. So it’s always important to be prepared!

    • @Beardedtraveler Thanks! glad you enjoyed the article and found it useful. Stay safe out there!

  • AllAmerican2000

    Can you tell me about the ExiTool mod?  I have that same tool and I can’t keep it on the belt.

    • AllAmerican2000 Yep, it’s unfortunate that’s the issue with these. I’ve also had issues with the LED “flashlight” working correctly, but to me that’s not an issue because I’d never use the tool as a flashlight. My concern is just keeping them on the belt.

      My modification was to get some thin diameter wire and wrap the clamp portion shut. Nothing special, just enough to ensure it doesn’t open up and always stays with the seatbelt, yet can move freely as it was designed to do.

  • Another option for an escape tool is the Res Q Me, clips to keys. I have the plain old life hammer, easily removed and replaced and can be prominently installed on the headliner in the included bracket.
    You could also perhaps Velcro on the crkt tools? Or mount hook Velcro on the inside of the clip, always do that for belt loops that move about.

    • corbstac The velcro is a good idea and could interface well with the headliner to keep the tools easily accessible. I’d have to look further, but my initial thought about affixing them to a certain spot on the seat belt is that it’s better that they move around freely on the seat belt so they don’t wind up riding across your chest when buckled. If they were affixed to the low position, as they wind up being while buckled, they’d prevent the belt from sliding back to its upright position when unbuckled. Hope that makes sense. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • bryanpblack For headliner attachment, the black bracket on these tools (http://www.lifehammer.com/) have spikes that hold into soft headliners very easily and well. 
      Perhaps you could use some one-wrap around the seatbelts, slides up and down but won’t come off, and attach the CRKT tool to that.
       What I was suggesting with the velcro inside the clip is just to add a little friction and prevent it coming off so easily. Alternatively you could use some grip tape if you have it around. Hard to explain, but I hope you get the picture.

    • corbs It’s hard to find an image of the backside of that bracket, but I’m tracking. The one-wrap is a great idea, I’ll look into that. It sounds like a great alternative until the design gets fixed by CRKT 🙂

    • bryanpblackI can’t find an image of the rear, but here’s the bracket. http://www.heuts.nl/shop/life-hammer-softgrip-0110017
       Basically two spikes come out of either end, and push down into the headliner. They’re held in place by a jimped ramp, pretty solid. You can always screw it in somewhere if you don’t mind the work, I’ve always used the spikes and they hold well. Might have better luck with an installation vid on youtube somewhere.

    • corbs Check. Thanks brother.

  • Blake

    Who made those gas can racks in the last photo, and how do you like them? Looking for something similar, as that’s the only item on your list that’s not already in/on my truck. Thanks!

    • @Blake These are made by Baja Rack, as is my roof rack. I like their functionality, however the coating is flaking off and rusting underneath on both these racks and the roof rack. I’ve considered just taking everything off and getting it Line-X’d, but I’m not sure what I’ll do yet.

  • Good call on the rescue tool. I have gerber’s variation of yours in my console but I’m going to explore mounting it directly to the seatbelt now!

  • bang bang

    It’s also a good idea to have kitty litter for if you get stuck on some ice. It’s great for creating traction.

    • AJUK

      @bang bang Remember, do NOT buy the ‘clumping’ style kitty litter as it has clay in it which will not help at all. 🙂

  • vettepilot427

    For winter conditions, I would move battery/electrical to the top of the list along with tire pressures.  Cold weather can instantly reveal a weak battery that worked just fine during warmer conditions.  Also, when using regular compressed air, a really cold snap can drop tire pressures by 10 psi or better.

    One alternative to jumper cables is the PowerAll portable battery pack.  It’s not much larger than a power brick used for laptops or a laptop battery and it can bu used to charge USB devices (2 devices simultaneously) and even includes a set of alligator cables and can be used to jump start a vehicle.  The built in flashlight in nice too.  I prefer this option for my wife as it does not expose her to needing outside help as with jumper cables.  A woman in a parking lot with the hood up and jumper cables in her hand is a target.  This allows her to jump her car without assistance and recharge her phone if the car becomes disabled and she has to relocate.  The lithium battery retains enough charge to jump start a vehicle for 3 months or longer, so it’s relatively low maintenance.

    AAA membership is also recommended.  I book one vacation per year through AAA travel and the discount pays for the membership.  AAA is great for minor roadside issues.

    • vettepilot427 Great additions, thanks for your comment!

