First, I’d like to compliment Z.M. on a well written post regarding a Car Emergency Kit. For most car related situations, this kit would be very useful if not down right critical for self preservation! These things need to be in each vehicle in every season of the year.
However, I need to point out that this is not a winter survival kit for a car. A winter survival kit needs everything mentioned plus a lot more!
I live in a region of the country where blizzards and heavy snow can strand hundreds of vehicles on Interstate highways overnight with wind chills to minus 40 degrees. The blizzards can be so intense that even National Guard vehicles and snowplows have to wait for the visibility to improve before they can start their rescue operations. I’m talking “you cannot see beyond your windshield” type of limited visibility. Then consider travel on the hundreds of miles of gravel roads with farms miles apart. Getting stranded in a vehicle is a common occurrence on these back roads. My vehicle survival kit is designed to keep myself and my passengers alive and in good condition if we are stranded in my car for three days in extreme weather before rescue.
I keep in my car a complete set of winter clothing including Army Surplus arctic boots and mittens, an old style Army helmet liner (love it), Air Force Surplus parka, Carhartt insulated coveralls, ski goggles, and a face mask. I’ve worked half a day at a time dressed with this gear in minus 30 to 40 below without undo discomfort. I also have the Army Surplus Intermediate and the Arctic feather filled sleeping bags. The intermediate bag fits inside the arctic bag. This is what I use for winter camping. If I had to shelter in a car for days during extreme weather, I shouldn’t lose valuable parts of my body to frostbite with this gear. I keep most of my gear in waterproof bags to keep dry if my car ever slides into a water-filled ditch. The news reports more people dying from getting wet in early spring weather than from the extreme cold of winter.
I also keep a sealed 3-gallon pail of calorie-dense food stored in the trunk. Most of this food is “snack” type food, such as chocolate chips, raisins, and apple chips, plus oatmeal, dehydrated potatoes with gravy packets, tea bags, and more. I have had no problem letting peanut butter freeze in my car as long as it is in a plastic jar and then using it in my kitchen in the spring. The peanut butter jar alone has 2500 calories or more. Overall, I pack at least 10,000 calories of food in this pail. Keeping the internal fires burning with food is critical for physical warmth and emotional well-being. The 3-gallon pail would be used as a commode if the weather is too extreme to go outside the car.
To top off my vehicle winter survival kit, I include a one-burner, propane camp stove and a half gallon kettle. The stove would be used to melt snow for water, to cook hot tea and meals, and for brief periods of heat after the fuel runs out from the vehicle; I pack a pocket-sized German “Esbit” stove with lots of fuel pellets and a bunch of tea candles. The candle light is for comfort as well as heat. Each tea candle will burn for close to four hours. The candle light provides emotional comfort during this stressful situation that has a value that cannot be measured!
Something that is rarely mentioned that I include in my winter survival kit is a carbon monoxide detector. Again the news reports more cases of people who are stranded in their vehicles dying from carbon monoxide poisoning than from exposure. Wind can blow the car exhaust under the car where it will seep into the passenger compartment and silently poison the occupants. Burning the propane camp stove, the Esbit stove, and the tea candles can also add life-threatening levels of carbon monoxide. Opening a window that is downwind a small amount is recommended, but I’ve experienced immovable frozen windows frequently in extreme weather.
This list is far from complete, but it should give you some idea how serious I am about my vehicle winter survival kit. Winters in the Great White North can and do kill people every year. Most of this gear stays in my car for every season of the year. I just rotate the food twice a year. Items from my winter survival kit also serve additional duty as part of my bug out bag and my get back home bag.
Thanks Survivalblog for all of your great information!! – Mountain Firekeeper