How To Build A Reliable Winter Car Kit Before The Cold Hits

By SS Contributor | Updated: 03/08/2023

If You Don’t Have A Winter Car Survival Kit, Now’s The Time!

Winter Emergency Vehicle Kit

Those of us who live, work, and play in the mountains see the first signs of winter earlier than most.

And once it’s here, the mountain peaks will be capped white with snow, and roadway conditions will change for the worst.

Icy roads and deep snow are extremely dangerous for travel and a leading cause of stranded vehicles.

Every year, we hear stories of motorists stranded in blizzards.

Sometimes it’s only overnight, but occasionally (on rural back roads) they are stranded for days or weeks.

↓ Trapped in a Blizzard ↓

People left to huddle in their vehicles struggling to stay warm.

Far too many of those sad tales end in tragedy.

However, with some basic survival knowledge and a stash of survival supplies, your odds of surviving stranded in a winter blizzard go up significantly.

These are inexpensive supplies everyone should store in their vehicle for winter travel.

It’s called a winter car survival kit.

This kit will help you accomplish two things.

It will help you get unstuck should your vehicle slide off the road.

And this kit will help you survive should you not be able to get your vehicle unstuck.

So your winter car survival kit is made up of items that fit into these two categories:

  • Gear to help you get unstuck
  • Supplies in case you can’t get unstuck

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Gear To Help You Get Unstuck

Your best bet is to be self-sufficient and avoid spending a night (or longer) stranded.

So it’s worth having a few key tools in your vehicle to get you going again.

Mainly, the preventative equipment required for self-rescue consists of:

  1. Ways to remove snow
  2. Traction devices to help you get a grip on icy and snowy surfaces

Plus a few items to make the use of these items a little more convenient.

1. Snow Shovel

winter car kit shovelA good, sturdy shovel is an absolute must for a winter car survival kit.

Often, some efficient digging can help you quickly get free.

And even if you still can’t get your vehicle free, a shovel will allow you to keep your vehicle from being entirely buried under a snowdrift.

Because a vehicle that’s completely buried in snow is nearly impossible for a rescue team to spot.

Or if worst came to worst, you could use a survival shovel to build a snow shelter.

↓ Lifeline Aluminum Shovel ↓

2. Windshield Scraper and Brush

windshield snow scraper and brushIn all winter weather conditions, you’ll have to remove a lot of snow and ice from your vehicle’s roof and windshield.

A good, heavy-duty scraper and brush with a long handle will save you a lot of time and effort.

As well as make it easier to see out your windows, keeping it out of the ditch.

Having one of these is a must-have all winter long.

I’m always amazed when people are huddled in their cars for 30 or more minutes waiting for their vehicles to defrost to warm their windshields.

Talk about unprepared!

↓ Top 6 Best Ice Scraper & Snow Brush ↓

3. Traction Mats

traction mats

Often, a little extra traction is all that’s needed to get moving again.

Many people use sand or kitty litter, but these items only work once, and then you’re out of luck.

A set of traction mats are reusable and can be easily repositioned to keep you heading in the right direction.

↓ SubZero 12501 GripTrax 03 ↓

4. Tire Chains

tire chains

In packed snow conditions, tire chains are an excellent way to help with traction and prevent sliding in the first place.

However, they’re a controversial topic, so make sure to check the local regulations regarding their use.

Many western states require tire chains in severe conditions.

In the Midwest, they are illegal in most jurisdictions even during the worst snows.

If you carry chains, make sure you know how to install them – put them on first in your dry driveway and later in a snowy parking lot.

It’s a lot harder to get them on tight and secure when it’s dark, and you’re fumbling with cold hands, so you’ll appreciate the practice if the need arises.

↓ Snow Chain comparison TEST – Which is the best? ↓

5. Small Tarp

small-tarpA small tarp makes kneeling in the snow (and roadside slush) a lot easier and drier.

It also helps keep you from losing parts or tools in the snow.

A 5’x7′ tarp is a perfect size for a lot of roadside uses.

↓ Top 10 Best Tarps Review in 2023 ↓

6. Battery Boost Jumper

Cold weather is rough on your vehicle’s battery, and it’s easy to find yourself unable to start the engine when you need it most.

