The Survival Doctor’s Winter Car-Supplies List

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The Survival Doctor’s Winter Car-Supplies List

The Survival Doctor’s Winter-Car Supplies Listby James Hubbard, MD, MPH

One of my Facebook followers recently asked me what I’d suggest keeping in the car for winter weather. I started to tell her to go to my website, but then I realized, surprise, I don’t have it listed. Well I’m sorry for that, but here’s my list.

  1. Cellphone. Always have it fully charged. It can be a lifesaver when used to call for emergency help, but even if you’re out of range, rescuers can use past signals to narrow down where you’re lost.
  2. Coat, hat, gloves. It may seem obvious, but how often do you just not bother if you’re going on a short drive to a convenient location? So, what if you’re in a wreck or your car stalls? And, after this year, we know that a short drive can turn into a multiple hours traffic jam where you might have to cut the engine or even walk a short way for shelter in a store or office building.
  3. Blanket. If you don’t have room for one, consider a space blanket or three, which you can get in outdoor-supplies stores. They’re made of a thin coat of aluminum on plastic and are cheap and very light. They help conserve heat radiated from your body and are best used under your coat or a blanket. But even if you don’t have either, they’ll still help a little.
  4. Food. Store protein bars or other nonperishable snacks, and rotate every few months. Calories produce energy for metabolism, and metabolism produces heat.
  5. Bottled water. It might freeze, so be sure the bottle has a little empty space for the ice to expand without bursting the container. You could also keep it in your car’s interior rather than the trunk. This might keep it warmer, at least while you’re driving.
  6. A tin can with a lid. Keep matches, candles, and lighters in here. Also, if the water freezes, you could warm it up in the tin or melt snow for water.
  7. Battery-booster cables.
  8. Tire chains.
  9. Flares.
  10. Small shovel.
  11. First-aid kit. This should include adhesive bandages, a roll of tape (any kind), gauze, safety pins, and scissors.
  12. Living Ready Pocket Manual: First Aid. It takes up hardly any room at all.


What about you? Do you have these? Ever needed them? Can you think of something that could be added to the list?


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Photo: Flickr/Jim Purbrick, shared under CC BY-NC 2.0.


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  • David “Stickman” Grasty

    You have the basics in there Doc, but I’m not sure what’s there would “effect survival”, or self-rescue at that. A few things I’d add:
    -Quality Headlamp that take lithium batteries: doing anything is easier with two hands
    -Small Tarp & Cordage: In the summer, or winter, you’re better off building a quality shelter outside the vehicle. It get’s colder inside the vehicle than it does out (minus wind chill factor, etc.. But you better off building a snow cave and trying to heat the inside of that. Snow is a MUCH better insulator than metal and glass
    -Emergency (mylar) Blanket (times # of occupants)
    -Poncho (times # of occupants)
    -Quality HH flashlight (with lithium batteries)
    -Off Grid power source; To keep you cell-phone operational. This can be a battery pack, inverter for you car battery, extra batteries, etc. Just cause you battery doesn’t have enough amperage to turn a car over, it still has plenty of Amp Hours left to charge your cell phone a hundred times over.
    -Goggles: A life saver in blizzard conditions, and makes it much easier to work in blowing snow/sand
    -On the food: Have some fatty foods (helps keep your body warmer than regular/dry foods), like vienna sausages, etc. Also, keep some hard candy in there for simple carb’s (fast energy) and/or gum, for moral.
    -Kids: Add a dollar store coloring book, kid friendly snacks, etc., and don’t forget 2-3 diapers/formula for infants. Nothing makes a survival situation worse than kids “losing it”.
    -Signal device; Unless you want to stay outside your shelter all night doing SOS with your flashlight, get a small cheap Strobe light for the night, and leave it on your vehicel, and something hi-vis to make an X on the top of your vehicle (bright orange duct tape, etc.).
    -Means to purify water: When your two liters is gone, what do you do??? Lack of water will kill you faster than anything, aside from exposure. Have a means to get more.
    -Map & Compass; If no one comes for a few days, you may need to effect self rescue…having a map and compass, and knowing how to use them, you can find the nearest help.
    -On the map&Compass…learn some basic survival skills, and practice them…knowledge weighs nothing…the more you know, the less you have to carry!

