Dec 8, 2010

Car Kit

Last week, friend and fellow blogger mhaithaca put together a post on the bare minimum of things he keeps in his car. It's a good start, and nudged me to put together a kit for MrsZ's car. Please understand, this is in addition to the permanent items like a flashlight, some hand tools, a fire extinguisher, a few road flares, tire sealant and compressor, etc.

Mark's entry was prompted by the lake effect blast that shut down several miles of the NYS ThruWay around Buffalo. Most drivers were only stuck in their cars for ten to twelve hours, which is unpleasant but generally not dangerous - at least in temperate climates. Given the unpredictability of snow in that (and many other) areas though, a motorist could easily be stranded for 24 to 48 hours. In remote areas that number could easily triple. (Remember that family on the West Coast that accidentally went up a seasonal road?)

Do you have enough in your car to survive for six days in winter?

First and foremost: there is no such thing as "just a quick trip to the store" in winter. If you run out of gas, or get a flat tire, or slide into a ditch, are you dressed to deal with the situation without endangering yourself? Grabbing a three-season coat and light gloves to go from the house to the garage and the parking lot into the office is fine - but make sure you've got an extra sweatshirt, a winter hat, and some real gloves or mittens in the car. Throw an extra pair of wool socks in there too.

If you're stranded on the highway, how are you going to keep warm? Hopefully you're keeping your gas tank at least half-full at all times. Make sure your exhaust stays clear, and run the car for 15-20 minutes out of every two hours. Turn the defroster and air conditioner OFF - just use the heater and fan. Crack a back window to get a little bit of fresh air without losing all the heat. Cycling the engine like this should allow a half-tank of fuel to last a few days without any trouble and will keep the car tolerable if not exactly comfortable. (Most cars and light trucks will go about 300-400 miles on a full tank of fuel at highway speeds; that's five to seven hours of running time.)

Have something to eat? (A pack of gum, a box of tic-tacs, and an old package of Ding-Dongs really doesn't count.) You want something calorie-dense. Clif bars are a good option, as are most granola bars, and peanut butter.

How about water? A nalgene bottle kept 3/4 full won't burst if it freezes, and will keep you from going terribly thirsty too fast.

Now, how to make it all much easier? Put together a car kit. A backpack, plastic tote, cardboard box, whatever - put everything in one container and make it easy. I went through Walmart on my way home from work this morning, and this is what I put together:
  • A Rubbermaid "Action Packer" tub (small size)
  • two light fleece throws
  • an enamel mug
  • Bic lighters
  • a watertight match container
  • a collapsible candle lantern
  • spare candles
  • a whistle
  • a lightweight poncho
  • two cheap folding knives
  • half a dozen chemical heat packs
Grand total: $66.

I supplemented that when I got home with two MREs, a few tea bags, two envelopes of cocoa mix, a mylar "space blanket", two "Frontier" filter straws, and a Nalgene water bottle.


A candle lantern, by itself, will put out enough heat to keep a car tolerably warm. Interspersing that with running the engine will keep the temperature up even longer. In addition, you can put the mug on top of the lantern to melt snow or heat water to make tea or cocoa.

Chemical heat packs will keep fingers and toes warmer or help thaw out frostbitten parts.

The fleece blankets, particularly when combined with the mylar blanket (fleece inside, mylar outside!), will keep one person VERY warm in extremely cold weather.

Lighters and matches are great for building a fire, lighting that candle, and are just a good thing to have around.

Cheap knives - and there are two, because two is one, etc - can be used to fir a stick for tinder, or anything else your little heart desires. Would a better knife be a good idea? Perhaps. But for a buck apiece, these are a pretty good value.

A Nalgene bottle part full lets you have an initial supply of water, and keep whatever water you melt. If you're not sure of your water source, use those Frontier filter straws to reduce the chance of getting sick.

Tea and cocoa... hot liquids are a great way to raise the core temperature quickly. It's important to remember that tea (non-herbal) generally contains caffeine, which is a diuretic. If you're like me and a bit of caffeine daily is necessary, make sure you drink a bit more water to avoid dehydration.

MREs aren't necessarily tasty, but they are calorie-rich and include a heater so you can have a hot meal. They can be a bit pricey - about $70 for a case of 12 - but it's worth it. If you stretch the meal a bit and aren't working hard, it has enough calories to feed you for one day - approximately 1,250cal. (If you're buying a case of MREs, make sure you buy them with heaters. The food is edible without, but wouldn't you prefer a hot meal?)

Finally, the whistle is great for signaling if you are off the road a bit.

All of this fits easily into the tub, with a bit of room to spare for whatever you think is appropriate - an extra pair of socks, a hat, a paperback novel, spare box of ammo, etc. That tub should fit in the trunk of nearly any car on the road today, excepting exotics - and if you get stuck in a blizzard in your Ferrari, I don't feel too bad for you.

(Side note: Why didn't I get into firearms in this entry? Because you should already have your carry piece with you, and this isn't about that. Suffice it to say that there may be "have-nots" who wish to become "haves". Discourage as appropriate, but share if you can.)


doubletrouble said...

Great minds & all that...

I'm putting together a car kit for my son's fiance for a Christmas gift. This one is considerably smaller, & fits in a small aluminum toolbox. Whistle/compass/magnifier, multi-tool (Leatherman type), Bic lighter & firestarters in a small tin, candle, poncho, 3 "AAA" LED light, 10 yards of para cord, a Red Bull shot, "space" blanket, watch cap, light pair of fleece gloves, & a can of Fix-a-flat.

She's already got her pocket knife & gat.

Anonymous said...

I had a get-home bag when I drove seventy miles one way to school. It was just an ALICE pack, sans frame, filled with nifty things like extra ammo, printed maps of alternate routes to and from school (just in case, y'know), a flashlight, changes of clothes suitable for the time of year, food, and some water. I believe that I also had odds and ends like duct tape, hair ties, that sort of thing.

The rest of the good stuff - firearm, pocketknife, so forth and so on - was on my person. (Except for the gun when I was at school because that would be illegal. It was secured in the vehicle, as irritating as that was.) I also had a cell-phone charger for the car, just in case.

And, of course, important things for the vehicle were already in place, like spare tire/tools and fuses and such.


John the Texaner said...

Paracord would make an excellent addition to this kit. It's inexpensive, compact, very strong (generally 550 pound break strength that can be compounded with multiple lashings), and it is readily available. Most surplus stores will have it, and it can be purchased online. Its uses are virtually limitless.