The Happy Camper: Winter Emergency Car Kit

Kevin Callan talks about everyday safety — a vehicle safety kit for winter travel.

Credit: Kevin Callan

I’ve often been more prepared for an emergency during a wilderness trek then I have been for an incident during a simple jaunt down the highway.

A couple weeks ago, during a surprise snowstorm, I found myself stuck alongside a snow-covered roadside at midnight, praying for a plow to come by and clear a path for me. Just before dawn I had my prayer answered. Now, I pack an emergency camp kit in my vehicle— just in case. You should too.

Here’s the breakdown of my emergency kit. Some of it is a lot similar to the kit I take on wilderness treks. Who knew?

  • Shovel, ice scraper and small broom, booster cables and windshield wiper fluid. This is almost a given but you’d be surprised who doesn’t pack these items.
  • Extra winter jacket, mitts, hat and boots. How many times have you driven your car with no jacket and while wearing dress shoes? You’d freeze if something happened while en route.
  • First-Aid Kit. Make sure to pack your personal medications in the kit as well, as well as the instruction manual. You might forget a few things since your last first-aid course.
  • Battery Charger. I have an Enerplex Jumpr Slate 10K that matches my solar charger. I realize having a solar charger during a snowstorm makes little sense, but the Enerplex holds enough juice to recharge my smartphone five or six times.
  • Flashlight, with extra batteries (or place the batteries in backwards so they won’t drain while in storage). You might also want to pack a few beeswax candles just in case.
  • Flares from my bear-banger kit are small to pack and cheap to buy. Also, some glow sticks are a bargain at the Dollar Store.
  • Water, water purification tablets and a small cook stove (I pack a JetBoil). The stove may seem extreme to some, but it’s better to store it in my vehicle than in my attic.
  • Matches, a lighter, or better yet, a magnesium striker—these work no matter what.
  • Clif Bars. You need to pack high-energy snacks. Why not the same nutrient bars you pack on a camping trip?
  • SOL Bivy Blanket. This is a lightweight, small, reflective blanket that can keep you warm while you wait for help. Even a compact sleeping bag or wool blanket isn’t a bad idea.
  • The new SPOT Gen3 is perfect. I always have my smartphone with me but what if the battery is drained or I’m out of the service zone? So, I take my SPOT. It works everywhere. I use it on all my wilderness trips to let people know where I am, and I can press the rescue button if an emergency comes up. The biggest advantage of having a SPOT in your vehicle is that it indicates your location. You can phone for help, but it’s not that easy trying to explain to someone on the phone exactly where you are.
  • Satellite phones are expensive and I’m not suggesting you buy one just to have in your car in case your smartphone fails. But I own a satellite phone for my far northern wilderness trips, and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t also pack it in my car while travelling. I’d even suggest that if you’re going on a road trip that you rent one from your local outdoor store.