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Designing A Winter Emergency Kit For Your Car

Avatar for Samantha Biggers Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: May 24, 2021
Designing A Winter Emergency Kit For Your Car

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Driving conditions in the winter can deteriorate quickly. If you live in a climate with harsh winters, then you may be very experienced. Regardless of how well prepared you think you might be, it is a good idea to review what emergency supplies and tools you have in each of your vehicles.

This post is a long list. You may be thinking “How on earth does she expect me to fit all that in my car?”

Remember that these are all items to consider. If you just drive around town a little or have a short commute, some items may not be things you find necessary. Staying warm, dry, fed, hydrated, and having the ability to call for help are all main priorities. If you can trouble shoot or deal with things like a flat tire or dead battery it can save you the hassle of waiting for help. Just because you have AAA doesn’t mean they are going to be able to get to you as fast as you can fix minor issues yourself.

Consider how much you drive and how far and use this list as a guide to creating a winter car kit that best suits your needs.

Emergency blankets and an emergency bivvy

Emergency blankets are one of those inexpensive preps that we should all have about a dozen of. For the price, this is a cheap prep that can save lives. At the same time, emergency blankets are thin and can tear easily. An emergency bivvy is tougher and is often made mummy style, so you have a hood to help conserve all that body heat that escapes from your head when it is uncovered. We have a bivvy in our truck, and it weighs about 8 oz and fits in a space about the size of two soda cans.

Check out this post for some options for your car.

Best Emergency Sleeping Bags For The Unexpected Night Out

Extra water and a water filter

A case of bottled water can go a long way. Of course, I understand that leaving water in an unheated car means it is going to freeze. For those in very cold climates, the solution may be to take a water container and just make sure to fill it up each day and put in your car. Take it into work with you and make sure it is full when you leave. A 64 oz water bottle works well. You could also bring a thermos of warm or hot water and leave that in your car. Stanley makes some excellent large thermoses that are 64 oz.

I also think it is wise to have a water filter in case you are stuck for longer than you expect or the situation changes and you are able to walk to a gas station or something. A Sawyer Mini with a squeeze bag is an option as is a water bottle you can fill but has a built-in filter that takes out organisms. A simple Brita is not what I am talking about. Britas are for taking out things like fluoride and chlorine, not bacteria and viruses.

Urinal and an adaptor for the ladiesamazon product

A urinal can make things a lot more comfortable if you find your self stranded on the side of the road. Getting out of your car in a blizzard to use the bathroom is unpleasant at best, and it is even possible to lose your way back to the car or become too chilled. Whiteout blizzards are no joke. It is important to stay hydrated during an emergency though so you are going to have to use the bathroom if stranded for a long time.


I think that people carry a lot of stuff in their cars, so there is probably room for a few days worth of food during the winter months. 72 hours is a good rule if you have condensed rations. That doesn’t take up much space. Also, remember that case of water.

If you really want to keep it simple, put a 6 or 12 pack of MREs in your car with some bottled water and your water filter.

Western Frontier MRE

amazon product

Medical kit

Depending on if you had an accident that stranded you or you injure yourself doing something like getting a food container open, jacking up your car, etc.

A radio with a fresh set of batteries

It is good to know what is going on and to have something to listen too. An mp3 player is also great, and some radios like the Kaito’s I often mention, allow you to play mp3s through them. There are several model sizes of these radios, and they can be a real blessing if you are stuck on the side of the road in a whiteout or in the case of a lot of weather-related wrecks.

Treacherous conditions happen fast!

It is amazing how fast weather can cause problems. I remember when Matt and I were coming back from taking a friend back to their place, and we hit snow and then by the time we were at Old Fort Mountain, a very steep and notorious road, there were wrecks everywhere. I was very scared at times. Matt was very careful, but it was like an ice rink for a lot of people that were in cars. We had moments that we had wished we had pulled over and got a hotel. Those big trucks coming over that mountain only have so many runaway truck ramps they can use.