    I could list a few more items, but these will not only keep you alive, but also give you a better chance at effecting self-rescue, if needed.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks for the tips, David.

  • John Bryson

    The last time I had a problem, I was sitting in Atlanta traffic in the snow for 3.5 hrs with occasional movement. What I needed was a car phone charger for the phone/gps and a full tank of gas in the car. I finally took side roads, and the gps was good for finding alternate routes, until it died, and then I found that i didn’t have a good paper map of the area. If I had chains, I would have fared better on the side roads. I saw a lot of people getting stuck on side roads. So… So… a good paper map of the area, chains, cell phone charger.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks, John. Great tips.

  • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

    Flybob, thanks. Looking forward to it also.

  • Flybob

    Some GREAT suggestions. I have another. In Wyoming, where we live, or anywhere in the colder climates most of us carry a coffee can, roll of toilet paper and a couple bottles of rubbing alcohol. ALL have multiple uses but if you take the roll of toilet paper and put a bend in the cardboard roll in the center so it will fit in the coffee can and then pour the alcohol in until it is completely saturated it will burn pretty much all night with no carbon monoxide (It would eventually burn all the O2 out of the air so you have to vent occasionally). You would be surprised what just a small fire can do to keep the inside of a car or truck warm. I’ve personally heard of this saving several lives. Keep up the great work Doc and thank you VERY much! By the way, a .44 magnum wouldn’t hurt either! :-)

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks, Flybob. Great tips. I’m pretty sure though, that burning alcohol can produce some carbon monoxide, but you already know ventilation is essential so that’s the main thing.

  • Relentless

    Our town’s DOT garage allows us to take road gravel/salt mix home. Work vastly better than cat litter for traction. I keep it in a recycled one gallon PVC bucket with tight top from either spackle or almond butter [from the local food coop]. I’ve never used Fix-A-Flat, but I keep a can in the trunk. One more thing: an inexpensive 150~300 lumen headlamp bought at Amazon, with a spare set of 3 AAA batteries.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks. Great tips.

  • Fuzzy

    Flashlight, hatchet or heavy knife, whistle or other signalling device, hand sanitizer, and a candle or two. Keep the toilet paper in a coffee-can, taped shut, with your matches and the hand sanitizer. A couple of gallon-size plastic bags — if you have to walk through snow, you can put them on over your socks, but under your shoes, and retain the insulating properties of the socks that much longer

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks for the great tips.

  • Jayfeather

    One of the things that I really like about this site is the sharing. This time, I have it covered. As I read through the comments, my mental check list was going, and nothing to add to my kits (yes, I have MREs).
    I have one thing I would like to add…cash. You don’t want to hike to the convenience store, only to find out that the “system” is not working and you cannot buy your donuts. Remember, you can be stranded in the middle of a city, in fair weather, if the system goes down…it happened to me, and I sure was thankfull that I had a couple of hundred dollars to get me home.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks, Jayfeather.

  • John G

    Great suggestions for all. I would add traction sand as opposed to cat litter. Clay cat litter absorbs moisture and takes on it’s “clay” nature- slippery when wet (tires are hot after running down the road, and even after sitting heat up fast when trying to rock yourself out), and thus melt snow/ice, and shazamm, water and clay. A pair of light weight nylon running pants (not shorts) oversized so they pull over your street clothes. A fleece pullover sweater (layers my friends), lightweight and warm. Spare pair or two of thick winter socks. BIG NOTE of CAUTION! If your stuck in a big snowstorm, traffic not moving and snow pilling up fast… Beware the tail pipe! Snow will drift in fast blocking the exhaust; carbon dioxide easily enters the vehicle cabin. Even with the engine off, carbon dioxide is leathal. Crack a window open on the lee side of your vehicle. Alaska is a beautiful place to live, and we learn the hard way about Mother Nature’s Wrath.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thank you, John