Winter Is Coming: Get Your Emergency Kit Ready

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By Mike Magda

While it's a good idea to have a safety kit in your truck for all seasons, it's essential for the winter if you live in areas prone to bitter cold and snow. Even when I lived and tested trucks in Southern California, I had a small, easily transportable bag with water, food, a flashlight, tow strap, gloves, a solar-powered radio, first-aid kit, maps and cash due to the threat of earthquakes. Now that I live in the hills of South Dakota, I carry some of those items along with cold-weather gear. Obviously, a smartphone negates the need for maps or a radio, but you still need to be prepared for the weather and other emergencies on the road.

A safety kit can be as simple or complex as you desire, yet there are some basics that should always be included. There are commercial safety kits available online or through major retailers; however, all you really need is a couple hours to plan and build a kit that is appropriate for your needs and area. And if you make a winter holiday trip to see family, the kit can always be augmented.

Prevention is the best safety advice. Know when storms are approaching and take appropriate travel precautions. Never underestimate a storm, which can strand your truck on an isolated road or a heavily traveled interstate.

The photos below illustrate the items I put in my simple emergency kit, which can be moved between vehicles. In addition to the basics mentioned earlier, it includes jumper cables, a few tools and winter clothing. Some may smirk at the spare cash, but that's a lesson learned after surviving a major earthquake in the 1990s. With no power or ATM machines, local merchants only accepted cash for a couple days. Granted, winter storms or hurricanes can be predicted, but having cash in your kit is still a good idea.

Think of this story as a wakeup call to motivate you to be prepared for any emergency related to inclement weather.

A final tip: While driving in the winter, always keep at least a half tank of gas in your truck. photos by Mike Magda; manufacturer images


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Here are basic tools and gear for a winter safety kit: knife, universal tool, pliers, adjustable wrench, screwdriver with bits, flashlight, work gloves, first-aid kit, tow strap and jumper cables. Don't get too carried away with tools, since it's not that easy to work on modern vehicles outside of the shop.


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Additional winter gear to consider: blanket, ice scraper, winter gloves, rain poncho, wool hat and thick hoodie sweater. A small camping shovel may help you get unstuck and will also be useful to clear snow away from the exhaust in a severe storm.


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Food supply depends on personal tastes. The average adult needs about 2,000 calories and about 64 ounces of water daily, so take that into consideration. Also, if you transport a baby often, have some baby food in your kit. There may not be any food left in the diaper bag. Finally, keep a little cash in your truck. During many weather emergencies, power may be cut and bank machines won't work.


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Everything but the blanket should fit into an old gym bag. Put the flashlight and money in the front pocket, while the food and water can go in the side pockets for quick access. You don't want to bury those items in the bottom of the bag. Put the clothes and first-aid kit on top of the other supplies in the main compartment.


Snow1 - 7 copy IIThe bag can be moved easily between vehicles.




weird. I looked around the corner and all I saw was the other side, No winter.

Don't forget the candle to keep warm...or something similar,,:)


Always have a paper map. ALWAYS!

And do not count on your cell phone to A.) have useable coverage and B.) have useable battery

Also, online maps do not always align with reality. It's good to have a paper map, even on a good day, to get a second opinion.

Also good idea to carry clean pair of underwear and socks

I always carry a 20k tow strap, jumpers, wool army surplus blanket and of course...a cell.

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Posted by: papajim | Oct 30, 2018 11:41:44 PM


The real Papajim says:

Here in Florida the Winter Emergency Kit includes suntan lotion, extra flip-flops, and more ice for the beer cooler.

Good idea to carry a gas can filled with Texaco gas in case you need a splash id the good stuff

@papajum--You can have your flip flops. At least we don't have hurricanes.

I carry a gallon of top tier gas behind my seat in my regular cab. Never know when you might need a splash

Hey Al, you better get those sheep to the shearers--summer's coming in your neighborhood.

