Assembling a Winter Driving safety kit – Lists and Tips

By Richard Russell

Winter driving demands our utmost attention and respect. Even if the conditions and weather forecast are favorable, it can all go very wrong in the blink of an eye. You must be prepared.

A small patch of black ice, a brief white-out, a moment of inattention and you can find yourself stuck or off the road and waiting for assistance. Many people are under the mistaken impression this happens only during raging winter storms or when traveling a long distance from civilization – but that is often not the case.

As with everything else in life, preparation makes a difference. In this case it can mean the difference between survival and the unacceptable alternative. A few minutes gathering and preparing a winter survival kit is all it takes. Find one of those old backpacks lying around the house or apartment or buy a cheap one if necessary. Fill it with the following and you have a ‘Grab-and-Go’ survival kit!

You only have to do it once, you can do it as a favour or present for a loved one and it is completely portable so if you are traveling with someone else, take it along.

Emergency Gear

The complete itemized list appears below, along with a few suggestions for what to do should you be forced to wait for more than a few hours for assistance. But first let’s break our Grab-n-Go kit into two sections: emergency gear and comfort and safety – for the short or long term.

BMW Winter Driving Bag

You’ll find most of these items around the house, then pick up a few others during your regular grocery run and complete the list with a visit to an outdoor adventure or camping shop.

These are the items that might help get you out of a situation and/or attract assistance. Every vehicle that travels more than a few metres in Canadian winter should have a long-handled snow brush, a set of jumper cables, a tow rope or strap, and a proper first-aid kit.

Safety Kit

But our Grab-n-Go kit also includes a flashlight and extra batteries, better yet one with hand crank recharging abilities, a shovel, a cell phone and 12-volt charging cord will be useful in some, but not all occasions or locations.

A bag of kitty litter can be an excellent way to create some traction on ice and if you’re stuck for awhile, absorb moisture and help eliminate odours resulting from “nature calls”. Make up a basic tool kit consisting of a hammer, pliers, adjustable wrench, multi-purpose screw-driver, knife and roll of duct tape.

You want to draw attention to yourself and location so take along a couple of flares, a can of fluorescent paint or roll of bright-coloured tape to help attract attention from air search-and-rescue teams. A small container of methyl hydrate (lock de-icer) can also be used to remove ice from metal or hard-plastic surfaces,

Staying Warm and Dry

Extra underwear and socks (old ones you were going to throw out), a couple of long-sleeve t-shirts (great for wrapping some of the solid objects in the kit to prevent rattling), boots, mitts, waterproof jacket or poncho, hat with ear warmers (fashion is not an issue) and a blanket. Should it be necessary to settle in for a longer duration you will appreciate having two deep metal cans one in which to melt snow, heat water and make soup and a second to hold a candle and generate warmth.

Ice Dozer

A couple of big fat candles will be your best buddies as a source for light, heat and to melt snow for drinking water. Of course you need to light them so include a batch of strike-anywhere matches in a waterproof container.

Snow Shovel

A couple of energy bars, some beef or chicken jerky and instant soup mix will help tide you over until you get to something a bit more substantial. You could pack a couple of bottles of water, but be sure to provide room for expansion when they freeze. A roll of toilet paper will serve many purposes other than the obvious one.

And lastly, a few items we’ll classify as miscellaneous: games and toys, if you have children; a pen (pencil is better in extreme cold) and a notepad; a small amount of money, including change in case you have access to a vending machine or pay phone; a map of the province or area where you are traveling (which will help you orient the location of noises and direction from which assistance will come) and a sports whistle to attract attention.

Grab & Go Kit Essentials

  • Basic tool kit
  • Blanket
  • Booster cables
  • Bottled water
  • Candles and two deep cans
  • Cell-phone with 12-volt charging cable
  • Duct tape
  • First aid kit
  • Flares, neon distress signs, fluorescent paint or tape
  • Flashlight – extra batteries or hand-crank charger
  • Games and toys if you have children
  • Kitty litter
  • Long-handled ice-scraper and brush
  • Long-sleeve T-shirts
  • Map
  • Methyl hydrate (lock de-icer)
  • Money, including change
  • Multi-purpose tool including knife
  • Non-perishable food and snacks – energy bars, jerky, soup mix
  • Pen and notepad
  • Strike-anywhere matches in waterproof container
  • Toilet paper
  • Tow chain or strap
  • Underwear and socks
  • Waterproof jacket or poncho
  • Whistle

Safety Kit

Throw the whole thing into the backpack or bag and into the trunk or cargo compartment. Hold it in place with a bungee cord – which may be useful for other purposes. Hopefully you will never need it. But if you do this slight extra effort and expenditure will be more than appreciated – it could save your life.


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