We’re having a pretty mild winter out here in Denver, but the east coast has recently taken a beating by winter storms. Winter has a funny way of reminding us how vulnerable we can be if we’re not properly prepared.
Two years ago (my first winter in Colorado) I was taking an easy turn up a mountain road in January, when, at the apex of the turn, the Corolla decided to keep going straight – caught on an unseen ice patch - sending me down a sheer embankment, the car coming to a halt in a snow-bank at such a precarious angle that I had to climb out the passenger side – carefully crawling as to not shift the car, which was in definite danger of tipping and rolling into the nearby frozen pond. It was ten degrees outside, the sun was going down, and I was on a desolate backroad by myself. The situation could have turned into survival-mode in a matter of seconds.
We always think that a “survival scenario” won’t happen to us - but it can happen to anyone, at any time. It’s good to take some minor precautions to be ready, just in case. So to help you out, below is a list of items that I recommend to keep in your car during these winter months, with links to each. I’ve tried to keep the price low but quality high – and when your life is on the line, an extra $100 is probably worth it.
Assemble your kit and keep it in your car (I can help - see below). I hope you never have to use it, but if you do, I wish you good fortune.
3. Sunglasses – Certainly good to have in general ($0, you probably have an extra pair lying around somewhere).
3. Water – Our lifeblood. I usually keep a seven-gallon container in my car, but during winter it pretty much remains an ice block. How to combat this? Keep water bottles inside the cab of your car ($0 - let’s be honest, you probably have a few under your seat anyways). Store in bottles that are less than a quart, pour a little out to prevent explosions, and keep them under your seat. They'll still freeze if you live in a harsh environment, but smaller bottles will definitely thaw out quicker than a big seven gal. Note: DO NOT try to thaw ice by using heat from yourself. Hopefully you can start a fire (see Warmth section), but if not, wrap a bottle in your emergency blanket with a set of hand warmers. Also, sports drinks have a lower freezing point, so keep a couple of cracked Gatorades under your seats too.
4. Food – Keep a few non-perishable food items in your car. I recommend trail mix, snack bars, and snickers (warning: snickers don’t do well in the summer). ($0, just raid your pantry).
5. Wool Blanket ($39.95) – A heavy wool blanket or sleeping bag is critical. I usually keep a zero degree sleeping bag in my car, along with a thick wool blanket. Wool is great because it retains heat even when wet.
6. Warm Clothing ($0) – Such an important element. Layers are everything. This doesn’t have a dollar value because you probably have an outfit you can keep in the car all winter. Include:
a. Winter Jacket (if not waterproof, also add a rain jacket)
b. Long Johns (top and bottom)
c. Snow Pants (ideally)/Sweatpants/Fleece Pants/ Any Warm, Non-Cotton Pants You Own
d. Wool Cap
f. Thick Wool Socks
g. Boots (ideally insulated)
h. A piece of neon/bright clothing for signaling
7. Fire Kit – Fire is the most important, especially if (god forbid) you are forced to stay out overnight.
a. Include several lighters ($0, you probably have a couple somewhere).
b. Bring some waterproof matches ($8.43) for when the lighters ultimately fail in the cold.
c. Add a couple small candles ($4.99) so you can stop wasting your matches.
d. If we’re getting serious, throw in a ferro rod ($12.03) for when your waterproof matches start to fail you.
e. Have some tinder – here’s a quick, fun task ($0, because you probably have this stuff at home, ya weirdo):
1. Take some cotton balls (or dryer lint rolled into balls).
2. Soak that shit in petroleum jelly. That’s right, Vaseline. Sounds weird, but just do it. The interior fibers should remain dry, but coat the outside.
3. Throw it in a plastic bag.
4. If you ever need a fire, tear one open and light the dry parts. Add tiny dry sticks and gradually add bigger pieces, making sure not to suffocate the flame.
Just In Case
8. First Aid Kit ($12.06) – A first aid kit is a must. I’ve unfortunately had to use mine in many scenarios, both light and harrowing - on others and upon myself. Fortunately, I’ve always been prepared, and all it takes is $12 – this cheap kit contains everything from bandages and gauze to burn cream and insect sting relief. It even includes an emergency blanket! Someone gave me one of these for a graduation gift and I thought it was really goofy, but looking back it was truly one of the best gifts I’ve received. I’ve modified a few things and I’d probably add some sunscreen and a few hand warmers ($5.65) for winter use. Also good to add an emergency whistle ($3.30) and emergency mirror ($2.89) for signaling.
9. Flashlight – This is a critical tool for so many reasons, but especially when changing a tire, putting on chains, or jumping the car at night. I recommend getting one from more well-known brand (I like Black Diamond’s Spot ($33.86)), but there are also some solid cheaper options online (like this one ($6.99) that has 4.7 stars on Amazon). Make sure to throw in an extra set of batteries.
10. Knife ($9.91)– Morakniv makes this dope fixed-blade knife that is highly-respected in the survival world. For the price it’s unbeatable.
$109.19. Being prepared when an emergency situation arises: Priceless.
On that fateful day two winters ago, I got lucky. My car didn’t flip into the frozen pond. I walked a quarter mile up the road and got a spot of service to call AAA. A kind couple from Aspen passed by and let me wait in the warmth of their car. AAA arrived and was able to pull my car out safely.
But that day made me totally reconsider how I travel. We’re all one quick moment away from needing these items. Will you be ready?
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you’d like help assembling a kit of your own – if you don’t have enough time or don’t want to put forth the effort yourself - shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be more than happy to order these items for you. Pay what you want (at least current cost of items), and we can customize it based on your needs. I want you to be prepared!
1. Jumper Cables ($9.53)
2. Cat litter ($5.43) – Sounds weird. Adds traction. Also good to keep open when your bonehead friends bring piles of snow into your car.
3. Shovel ($15.99) – Good for digging yourself out of a hole.
4. Hazard Triangles ($7.49) – If you get in a wreck, you can alert other drivers of hazardous areas, thus preventing your car from further damage.
5. Winter Windshield Wiper Fluid ($10.38) – Prevents freezing. During winter, crud from the road can cover your windshield – you need to be able to clean it.
6. Tourniquet ($39.95) - Really hoping to never need one, but car accidents can easily lead to heavy bleeding. This one came recommended by a very wise friend who teaches survival skills, and it is a solid addition to any first aid kit.
7. Windshield Hammer/Seatbelt Cutter ($4.99) - Keep in your center console. If you ever need to get out of a bind, this tool can be a lifesaver.
8. Personal Locator Beacon ($185) - Only to be used in grave circumstances, this item can certainly save lives. This model came recommended by a friend who was a survival instructor for the U.S. Air Force.
9. Duct Tape ($2.63)- No explanation necessary.
10. Paracord ($5.49) - There's a thousand uses for it. Every time I'm on a long trip, I'm grateful I brought some along.
11. Tire Chains/Snow Tires – If you’re in a place where it snows regularly, you should have one or the other (it’s the law in many places). If you’re in Georgia, you should probably just stay off the roads when they're icy. I’m not the best source on this – talk to your mechanic or do some googlin’.
Special thanks to my survival specialist friends, Mike Lowe and Nicole Apelian, for their input on my kit! If you ever want more information on survival skills and prepping, I'm friends with some of the brightest in the industry - let me know and I can help you get signed up for one of their amazing classes.