    • Souljacket

      vettepilot427 Thanks for the great tip! I’ve got a couple of the large jump starters but the lead batteries died years ago and I have yet to replace them. But I will with one of these. And I’ve never seen a type of product that gets consistent 4.5-5 stars, but these little jumpers do.

    • vettepilot427

      I’ve used mine to jump both my motorcycle and my wife’s 2011 GMC Terrain. I have a friend who’s a professional auto technician and he uses his at work regularly with no issues. I purchased mine without the case and pack it in a small orange Pelican case with a few other items.

  • Arkady001

    slipstreamjc no. Covered by firearms legislation. Signal flares r only for maritime use, so you ‘could’ get them from a ship’s chandler’s

    • slipstreamjc

      Arkady001 That’s BS 🙁

  • Arkady001

    slipstreamjc but considering your employer, NOT a good idea. Hazard lights r adequate in EU, plus warning triangle placed 100m from car

    • slipstreamjc

      Arkady001 Aye, I have a triangle and torches that flash w/ red attachments. Thinking about blizzards in the winter. Also “borrowed”cylummes

  • Arkady001

    slipstreamjc I also carry lots of cyalumes borrowed from CQMS

  • namnnumbr

    Have a look at the Benchmade 915 Triage Rescue.  Comes in orange or black, razor sharp, and has a great blade, seat belt / cord cutting hook, and glass breaker.  Expensive, but worth it in my opinion.

  • nDjinn

    It’s so important to make clear equ checklists and make sure as many people have it as possible. I try to share with people that are new to Alaska and I even tell my clients that are newly relocated that they can call me (within reason) and I will come and help them if they get stuck in the winter. Today my truck is fitted with the correct gear to operate as an ambulance. My nonprofit medical group allows a select few of us to run or POV’s as ambulances (we to stand-by medical for all sorts of events here in the last frontier. I have the minimum medical equipment onboard to meet the state criteria (Spinal immobilization, O2, Trauma, AED, long bone splints, all kinds of stuff I could list like VHF radios and so on.). Plus most if not all the other stuff to run overland in Alaska. Emergency food and clothing, tomahawk, firearm, nij IIIIa plate carrier, tools, tire, slim jim, replacement drive shaft u joint, lot’s of recovery gear, LTE wifi, dedicated & mounted pad mini, etc. I have so much stuff in my truck many of my friends joke about me having whatever they need (and often I do).

    • deerdude93

      nDjinn Do you have a forum posting anywhere where you do a surround and interior pic shoot?

    • nDjinn

      deerdude93 nDjinn It wouldn’t make a very good set of photos, The interior gear is all stowed under and behind the rear seats or in waterproof duffels and pelican cases in the bed. 

      I used to have a LR1 dedicated for rescue use but sold it (didn’t want to foot the up keep bill on a custom 96 Disco I anymore; the last straw was new transmission and front axles. Apparently Land Rover used a water based glue in the transmission, not good when my front axle failed due to previous owner not replacing $2 wax paper gasket years before) crossing a river. That looked a lot better with the gear semi-permanently mounted; I just didn’t do any 360 images of it.

  • boardsnbikes

    Gloves.  A spare set of gloves suitable for working on the vehicle when it cold, windy and nasty.   I’ve run into a number of flatlanders in snow country who turned a simple flat tire into a small ordeal because they couldn’t change the tire because of the cold.  Add another complication (lost, isolated road, long snowstorm, out of fuel) and they could have been in trouble.

    • ectgear

      This is huge. Many people will not wear gloves when they go from door to doors in cold weather. If it’s cold enough to need them bring them, I always keep a pair of gloves in my car, so many reasons to.


      ectgear My wife rolls her eyes when she sees I have bought another pair of gloves. I have a plastic tote in the basement full of all types of gloves. I keep 3-4 pairs in each vehicle and 2 pairs in my edc bag. I just swapped out the ball caps for fleece caps.

    • kennywfrench

      LAWNKILLER I’ve been carrying two wools and two pairs of gloves – each thicker/heavier/warmer than the other. Especially today when it was 30° when I left for work a few hours ago and is down to 17° and snowing now. I also carry a shemagh to wrap around my neck, mouth and nose to fight the wind.

