How to Make a Winter Survival Kit

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With the approaching winter season and headlines like “Monster Storm on the Way” it’s time to consider your auto preparedness with a winter survival kit. I am not talking about your bug out vehicle, but I guess that is relevant. If you are stranded in your car like thousands were last January in Atlanta, will you have basic supplies to stay alive? Granted, these motorists could have had it a lot worse, like maybe Boston, but by taking simple steps now you can ensure that no matter where you live, you are better prepared this winter season if you are forced to survive overnight or possibly two days in your car.

A winter car survival kit is simple to pull together and a lot of these items you probably already have either in your home or your car or garage. This article we are going to pull all these items together into one container you can store in your car and make sure that you won’t be stranded with nothing more than the clothes you left work in. For a simple reference, you can print this list out.

What items do you need in your winter car kit?


For snow removal/general purpose

  • Shovel – If you need to dig out of snow, it sure helps to have a shovel unless you want to try and use your windshield scraper. SOG makes an Entrenching tool that is the perfect price for your car survival kit.
  • Windshield Scraper – If you get stuck in a snowstorm and are forced to wait, you will likely need to scrape off your windows.
  • Tow Rope – Many times a call to the tow truck isn’t necessary if someone with a four wheel drive can pull you out. If you simply slide into a shallow ditch but can’t move due to traction (this happened to me), wrap a tow rope around your axle and get back on the road.
  • Gas Can – If you don’t follow the advice of every single other prepping blog out there and keep a minimum of a half tank of gas, you might need to get some and bring it back
  • Jumper Cables – Self explanatory
  • Can of Fix a Flat – Of course a full size spare tire is best but you might be in conditions that don’t permit a jack easily. These temporary solutions save time and money on the road, but be sure to get the tire repaired quickly.
  • Cat litter – No, this isn’t if you have to go to the bathroom, it is for traction. Just last year I decided to see if I could make it out of my neighborhood in my front wheel drive car. Guess what? I couldn’t so the cat litter was deployed under the front tires to help me get traction.
  • Emergency Flares – Great for signaling others if there is an accident or for help. Flares can be seen for a long distance so if you need to get someone’s attention these could do the trick.
High Heels look great, but they don't make sense in the snow.

High Heels look great, but they don’t make sense in the snow.

To stay warm

  • Sturdy Shoes – Most of the time this applies to women more so than men. Ladies, do you want to break down in a blizzard and be forced to try and walk to safety wearing those cute high heel shoes you have on? Keep a backup pair of sturdy shoes or boots if you are forced to walk.
  • Warm Gloves – Gloves will keep your paws warm which will make you feel warmer as well.
  • Hand warmers – If the gloves aren’t enough some hand warmers are amazing. They will safely store in your trunk for years. Great for sporting events too!
  • Wool Blanket or Sleeping Bag – A good wool blanket will keep you incredibly warm. A good sleeping bag like Elite Survival Systems Recon 3 packs small and can be used for camping as well.
  • Fleece Toboggan – You lose a lot of heat through your head, so wrap that bad boy up in something warm.

To stay comfortable

  • Flashlight/Headlamp – Let’s face it. Being in the dark alone on the side of the road sucks out loud. Just having some light makes a world of difference. I prefer headlamps for their hands free simplicity. Make sure you have spare batteries too.
  • Battery powered radio – Or hand crank if you prefer. This serves two purposes. It can entertain and inform you. Good to have one of these around the house as well if the regular communication methods are down and this won’t wear down your cell phone battery.
  • Water – two days’ worth – Throw 2 gallons of water in your car and you are golden.
  • Snack Food – two days’ worth – Something that won’t easily go bad and doesn’t need preparation. Snack bars, jerky, power bars, trail mix.

Just in case

  • Matches or Lighter – I prefer the cheap Bic lighters. I doubt that you would need to start a fire in your car, but you never know…
  • First aid kit – Something that has more than band aids. Chances are if you are stranded and hurt it will be more than a Hello Kitty band aid can fix. Make sure you can stop blood lose and medicate for pain until help arrives.
  • Knife – I see some people packing a big survival knife in their car. I guess if the grid goes down, you are forced off the road and into the woods for survival this could be necessary, but we are talking about getting stuck and spending a day or two in the car. Not becoming Rambo. A nice folder will do the trick for just about anything you could need it for.
  • Any medications you need for daily use – Pack two days worth of your regular medicine in a travel container and always have it with you.
  • Whistle – It is easier than yelling “Is there anyone there? Help Me!!!”
  • Cell Phone Charger – This is the last on the list because if you are stranded and your can still runs, you should be able to charge your phone unless you don’t have a charging cable in your car, or you ran out of gas.

Where do you put your winter car survival kit?

Once you have all the items assembled, remove them from their packaging and estimate the size container you would need to stow all of the materials. Some of the basic automobile items like jumper cables and road flares might have their own container. Hop over to your local store and buy a simple plastic bin with a lid on it, load up all of your survival gear and place it in the trunk.

Good luck and I hope you never need to use it.