A self-contained battery jumper is a simple solution and much better than waiting for another motorist to jump-start your engine.

↓ NOCO Boost Plus Jumper Review ↓

7. LED Tactical Flashlight

All survival kits need a super bright LED EDC flashlight.

If it’s dark out or the blizzard has blocked the sun out you’ll need illumination to see what you’re doing.

Also, it’s a good idea to keep a spare set of batteries in your winter car survival kit as well.

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Help Written In Snow

Gear In Case You Can’t Get Unstuck

If you have to stay out overnight, you’ll need a few more things.

At this point, your focus turns from getting your vehicle out to keeping yourself and your passengers protected from the elements.

8. Water Bottle

In the winter, the colder temperatures often trick people into assuming they don’t need to drink as much water.

You tend not to feel as thirsty.

The truth is you need to stay hydrated to maintain proper body temperature, no matter the weather outside. Want proof?

High-altitude mountaineers spend about as much time melting drinking water as they do climbing – it’s THAT important.

A stainless steel water bottle is an excellent choice since you can use it over a camp stove or small fire to melt and heat water.

Never eat large amounts of snow directly. Always melt the snow before ingesting.

If you eat snow directly, you’re basically using your internal body temperature to melt the snow.

This can lower your core temperature and lead to hypothermia.

↓ Use these Cold Weather Water Bottle Hacks ↓

9. LifeStraw Personal Water Filter

Drinking With A LifeStrawWhat good is finding water if you can’t drink it?

You should always purify your water before you drink it whether it’s coming from your tap or from the snowbank where you’re stranded.

The easiest way to purify water on the go is with a LifeStraw Personal Water Filter.

We put the LifeStraw through our field testing and, if you’re not convinced you should be carrying at least one in your vehicle.

↓ LifeStraw Review and Field Test ↓

Tip: if you have kids or grandkids that you drive around, make sure to get them each a LifeStraw. The last thing you need in a survival situation is kids refusing to drink from the same LifeStraw.

10. Food

high-calorie-food-barsIn the cold, your body is craving calories in any form, burning them at an increased pace to keep your core body temperature up.

Cookies, crackers, nuts, dried fruit, plain chocolate bars, jerky.

I like the high-calorie bars since you buy them once and you’re food preparation is done.

Snickers bars may taste great, but you’ll chip a tooth on the caramel trying to eat one that’s been sitting in sub-zero temps for even a few hours.

If you’re able to heat water over a stove or fire, consider adding powdered hot chocolate or another warm drink with lots of calories.

11. Extra Warm Clothes

mechanix-gloves-1If your vehicle is stuck in the snow, chances are you’ll be in the cold for an extended period of time as you attempt to get out on your own.

Quite often, this can leave you snowy and wet, a bad combination for cold weather survival.

Carrying a change of clothes and some extra insulating layers will let you get out of any wet clothes and warm up while you plan your next move.

Gloves are a must.

If you’re trying to do any of these survival tasks with bare hands you’re not going to be successful.

I like Mechanix brand gloves since they provide me the dexterity to perform survival tasks.

Try lighting a fire with thick mittens on; not fun.

↓ Mechanix Tactical Gloves – What You Need To Know ↓

12. All-Weather Reflective Blanket

You can go with a thick wool blanket but I prefer an all-weather reflective emergency blanket.

These blankets are made with a heat-reflective internal layer that helps trap the body heat you’re generating.

Keeping you warmer, and longer.

Also, consider how many people you’ll be traveling with and be sure that you can keep everyone warm.

↓ Bug Out Bag Shelter – Survival Frog TACT Bivvy Review ↓

13. Paracord (FireCord)

fire-cord-paracordWith so many paracord uses for survival, it is a must-add item to any survival kit.

You should spend a few dollars more to get Firecord.

It’s designed with 7 strands of paracord and 1 strand of Fire Cord you can use as fire tinder.

↓ 550 FireCord | Live Fire Gear | Field Review ↓

14. Waterproof Matches and Tesla Coil Lighter

Tough Tesla Electric LighterKeeping a box of waterproof strike-anywhere matches.

You might also add an electric coil windproof lighter to your vehicle as well.

A fire will allow you to keep warm, melt snow into water, and signal searchers.