  • JSteve

    I drive a Grand Cherokee but I keep a spare jack to fit under most of my friends sedans also. Also a good idea is a good tow strap. I’ve pulled out several people that found the ditch in slick conditions. And on the issue of the emergency exit tool I keep a Gerber Hinderer rescue knife clipped to the info pouch on the back of the seat. Much larger handle to hold if needed to punch out a window, cut the seatbelt, or slice away some clothing to access a wound. It also has a built in O2 wrench and comes with a small tool set (screwdriver bits with a minimalist driver). Amazon has them for a reasonable price. Wanna say I paid $75 when I bought mine 7 years ago. http://www.amazon.com/Gerber-22-41534-Hinderer-Serrated-Includes/dp/B000EDTSZQ#

  • gw812

    Got a question. I’m also a fan of handy H2O – I see that you use one of the 2.5 gallon NATO gas cans – are you using it for water? If so, did you do anything special to it inside to clean it out/get rid of contaminants?

  • corsair

    Considering the stories of epic road stoppages the last couple of years, do you have a good source on NATO Jerry/fuel cans?  How about water containers?


    I have that same Black tool set. Its in my ATV kit and has been all over with me and used very much.

  • Helen

    Also a sack of kitty litter is very helpful for getting tires out of ice. I live up north and it’s snowing right now. The kitty litter is going into the trunk before I leave the garage!

  • John Smith

    tow strap.

  • Johnny Bravo

    Is there a post like this for EDC?

  • Helen and John Smith got it right with the cat litter and the tow strap.  I also keep a few disposable plastic rain ponchos, a dozen of those hand-warmers, several solar blankets, a magnesium fire-starter tool, a small steel camping bowl, and a can of sterno w/ two small lengths of a 2×4 (for starting a fire in just about any conditions.)  Everything fits in an ammo can with room to spare…  Additionally, none of my vehicles would be complete without a road atlas and state maps for most of the east coast (‘coz paper maps don’t need batteries or a usb connection 😉

  • JaeJoi

    These are all great suggestions. I’d like to add a few.  I lived in my car for two and a half years south of Boston, and the first winter the car heater didn’t even work and I was too poor to be able to get it fixed. So I feel like I know what I’m talking about. If I had money, this is what I would do:
    First of all, in addition to the tow strap (extremely important), get a can of Tyre Grip and also Shoe Grip.  I have heard that it will add greatly to your traction on black ice and slippery surfaces.  (I haven’t had the money to try it yet, it’s about forty bucks a can, but there were studies done on it in other countries and it is supposed to really work.) If I had the money, I would even buy cans of Shoe Grip and distribute them at the senior center. So many older people fall on ice and the broken bones end up developing into something they can’t recover from.  You just spray it on your tires (or shoes) a few minutes before you drive (or walk) away.  Tyre Grip will let you help the person you just towed out of a drift get home safer, especially if they have bald tires. 

      Secondly, in your car, keep packages of Thermacare heat wraps.  Keep enough so that each person can use four wraps a day.  You will mainly want back wraps with a few neck wraps.  Sometimes there is a coupon you can print out on coupons.com and there is usually a coupon in each box as well.  These are great if you are working outdoors or on a hunting trip or at a football game.  They will raise your core temperature enough to let you be comfortable indoors too if you ever lose power. They heat up more quickly than the Hot Hands warmers and they last longer–up to 16 hours–and cover a larger area.  They also get hotter than those little packets you have to shake.  They are air-activated and don’t need to be shaken.

      Third, instead of hot hands handwarmers, consider upgrading to Zippo reusable handwarmers.  I haven’t been able to afford them yet, but the Amazon reviews indicate that they are more effective and cheaper in the long run.
      Fourth, even if you have kitty litter, throw in a couple of small rugs or rug liners so that you have something reusable to use to help people if the kitty litter runs out.  
      Fifth, be prepared to help elderly people who need to get warm right away.  If you can afford it, one of those throws that heats up through your lighter socket would be great for this. 
      Finally, if you don’t have another heat source, at least know how to make a heater using flower pots and candles or a coffee can heater which burns toilet paper. Directions for both are on You Tube.  The flower pot one is better for the house.  Both, of course, are a fire hazard and will probably not be your first choice, but it is still important to know how to make them and to have the necessary parts on hand, just in case of an emergency.

