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14 Essentials for Your Car's Winter Survival Kit

Jun 02, 2023

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Motorists get stranded on roads in whiteout conditions every winter; here's how to be prepared if it happens to you.

Last year, a massive snowstorm buried the east coast, stranding hundreds of motorists along the I-95 corridor in freezing temperatures after a major crash. Many were stuck for 24 hours or more, without food or water other than what happened to be in their vehicles. If you were driving through Virginia that day, would you have been unprepared? If you're unsure, the answer is probably "yes."

Imagine being stranded, alone, on a road in the middle of nowhere during a blizzard. Will you be able to let emergency responders know where you are? And will you have what you need to survive until they get to you?

We all need to have a car emergency kit. That's a given. That emergency kit, though, needs to be flexible. Any time you're traveling or taking a road trip, you should review your kit before you hit the road. It needs to grow and change depending on the season—and where your vehicle will be at any given moment. For example, did you know that while water bottles will freeze, juice boxes and pouches will not? That's why your emergency kit should include some juice boxes instead of (or, in addition to) plastic water bottles.

That's why we've put together this list of stuff you'll want to stash in your emergency kit if you're driving in winter. Plenty of these are common-sense items, like emergency flares and power packs. Other items are designed to make you locatable in the event of a winter emergency.

If you're driving in winter, keep your car survival kit up to date with these must-have items to keep you safe, warm, and nourished until help can arrive.


This roadside emergency kit includes just about everything you need if you get in a chilly jam. Contents include jumper cables, a small shovel, tow hooks, and more. This is a fantastic kit to include in your trunk.

There are quite a few traction devices out there that are bulky and tricky to store—not these, which roll up conveniently. They're tough too, able to support vehicles that weigh up to seven tons.

If you get stranded on a lonely country road far from cell phone service, this is something you'll want. An SOS signal is broadcasted to search and rescue satellites worldwide via the 406 MHz frequency to help rescuers locate you.

Gone are the days of traditional road flares—pick up a set of these LED rescue lights instead. Each light boasts a 20-hour run time on steady mode and a 60-hour run time on flash mode. With 360-degree visibility from up to two miles away, these are no-brainer replacements for the old style.

Keeping a good first aid kit in your vehicle is an excellent idea, and this one from My Medic and Popular Mechanics checks all the boxes. It includes a ton of life-saving items like a tourniquet, oodles of bandages, and a window breaker, and it fits neatly in a glovebox or trunk.

A portable jump starter is an essential part of your winter survival kit, and this one includes some bonus features. It's advertised as having 1600 amps of peak current, which can jump a gas engine up to 7.2 liters or a diesel engine up to 5.5 liters. Charging ports are available for powering up your devices, and the flashlight is a handy addition.

This is a great item to have available in your vehicle. The kit comes with two gloves, a hat, a scarf, and two pairs of socks—a great backup in case you get stuck out in the snow.

These might be a tad extreme, but you never know how long you'll be stuck in the cold. These 12 ready-to-eat meals (MRE) feature entrees picked from a lengthy list of food options and have a claimed shelf life of five years each.

This blanket is heated by your vehicle's 12-volt socket, and the long cord (96 inches) makes it suitable for back-seat passengers too. Whether you just want to take the cold edge off or use it in an emergency, it's a great option for both situations.

It's amazing how well these little things work. There are 20 of them in each order with up to 18 hours of heat. Toss some in your gloves or boots in a pinch and avoid the dangers of frostbite.

A snow brush and ice scraper combo is something you'll want to keep in your vehicle during winter at all times, but it can be especially handy in an emergency. This one features a detachable ice scraper for a bit more dexterity.

If you gotta break out the emergency candles, it's a serious situation. But it's not a bad idea to have them. Each candle is rated to burn for 5 hours—so if you need some light or a flicker of heat, these do the job.

This rechargeable device features a plasma lighter rather than flame for the ability to light things in the wind, rain, or snow. It's rechargeable via USB and fully charges in under 60 minutes to last for days.

Plastic water bottles have the nasty habit of quickly freezing solid, while juice boxes tend to become more slushy. This can be crucial in an emergency, where you might not have time to completely thaw a drink. This pack of 32 fruit punch juice boxes is the way to go.

Jon Langston is an avid motorcyclist and gear collector whose work has appeared in Men's Journal, Cycle World, The Drive, Rider, Iron & Air, Motorcyclist, and more.

Collin Morgan is an Associate Commerce Editor at Hearst Autos, where the former Rust Belt mechanic and gadget enthusiast presents the best gear for your automotive endeavors.

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