↓ Frog & Co. Tough Tesla Lighter Review ↓

15. Camp Stove

Your matches and lighter won’t be worth small-portable-camp-stovemuch if you don’t have something dry enough to burn.

In dry, cold conditions (like the Rocky Mountains), you may be able to find enough dead, dry wood to maintain a small fire, so a fire starter makes a wise addition.

In wetter climates (like the Cascades of the Pacific Northwest), finding anything dry enough to burn is always a challenge.

So adding a small portable camp stove is a better option.

↓ Coleman Power Pack Single Burner Stove Review ↓

Survival Gear Checklist eBook Cover -with fire piston on a rock and campfire in the background

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16. Extra Fuel Bottle


Obviously, extra fuel can be handy if you’re relying on your vehicle for shelter.

Running the engine for heat will help keep you warm, but it will also slowly drain your gas tank.

Carrying a couple of extra liters of fuel in a sturdy container will give you a bit of a buffer in case you run out.

↓ Laken Aluminum Fuel Bottle ↓

17. Hand Crank Radio

Oftentimes when you’re stuck out in the cold it’s due to a mechanical breakdown or an accident.

Other times, it’s because mother nature reared her ugly head.

Icy roads, snowstorms, freezing rain, and other winter weather patterns are common reasons why you’re forced to pull over and wait until it’s safe to start traveling again.

Typically, you won’t want to continually run your vehicle while you’re waiting out the weather which means you won’t be able to listen to the radio without risking draining the battery.

It’s always important to keep your “ear to the ground”, as they say, to stay updated on the weather.

By keeping a hand crank radio in your winter car survival kit, you’ll have a pocket-sized connection to the outside world keeping you informed on the weather and whatever else is going on around you.

18. Survival Playing Cards

Keeping your mind occupied and having a little fun can help make any survival situation a lot more enjoyable.

Your first priority will be making sure that you, and your loved ones, will live to see another day.

Once you have the situation under control and you’re monitoring the airwaves with your pocket radio, there’s nothing wrong with breaking out a deck of survival playing cards and making the most of it.

We love these survival playing cards because, like most survival gear we love, it serves more than one purpose.

They are, of course, a standard deck of playing cards but they are also an educational tool.

Why? Because each of the 52 cards has a survival or emergency situation described on it and tips on “how to survive it”.

19. Road Flares

Being able to notify others of danger up ahead is very important! 

Whether it’s to let them know you’re stuck in the middle of the road and don’t want them to hit you or that there’s another dangerous hazard.

Road flares should be in EVERYONE’s vehicle emergency kit – no excuses.

They save lives!

20. Propane Heater

I use a small but powerful propane heater to extend my camping season into late fall.

But why just store it in your vehicle?

That way, if you’re ever stuck overnight freezing cold blizzard, you can stay warm.

Just note, you can suffocate if you don’t have proper ventilation.

Go here to learn more about tent heaters.

And One More Item

21. Winter Travel Kit Bag / Tote

winter emergency vehicle kit duffle bagA large zippered duffel bag is a great way to keep all your winter travel survival supplies organized and contained in your trunk or under the back seat.

Once you’ve assembled your supplies, choose a bag that will fit them all.

It doesn’t necessarily need a lot of pockets, but make sure you have a way to separate your spare gas can and your camp fuel from the rest of the gear.

Action Plan

Action Plan

This action plan can be summed up in just two words: Do It.

Invest in the gear and supplies listed in this article.

Then put them all in a duffel bag and put this bag full of survival items in your trunk.

You have zero excuses not to do this.

If you drive in winter conditions at all, it’s your personal responsibility to invest in a few essential tools and supplies.

This responsibility goes double for anyone who drives others around.

That means parents of young children and those who take care of the handicapped or elderly.

The time to take meaningful action is NOW before the first flakes begin to fall.

Jason K.

  • Born & Raised In The Remote Woods Of Michigan
  • Engineering Degree From A Major University
  • Long Standing Member Of Mountain Search & Rescue
  • Offical Gear Tester For Several Outdoor Companies
  • Avid Outdoorsman: Backpacking, Camping, Fishing
  • Years Researching & Writing About Surival & Gear
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