  • kennywfrench

    Another great article Bryan – I must have missed this when it was originally published. I recently moved from Fort Worth, Texas to Columbus, Ohio and my vehicle EDC has grown. I have always carried road flares, jumper cables, a fire extinguisher, tools, work gloves and so on. I also carry a fleece blanket, an extra jacket, small camp towel, and a rain/windbreaker. NOW I’ve added another blanket, winter gloves, an extra winter hat, a pair of motorcycle winter pants, and REI Sleep Sack. I also include a GSI Outdoors Halulite Minimalist (with a 110g fuel canister and MSR MicroRocket stove inside) and an MRE.

    • kennywfrench Thanks for the kind words Kenny, glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks for sharing your experience too!

  • Joe Dew

    Boom! This is a great article full of common sense solutions to real life problems and general bad luck. I keep many of these items but one in particular that is worth its weight is a good braided tow strap. I have pulled many people (and have been pulled) many many times. Cold weather and especially ice/snow bring out the worst drivers and lending someone a hand could potentially save a life. Thank you for the article Bryan.

  • CarlMc

    Loved this article, and like most of us, we come up we think we
    need to carry to get us through the ordinary and extraordinary
    emergencies, yet few of us have been tasked with having to get to
    something RIGHT NOW in the dark, on the side of the road, in the
    pouring rain. All the while you’re unable to think clearly because
    you’re fighting off waves of panic. God forbid you be on a road trip
    and have luggage in the way. These are the times we learn something
    about what we ought to do next time, but as always, we forget these
    lessons in short order.
    I recall with great embarrassment trying to get a big Maglite to
    work early one morning so I could check a car sitting on the side of
    the highway for passengers. It was starting the the initial stage of
    turning into an electrically initiated pile of dark metal. I didn’t
    use that type of flashlight daily, and I was trying to get it to work
    the same way the flashlights I used regularly worked. Don’t turn the
    damn cap, the button was on the side! Did I mention I had a cell
    phone in one hand and cars whizzing by three feet from me? Smoke was
    beginning to pour out of the dash when I reached in and put my hand
    on something that initially felt like a person. Phew, it was a bag.
    I’ve thought about these problems some and realized that most
    factory packaging is rarely suitable in the dark, in a hurry, and so
    on, and unfamiliarity is evil. The things you will need the most in
    a panic situation are rarely on top and easy to find in the dark. We
    pack things because they take up the least amount of space and so on,
    rarely for ease of access and finding things. What a fun game that
    would make, rolling the dice for a scenario and watching stuff get
    thrown out looking for the right thing!
    And what fits easily in an SUV nicely equipped with a slide out
    drawer turns into a whole new problem in most daily driver cars with
    trunks that have few square corners. Surely not every one of you
    drive FJ’s equipped with a slide out cargo compartment. My daily
    driver, an older Ford Focus, has no good places to store stuff in the
    trunk. The GHB tens to slide around and flatten flatten out under
    the weight of my massive jumper cables. I call it the blob. There’s
    also a milk crate holding an ammo can with tools, flares, and a fire
    extinguisher. Its definitely in the way of really efficient use,
    especially when my wife tries to fill the trunk with groceries. The
    fire extinguisher slides down, gets jammed in the crate, and the
    flares disappear under a towel. I can imagine throwing stuff out in
    a panic trying to find the fire extinguisher in the dark on the side
    of the road with… never mind. You should get the point by now.
    I once got an expensive roll of Velcro with the intent to attach
    the flares, fire extinguisher, ammo can, and other stuff to the
    fabric of the trunk lining in the cavities that aren’t good for
    luggage or anything else. What a waste of money. That trunk liner
    is just sticky enough to make you think it will work, but then just
    wimpy enough to fall apart after you close the trunk lid. Then I
    started looking around for some sort of panel, equipped with Velcro
    or Molle, to screw/bolt/weld/nail to my trunk lining and to which I
    could attach things with more confidence, but they were too
    big/small/expensive, and there was no bang for my buck.
    I’ve struck out more times than I can count looking for a suitable
    solution, and since this was such an excellent article about car
    stuff, I thought I’d ask again. I don’t object to fabricating a
    solution, but if my wife winds up tearing it up with the groceries or
    it falls apart with normal road bumps, then it’s not a good use of my
    time or money.
    I don’t know if there are good solutions out there, but I’m pretty
    confident that I’m not the only one to have this issue. Might be
    more rare that I’ve had to deal with the problems this challenge
    generates, but there’s a solution out there and I hope not to have
    bad things happen because I didn’t have it.

