This is the perfect time to check through your Winter Emergency Car kit to make sure it’s still in-tact following a summer of packing and unpacking your car.
Between the eleven of us here at METRO, we have spent most of our lives in Alaska’s Interior. We’ve had our share of going in the ditch and pulling people out. And we have learned a thing or two in the process.
We’ve also heard 25 years worth of stories about the many ways one can be forsaken by transportation and stranded in the bitter cold and dark.
This blog is a list of items we find really helpful to have with us during winter driving. We have divided things into two categories: Winter Around Town and Winter Road Trippin.
If you have additional smart ideas that we have not thought of, post in the comments on our “Emergency Kit” social media post.
(Skip to the end if you want just the bullet list with no explanation!)
Winter Around Town
These are things you want in the car for the 20 minutes or so to school or work.
One Tow Strap
This is the number one emergency item for every vehicle owner. For the average commuter we recommend a tow strap rather than chain. A chain is awesome and heavy duty. However, a chain takes up a lot of room, is heavy and cold and difficult to store neatly in passenger vehicles.
There are a lot of different straps to choose from. Here is a link to an example: https://www.aih.com/Product/3-X-30-TOW-JERK-STRAP-15-000-MAX-VEH-WT-KPR02933
Two Anchor Shackles
Tow straps with loops at both ends are a great idea because they allow you to purchase a fastener that fits nicely on the shipping hooks or anchor points for your car specifically. They are easy to install on the loop of your tow strap. We recommend anchor shackles.
Here is an example of an “anchor shackle”: https://amzn.to/2XYHlg4
Here is a video about how to pull someone out of the ditch using a Tow Strap and Two Anchor Shackles: https://youtu.be/u0H9v8tiXf0
Flares are incredibly important to both your own safety and to that of other people when vehicles become immobile due to break-downs or getting stuck. Flares are inexpensive and great to have even if you are not the one in the ditch. Give them out or light and leave in the road if you see an accident.
At Least One Light Down Blanket or Sleeping Bag
Down packs very tight and offers incredible warmth for its weight. Keep a small comforter in a stuff sack. You may even use it when some Northern Lights prompt a viewing you have not anticipated.
One Pair of Light Gloves
Changing a tire without hand coverings in the cold is nearly impossible. Even an inexpensive pair of cotton gloves stored with your spare tire will feel like heaven when you are trying to loosen lug nuts in the dark and cold. Trust us.
Jump Pack or Power Pack
We love these. Charge a phone, start a dead car in the parking lot or at the trailhead, these power packs are an essential for winter travel. You’ll never be late for work again. You don’t need to find jumper cables, maneuver two cars to just the right place or remember what to hook up where. Just clamp the leads from this pack on your battery and you’re off and running.
You do have to remember to keep them charged. Put a reminder on your phone to check your Power Pack charge once a month if you store it in the car. Here is an example of one we really like: https://bhpho.to/3i7ACrb
Any chemically activated hand warmer packs store well for the winter in a cold car. They can both keep your hands supple as well as wake up a frozen phone, which can be critical for the flashlight feature. We don’t include headlamps or flashlights in our kits because they are intended to be stored in vehicles for the duration of the winter. We only include things that will be fully functional when frozen for months. Flashlight and headlamp batteries don’t work after prolonged freezing.
We love these! So simple and effective. LIghtweight and compact.
I first discovered them before they were commercially marketed. You might say I invented them! I had gone into the ditch with all-season tires during one of the first slippery snow storms of the year. After futile attempts to back out, I began stuffing brush and sticks under the tires only to have them shot into the woods by spinning tires.
When I was almost ready to start walking to find help, I spied my floor mats. I remembered the pokey underside of the mat which was designed to nestle into the carpet of the car so the mat would not move. I jammed two mats on the leading edge of the drive tires and drove right out!
Same idea, but traction plates work much better and your floor mats stay clean and dry. Here is a link to some examples: https://www.etrailer.com/Winter-Weather-Supplies/Stallion/288-07411.html
Winter Road Trippin
Keep everything from the Around Town Emergency Kit and add to it these few things that will give some security when you are miles away from town.
Let’s assume you have a spare tire (aired up!), jack, and lug nut tool at all times in your car. (If you don’t this is a great time to get that squared away). We recommend you add a “breaker bar” to your tire change kit for winter travel.
Lug nuts can become seized and the lugnut tools that come with vehicles often don’t provide enough leverage to remove the nuts from wheel studs. A breaker bar is an inexpensive insurance policy that allows drivers who are not Marvel super heroes to change a tire.
Never seen a breaker bar? Here’s a tutorial! Breaker bar to make undoing wheel bolts easier
LI know you’re thinking this is over the top. Trust me, it’s not. If you go into a snowbank at 60 MPH dodging a moose, your tow strap will do you no good. Depending where you are on the road system, it could be hours or days with no traffic.
A shovel is your only recourse. Believe us when we say that it IS possible to dig yourself down to summer and plow a dirt path back to the roadway. We have done it before actually. Here is the spoiler tip–all that shoveling keeps you really warm.
Here is a link to a small, easily stored shovel that doesn’t break the bank: https://www.nextadventure.net/catalog/product/view/id/170096/s/adventure-research-snow-shovel/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&adpos=&scid=scplp402851&sc_intid=402851&gclid=Cj0KCQjw1ouKBhC5ARIsAHXNMI_lV8lS5k6IxK6JRG6o_NynYAg_L4T0xQlgBo2u1t6NfnB9eUfiS8YaAgvOEALw_wcB
Fire and Water
Staying warm has everything to do with staying hydrated when an unexpected winter delay occurs. Most roadways in Alaska are in wooded environments and provide fuel for making fires. It’s the starting-the-fire part that requires planning.
“Firestarter” is a chemical compound that makes it nearly impossible to fail at catching things on fire. With burn times of between 2 and 5 hours, firestarter rope gives every boy or girl scout enough second chances to find wood that will burn. Here is a link to an example: https://blackbeardfire.com/products/black-beard-fire-starter?variant=31477581152392
Lighter not Matches
Get a pack of cigarette lighters. They are more dependable than matches because they don’t have to stay dry to work. Over time, and particularly during the freeze thaw cycle that cars undergo over the course of a winter, matches become moist, no matter how waterproof their container.
Butane fuel used in lighters does leak and evaporate over years of storage. They should be checked every fall to ensure they work.
Water is essential to any emergency situation in which you have to stay warm. Storing water in an emergency kit is impossible in Alaska. The Alaska Emergency Kit, instead, has a pot for melting snow or ice over a fire to make water. Nothing fancy. Here is a link to what we mean: https://amzn.to/2XYHlg4
When you’re freezing and hungry, packets of Miso give the salts and inspiration that lift spirits and help you hold on for another hour or two. Small, last forever, Miso packets are calories that never go bad.
Winter Around Town
- 1 Tow Strap
- 2 Anchor Shackles
- 5 Flares
- Down Blanket or Sleeping Bag
- Jump Pack/Power Pack
- Light Pair of Gloves
- Hand Warmers
- Traction Plates
Winter Road Trippin
- Everything from the “Around Town” list Plus
- Breaker Bar
- Stowaway Pot
- Miso Soup