Jumper cables or battery charger/starter

Dead batteries are a major contributor to motorists being stranded. If it happens while you are doing a lot of stop and go on the highway due to the weather.

NOCO Genius Boost Plus GB40 1000 Amp 12V

UltraSafe Lithium Jump amazon product

This jump starter is great because you can just keep it in your car to jump start it yourself rather than trying to get someone to pull over or calling for assistance. Make sure you get the right size for your vehicle. The one above is good for most vehicles but you can get a more powerful model. I like that this can be used as a battery bank to recharge small devices, so you have some extra power on the go even if your battery is just fine.

Palumma Car Charger USB Port Charger Adapter

amazon product

I recommend having a battery gauge that fits into your outlet. Matt and I use one of these to make sure the batteries hooked up to our solar power system are not too depleted to be using. We try not to let batteries get below 50% since it has an impact on how long they last.


Having something to do while stuck helps pass the time and keep you calm. There are many options. If you have a lot of battery life and backup battery for a cell phone or tablet then that might be an option. A few paperbacks and pens and paper are other options that don’t require power. Just remember to have a battery powered book light too in case you have to spend the night out.

If you do crafts like knitting or crocheting, then you may want to have a few things like that in a bag. For a lot of knitters, this is a normal thing!

Emergency Cash

I know some people don’t like carrying a lot of cash, but it is wise to have some on hand if you get stuck somewhere or during an emergency. I have been in a situation where the entire electronic banking system is nonfunctional for a few days. In Ketchikan, Alaska, a storm could knock out the phone and power grid on an adjoining island.

I was thankful we had checks and cash. The situation taught me a lesson about the value of not relying on electronic transactions for everything. The banks would give you a max of $50 to get by during the time, but that didn’t buy many groceries or supplies up there.

Extra Car Key

A magnetic car key holder that fits in a concealed location is one option. Another good way to do this is to carry a spare in your wallet that you keep on you when traveling. Locking your keys in your vehicle is a common occurrence, but it doesn’t have to be a disaster or delay you.

Physical Maps

Maps of your area and the surrounding ones are an excellent idea. GPS is not always accurate or even available. A Rand McNally Road Atlas may seem outdated, but it is a really nice thing to have if you are on a trip and have no GPS for one reason or another. If you don’t travel outside of a specific region, then just some maps of your area may be the best use of your space and money.


I usually use Leatherman tools, but there are other multi-tools out there that are well made too. Schrade is one company that comes to mind. I will say that some people do say they have found some good inexpensive multi-tools but I am not going to carry something for emergency use that I am not confident is made of quality materials.

Best Multi Tools for the Equipped Prepper

Warm Clothing that is preferably not cotton and raingear

Cotton is comfortable, but if you are trying to stay warm and dry, it is not a good choice. You need a full rain suit too. Of course, even if you just had cotton clothes and a rain suit, it would be far better than having just cotton.

Good shoes you could walk in during cold weather

While you may wear fashionable shoes to work, you need to stash a good pair of warm, comfortable, rugged, and nonslip shoes in your vehicle. If you travel with others, make sure they have some too.

Warm and tough gloves

A pair of insulated gloves is nice for staying warm, but you also need to be sure that you have gloves that can protect your hands if you have to put on chains or change out a tire.


Snow can create a lot of blinding glare. Being snowblind is dangerous. You don’t have to spend a lot either.

Hygiene Items

Being in the car for days sounds like a nightmare, but it will be a lot worse if you have no supplies to keep yourself a little bit clean. Here are a few things that you should consider having in a car hygiene kit.

  • Toilet paper or paper towels
  • Wet wipes
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste


There are a ton of reasons to have a shovel in your car. You can use a shovel to dig and gain traction, remove snow from around your car, dig a hole to use the bathroom, or even use it as a weapon if you have to.

I did a post on Best Entrenching Tools For The Prepared.

Many of the shovels I discuss have a lot of different uses, but a few are just shovels.