    • CarlMc Hey Carl, thanks for the story and the kind words about the article, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I completely agree that “unfamiliarity is evil” in the context you’re using it. I also like the game you proposed about having to access a specific tool or piece of equipment, based on a scenario. That would certainly cause some panic and possible reevaluation of packing techniques. Especially if it was at night or under real panic.

      Something you could do is take some measurements and build your own low-profile box in the trunk of your Ford. Even something as simple as a 6-12″ tall frame that has a hinged top lid that contours to the shape of your trunk. This way groceries and other items could fit on top, but you’d still have access to what’s below the lid when nothing was on top of it.

      This empty space underneath the lid would contain your emergency supplies that could then be removed to access a spare tire as well. Just brainstorming along with you. Hope that info helps in some way.

      Thanks again!

  • drewtheman

    Being able to change a tire is absolutely vital to every car driver. Even if you can’t drive, being able to help someone is really nice too. If you can’t, being stranded by something relatively simple can be pretty embarrassing.

    <a href=’http://www.aokautobodyandglass.com’ >Repair</a>

  • LaurenAdams

    I really love that you talked a little bit about the importance of changing a tire. You would be surprised at how many people can’t do that. However, it is something that is imperative to know. Not knowing something like that can be very bad in the event of you getting a flat in the middle of winter. It is much better to be safe and learn how to change a tire. Plus, it isn’t to hard to learn. http://oneillstyres.com.au/

  • MeadBird

    Very interesting. I am intrigued by the tools you mentioned. I moved from Texas to upstate New York. In Texas my husband always gave me crap about me having water around. Here… well… the water freezes SOLID. I’m not quite sure what to do about that. Smaller containers in some kind of insulation switched out every week? Most articles tell you how to freeze containers, not how to keep them from being frozen.

    Any recommendations or resources?

    • Joe Dew

      MeadBird  I know you’re asking the ITS crew directly but I have found a potential solution. A company named Datrex makes pouches of water that are for “survival” situations. The pouches do not break when frozen (because water expands when frozen) and come in 125ml sachets that minimize loss potential. Throw a bunch in an ammo can or small cooler to prevent punctures and you should be set. You can buy them in 64 unit bundles for around $30 on amazon and the packaging is BPA free. Or carry a small back packing stove to heat frozen water. Hope that helps

    • MeadBird

      Joe Dew Thanks!
      like the combination of small pouch and back packing stove. YES!
      See? Asking is a beautiful thing!!

  • Fabio El Lobo Lucky

    Need beer too

  • Jonathan Halek

    Winter car kit here in FL: Spare sunglasses and flip flops. Rum. Beach towel.

  • Ben Harris

    Whiskey. More bang for the buck

  • Alan Olinzock

    I recommend a bigger shovel, they make shovels specifically for skiers and mountain patrols. They also double great as winter auto shovels while saving on space and weight.

  • Dan Stein

    Being in Florida winter doesn’t happen but I still keep even a shovel at hand in the trunk.

  • Dan Stein

    And fucking bug spray!

  • Nathaniel Cameron

    Here Lindsey Hamilton

  • Frank X

    Carpet pieces face down on ice and snow is far better than kitty litter or sand for traction.

  • Tyler Inloes

    Caj Richard-Adkins check this out

  • Cody Doe

    step 1: move to Florida

  • Timothy R Nealey

    Need smaller gear, collapsible gear, less weight. Past 10 years been riding Chicago blizzards on my crotch rocket having less trouble than the cages. Be awesome to have all of this without the extra space /weight…. I could help the cages hahaha

  • Lindsey Hamilton

    We need to have all of this before we head to Washington ♡

  • Orion DeEvo

    it snowed in Florida in 2014 and earlier this year 2015. probably happen again

  • Orion DeEvo

    and if you get really stuck for awhile they double as a sled =]

  • Orion DeEvo

    thats what the big green can in the photo is for

  • Brian Valters

    Errr… Carry water in containers? No. Carry a pot and a small stove with fuel. If you’re in an area where you actually need a winter kit, your water will most likely freeze, potentially rendering your containers broken and useless. You should have snow to melt, and can do so while heating yourself. It’s also a hell of a lot lighter and less bulky. Additionally, traction aids for your vehicle should be right near the top of the list. Stuck somewhere? Getting unstuck renders the rest of the kit not needed and can turn a potentially life threatening situation into a mere annoyance. And don’t skimp on any of your kit. Buy once, cry once.

