Winter is coming. That’s the mentality you should always have in the back of your mind most of the year and closer to the front of your mind when the leaves change and the daytime highs become lower and lower. Mother nature doesn’t like you, and when winter comes around, there is no further proof you need.
Winter is unforgiving, and if you live in an area with a lot of snowfall, you know that winter can wreak havoc on your plans. Changing your plans and how you prep your vehicle will make the difference between comfort and pain during winter. Start planning now and make those changes before the mercury drops even further and you’re covered in snow.
Just like mechanical injury is one of the main reasons people end up in survival scenarios, going off-road or not being able to keep your vehicle moving is the reason for winter vehicle-based survival scenarios. To combat this, one of the best ways to prepare your vehicle for winter is to ensure you have a battery pack and traction boards.
Cold decreases your battery’s performance, so making sure you swap out your battery early if the engine doesn’t turn over immediately is part of preventative maintenance. A solid shovel with a full-length handle will also help you reach underneath your vehicle should it get high-sided on the frame. Storing proper clothing handy with your vehicle recovery kit is a great idea too.
In the wintertime, this may mean having winter boots to change into instead of your work shoes. It could also mean having insulated work gloves and, if you are in an area with a lot of traffic, a high-visibility vest so that others can see you.
Every good shelter consists of something to sleep inside of, over, and under. Remember this concept as “Shelter I.O.U.” What changes in the winter are the humidity, the temperature, and the type of precipitation you will face. The rest of the year, your vehicle survival kit can be staged so that you either ride out the proverbial storm inside your vehicle or outside of it.
The winter is different; stay inside. You will either have a heated shelter or one where you will provide warmth by letting your internal furnace warm your insulation. All good winter survival kits start with a properly rated sleeping bag. This means one per occupant of a vehicle. To help this sleeping bag keep your core temperature where it should be, a fresh package of hand warmers makes sense, as it is a flameless artificial heat source.
Your vehicle is a generator, and you can warm the cabin by running the engine. Keep this in mind if you can carry spare fuel and can keep the exhaust clear. Closed foam sleeping pads work well to protect you from the conduction cooling against the cold interior of your vehicle.
Our water needs don’t change as the seasons do. What does change is the physical state of that water. In the cold, the water you have stored will turn to ice. As anyone who is somewhat versed in wilderness survival will tell you, consuming ice chips isn’t advisable as it lowers your core body temperature.
To counter this, you need a method of converting that ice back to water. First and foremost, do not fill your metal water bottles to capacity in the winter. Ice expands, and if your water bottle has a seam (like many metal military-style canteens do), it will burst. Secondly, a small backpacking stove is an excellent idea for warming metal canteens. We recommend staging this outside of your vehicle to mitigate any chance of it tipping over inside your vehicle.
Make sure you have a good windbreak for it, and it will run regardless of the temperature outside. Also, pack a wide-bottom pot in your vehicle. A wide bottom pot will work better to melt snow than a tall pot or container.
Fire is a game changer, but vehicle survival is not always practical. You should only consider leaving your vehicle to make a fire if it provides a benefit to you. This could be for cooking food, boiling water, or creating a signal. We keep a fire kit as part of our winter vehicle survival that includes a large Ferro rod, storm matches, B.I.C. lighters, and premade tinder.
We’ll use a road flare in a pinch to get a fire going. For your vehicle survival kit, consider “fire” to be heat. Your vehicle’s heater is a source of “fire,” hand warmers are a source of “fire,” and heated bottles of water are a source of “fire.” Please think of the ways you can stay warm and equip your vehicle with them.
In an emergency, your best course of action may be something other than total self-reliance but reliance on others better equipped than you are. You can use your shovel and recovery boards to pull yourself free or call on others with tow straps and snow tires to haul you out.
Just like the rest of the year, your cell phone should be your primary method of signaling for help. However, just like the rest of the year, your cell phone may not always have cell phone service, or the batteries could be dead. Make sure you have the means to keep your phone charged up and remember text messages, and the emergency band may have better success transmitting than a call.
You can also keep a broken-down two-way radio that operates on civilian bands in your vehicle to transmit a distress call. Keep it broken down to prevent the radio from accidentally turning on and draining the battery. One of the most useful ways of signaling for help is carrying a spare tent pole in your vehicle. Attach a brightly colored flag to it and raise it high over your vehicle. Even if you go off-road into a ditch, this flag should still be visible if your vehicle is covered in snow or out of sight.
A winter vehicle survival kit isn’t as difficult as it needs to be with some basic prep. We’ve outlined what it takes to spend the emergency night in your vehicle until help arrives. Another worthwhile option to consider is leaving your vehicle and walking to safety. This could be the subject of another blog but for now, consider what gear you would need to snowshoe to help and how you could best pull supplies with you in a sled. Keep in mind winter is coming, but it is like all the other seasons and will pass too.