Bag of sand and rock salt

It is an old trick to put some extra weight in your car for better traction during snowy and icy conditions. Salt can also be used to melt ice and snow when needed. You can also put sand down to gain traction

Traction Mats

amazon product

If you live in a snowy or icy area and commute a lot, a set of traction mats can help get you out of some bad situations or even out of your driveway and onto a cleared road. There are many types of these mats out there so take a few minutes to make sure the ones you are looking at can handle the abuse your vehicle can deliver. Big trucks may be better off with the option below.

X-BULL New Recovery Traction Tracks Sand Mud Snow Track Tire Ladder

amazon product

Tire Chains

Check your tire size and purchase a set of chains. Practice taking them on and off a few times, so you don’t get yourself in a situation of having to put them on for the first time under unpleasant and stressful circumstances. Putting chains on takes some time to do even if you have experience.

Flares and reflectors

You have probably seen the reflectors that truck drivers set out when they are having vehicle distress. It is a good idea to have flares too.

Flares and reflectors help others see your pulled over vehicle and be aware that someone may be working on a stranged or struggling vehicle. Both flares and reflectors can also help rescuers find you.

A spare tire that has been checked recently for air pressure and is possible to remove with the tools you have

I have to say that a lot of spare tires out there are flat or the bolts holding them on are rusted or on so tight that some people may not be able to get to them. Make sure your spare tire is actually usable and that you are physically able to get it off your vehicle. This is so easy to overlook. If you cannot get your spare tire off, then go to a shop where they have the right tools. They can inspect your spare and get it in working order too.

Tire Fix Kit For SHTF

The link above will take you to my previous post on creating a tire fix kit. While I cover a variety of situations, many of the items are something that you should consider for your everyday vehicle.

I include some tire related items in this post, but I suggest you look at the Tire Fix Kit For SHTF post and consider adding additional tire related items to your winter car kit.

Car Jack

Make sure you have a car jack that is functional and that you know how to use. It is important to know where your jack points are as well. I mention several types of aftermarket jacks in my Tire Fix Kit post.

Windshield Wiper Fluid

While you should make sure this is topped off, you may want to keep some extra in your car for deicing. You can go through a lot of it during the winter, and it is all too easy to forget to check your level often enough.

Windshield Scraper

Get a good one. I like the style that has a built-in glove, so you don’t freeze your hands off if you forget to wear gloves or it is a pain to get to them.

amazon product

Firestarting Kit

I think it is wise to have something to light a fire within your vehicle just in case. Where there is fire, there is warmth, and if you are stuck somewhere during an emergency, it is good to have.

  • At least 2 Bic Lighters
  • Tinder such as jute twine, dryer lint, oily cotton balls, etc.

Several flashlights with extra batteries

For some options, take a look at my post “The Best EDC Flashlights”.

Get Home Bag

Some of the items I have talked about in this post may already be part of your get home bag. There are other things you may want to have in your bag for sure!

Bug Out vs. Get Home Bags

Something for self-defense

If you are a concealed carry holder or in an open carry state, then a handgun may be your go-to weapon. If you are considering a firearm and don’t have one already, I recommend the Bersa Thunder .380 for everyday carry. It is reliable, affordable, and ammo is easy to find. It also doesn’t require fancy ammunition to avoid jams. You can keep it locked in a Pelican case or similar too if that makes you feel better but it does mean it is harder to get to in an emergency.

If firearms are not your thing, then consider pepper spray, a knife, taser, or even a baseball bat like a Louisville Slugger. You need to have something and preferably two things to defend yourself with.

Best Non Lethal Weapons for the Prepared Individual

A few days worth of prescription medications

I advise keeping these medicines in a bottle with your name on it. Medicines for a child or spouse is okay to have in your car. I just offer this advice because due to the enormous increase in prescription drug abuse, it can look suspicious having prescription meds in the wrong bottle. This can lead to questions or proving you have the right to have the pills. It is better to just save yourself the hassle, especially if you live in an area with a drug problem.