  • Cody Young

    We don’t get “snow” we get sheets of ice for a day or two (3-5? Times a year) and don’t have the infrastructure in place to deal with it like the Yankees do. So we stay home with the kids and life resumes 24 hrs later.
    So, yes. In MY state, we need water because gutter slush isn’t my favorite snowcone flavor

  • Lars Larson

    No tow strap?

  • Lars Larson

    My vehicle comes equipped with small carpet pieces in the form of floor mats lol. I have used them to get my jeep unstuck after burying it axle deep in snow.

  • Frank X

    Yeah, that’s why I put mine back in over the weather tech mats

  • Simon Caunt

    Adrian Wing don’t forget extra clothes for jo and a couple of pairs of heels so she looks good when rescued.

  • Simon Caunt

    Esther Elliott I bet you have got this covered.

  • Esther Elliott

    Done Simon Caunt

  • Simon Caunt

    You should have been an aga engineer esther lol “but it might snow”

  • Jody Wrafe Vines

    Missing 4- Spruce 1′ X 2″ X 4″ and 2 small ratchet straps…

  • Cedric B

    wish i had a tow strap…

  • Alan Olinzock

    Supposedly Black Diamond’s shovels are strong enough to use as a Deadman anchor for belaying.

  • T Mathew Smith

    Lynne Smith Garcia. This is a good start.

  • Giovanni Perez

    Do they make gas cans that don’t smell once filled?

  • Kevin Frazier

    Resqme made in the USA they work great!

  • DavidHagen

    This may not be tactical, but it doesn’t need much to work, is low-tech (breakage), and doesn’t use things that could be better packed:

  • Josh P. Blackburn

    All that stolen SL3 lmao

  • Daniel Holloway

    They also sell clips to keep them on your visor; I have two in my jeep and have given several out to loved-ones. The spring loaded glass striker is forceful enough to make a nice divot in a vibram boot sole or draw blood…

  • Tracy Ann

    Nicole, especially since your car is always breaking down..

  • Brad Decker

    You need a @mpowerd solar lantern

  • Manny Sanchez

    12 for 13!

  • Bret Turner

    Planning some winter traveling soon and we have been working on r emergency kit as well. There is a 2-3 hour stretch of nothingness. First on the list…jump pack with air compressor.

  • Merideth Johnson

    Thank you baby

  • Martin B

    You also want a reflective vest too. I put mine on the passenger seat. comes in handy when you pull over on the freeway

  • Frank X

    Have you guys seen the video of the blizzard pile up with a fuel truck joining the crash ? It caused me to think of response time and possibly being out in the elements of MN for hours with only what I am able to grab.

  • Kevin Gurule

    Just so you know, mres in cars over an extended time is a bad idea. Learned that the hard way.

  • Alex Cisneros

    They went bad or did the packed rip? Why is it a bad idea?

  • Alex Cisneros

    Don’t feel the need to buy everything at once that what paralyzes some folks to not building a kit.I’m building mine a few pieces at a time.

  • Kevin Gurule

    Alex Cisneros they go bad. Had one in my car for about 3ish months and forgot a lunch so decided to eat it and got some pretty gnarly food poisoning. Mres need to be kept at room temp to stay good. Cars can heat up to 110 degrees which will make any food go bad given enough time.

  • Luis Almeida

    And if you dont have your vehicle equipped with a winch, at least have a heavy duty rope and/or straps, just in case!

  • RuthAnitha

    Recently I bought this Emergency Survival Kit, In my opinion, it’s convenient and reliable, I love survival whistle, Includes led Flashlight and Multi Function tools card. I got this code “PD10” and got a 10% discount. http://patriotdeal.com/products/sos-emergency-kit

  • MattBowyer

    Why would you need the tools to change a battery? I don’t think most people carry a spare, even if you did you’d have to keep it charged and a flat battery is one of the easiest car problems to temporarily work around.

  • Mgho

    I live outside of buffalo. I had to laugh a little bit when I started reading this. Texas, that’s cute. This priority list is way off.
    By far the most important thing is communication. A spare cellphone, and multiple ways to keep your battery charged. Maybe a cb radio as a backup.
    Next is socks. When your digging out your car, you’re going to have to help the next guy because he just helped you. Your feet will get wet and they will freeze. Dry socks on cold wet half frozen feet will energize you like a defribulater to the chest.
    Next is more dry socks, because those will get wet too.
    Next is food. High fat, High carb, fast digesting. In November I throw a stack of Hershey bars in my glove box. You can eat them frozen, and they will help replenish the rediculus amount of calories that you will burn. shoveling, Staying warm, pushing cars, and trudging through 7 feet of snow are incredibly taxing.
    Shovels: a tri fold gi type shovel is handy for breaking up ice. A wide blade plastic shovel is necessary for moving it efficiently. Another good addition is a climbers pick or a tack hammer, good for breaking up ice under your vehicle chassis.
    Honorable mentions:
    Kitty litter. It doesn’t work nearly as well as people say it does, but it’s better than nothing.
    Tow strap is pretty obvious. You should have two,

  • SteveWilliams8

    Am I the first to see the Krinkov?

