Winter Weather Survival Gear for Your Car

Don't get caught unprepared in a roadside emergency

With most of the country in the icy clutches of winter, it seems like a good time to discuss some vehicle gear for winter travel in the event of a roadside emergency.

Over many years of travel in the mountains and deserts, I have had a number of adverse driving conditions that have prompted me to continually refine my vehicle supplies. While the items may get upgraded, the survival priorities remain the same, whether you are in the heat or the cold. We all need to stay warm (or cool), dry, hydrated, nourished and obtain sleep in addition to tending to any medical issues along the way.

Here is a bare-bones vehicle kit that every commuter should carry:

Adventure Medical Kits (AMK) Heatsheet
Wool Hat
Insulated Gloves
2 Gallons of Water
SOS Rations (3600 calories)
36-hour Nu-Wick Candle for snow-melting to stay hydrated and interior heating (just crack a window!)
16 ounce enamel cup
Leatherman Wave
Full-size Spare Tire
Can of Fix-a-Flat
Air Compressor
LED Headlamp & Spare Lithium Batteries
AMK Weekender First-Aid Kit
Roll of Duct Tape
4 Cyalume Glo-Sticks
Cellphone Charger
Jumper Cables
Carpet Strips—4 feet long by 12 inches wide

Winter Clothing: parka, Sorel Pac boots, wool mittens, polypro long underwear, sunglasses, wool socks, turtleneck, wool pants and sleeping bag or wool blanket.

What to Do if You Break Down

Next to hypothermia, your major concern with holing up in your rig during the winter is from carbon monoxide buildup in the interior. It’s called the “silent killer” for a reason so crack open a window every time you run the engine (20 minutes every hour) and periodically check the exhaust pipe to make sure it is not blocked by snow or ice. Again, I can’t stress enough the importance of carrying a sleeping bag during winter road trips. This can be a lifesaver and, at the very least, will be a real calorie-saver! Couple this with some nourishing food and you will have the means of generating metabolic heat during the cold night ahead.
One tip I learned from veteran survival instructor Peter Kummerfeldt of is to section off the interior of your vehicle to make heating efforts more efficient. You do this by taping or stringing up a Heatsheet/tarp/emergency blanket from floor to ceiling behind the front seats. I’ve found the best combination is to use duct tape and a Heatsheet and wrap the duct tape around the seatbelt attachment points followed by taping it to the center dome light above. With this arrangement you have just eliminated two-thirds of the space you have to heat in a van or SUV and half that in a car.

Next, get your feet up off the floor (the cold sink) and place them across the front seat or your partner. I find that unlacing the boots helps with air circulation and reduces sweat accumulation in my socks. You can also use the age-old camping trick of putting some hot water, heated via campfire or stove, in a bottle and placing it in your coat or at the bottom of the sleeping bag to provide a few hours of warmth.

Much of this information is excerpted from our eBook, A Vehicle Survival Kit You Can Live With on Amazon.

This story originally appeared in the Ancient Pathways newsletter. Read more survival tips on