When winter rain and snow comes in double measure during the Christmas holiday, travelers must be extra careful about preparation for a road trip.

None of us plan to get in trouble, but for the unfortunate or careless, trouble finds them anyway. A student driving home for Christmas at the end of fall semester takes a wrong turn and ends up stranded on a dark freezing night. Or, a family who cannot leave for Grandma’s house until Christmas Eve because the breadwinner has to work until the last minute, heads out into a snowstorm with the kids in the back seat, and no special preparation. Does this sound like you, or someone you care about?

Take time now for serious thought about what is in your trunk that can save your family’s life if you are caught by extensive traffic delays, spin out and land in a snowbank, or just run out of gas on a cold and lonely road.  

Let’s take inventory and clear out the “junk in the trunk”, so we can bring out the stuff that will save your life – the things you need in your Winter Auto Kit. 

Water is the most important item in your auto kit. You can survive days and even weeks without food but only a few days without water. Without water you may be tempted to eat snow. NEVER do that. Water stored in your car will be clean and safe when other sources may not be. If your water should freeze, it can be thawed. Water in mylar pouches can be heated near a fire or in the engine compartment when you run your engine. Running an engine for 10 minutes every hour will help prevent frostbite and will be adequate to help charge a cell phone, assuming you have a charger. 

Food is the second most important item to include in all auto kits.  During a winter emergency your body will retain body heat and create more warmth as it digests food.  

Glow sticks can provide light during the nighttime hours and make you more visible to rescuers. I love the 10-inch glow sticks that are sold with a bipod. These are great to use in place of flares, to mark a path, to direct traffic after an accident, or during an emergency to signal rescuers at night. They can be seen for a mile.  

Work gloves are needed if you change a tire, put on chains, or dig your wheels out of the mud or snow. Two pair are better than one, just in case you need help with those chains.

Snow chains, sand or kitty litter help with traction if your car spins out in the snow.

Bungee Cords have a million uses for building shelter and securing your car.

A small camp shovel is great to build a snow cave, or dig your car out of a snowbank. 

Waterproof matches or lighter. Priceless.

A metal container to melt snow. A number 10 can works well for this and is a handy way to store small items. 

A mirror or extra mylar blanket can be used to signal rescuers.  

Umbrella: Instant shelter and protection from the wind. Umbrellas make a good door for a shelter. 

Safety vests to be worn so you can be more easily seen by rescuers or while near the roadway (bright orange vests, cheap ones). You will all be safer if you need to leave the car, and each passenger wears one. These can also be attached to your car as a distress signal.  

Cell phone charger for the car.  

Small candle: If placed on the dash, this will help keep the air in the car above freezing. Don’t go to sleep and leave it lit. You can also run your car engine for 10 minutes every hour to warm the car and charge the phone. Make sure before running the engine that the tail pipe is not blocked. Also, leave a window slightly open on the downwind side of the car (facing away from the wind) for ventilation, but where the air is fresh and free of carbon monoxide from the auto exhaust (which is poisonous).

Wool blanket: You should have one per seat in your car. If you have some bench seats and also some club seating, each seat needs a blanket in a survival situation. 

Mylar emergency blankets: These have dozens of uses from creating warmth to blocking wind, to use as a signaling device. Mylar blankets can be used for:

  • Warmth. Using duct tape, tape three sides together and create a sleeping bag for a child. For an adult, tape two blankets together.
  • Insulation from the cold. When stranded, cover the walls of the vehicle with the blanket, with the shiny side facing inward. This will help retain your body heat.
  • Moisture barrier. Cut a slit in the center big enough to fit your head through and use it as a poncho.
  • Signaling device. If stranded in the snow, place a mylar blanket over the roof of the car. This will make it easier for rescuers to see the car, especially if the car is a light color.
  • Reflector. At the scene of an accident or when changing a tire, place a blanket over the trunk of the car or on a tree or post next to the road, making it easier to be seen (especially at night). Cut strips to wrap around arms if along a roadway at night.

Dental Floss can be used to:

  • Tie items together.
  • Hang blankets.
  • Mend clothing, bags, etc.
  • Replace broken shoe laces.