Use cell phone time wisely

You need to be conservative. You only have so much gas, and you don’t necessarily want to run your engine if there are big snow drifts that can clog a tailpipe and it is terrible enough that you don’t feel it is safe to get out of your vehicle.

If you have a battery bank or charger, then you have a safety net, but you still don’t want to push it.

The Bottom Line: Avoid driving under icy and snowy conditions whenever possible but be prepared for those times when you have to do so.

Did I forget anything you find important to keep in your vehicle? Have you been stuck for more than a few hours in your car due to winter weather? What did you learn from your experience?

Samantha Biggers can be reached at [email protected].

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7 Responses to “Designing A Winter Emergency Kit For Your Car”

  1. I keep my water in a small 5 gallon Coleman rigid cooler wrapped in a blanket. Unless the inside car temps fall way below freezing, it’s kept my water unfrozen to -10 F so far. For a shovel for me, the bigger the better as I don’t want to be bending down low or on my knees with a standard army entrenching tool.

  2. I can melt snow for water if I need to. I sure do not want to crawl in to my sleeping bag with a frozen bottle of water. I have a rocket stove and candles (with a old coffee can to burn them in) that I can melt snow and ice for water in my GI canteen cup if need be. I plan on filling my water bottles if I need to at a rest stop on the freeway that is were I probably be forced off if the freeways are closed down. I think I am going to try filling my large stainless steel thermos 3/4 full with hot water before I leave each trip. This should keep it from freezing for a couple of days in the car.

  3. I keep a couple of sun shades (for my windshield) in my car year round now – the type that is like bubble wrap with silvering on at least one side. Got them super cheap from the dollar store. If stranded in your vehicle, a couple of those front and back will help insulate the windows and reflect body heat back into the car, and a couple more can even be used as emergency blankets or pads/mats.

  4. What freezes will thaw in a warm car or sleeping bag.
    Make sure you use a type of container that won’t rupture when it freezes, such as PETE.

  5. The cheapest and easiest unisex urinal can be made from any liquid laundry detergent bottle whose spout can be removed without removing the threads that the cap uses. Because it is wide-mouthed, even women can hit the mark. If it is well washed, she can even hold it close for a complete seal.

  6. I keep a old GI entrenching tool in the car. I have filed all the burrs off the edges as keep the blade sharp as it digs much better that way. This is much better that a baseball bat as that can be considered a weapon. I have a small done tent and a sleeping bag and insulating ground pad in the car as well as a small rocket stove and a GI canteen cup. I will have hot coffee and tea if I am stranded for a couple of days. My father was a long haul truck driver and several time in his career he was forced in to rest stops by the State Police when they freeways were closed down. and stuck there for several days. One of the 1st thing that ran out was toilet paper in the rest rooms. The vending machines were emptied fast too. I drive across 4 states ever two weeks so I have a good kit in the car with extra food (instant oatmeal and soup) and cold weather gear. I also have 2 all wool blankets in my winter bag too. I will help someone with kids out but adults are on their own. You can always cut a plastic water or pop battle down and use if needed as a urinal.

  7. Good list. Thanks!

    I used to live in Wisconsin, and heat was an issue which you touched on with the fire starting section. However, several candles and a tin can for a candlestick make a decent heat source. Or two or three cans in case it is really, really cold.

    Food: we like SOS Foods brand lifeboat rations for the vehicles. They are packed for five year shelf life in both hot and cold conditions. Similar to sugar cookies or short bread, and very hi energy, low salt. There are other brands as well, of course. All available on Amazon, keywords ‘lifeboat rations’.

    I also used to keep a backpack with warm winter clothes in it, because getting stuck can happen anywhere, anytime, including while going to/from some place which requires dressier clothes and shoes.

    Proper clothes would have been quite a boon to a family member and spouse who departed a formal New Years party years ago only to find their car had been plowed in. He had a shovel so he dug out, but he did it in a tuxedo and patent leather shoes. Bad work clothes.

    I never solved the stored water problem. It freezes.

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