  • johnm149

    How do you carry water in the winter – the water freezes and breaks the container; when it thaws, the water gets all over your belongings in the trunk

    • Iryssa

      There’s no way to keep it from freezing if you’re leaving it there all the time. I keep meaning to be more diligent about keeping a bottle of water in my EDC for that reason. To keep the breakage from happening, all you need to do is make sure the container isn’t completely full, to give room for expansion and contraction as the temperature fluctuates. I don’t keep *new* water bottles in the car for that reason. Once you’ve used a few water bottles, don’t throw them out. Re-fill them 3/4 or 4/5 of the way with good clean water and THEN store them in the car. (Alternately, just open new ones and dump a little of each out into another container for your own use…that will be cleaner, so long as you’re careful not to touch the mouth of the bottle or the inside of the cap.)

  • magnacasa

    For added visibility, I have long strips of red reflective tape on the inside of my trunk lid.  I also have some on the edges of the doors.  That was oncoming drivers will have a better chance of seeing me getting in or out.

  • FyllisSeilerWilliams

    There are a few important things to have that I didn’t see mentioned in the above list.
    It might seem like a lot of ‘stuff’, but in an emergency, you’ll be darn glad you have it!

    1. Cell phone and car charger. Always make sure your phone is fully charged before leaving home. 
    Keep your cell phone in a secure pocket on your person. If your vehicle goes into a spin-out on icy roads or you have a wreck, your phone can easily be tossed out of reach.
    After you call for roadside or emergency assistance, turn your phone off to save the battery – ONLY use it when it is needed.
    2. Keep a metal can of some sort in your car, some sand, a Bic lighter or box of matches, and a minimum of 10 Emergency Hurricane Candles (Each candle will burn 4 to 5 hours). Coffee cans are perfect, but it is almost impossible to find metal ones anymore. A small metal bucket will work. 
    Put enough sand in the bottom of the can to hold and keep a candle upright (you can store sand in a zip-loc bag and keep it in the can until you need it). If you have a van, keep 2 or 3 kits.
    Sit the can of sand on the floorboard of your car and put a lit candle in it. The metal and sand will reflect heat and keep you fairly warm in your car. The light from the candle will be enough illumination for rescuers to see and it will save on your car battery and gas. Not to mention, you won’t be at risk of carbon monoxide if your car is turned off. 
    For those of you who live up north where temperatures can get severe, you could get a small, portable propane heater. Dyna-Glo has one for about $35. It has 3 temp settings and would definitely keep your car, truck, or van sufficiently warm. 
    3. If you have children, have appropriate snacks/food and drinks for them. Also, keep a supply of story books, coloring books and crayons, or other games to keep them occupied. Pack a book for yourself.
    A roll of toilet paper and paper towels, as well as a plastic ‘potty’ for the kids. And don’t forget the wet-wipes.
    4. Keep a list of emergency information (for you, your children, or anyone traveling with you) in your glove compartment and place it on the seat or dashboard if you get stranded. It should include emergency contact names and numbers, a list of medications and illnesses you/they might have (diabetic, heart condition, etc.) so emergency rescuers have that needed information to treat you if you should become unresponsive.
    5. Have a 24 hour supply of any medications you might need. If you are diabetic, have all necessary supplies, including packs of sugar and some long-lasting carbohydrates. 

    You don’t have to keep all the items in your car year round. Have an ’emergency box’ in your garage or front closet and put it in your car when hazardous weather is predicted or potentially expected (never trust the weatherman!) 
    Food items can be packed and put in the car before you go out on the road. If you are taking water bottles, pour 1/3 of the water out in case they freeze. That way, when the ice expands the bottles won’t rupture.

    Note: If you will have a pet in the car with you, be sure to pack enough food and water (with a water bowl), and a bone or toy to keep them occupied.

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