As the weather starts to get colder the fear of leaving the house and becoming stranded always pops into my head. Whether I’m going for a walk in the area, driving to a family member’s house for the holidays, or just running errands, I always start thinking about what I would do if my car broke down or I got stranded somewhere and the weather took a turn for the worse.
Everyday carry doesn’t always have to just involve things that you are carrying on your person when you leave the house, but it also means being prepared for any situation that may arise. Ensuring that you have everything you need in your EDC pack, or backpack, when you leave the house will help give you peace of mind as you conquer the day, but having an emergency pack in your car could save your life if you ever needed it.
Creating a Car Emergency Kit
Understanding what situations you may end up in while in your car is essential in helping to determine what sort of items you should pack into your car emergency kit. The type of weather you’re most likely to experience, how old your car is, how long you plan to be gone, how far away from home you’re going… these are just a handful of things you should be aware of when thinking about what items you may need in a pinch if disaster strikes.
When packing your emergency kit you need to take into account problems with the car itself, possibly having to sleep overnight in the car, leaving the car to walk to safety, and more. Being over-prepared is much better than being under prepared when it comes to this sort of thing.
Now, we’re not talking about having a suitcase full of stuff in the back of your car at all times (there’s no need for this when running to the grocery store), but having a small pack that stays in the car at all times for easy fixes, and then a list of things to throw in the car when going on long trips, is going to be the ideal setup.
Emergency Items in the Car at All Times
The items below are things that we believe you should have in your car at all times when driving. These things will help with minor breakdowns or car troubles, as well as allowing you to survive in your car overnight if something more drastic happens.
Portable Battery Powered Jumper Cable Set
One of the most common issues that happens to cars is that the battery dies. Having a portable car starter/jumper pack in your car at all times will help you drastically if you ever need to jump a dead battery while you are out.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to use the one I have to jump my dead car in a parking lot after I’ve been somewhere for a long time. And yes, I know I should just replace the battery, but I don’t drive my car very often so sometimes the battery sits without getting charged for weeks at a time and it requires a jump to get going.
There are a ton of options when it comes to battery jumper packs, but we suggest getting one with boost capabilities as well as USB support. The boost will help if your car is really dead (it pumps more juice through the cables than would normally require, so you may only get one jump out of it instead of 5, but at least you’ll get your car started) and the USB ports will help if your car is dead and your phone needs charging.
Phone Charging Cables
Always, ALWAYS have an extra phone charging cable in your car. As we mentioned above, if the battery on your car dies, the USB ports, or 12v power port, aren’t going to work if the car won’t start. So having an extra cable that you can plug into a USB battery pack will allow you to charge your phone quickly while in a jam.
If you want to be extra safe you can always throw the power adapter part into the car as well in case you’re able to find a gas station or building where you can plug into an outlet.
Portable Air Compressor
These are also relatively cheap these days and will fit in your glove box, so they won’t take up a lot of space. This will help you out if you ever get a flat tire, that’s not a complete blowout. It will allow you to put at least enough air in the tire to help you limp to a gas station or a service station so they can take a look at it and help you solve the problem.
This can also help in the cold months when the air pressure escapes your tires for no reason other than it’s cold outside. I know I deal with the low-pressure light in my car on a weekly basis and driving on a flat tire will damage the tire and rim over time.
This one should be obvious to everyone… throw a rechargable flashlight in your glovebox in case you breakdown at night. Yes, we know that everyone’s phone has a flashlight on it these days, but have you ever tried to change a tire by the light of the tiny LED on a phone? It’s not very fun.
A flashlight will be a lifesaver if you ever need more light at night and you can find a rechargeable one online for relatively cheap. There’s no need for anything fancy to have in your car, although a headlamp may make things easier if you’re alone and trying to diagnose car trouble at night.
You know those futuristic looking blankets that look like tinfoil? Yeah, throw one of those in the car just in case you end up stranded overnight and the temperature dips. This will help use your body heat to keep you warm and could save your life.
These aren’t very expensive and fold up to be pretty small, so there’s really no reason not to have one. They aren’t going to last you for weeks on end if you get really stranded, but a couple nights in the cold and you should be just fine.
Food and Water
A box of granola bars or protein bars and a couple bottles of water will last you a long time if something ever happens where you can’t leave your car for a couple days. You’re still going to be hungry and thirsty after a while, but this will keep you alive for a fair amount of time.
And, if it’s cold and snowy outside, you can use the bottles to collect snow and water for drinking.
If you really want to get fancy you can also get one of those filtering straws that help filter out bacteria from water, so you can drink any fresh water you may find.
First Aid Kit
Having a basic first aid kit in the car will always be useful, even if it’s just a few bandaids, antiseptic, and gauze. If you’re really looking to be prepared we would suggest adding things like cotton balls, tweezers, pain killers, maybe a small bottle of sunscreen as well. These things will always come in handy even if the situation is not an emergency.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told myself I wasn’t going to wear sunscreen when going out only to absolutely regret the decision and not have access to any when on the road.
There’s no need for large bottles of anything, so travel sized bottles of items will be more than enough to keep you prepared.
Emergency Items in the Car for Longer Trips
While the things above are great for both short and long road trips, there area few other things you may want to have in the car in case of a breakdown or an emergency while on a longer car ride further from home.
Basic Set of Tools
Not everyone is savvy when it comes to working on cars, but that doesn’t mean that a good Samaritan or a friend won’t stop to help you out, and having the right tools could help you out.
Having a small socket set, pliers, and screwdrivers will help you unscrew or unbolt quite a bit of what is on a car. And while it may not help with every issue, it could help you out in a bind.
Even just a basic multitool in the car will help you out in a lot of different situations.
If you’re going on a further road trip you might already have some extra clothes with you, but if not, having at least a sweatshirt, warm hat, and gloves, will help you to stay warm in the event that you break down in cold weather. Warm clothing will help you if you have to work on the car or if you have to walk outside for an extended period of time.
Tow Straps and Fire Extinguisher
Tow straps will probably come in handy more often than a fire extinguisher would, but these items are less likely to be used than a lot of items on this list. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider having them on long trips.
Tow straps can help if you need someone else to help get you unstuck if you run off the road or get stuck on a beach, while a fire extinguisher can help put out basic automotive fires. Be extremely careful when trying to put out an automotive fire though, there are many liquids within an engine that are highly combustible, and you may be better off waiting for the fire department.
Car Emergency Kit Items
While there are a lot of other things you can keep in your car in case of emergencies, the items we listed above will help you out in most situations.
If you really want to be as prepared as possible you can also include things like extra fuses for the car, a small gas can, antifreeze, a couple quarts of oil, duct tape, extra washer fluid, or even flares. However, with almost everyone having a cell phone these days, most of those things are easily attainable with a phone call or not necessary in a true life or death emergency.
Being prepared is part of the EDC mindset, and having these items in your car will ensure that you remain as safe as possible no matter what situation may arise as you’re driving.
Zach Belmont has been working in the outdoor apparel industry in one form or another for over 20 years. During his career, he has worked at some of the most well-known adventure brands including Patagonia and The North Face in marketing, operations and product development. Zach currently lives in Wyoming with his wife and 2 kids.