Here's my contribution:

- First piece of safety kit....good snow tires...YMMV
- Have an old cell phone laying around with no service plan? By law, any cell phone can be used to dial 911, regardless of whether you have a service plan or not. Keep the old phone and appropriate charger in your glove box.
- there are several apps out there that offer offline maps. Research them and find one or two that you like. Cell signal is not always available, especially in mountains, or tower may be down or overused in emergency or blizzard. Yes, paper maps are a good idea, also, but a smartphone or decent tablet will give you a GPS cursor over your location. Some areas of the country don't have a lot of good location signage.
- get one of those pocket-sized car jumpers. The good ones really do work well, often better than jumper cables, and many have the capability to also charge your phone or even a laptop. Charge it up every couple months when not using it.
- throw some beach towels in the kit. You can use them to dry off, keep warm, or put them under the tires for traction. BTW, they work great for traction on slippery boat ramps if you wet them down first.
- most windshield washer fluid does not work in as cold of temps as they advertise, usually because it has been diluted or some of the alcohol (methanol) has evaporated from it. WW fluid mfrs can only transport a certain percentage of alcohol before they are required to switch from plastic to glass bottles, which explains why they don't put more alcohol in their products to make them more effective. However, you can add more alcohol. There are recipes on the internet. Vodka males a good additive, but be careful about having an open bottle in your vehicle! Also, don't overdo the alcohol in the washer system as it may possibly deteriorate some parts quicker.
- if you don't have allergies to wool, wool gloves and socks are nice to keep on hand, as they retain body heat even when wet. I keep a pair in the boat, also.
- a leatherman-type tool. Quality is worth it here, but if all you can afford is a cheap knock-off, it is better than nothing....just use with caution.

I'm sure i have other stuff, but this is what i can think of off the top of my head.

For the best winter emergency kit...

get A BRAIN!

In the old BSA mantra I end up with pretty extensive kits in all the cars. The truck having the most substancial. Oil, coolant, MRE, Water, knife, jumper cables, tool kit, shovel, hat, gloves, flashlight, road flares, space blanket, matches, portable charging battery, rope, ice scraper, shovel, tarp, cash, change, traction zip ties, funnel, tow strap/chain, small electric air pump, 1st aid, accounts for most of a standard kit. The truck gets a max axe, and generally speaking just more or bigger/heavier versions of everything.

Honestly for the me I often end up giving more aid than actually using my own stuff on myself. I also often find that items have often gone "bad" over time and its wise to periodically look at your kit. A friend at work needed to add oil to his motorcycle and I volunteered my 10 year old folded cardboard funnels and we discovered that the glued seams all split when we tried to open them.

So periodically review the items in your kit. I don't worry about how old the quarts of oil are (in an emergency they do just fine) but other stuff (like first aid supplies packages splitting open, or paper / glue disintegrating) or things getting wet or striking each other can change the condition/usefulness.

In my experience/kit the most useful thing for me has been the electric air pump. The spare always needs air, it can do in a pinch on a low tire to get you home, or help a friend get home or to a place to get plugged. The 2nd most useful/frequently used item are the jumper cables/charger battery (that can jump). The 3rd most useful is the $40 cash. The 4th Tow chain/strap. The 5th the tarp/blanket followed by someone needing emergency oil/coolant.

The cell phone goes without saying.

for you snow plow guys , install a forward facing camera above the blade,

wish we got more then a dusting of snow...

If that bag stays in the truck, the water bottles are useless. They'll freeze and burst, soaking everything else in the bag when they melt. If you're going to carry water, carry it in something less likely to break if frozen.

Oh, and one more Florida Winter Emergency that I almost forgot.

Be sure to keep a bottle of good rum or tequila with you. Sometimes when I get to a party they've just run out. And keep a few limes too. And a bag of ice?

What fun is hanging out in the pool if you can't make a bowl of punch or mix some tropical drinks?

Maybe some pool toys for the kids, too, gotta think of them.

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