Road trips don’t need to take a back seat when the weather turns colder. In fact, in many parts of Canada, winter is one of the best times to explore! Road tripping safely during the winter months just requires more careful preparation. One of the most important elements of this is putting together a winter car emergency kit. When you have a winter safety kit for your vehicle, you’ll be prepared for the unexpected and able to keep yourself and your loved ones safe until help can arrive. Knowing you have a winter survival kit on hand can help you relax and enjoy the journey, even in inclement weather.

Looking for a winter car emergency kit checklist? We’ve got you covered. You can purchase a pre-assembled emergency kit if you prefer. But you’ll still need to add a few things, and you can probably put a full kit together with items you already have at home. Here are 10 things to make sure you’ve got packed in your car’s winter survival kit. You’ll find a few more optional suggestions at the end of the article.

Snow brush and ice scraper

Winter car emergency kit

A quality snow brush and ice scraper are essential when you’re driving anywhere that regularly sees snow. Many people purchase these as a single unit with a brush at one end and a scraper at the other. Some people prefer a smaller separate handheld scraper or the type that’s built into an oversized mitten. Go with whatever works best for you.

The important part is to choose a brush and scraper than can stand up to the elements. Metal handles are more durable than wood, and a wider brush with longer bristles will mean quicker work. Similarly, a wide scraper is better than a thin one and will get ice cleared away more effectively.

Jumper cables, or add a battery booster to your winter car emergency kit

Colder temperatures weaken a car’s battery. This means a cold snap can cause a dying battery to create problems you might not notice in warmer temperatures. You don’t want to be the person wandering the grocery store parking lot in a snowstorm looking for someone who’s willing to give you a boost and has a set of jumper cables on hand. Solve half of that problem in advance and keep a set of jumper cables in your car for emergencies.

If you’d like to be even more secure, pick up a car battery booster pack. With one of these portable kits, you can boost your own car battery, even if no one else is around. At less than $100 on average, one use and you’ll be convinced these are money well spent.

Extra windshield washer fluid

If you’ve ever run out of windshield washer fluid during an ice storm, you know how grateful you’ll be to have a spare bottle ready in the car. This way, you can simply pull over to a safe place and refill your washer fluid tank right away.

Did you know there are two types of windshield washer fluid? The summer formulation is better for removing bugs and dirt from your windshield. But during the winter, a fluid with antifreeze will help to melt ice and snow so your wipers can clear the windshield effectively. Check the label on the bottle of washer fluid for a temperature rating to ensure you’re getting a product well suited to winter conditions in your area.

Choose salt, sand, and/or a folding shovel for your winter car emergency kit

There are a few things that can get you out of a sticky situation should you find yourself lacking traction. A bag of salt or sand will give you something to pour onto an icy surface to give your tires enough grip to escape. Some people choose to carry kitty litter for this purpose. To dig your way out of deep snow, a small folding shovel may make the job a little easier.

Spare hat and gloves

Surprises happen, and people don’t always arrive to ditches or snowbanks appropriately dressed for the occasion. Chances are you’ll need to be outside in less-than-perfect weather if you find yourself in such a situation. It’s a great idea to pack a spare winter hat such as a warm toque in your winter car emergency kit. You’ll also want a spare set of gloves to make sure you’re prepared for the elements.

A blanket, or many blankets, for your winter car emergency kit

We hope you never find yourself stuck in a disabled car for hours or overnight. But in case you do, you’ll need a blanket to help keep you warm until help arrives. During the winter, travel with at least one blanket for every person you typically have in the car with you. For example, if you have a partner you drive with often, pack at least two blankets in your winter car emergency kit. If you’re a family of four, keep at least four blankets on hand.

A candle, coffee can, and matches or a lighter

For the same scenario, this affordable little trick does wonders. Keep an unscented pillar candle inside an empty metal coffee can, and add a book of matches or a small lighter. When the candle is lit, the metal can will help disperse the warmth of its flame. This setup can generate a surprising amount of heat. It can help keep the interior of a disabled vehicle warmer on a cold winter night. Be sure the candle is unscented, though: the fewer impurities you’re adding to the interior of your vehicle in an emergency, the better.

Keep bottled water from freezing in your winter car emergency kit

Potable water is an essential element in a car’s winter survival kit. By including a couple of sealed bottles of water, you’ll always have access to safe drinking water in an emergency. But the tricky part during the winter is keeping these bottles from freezing, which could cause them to crack and leak. Not only would this leave you without water, but you also might soil the contents of your winter car emergency kit, creating a potential disaster.

To mitigate this as much as possible, pack your water bottles in a cooler or insulated bag. Place it among blankets in the middle of your kit so it’s surrounded by other items. This way, your water will be the last thing to freeze during a cold snap.

Non-perishable food items

In addition to water, make sure you have some non-perishable food items in your winter car emergency kit. Ideally, these will be nutritional and filling foods with a long shelf life. We’ve chosen some granola bars and grain clusters for our kit. Protein bars, whole roasted nuts, and jerky are also great choices.

A portable cell phone charger

These days, a dead mobile phone creates a legitimate crisis. Being stuck in a ditch with no way to call for help is pure nightmare fuel. To keep this essential device operating when you need it most, tuck a portable charging brick into your emergency kit. Make sure the portable phone charger is fully charged itself before you stow it away, and be sure to include any cables you’ll require to connect it to your phone.

More items to consider including in your winter car emergency kit

If you don’t already have a first aid kit in your vehicle, now’s the time to buy one that can stay there full-time. You may also want to consider including a flashlight and some batteries in your emergency kit. While modern mobile phones work well as flashlights, this function drains the battery quickly when you may need to preserve it. Some drivers like to add road flares, safety triangles, and/or a safety vest to a winter car emergency kit to improve their roadside visibility.

And if your winter road trip will take you well outside of mobile phone service, consider purchasing an emergency personal locator beacon. These devices can alert emergency services that you’re in distress and are traceable to anywhere in the world. They’re pricy, but if you spend a significant amount of time far from civilization, the peace of mind may be worth it.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What should I pack in my car for winter emergencies?

A well-packed winter car emergency kit includes jumper cables or a booster kit, warm clothing and blankets, bottled water and non-perishable food, a candle and matches, a snow brush and ice scraper, and some salt or sand.

Can you leave a first aid kit in your car?

Not only can you leave a first aid kit in your car, it’s highly recommended. A well-stocked first aid kit should be accessible in your car at all times in case of an emergency.

What should you add to your emergency kit in winter to help with traction?

It’s a good idea to keep a bag of sand, road salt, or kitty litter in your car during the winter months. Pour these items behind your drive wheels to improve their traction on icy surfaces.

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