July 21, 2017

Emergency Kit for Winter Driving or in Wilderness Areas

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Tires and Auto Safety

In this article you’ll find a list of items that could save your life if your car breaks down in the wilderness (e.g. desert, mountains, etc.) far from any human habitation, or on a highway in a blizzard. In a related article you can find a comprehensive list of items to carry in your car as an emergency kit for typical urban or suburban driving. Even for rural areas, the list there should suffice in most cases. The items in this article should be seen as supplementing the urban driving emergency kit, not replacing it.

Special Risks of Wilderness or Winter Driving

If you’re driving through the Mojave Desert, or on some back road in the Sonoran Desert, or through the Rockies, when your car suddenly stops, you’re in a serious, life-threatening situation. Add to that some nasty weather such as a blizzard or scorching summer, and things go from bad to worse. Now you have to think like a survivalist. Except that if you didn’t do such thinking in advance, and piled extra emergency supplies into your car, it’s too late to do much about it.

With help hours, and at times days away, you need to have environment-appropriate shelter, appropriate clothes, water, and food. You also need the means to attract attention of eventual rescuers even if you’re hurt or too weak to shout, and too far from where they’re looking for them to easily see you.

Emergency Items for Winter Driving or in Wilderness Areas

To start, if you’re going to be driving in winter where you are likely to hit snow and ice, you’ll need to consider specialized winter tires, and probably carry tire chains in your trunk if the going gets really slick.

If your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, a mechanic toolkit can mean the difference between fixing a relatively minor issue and getting back on your merry way, or being stuck until you’re lucky enough to have help arrive. Add to that a special kit for temporarily repairing a coolant hose and another set of minor issues is suddenly repairable.

If you don’t know how to fix anything more complicated than a scrambled egg, that should not deter you from having the toolkit in your trunk. If someone comes along who does know his or her way around a car engine, he or she may be willing to help, but not have any tools with them. In case your car needs a new engine or transmission, the toolkit will not be much use. A tow strap, however, might allow someone passing by with a powerful pickup to get you and your car to the nearest town.

If you have a flat tire, the spare from your trunk (see the basic kit list in the above-mentioned related article) can help you get on your way. However, if you have more than one tire blow out at once (e.g. you ran over sharp objects spread across the road), your one spare will not be enough. A tire inflator can plug up a puncture in one or more tires and allow you to limp into the next town where you can have the tires repaired permanently. Some shops may not be willing to deal with the gunky residue this leaves in the tire, however, and you may need to buy new tires. Still, as expensive as that might be, considering the life-threatening alternative, it might be for the best.

Around town, your cell phone can reach a tower and you can get your 911 call through without too much trouble. In the middle of a desert or a mountain range, however, you’re unlikely to have any reception. If you frequently travel through the wilderness, consider investing in a satellite phone (e.g. Iridium). These phones use the Iridium satellite fleet to bounce signals fom your handset to civilization. Even at the South Pole you can get some Iridium connectivity. Airtime on this system is not cheap (can be over $1 per minute) but when you need to get through and you’re far away from any cell towers, that’s cheap at the price.

A GPS navigation system can help you stay on track, and if you make a wrong turn somewhere, figure out how to get to your destination. These days you can buy a GPS system pre-installed in your car, add a standalone GPS system after the fact, or even use a GPS-enabled cell phone. If your GPS system battery dies, you can still use the old standby – a set of maps. Road maps are ok as long as you stay on roads, but topographic maps are much more useful if you need to leave the road behind.

In terms of food and water, you should have a supply of non-perishable food such as energy bars, and at least a gallon of drinking water, preferably in a carrying pack such as a Camelback.

Next, think about surviving if your car is dead and you need to survive for a day or more in the cold while rescuers are searching for you, possibly after you went off an embankment and are not easily visible from the road or from the air. You need winter clothes such as a heavy coat, gloves, scarf, winter hat, etc. A rain poncho can help keep you dry, which helps stay warm too.

A sleeping bag rated for the expected night time low temperatures in the area you drive through, a blanket, a tarp, a mountain tent, all these can help you survive several nights without dying of hypothermia, especially if you add in matches (in a water-proof bag) and fire-starter fluid, so you can start a fire. The fire can serve the dual purpose of providing heat, as well as signaling your location to searchers.If a fire is not an option, chemical hand warmers may help keep your hands and feet from getting frost-bitten. The above items can help in the desert too, since they will provide shade from the sun during the day, and protect you from the night-time chill.

A collapsible shovel will not be as easy to use as a regular shovel, but will be much easier to fit in your trunk. Such a shovel can help you set up a temporary shelter, e.g. by digging in the snow. If you need to leave your car, after leaving a note describing your plan and what direction you’re heading (in case searchers find the car before they find you), you can use a backpack to carry supplies in. Especially in such situations, a whistle can be helpful in alerting searchers as to your location from much farther than you can be heard shouting, especially if you’re hypo-thermic and barely breathing.

A Complete Car Emergency Kit Can Save You and Your Family

As in all emergency preparedness, much of the above might seem over the top when you’re sitting at home or at an Internet cafe and browsing an article about it. If you find yourself in the kind of situation described above, however, these emergency kit items for wilderness and winter driving can make all the difference in the world for you and your family.

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