Knit cap and mittens: Most of your body heat is lost through your head, so the cap is important. Mittens are warmer than gloves. Remember wool or man-made fibers are better in cold/wet weather than cotton. Keeping your body core warm is the most important you have to do in a freeze. 

Body warmers – the instant heat type. Make sure when purchasing these that you buy the ones rated for 20 hours, not 20 minutes. These are small and easy to stash in your auto emergency kit.  

A whistle can be heard much further away than the human voice. I would have at least 2 in the car. If one member of your party needs to leave to look for help, you can signal each other every few minutes and help guide them back to the car. It is not wise for anyone to leave alone and go further away than “whistle distance.” It is just too easy to become disoriented and lost.  

A Flashlight with extra batteries and an extra bulb… Never store the batteries in the flashlight – even the fancy Alkaline batteries can leak or explode inside your flashlight, leaving you surprised to find your flashlight useless in an emergency. 

A portable radio is great to hear news and weather reports without draining your car battery. Make sure you have both AM and FM bands. Look for the ones that are also a flashlight and siren. Hand cranked power is also good.  

Tool kit: How sad to be stranded for lack of a screwdriver or wrench. A multi function tool is also a good alternative. 

Tow rope: Some people who could help pull you out of the ditch are not equipped with a rope. Think of how smart you will look, when you say “I’ve got one!” We’re not talking about a wimpy little rope, we mean a hefty tow strap or real sisal rope like a trucker might carry.

Ropes are also important when creating a shelter if you can’t remain in your car. 

Maps: Do you pay attention to where you are when traveling? If you don’t know where you are, how will you find where you want to go? Maps should include local, state, and destination maps when traveling. A travel club is really handy for these, now that most people take GPS for granted. 

Compass: A Scout would know what to do with it. Do you?

Roll of TP: One of life’s essentials.

Fire extinguisher . What good is your emergency gear if it’s burning up with the car? More than once, we’ve seen cars fully ablaze at the side of the highway, and not from a traffic accident. Gasoline + heat + leaking fuel line = fire.

12-foot Jumper Cables just in case help should arrive and not be able to get bumper to bumper for a jump start.

Two quarts of oil.

Gallon of antifreeze. Antifreeze also burns well and is perfect to use as a signal fire.

Extra fuses.

Rags can be soaked to start a fire, to clean up, or for blocking cracks in doors and windows keeping out cold winds.

Roll of duct tape: What did the world do before duct tape?

An ice scraper can keep windows clear so you can see rescuers as well as dangers approaching.

Wool socks. Keeping dry is very, very important to survival when stranded during the winter. Change socks that become wet and dry the wet ones near a fire or in the engine compartment. 

Sweatshirt or coat: When your core gets cold your body will draw heat from your limbs to protect your vital organs. This leads to frostbite. 

A warm hat that covers your ears can keep you whole in case you are stranded. 

Sunglasses: Sun blindness is a real problem when traveling in the snow. 

Completed Emergency Cards with medical and contact information. If you are stranded for a few days you may be too tired to remember this information when help arrives. 

A small notebook and pencil to leave notes, should you have to leave your car. DO NOT LEAVE unless you are in real danger. 

A tarp or parachute is great to have on hand to lay over the snow when putting on chains or changing a tire. They are also great to have on hand to build a shelter. 

Items for children (for a select few of you): Stress relievers such as a book, travel games, crossword puzzles and scriptures. It is important to have items to distract your attention so you aren’t constantly thinking about your situation.


Carolyn Nicolaysen is author of the book Totally Ready for the Road.  For more info about building a shelter or starting a fire when trapped in a winter storm, see the November 2009 and December 2009 Totally Ready Newsletters. Be sure to keep up with the Food Storage 101 Lessons at Carolyn’s blog: https://blog.TotallyReady.com.  Check out Carolyn’s radio show READY OR NOT every Tuesday night 9:00pm Eastern-6:00pm Pacific at: https://www.blogtalkradio.com/doctorprepper  and  archived shows at: https://www.bepreparedradio.com/category/prepper-podcasts/ready-or-not/