Survival on the Road

Anyone who spends a great deal of time in their car must face the possibility that they will be stranded in their vehicle during an emergency. Whether you’re five or 500 miles from home, stuck in a snow bank, or stranded by a flash flood or terrorist action, you may need to survive on just what you have in the vehicle. That’s why a survival kit for your car is critical.

If you are stranded with only the car and the contents of your pockets, you’ll be glad to have your survival kit in the vehicle. While the Big List includes plenty of suggestions, Captain Dave’s kit includes the following:

  • Cellular phone for emergency communication (includes cigarette lighter charger)
  • Detailed map of the local and general map of the broader region
  • Pepper spray
  • Loaded magazine for handgun and an extra box of ammo
  • Four bottles of water (bottles can freeze and thaw without leaking)
  • Sports bottle style water purifier
  • Juice packs (also can freeze/thaw)
  • Two MREs
  • Granola bars
  • Packets of peanut butter and crackers
  • Pouches of nuts and dried fruit
  • Chocolate bars
  • Hard candy
  • Moist towelettes
  • Basic hand tools, including jack and spare tire
  • Tire repair kit and air pump
  • Duct tape
  • Flares
  • Tow strap
  • Jumper cables
  • Spare tire patch kit
  • Folding military surplus shovel
  • Tie-down straps
  • Broken-in old boots, two pairs of socks
  • Blanket
  • Space blanket
  • Hand heater packets
  • Light sticks
  • Waterproof matches
  • Hexane (fuel) blocks
  • Magnesium fire starter
  • Metal canteen cup for cooking/boiling water/melting snow
  • Basic first-aid kit

In the winter, this stash is supplemented with the following:

  • Additional blanket
  • Snowmobile suit
  • Heavy wool socks
  • Hat, gloves and face mask
  • Windshield washer fluid

All of this is stored in the center console, glove compartment, spare tire compartment and a metal tool box. This gear is supplemented by the survival gear Captain Dave carries on his person pretty much all the time, including a knife (or two) and gun (or two).

When traveling with family members or other people, additional supplies are added as appropriate. For example, if embarking on a long trip in the winter, a sleeping bag and other supplies would be added. In the summer, more water would be carried.

Your car as Shelter

If you are stranded on the side of the road as a result of a snowstorm or accident, you’ll probably need all the above and more.

In the bitter cold, you must utilize your resources sparingly. While a car will cut the wind, your body alone cannot heat the interior. (Just wait for someone on a winter day in a parking lot without the car running and you’ll come to the same conclusion. Sitting in a car, you get cold quickly.) For the long term, you may be better off in a carefully constructed shelter. If you can reasonably expect rescue the next day, you can run your engine 10 minutes out of every hour for heat, as long as you make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow.

If you are planning to stay in your vehicle for the night (or any amount of time over an hour or so), put on the warmest clothes possible and cover up with the blankets. Sit sideways so your feet are on the seat because the foam cushion will offer some insulation and the coldest area of the vehicle will be the foot wells. Place something behind you so your head is not in direct contact with the cold window. If you have enough blankets or a tarp in your emergency kit, try to section off the back of the car so your body only has to heat the front seat area.  Obviously, if there is more than one of you in the car, share your body heat with each other.  If you have a dog with you, have them sit on or next to you to share their heat.

Alternatively, you can lie down on the back seat (or front, if it’s a bench seat), draping blankets over the seat to form a tiny triangular tent. Practice good winter survival by not exerting yourself to the point where you sweat — you’ll get much colder if you are damp. And do not eat snow, you should melt it first. (It’s actually easier to melt ice than snow, believe it or not).

If you decided to light a fire to keep warm, light one outside of your car, not in it. See the section on outdoor survival or fire making for more specifics.

In the desert or in hot weather, you will be better off in the shade of the car — even under it — than inside it. At night, temperatures will drop and you’ll probably want to be back inside the car using some of the techniques described above to keep warm.

Whatever the temperature or climate, communication is critical for calling for rescue. At minimum, put something on your antenna or display a sign calling for help. A cell phone is the best bet, although it won’t work in some rural areas. (A CB radio is your next best choice. ) A common flare can also help if you believe a helicopter or search plane is in the area. If searchers are on foot, snow mobile or vehicle, honk your horn.  At night, flash your lights.  Remember, three shots from your gun is an international signal similar to S.O.S.

In January 1997, searchers in North Dakota used an F-16 jet with an infrared sensing device to look for a missing woman stranded in her car. While they eventually located her by the signal from her cell phone, think how well a flare would have showed up on the infrared screen. (For the record, more than 20 people were killed in this deep freeze, including two less-well-prepared people who froze in their vehicles.)  Ten years later, in the winter of 2006/2007, a family was stranded on back roads in the snow.  The father – who was poorly dressed for the weather — left the car to try to seek help and died.  The mother and daughter stayed in the car and were rescued. Remember, it is much easier for searchers to find a car than one individual in the wild.

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