5 to Stay Alive: Winter Gear for the Car

I realize I’m putting the carriage before the horse here, but winter is quickly approaching and it’s time to start thinking about adjusting our emergency kits in our vehicles. The smart thing to do would be to post a basic emergency kit article then do this one, but that just makes to much damn sense. That article will come in time.

Let me start with the obligatory disclaimer. As with all the 5 to stay alive articles, this is not a comprehensive list, winter conditions vary greatly, so things like tire chains and battery blankets may not be needed everywhere. This is an attempt at a basic list of items that will be useful in most colder climates.

Blanket/Sleeping Bag

4536628_sSimple enough, but there are some things to consider. We’ve not yet done an article on cold weather gear (it’s coming), but there is a rule of thumb, cotton kills. When it gets wet it can be downright deadly. So with that said stay away from Aunt Mildred’s homemade quilt with cotton batting, while it may be an “extra” in the linen closet, you’re better off leaving it there for when the kids have their friends sleep over. You want to go for either wool or synthetics here. Down is a great insulator as well but, like cotton, you have to be careful if there’s a chance it might get wet, it loses it’s insulating capacity and takes a long time to dry.

Another thing to consider is wind, a fleece or wool blanket is great but without a wind barrier you can loose a ton of heat via convection (more on this in a future as well). This may be an issue if you have to leave the protection of your vehicle for whatever reason. Look for either a blanket that has a tight weave or has some sort of wind breaking capacity, like a nylon shell. Older synthetic sleeping bags are great. They may be too bulky or heavy to use for backpacking but they will work just fine for emergency use in your car.

Extra Clothing

16959481_sThis, in and of itself, will be an entire article at some point and I suppose it violates the 5 item rule, hell rules are meant to be broken right? I keep all my extra winter clothing in one bag all together and combined it’s really part of a system and we’ll just hit on the basics here. Keeping in mind the no cotton rule we mentioned above. Here are a few items you might want to consider keeping in your extra clothing bag.

A nice hat you can pull over your ears. It’s pretty common knowledge you loose a ton of heat through your noggin, so keep it covered. Add to that gloves and/or mittens. Mittens keep you warmer but gloves are more functional. I keep a pair of lightweight gloves that I can use as liners in my mittens. It becomes a system.

Synthetic or wool long sleeve top and bottoms, usually used as a base layer, Chances are you are out in regular clothing, maybe a cotton t-shirt, Jeans, you wanna get rid of that and put on something else or at the very least have the non cotton “base layer” closest to your skin.

An insulating top/jacket most people have a fleece type jacket. Grab the old one out of the closet and throw it in your bag or head out to the second hand store.

Remember that problem with wind? Well its a good idea to have something that will block it. A shell of some sort. I keep an older nylon rain jacket in the car all year long this can double as a shell too. Just remember that something like this may not breathe as well as say gortex or on of the other windproof breathable fabrics, so you will have to regulate air flow manually using the zipper and take it off all together if you’re going to be sweating. A hood is nice too. 22155029_s

Pants, I throw in a pair of nylon hiking pants. They’re light, keep the wind off, and allow me to get rid of the cotton pants I usually wear on a daily basis.

Finally a pair of synthetic/wool socks and boots. If you do have to walk and there is snow on the ground, those penny loafers just ain’t gonna cut it. Again I keep an older pair of boots handy no need to break the bank here.

Sand/Kitty Litter/Fine Gravel

Something so simple yet you might never thought of. Getting stuck on ice or snow is not fun. Just a few handfuls of grit can be the difference. Throw this under the tires to gain traction and hopefully propel you out. An added benefit, if you have a rear wheel drive car is that this will add a little extra weight in the back end.  You can pretty much find this stuff anywhere. Sand and gravel at the home improvement store and kitty litter everywhere else. It costs next to nothing, and I like cheap insurance.


