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Winter Driving is Coming. Keep These Essentials in Your Car Emergency Kit.

Preparedness is key to peace of mind.

car emergency kit
Staff, Courtesy of My Medic

If you already have a car emergency kit, well done. Essentials such as first-aid supplies, jumper cables, gloves, a flashlight, duct tape, a tow strap, and some simple tools should live in your trunk, if not for daily driving then at least when you set out on a road trip. Along with those, there are some winter-specific items to include for times when the roads are covered in snow and ice. We’ve laid out some key ones here so you’ve got a solid starting point.

What to Consider

In selecting most of these items, I consulted overlanding expert Jon Tuico (A.K.A JonDZ Adventuring) to find out what works best for him. Tuico has logged countless miles off-piste in his all-wheel-drive Honda Passport, tackling many of the landmark trail systems in the United States. Overlanding is an excellent arena for testing products in extreme conditions. While the items below are a great start for a basic emergency kit, Tuico mentions that learning how to properly use each product is just as important as bringing them with you—otherwise, they’re just dead weight. While preparedness pays dividends, Tuico also recommends traveling in a group with at least one other vehicle if possible. Along with the fun factor of adventuring with your friends, they’ll be able to help you out when things go south. Whether you need a tow, a jump-start, or even medical attention, the buddy system is another valuable tool for on- and off-road adventures.

And it‘s important to factor in your driving habits. If you don’t spend much time behind the wheel in the winter months, you can probably get away with a more basic emergency kit, while off-road adventurers may want to bring even more.

How We Selected

Alongside Tuico’s overlanding expertise steering me toward some of these items, I employed my experience testing and reviewing cars, as an outdoorsman, and as a collegiate mountain bike racer—often camping out in the back of my Volkswagen GTI the night before a big event. I also took into account user reviews on retailer websites. I also took into account user reviews on retailer websites to see what other people who’ve bought and used this gear thought of it.

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First-Aid Kit
My Medic x Popular Mechanics The Auto Medic

We partnered with MyMedic to create the ultimate first-aid kit for automotive use (it’s not bad for home and travel, either). If you have an accident or someone gets injured outside of cell service, it’s important to be able to tend to yourself and anyone else on board. In this kit, you’ll find—among other things—items like a window breaker-seatbelt cutter, MyMedic’s super-skin bandages, and a tourniquet. All of these first-aid necessities come in a package that’s small enough to be easily stowed away in a seat-back pocket when not in use. Having a medkit is a great start, but, like we mentioned, be sure you know how to use everything inside.

Satellite Communicator
Garmin InReach Mini

It’s pricey, but the InReach Mini is incredibly useful. Should you be stranded outside of the range of your cell network, it allows for two-way communication and interactive SOS—sending a distress signal to Garmin’s emergency response coordination center. Along with its bread-and-butter functionality, you can link the InReach to your smartphone to access the brand’s suite of navigation and route-planning applications. However, before tossing it in your emergency kit, you’ll also need to purchase a satellite subscription—Garmin’s most basic plan starts at $11.95 a month.

Sleeping Bag
Teton Sports Camper

Should you become stranded in the winter months, hypothermia is a big risk; as your body loses heat faster than it can produce it, your internal temperature can plummet to dangerous levels, leading to complete failure of the heart and respiratory systems. Blankets are often staples in automotive survival kits, but nothing can top a high-quality sleeping bag. Made by Teton Sports, this one keeps you safe all the way down to -10 degrees Fahrenheit while fitting anyone up to six feet tall and packing down to just 21 x 11 x 11 inches. When it comes to temperature ratings, it’s important to know that you won’t necessarily be comfortable at the extremes, but the sleeping bag will help you stay alive.

Jump Starter
Michelin Jump Starter and Power Bank

Getting stranded doesn’t always involve being stuck out in the wilderness. Sometimes you’re about to depart after a pit stop only to realize that your battery is dead. Instead of you waiting on a stranger to stop and help—and praying they have jumper cables—this little unit from Michelin can get just about any vehicle back to life. Aside from its automotive application, if you’re unfortunate  to suffer more than just a dead battery, the jump starter doubles as a power bank for your smartphone. At just 8.5 x 10.25 x 2.75 inches, it fits just about anywhere in your vehicle’s storage.

SOG Folding Shovel
$24.98 (17% off)

Shovels come in all shapes and sizes, but this one is a big upgrade because it collapses down into a tiny package when you don’t need it. At just ten inches long when folded, it takes up about the footprint of a stack of paper plates, according to SOG. The carbon steel blade also doubles as a sturdy saw if you need to do a little bit more than just extricate your vehicle from a snowbank. Like pocket knives, shovels are great multipurpose tools that can tackle a range of jobs.

Pocket Knife
Kershaw Barricade
$25.49 (12% off)

Speaking of pocket knives, they’ve ascended into casual everyday carry tools for a reason: they make great survival tools. Especially the Barricade, which triples as a glass breaker and a seatbelt cutter. While the blade is stainless steel—most argue that these are inferior to nicer knives made of carbon steel—it simply needs to be sharpened more often to maintain its edge.

Traction Boards
Go Treads Professional Traction Tool

Traction boards are common in the off-road industry. Aptly named, they offer additional bite and flotation in low-grip scenarios. Most traditional units that you see on overlanding rigs come as a solid pieces with spikes fitted or molded into the top. While these are great, GoTreads came up with a bespoke solution. These have a self-centering tread pattern instead of spikes, which tend to break off or wear down. Along with the clever design, GoTreads fold flat for easy storage in the trunk or truck bed.

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