I’ve experienced that gut-jolting feeling more than once, and you have too. You turn the key to your car expecting to hear the roar of the engine…and…nothing. Or, you’re cruising along the highway when you notice that the gas pedal isn’t quite working right, and it dawns on you, you’ve run out of gas. Or, a nail in the tire leaves you stranded miles from home.
Even on a pleasant, balmy day, these scenarios are frustrating but on a cold day with freezing temperatures and dangerous driving conditions, they can become deadly.
Dress for the occasion
Any time you’ll be traveling in a vehicle through winter weather, you should first dress for that type of weather. You can always change when you get to your destination or remove a layer or two, but if you are well and truly stuck in snow and ice conditions, that business suit, party dress, fancy shoes will be the death of you. Atlanta drivers were reminded of this fundamental truth a few years ago when snowstorms hit their city and stranded thousands of commuters, many in warm-weather business attire.
Your main challenges will be moisture from precipitation and the cold, so plan for both.
If you can’t dress for the weather, then have these items in a waterproof pack or maybe one of those storage bags that allows you to squeeze all the air out so the bag takes up less room — like these.
- one pair of wool socks for each person in the family
- sturdy walking shoes or boots, waterproof if possible. If you have hiking boots but rarely wear them, why not keep them in the trunk of your car or underneath the back seat?
- a tube of Shoe Goo to seal the exterior of shoes against water (You should have a tube of this in your emergency kit, too.)
- hand warmers
- warm, waterproof gloves
- rugged work gloves (In case you need to change a tire, clear a road, or do some other manual labor in freezing temperatures.)
- foot warmers
- knitted wool caps (These are my favorite for keeping my head warm, key to keeping the entire body warm.)
- rain ponchos with hoods (large “contractors” trash bags are an okay substitute)
- wool long johns
If you are packing these things for multiple members of the family, make the entire pile easier to organize by separating out each person’s set of clothes/gear and keeping them in separate bags. This way there’s no need to dig through a huge bag of clothes to find one pair of socks.
Stuck in the car, with nowhere to go
If the weather is so bad that you can’t even get out of the car, then you’ll still be needing those warm clothes. The temperature inside your car will quickly drop to just a few degrees warmer than outside. The warm socks, caps, clothes, and hand/foot warmers will help a great deal.
To that, add a small heater that is safe to use inside a vehicle. This portable, small space heater runs on propane and would be a safe choice. Store a couple extra propane containers in your vehicle to insure you have a supply to last a few days, just in case.
Since body heat counts for something, even in very cold weather, you will probably need to run this heater for just a few minutes every hour or so. If your car has plenty of gas, you can turn on your car’s heater every so often as well. Just make sure that the exterior exhaust pipe isn’t clogged with mud or snow. If it is, clear it out completely before turning your car on, otherwise carbon monoxide can build up inside the car, causing another deadly problem worse than being stranded. This carbon monoxide detector for the car looks intriguing, although I haven’t used it personally.
Another heating option is one that uses a couple of cans, a roll of toilet paper, and a bottle or two of alcohol. This DIY emergency heater will require some practice using it. I recommend watching this video to see how the heater is put together, reading the results of actual use in a car, and then reading through the comments on this site to learn from others’ experiences. I file this in the “emergency use only” category, but it definitely wouldn’t hurt to have it put together with a bottle or two of alcohol — just in case.
You probably have some spare blankets around the house, so go ahead and roll those up, store in a space-saver bag and add them to your supplies in the trunk. I’ve kept spare blankets and towels underneath my Tahoe’s back seat for many years, and they come in handy, no matter the weather.
If you have sleeping bags that are rarely use, toss them into the trunk of the car. You might as well store them there as in the garage or attic. Caught in cold weather, they could very possibly save your life.
Along with resources to stay warm, food, water, and a toilet (of all things!) are going to become necessities. This article details how to store water in a vehicle during the winter. It’s important to know that eating snow, while technically is water and life-saving, can also work against you by lowering your core temperature. Granola or energy bars, crackers, beef jerky, lollipops — all do well when stored in cold temperatures. Sugary and salty snacks, though, will increase your thirst, which leads us to the toilet situation.
Most likely, you’ll need to just hop out of the car, do your business, and then hop back in. A child’s training toilet can be stored in the trunk, along with some plastic trash bags and toilet paper.
Finally, think about how you will wile away the hours before getting rescued and put together a sanity-saving kit. It might contain a charged and loaded mp3 player with earphones, a book you’ve been meaning to read, paper and pen, coloring books and colored pencils for the kids, hard candies, and so on. Your “adventure” may last just an hour or two but you could also be stranded for much longer. If so, you’ll be needing these supplies.
By the way, do stay in or very near your car. Unless you are 100% certain that a well-traveled road or occupied home/building is within a very short, easy walk and the weather allows, you will be found much more quickly if you’re with your vehicle. Exertion that causes a lot of sweating (moisture) will only make it more difficult to stay warm and you’ll become dehydrated.
For a very complete list of what to keep in your car, this printable is ready to download!
Obviously, getting stuck in your car is a situation that isn’t desirable! Even if you’re toasty warm, the kids are napping, and you’re listening to your favorite Pandora channel, you want to get home!
A charged cell phone is a necessity, as is an external battery pack. A charged battery pack like this one has saved my bacon on many occasions when my cell phone was nearly dead. With your phone, you can utilize Google maps, emergency scanners, first aid apps, and even this winter survival app. This survival manual app has extensive information at your fingertips.
In a winter landscape, bright colors are easy to spot. Imagine a bright red cardinal against white snow and bare, gray tree branches. If your vehicle is off the main roads, you may need to figure out how to make it more visible for rescue workers or the casual passer-by.
A mylar emergency blanket can be stretched across the top of your car and secured in place with your car doors. Brightly colored clothing can be tied to an antenna. A mirror can be used to flash passing cars or airplanes and honking your horn can attract attention as will flashing your headlights. If you’ve told someone where you are going and when to expect you back home, it won’t be long before an active search will be called and help will be on its way.