Black-Diamond-Deploy-Avalanche-ShovelA small but wide bladed shovel can come in very handy, especially if you’re gonna be breaking out the kitty litter. There are several different types to look at. A foldable avalanche shovel can be nice. they typically fold up, are compact and lightweight, but a bit on the pricy side to have just sitting in your trunk. Another option is just a plain ole snow shovel, If you can fit it, they lay pretty flat but can be long and awkward. Of course you can always keep an eye out for a sturdy but compact model. One option would be to cut the handle down. to make it fit. You might even be able to relocate the grip at the end after you chop it.

Small Stove and Cook Pot

5489100_sOk, another one that might get overlooked, but if you’re stuck for an extended period of time this is going to be a big one. You still have that water from your regular emergency kit, (you do have water, right?) or there is plenty of snow and ice around you, but how the heck are you gonna melt it. It’s freezing remember.

This is another item with a few options. I prefer a backpacking type stove, they are light and compact so don’t take up much space. Within this style there are even more options. I’ll concentrate on the canister and liquid fuel types. Both have their advantages.

Liquid fuel can be messy and a pain to deal with on the other hand if it’s a multifuel stove you can just use the fuel from the vehicle, most will burn both gasoline and diesel along with the traditional white gas.

Next is the canister stove, they are convenient, easy to store. the canisters are fairly compact. However, once you are out of fuel that’s it. There is also can be an issue of fuel efficiency at high altitudes and extreme cold temperatures, which may or may bot be a concern in your area.

primus multiThat said there is now a nice solution on the market. Stoves that do both. So you’re getting the best of both worlds here. A hard option to pass up. I’ll be publishing several stove reviews in the coming months on all of these options and then some.

Finally a decent pot to heat with. You can use anything from small old kitchen sauce pan to an expensive titanium backpackers pot. Choice is yours but again the thrift store might be your best bet if you don’t have anything laying around.


So that’s this weeks 5 to stay alive, let us know what you think and what items would you add to this list. Or take away for that matter. Looking forward to your comments.

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  1. So after my first time reading this list I realized lots of comments will be made here and in the future on this site.  Nothing is truly right or wrong, but so many opinions and things to add on to the article or comment on.  I didn’t see a way to initiate a fire – but then I asked myself does the car have a built in cigarette lighter, a 12 volt battery, possibly road flares, and of course, our Every Day Carry…a lighter.  I am making the assumption the field stove can be ignited (some may even have an ignition switch).
    As for sleeping gear an enclosed bag (sleeping bag) does seem to work better than a blanket.  However, a point to consider, I have a wool blanket in my vehicle and that would also serve well to cover someone if they are on fire.  I understand the article is specifically addressing traveling in cold weather and the chances of catching on fire are minimal (unless a tragic field stove accident occurred).
    There is always the debate of synthetic versus natural fabrics.  Once again, the scenario can help drive that decision – such as the cotton kills issue.  In a peace time, cold weather scenario absolutely right – stick with moisture wicking synthetics.  If for some reason one finds themselves in an environment where there is a potential fire hazard, then natural fibers may be better.  I also hear that wool still retains heat if it is wet – not sure if that is true, but that would be good in a cold environment.
    I’ll stop for now, I like the list, this time I scored 80% – I don’t have a field stove in my car, but I do have an Army canteen cup (there is your pot for cooking) and a robust fire starting capability.  Maybe I can get an 85% or so for that.
    So, I have to wait another week for the next list?  Never Surrender….

  2. Never_Surrender a new list every tuesday around noon. That’s the goal anyway.
    I’ll eventually get to an in depth article on cold weather clothing which will discuss in detail the pros and cons of synthetic vs natural fibers. You brought up a good point in regards to fire resistant clothing, albeit a limited audience for sure, I’ll try to remember to make a sidenote for those that might be exposed to fire hazards. Although most modern day fire resistant fabrics are synthetics. 
    Wool does retain much of it’s insulating capacity when wet, so do most synthetics. Unfortunately wool is often slow to dry and gets heavy when wet.  
    Thanks for taking the time to respond.