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Preparedness 101: Winter Travel

I spent my childhood years in northeast Iowa where winters seemed to last six months and snow piled up 12 feet or more beside the gravel roads. Going “in the ditch” was an annual experience and I recall at least one occasion where my family spent some quality hours together in our car, in a road ditch, waiting for assistance. Years later when I was living in North Carolina, I experienced different winter fun – that of the whole city shutting down for a half inch of snow and ice, with all roadways packed bumper to bumper with vehicles sitting out the storm for upwards of eight hours. Thus, I learned that even southern states are not immune to the guiles of Old Man Winter, and that being prepared can make a bad situation much more bearable.

In the past I’ve discussed vehicle storage options for preparedness purposes, as well as what to pack for trail-readiness and survival for a few days. But what about the rest of the folks out there who A. aren’t looking to off-road anytime soon, or B. don’t have the space to store a lot of stuff, or C. don’t want to spend a great deal of money putting together a survival kit? With winter upon us, or nearly so, in about half the US, now’s a good time to gather up a few items you probably already have, pack them in a bag, and store them in your vehicle.

“Why?” you ask, “I have a cell phone, heated seats, Roadside Assistance…” and the list goes on. While it’s true that modern technology offers excellent options for preparedness, not all these things are a guarantee of timely rescue or survival if you’re caught in an ice storm for hours, or end up in the ditch on a remote road at night with a dead cell phone and no car charger!

The list that follows will provide you with at least few hours of comfort from cold temps and hunger, the old fashioned way. For some items I’ve listed several options – pick what works best for you, preferably something you already have in your vehicle or around the house. This should be a quick and simple exercise without a lot of extra cost or effort.

WINTER TRAVEL KIT (for personal vehicle)

  • Water (if temps inside your vehicle descend below freezing – for example, parking outside at night – make sure the water jugs leave some room for expansion)

  • Blanket – emergency blanket/space blanket, or good sized non-cotton blanket (such as wool or fleece), pack two if you can

  • Food – snacks such as granola bars, trail mix, dried fruit, jerky, crackers, anything that will keep for awhile and give quick energy if needed. Don’t forget food for your four-legged friends too!

  • Clothing – at a minimum I’d recommend packing: socks (preferably wool), an extra jacket, stocking hat, and gloves

  • First aid kit

  • Jumper cables

  • Windshield scraper (to de-ice)

  • Flashlight (preferably with extra batteries, or bring an extra flashlight instead)

  • Matches and lighter

  • Pocket knife

  • Cell phone car charger

  • Pack of playing cards (endless hours of fun – poker, euchre, go-fish, crazy 8’s, war, etc.)

Pack all these items in that old duffle you have in the back of your closet. Or put ‘em in a spare plastic storage bin or a reusable shopping bag. Just contain all these items in one place, especially if you have curious kids, and it’s there if you need it (hopefully you won’t!). Make sure you re-stock your Kit at least once a year – stale snacks are no fun.

BONUS items

If you want to put in a little extra effort, here are some items that you could purchase to include in your Winter Travel Kit. Depending on the severity of winter in your area, and on the types of roads you usually travel, these items are optional.

  • Hand warmers (such as Hothands, or similar – an easy way to take away the chill!)

  • Small shovel (a camp shovel or similar – small enough to fit in your vehicle, just in case you get stuck)

  • Cat litter (good for enabling traction on ice or packed snow if needed)

  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (mainly for entertainment; you’re already stuck in a snowstorm so you don’t need a weather forecast)

  • Small candles (for light and warmth)

  • Tow chain or rope (or you could just call a friend with a Jeep and a winch – oh wait, your cell phone’s dead and you forgot your car charger? - not if you packed your Winter Travel Kit!)


  • Boots (cuz if you’re a chick you might sometimes wear shoes that are not appropriate for walking in the snow – and that’s ok, but throw an old pair of boots in the trunk or under the back seat – just in case)

Am I forgetting anything? Post any suggestions in the Comments below!

Happy Trails (and Wintry Roadways)!

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