Driving in wintertime is iffy. Put together an emergency car kit today
The why: Getting stuck or having an accident in the winter is especially dangerous. Ice, snow, and visibility issues result in some 2,000 fatalities a year, says the Federal Highway Administration.
Before driving: Keep an eye on weather and levels of potential suckiness... Storm Watch (stay alert), a Winter Storm Warning (stay off the roads), and a Blizzard Warning (stay in your house!).
The fix: Keep a small bag filled with winter emergency items in your vehicle all winter. If you ARE on the road and something goes wrong, you'll be much better prepared.
Helpful tip: Try to put that bag in an accessible area. If your car is mired in a snowdrift, you may not be able to access the trunk.
1. Roadside flares/glow sticks, 2. USB car charger/adapter, 3. Whistle, 4. Flashlight with extra batteries, 5.First aid kit, 6. Warm hat & gloves, 7. Blanket, 8. Ice scraper, 9. Insulated water bottle (with water), 10. Snacks, 11. Jumper cable/starter kit, 12. Multi-tool, 13. Paper maps
ALERTING OTHERS TO YOUR PROBLEM
If you slide off the road, or suffer some other issue, the first thing you'll want to do is summon help, and alert other passing motorists. (You don't want other cars sliding into your car!) Roadside flares were once recommended, but they burn as hot as 2,900 degrees and can be dangerous, so we instead recommend LED-style flare kits, like the StonePoint Emergency Roadside Beacon LED Lighting Flare Kit, which run off AAA batteries and are visible for miles. Also consider emergency glow sticks like these Cyalume Green Glow Sticks, which emit no heat, glow for up to 12 hours, and provide another source of light. You can hold one in your hand and wave down authorities.
You'll want an extra cell-phone charging cord in the car at all times, and you'll need to plug it in. Newer cars offer simple USB interfaces. Otherwise, an adapter like the Anker Dual USB Car Charger, plugs into the traditonal 9-volt, lighter-style plug. A plastic whistle is ideal for signaling to emergency personnel, particularly if your car is off the side of the road and not easily visible. (You don't want a metal one because intense cold, metal and wet lips just don't mix.)
LIGHTS AND SAFETY
The very first moments after an emergency or accident can be the most critical. You'll need to see in poor light and give medical help if necessary. A reliable flashlight like the 5.11 EDC PL 2AAA is critical. It's a penlight (so tiny — it'll fit in your glove box), but crazily bright. A headlamp like the Black Diamond Storm is also a smart consideration since it leaves your hands free. Have extra batteries in your car kit: Energizer Lithium AAAs work in extreme cold and last far longer than traditional batteries.
And say yes to a medical first aid kit. We promise it isn't overkill, even if it's just to salve a boo boo on the knee of a child who skittered on ice. Our fave is the well-organized and still small
Fill up your gasoline tank before the journey. Go slow. Brake early. Know that it takes longer to slow on icy roads
STAYING WARM AND HYDRATED
If you exit the vehicle, you'll need warm clothes. Get yourself a hat like the Arc'teryx Fortrez Beanie, which packs up small. The fabulous Black Diamond Men's Legend Gloves are mega warm but still allow a measure of dexterity to change a tire. You should also include an extra pair of mittens (like these N'Ice Caps Kids Thinsulate Winter Ski Mittens) for every member of the family who may be in the car with you, especially children. Warm hats, too.
On the warm front, a warm blanket like the Mambe Extreme Weather Waterproof/Windproof Outdoor Blanket is a comfort item for the family that is nice to have even without an emergency. Oh, and an obvious fundamental — a serious ice scraper that isn't flimsy and can actually get off a thick ice coating your windshield.
Share your route and what time you expect to arrive with a family or friend on the cross-country trip.
Water matters. You could get stuck in the car for many hours, so it's essential to stay hydrated. An insulated bottle filled with water is a great idea, so that it won't freeze if temperatures drop in the vehicle. The Flow is a 32-ounce bottle with double insulated walls, at a reasonable price. Meanwhile, keep a few snacks in that bag — the kind that won't go bad. We fancy RXBAR Whole Food Protein Bars (blueberry especially!) or the standard bearer, the Clif Bar.
GETTING YOURSELF OUT OF TROUBLE
No matter the season, a pair of jumper cables are a welcome emergency item. There are new-world, lithium-battery-powered self-starter kits which essentially allow you to jump yourself. The Powerall DELUXE is potent enough to fire up pickup trucks and high-power V-8 engines. On a different note, a multi-tool (those things with a knife, pliers, screwdrivers and such) will be miraculous when you're in need of that one certain thing. The venerable knife-maker, SOG, has a new tool, the PowerAccess Deluxe, that includes super-tough pliers and a full set of heads for the screwdriver. Tough, dependable, and well priced. Remember paper maps? They are still supremely helpful, especially if you need to take detours and your navigation system isn't helping out.
But what about getting out of the snow yourself if you're stuck? If you're the hardcore type who is willing to try to dig yourself out, consider a compact, foldable shovel like the DMOS Stealth Shovel, which is made of aluminum (not plastic), and has teeth which can break through ice. After you have dug snow out of the wheel wells, you'll also need to give traction to the driven wheels, so pour the small bag of kitty litter you've squired away. Recovery boards are another option beloved by off-road types. Ribbed plastic boards that can also be placed under the wheels to get traction. The go-to is the MaxTrax brand.
Last thing? Where you going to keep this stuff? A flat-bottom bag, with a strap, with lots of pockets and compartments is the trick. We use the 5.11 Small Kit Tool Bag, which is durable and doesn't slide around.
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