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  • Evil

    I’d agree with everything on this list except the water. If you are stuck in freezing weather then your car (with water in trunk) has been in freezing temps longer than you have. You will have 2 blocks of ice instead of 2 gal of water. Without a way to melt the ice, that water is just weight in your trunk. I suggest small (16oz.)bottled water. Much easier to thaw than a gallon jug. You should keep them inside the vehicle with you, and the car heater will help thaw them while driving.
    I also keep a couple of the tea candle lanterns with extra candles, they can be hung inside the car even if the car is not sitting level. Be very careful how you hang them so they are not too close to the roof of the car or anything else that might catch fire from the heat. This will help heat the car as well as the water, while providing enough light to see and be seen in the dark. Of course if an accident is the reason your stuck, make sure there are no fuel leeks before lighting any fire, even a bic lighter.

    • You have an excellent point about the water and I think two gallons is probably too much in the first place. You shouldn’t be sweating and you won’t need to take a bath.

      The candles are something I have read about but I don’t see them being practical at all. What if you fall asleep and the candle falls over onto your blanket or the car? An open flame inside a closed vehicle seems like an accident waiting to happen.


  • Old Alaskan

    You forgot a very important item. What goes in must come out. Pack everything into a 5 Gal. Bucket and have several large garbage bags and a roll of TP

    • Veritas

      Great idea if you are stuck somewhere remote but if you (like my wife 3 years ago) are trapped in your car bumper to bumper on Lakeshore Drive in downtown Chicago for 14 hours before being ordered to abandon your car you will need something more discrete. This goes double for women, I added this to her GHB:
      Now she can go in a bottle just like a man without having to get out of the car.

      • I have a female friend that introduced me to these devices a couple of years ago. She is an adventure racer which I assume leaves precious little time to go properly so she carries something like this with her for the exact same reason. She can just pull her bike over and stand by the side of the trail just like the guys.

    • Have you ever been trapped in a bad place without a bathroom? That is when for whatever reason, the cramps start and you know you need to go. It would be my luck that this would happen but you make a good point Old Alaskan!


  • Illini Warrior

    if you filling an entire bucket … toss in a 12V beverage cup and your fav hot drink mix ….

    • And some books to read? Gotta have my coffee!

  • H. Nelson

    Hmmm.. My list is a wee bit different.

    Logging chain
    jumper cables
    window wiper fluid
    quart of motor oil
    Road flares and triangles
    8 60# sacks of pea gravel
    1 60# sack of traction sand
    1 safety stick (telescoping police baton)

    Deployment bag-
    1 carrhart arctic coveralls.
    2 coats
    2 t-shirts
    2 pair heavy worsterlon socks
    2 fleece hats
    2 bakalavas
    1 pair monkey mitts
    1 pair trigger finger mitts with inserts
    1 pair airforce mukluks with sorel liners
    1 reflective safety vest
    4 bottled waters
    3 cold weather rations
    1 alcohol camp stove
    1 16oz bottle of denatured alcohol
    1 small pot
    2 hanks of para cord
    1 LED head lamp
    1 small hatchet
    3 big bags of chocolate type candy

    The truck is either full or half full, it never goes down past half full. The cellphone is always on the charger when it’s in the truck.

    • Rick554

      I’m an OTR driver. My list is like yours. Helped a lot when I got stranded on the road during a blizzard/ice storm in NC of all places. Myself, the more water the better , along with concentrated fruit drinks

  • usmarinestanker

    I miss living in the snow.

    I really like the reflective vest and hatchet H. Nelson listed.

    I would also add an altoid tin/asprin bottle of waterproof tinder ( http://www.hedgehogleatherworks.com/How-To-Make-Waterproof-Tinder-s/102.htm ), some of those chemical hand warmers, and a neon orange/pink drape or flags on a pole for signalling in case you are snowed in or go down an embankment / off the road a ways.

  • wynnsol

    The suggestion to use cat litter as a traction booster has always puzzled me.
    Most cat litter is granulated clay. Have you ever put some in water? It turns to slime! I had a very nasty fall when I stepped on a spot of wet, spilled litter at the bottom of my back-door steps […landed on my tailbone against the steps!].

    What tends to happen when you loose traction? Your wheels spin! What does that do? creates heat! Heat melts snow or ice – which dissolves the litter, forming afore-mentioned slime, which is as [more?] slippery than ice!

    I suggest a bag of fine gravel as a better traction aid.

    • I agree that would be a better choice.

  • Melanie M

    We live in the Midwest, where we have lots of winter storms. We have gotten stuck in traffic on the interstate before, but never have had to be stuck for a day or more, thankfully! Every Autumn, I stock our cars with: water, food bars, jerky, dried fruits, toilet paper (1 roll), hand warmers (those ones you smack and they get warm, and you place into your pockets), *extra* gloves (besides the ones you are wearing already), extra knit/crocheted hats, *blankets*!!!!! And first aid kits. You know those windshield reflectors you can use in the summer, so your car doesn’t get as hot? I have one that can be reversed, to make the car warmer, only I will place dark side up, over my water jugs so they do not freeze! You can’t drink a block of ice! Also, if you have jugs, you need plastic glasses to drink from. Year round, i also carry my bug-out bag plus a roll of paper towels and some rags, and a few other items. I’ve begun to carry my thyroid med and other hormones in my purse, too, a few days worth. I drive over an hour to my son’s house, and I always think, what if something happens and I can’t get home for a few days—I need my meds! Something else to consider!

    • Sounds like you have given this a lot of thought and are prepared Melanie! Thanks for sharing.

  • Nancy Knight Jantzer

    The trunk is not the best place to keep a survival kit. If you are rear ended, chances are you will not be able to access the kit.