Gear Transportation Travel Health Wilderness

Winter Car Travel

As the temperatures start dropping and I am getting ready for the “white stuff” to hit the ground, we are starting to plan out holidays.  Most people I know are looking forward to getting together with their family, whom they may not see too often, and will be driving to the gatherings.

Having a “winter travel car kit” that you can put in the back seat or trunk is important and here are some things that you may want to include, and why:

  • Extra jacket, pants, gloves and hat to keep you warm

Keeping warm, especially if you are having to sit out a blizzard is vital.  Remember that you will be sitting in a car and moving to help generate body heat is vital.  Extra layers can not only add some comfort, but also save a life.

  • Several long burning candles

Candles can help generate heat in the car, provide some light and help you melt snow for drinking water

  •  Matches

Lighters may not work in very cold environments. 

  • Headlamp or flashlight with spare batteries

Unfortunately, you may have to sit out bad weather or wait for help overnight.  A light can do wonders to help signal others, boost morale and assist in finding items in your vehicle.  I am a fan of petzl headlamps.

  • Food such as jerky, hard candy, chocolate, nuts and raisins

Extra calories help you stay warm and a little “comfort food” can go along way

  • A metal cup

Any flame-proof object can be filled with snow and, using your candle, drinking water can be melted.  A metal cup is best because it transfers heat from your candle to the snow inside, faster.  To avoid dehydration, remember to drink before you are thirsty.  All that snow trapping you in your car can at least help you stay hydrated!

  • Mobile phone with charger

Call for help and communicate with others about your position, direction of travel, type/make of car, number of people with you and their condition.  Ideally, a portable battery type charger will keep you from needing to run the car engine and charge your phone.

  • Self-powered radio with weather channels

Get up to date information on road conditions, weather status and something to help pass the time.  The Red Cross has a very nice product that features phone charger, light and several power options.

  • 50 feet of cord

This can be used to tie a “umbilical cord” between you and your vehicle if you have to leave the vehicle.  During a severe “white out” condition, even trying to get from your seat to the trunk and back can be difficult.  Tying a line will allow you to safely reach you vehicle if you have to go outside.  I like to use spectra cord for this purpose.

  • Whistle

Signal for help, alert others to your presence

  • Carbon monoxide detector

There is some danger that keeping your car running helps carbon monoxide build up in the passenger areas, and CO poisoning can kill.  This is not a problem when you are moving, because there is generally adequate ventilation of the inside.  However, a car that is not moving and receiving heavy enough snowfall to block the tail-pipe is at risk for CO poisoning.  Some suggest running your car at intervals (running 5 minutes every 15-20 minutes) to help keep passengers warm.  Still, one should attempt to clear the tail-pipe from snow or debris, allowing better ventilation of the CO gas.  If you do have to leave the car to dig your exhaust pipe out, make sure to use your cord as a tie off around your waist and the vehicle. 

  • Two large plastic garbage bags

Unfortunately, you may need to use the bathroom during your wait and there are about a million uses for garbage bags, including emergency rain jacket

  • Sleeping bag

Help keep everybody warm and cozy

  • Toilet tissue

Can be used as intended, for bathroom breaks, also makes a great fire starter

  • Leatherman multi-tool or swiss knife

Everybody who goes anywhere should carry one of these.

  • Basic first aid kit

An assortment of bandages, pain/fever control such as tylenol, antihistamine, etc.

  • Three days supply of personal medications

If you take medication on a regular basis, you need to have an small supply to last you while you are waiting for the weather to clear and help to arrive.

  • Surveyor’s tape

This can be tied to your antennae, hung out a window or wrapped around anything you want people to notice, especially in bad weather.  Here’s what it looks like and it can be found at most home repair stores.

  • Signal flares

Place these around your care, to help others see your car.  This can help in getting rescuers to see you need help and help other motorists from driving into your stopped vehicle.

There are many web-based resources to learn more about safe car travel, during winter months and especially in bad weather conditions.  Here are a few I liked:


  1. Thanks for this article!

    I started doing this a few years ago, but learned the hard way when I skidded off the road during a blizzard in 1993 and had to abandon my car….I was frozen half to death by time I reached home.

    I keep everything together inside of an old duffel bag so its in one place, then toss it in the trunk during winter.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: