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These are the items you should always have in your vehicle in case of emergency

Essential emergency supplies every vehicle should carry

Winter roadside emergency kit.
Kurt Spurlock/The Manual

Depending on where you live, snow may or may not be a big deal. Folks living in certain parts of New York or Arizona look forward to over 100 inches of snow every year, so seeing white stuff fall from the sky isn’t exactly special, nor is it an emergency, for the residents. Not only are citizens in these areas well practiced at driving in wintery conditions, but their local governments are equipped to handle snow.

Things are dramatically different in the southern parts of the U.S. A few inches of snow in southern states will cause all hell to break loose. Bread, milk, and toilet paper vanish from grocery store shelves, schools close, businesses shut down, cars are abandoned on the interstate … people panic, basically. Don’t be one of those people.

If you’re planning to go on a long road trip this year, there’s an easy way to be prepared for an emergency: Put together a roadside emergency kit in your vehicle to make you prepared for anything. If you’ve never put together a roadside emergency kit for your car, it’s surprisingly simple and straightforward. Below we’ve put down the bare emergency supplies for your car to help you get your own kit together.

Front Runner Wolf Pack winter emergency roadside kit.
Front Runner

First things first: You need a case to put it in

Front Runner’s Wolf Pack Storage Bins

Rather than having a chaotic mass of clothing, food, water, and tools shifting around the trunk or cargo space, we prefer keeping our winter kit together and organized in a dedicated container. You can always just throw everything in a sizable cardboard box in a pinch, but we’ve been using these storage bins for hauling our camping gear around this fall, and find they’re the perfect size for a good winter emergency kit as well.

These bins are virtually indestructible and lightweight, plus they stack securely on top of one another and can be strapped down pretty much anywhere on or in your vehicle from the trunk to the roof rack. They’re stupid handy for a wide range of outdoor/overlanding applications but also work great for basic organization as well.

Warm clothing and/or blankets

Depending on your vehicle and the weather conditions, you may or may not be able to use your heater to stay warm and cozy inside your car. Either way, it’s unwise to depend on it to save your life, so every car should include a few basic items for extra warmth in the roadside emergency kit. At a minimum, throw these items in the box:

  • Spare beanie or winter hat
  • Winter socks
  • Warm gloves or mittens
  • Winter coat and/or blanket
A man holding a Mezonn Emergency Sleeping Bag that's packed away in front of a white screen.
Mezonn

Mezonn Emergency Sleeping Bag

If you want something that’s a little warmer than a blanket and easier to stow, an emergency sleeping bag, like the one from Mezonn is a good option. It folds neatly into a tiny bag that you can keep in your glove box. When you need to use the sleeping bag, the lightweight PE material is meant to reflect 90% of your body’s heat to create a cozy environment. It’s also tear-resistant, waterproof, and windproof.

Don’t forget a first-aid kit

Often overlooked but always handy, every vehicle should have a simple first aid kit onboard year-round. This becomes especially important for winter driving when the likelihood of you or someone you know losing traction and sliding off the road (or into another vehicle or two) dramatically increases. According to the Red Cross (which knows a thing or two about emergencies), a proper first-aid kit should include all of the following:

  • Adhesive bandages, wound dressings, roller bandages, gauze, and triangular bandages
  • Adhesive (cloth) tape
  • Antibiotic ointment and hydrocortisone ointment
  • Sterile wipes
  • Breathing barrier and non-latex gloves
  • Aspirin
  • Space blanket
  • Thermometer and tweezers
First-aid kit for winter roadside emergencies.
American Red Cross

American Red Cross First Aid Kit

That’s a fair amount of supplies to gather, so honestly, we just recommend you pick up a preassembled kit like you’ll find at just about any drug or department store and upgrade it from there to suit your needs. If you really want to keep it simple, your friends at the American Red Cross actually make a compact and affordable first aid kit of their own you can order online.

Food and water

Should you end up playing the waiting game inside your vehicle, you’ll need something to eat and/or drink other than those ketchup packets you’ve been carrying around in your dash for longer than you care to admit. For that reason, we recommend putting either a gallon jug or several bottles of water inside your kit, and throwing a few shelf-stable snacks that can be eaten either hot or cold in the mix as well.

Mega omega trail mix emergency food.
Gourmet Nut

Gourmet Nut Mega Omega Trail Mix

We don’t know about you, but we’ve gotten bored of the classic trail mix of peanuts, raisins, and chocolate. Yea, it’ll always do the trick whether you’re out hiking or stuck on the side of the road in a snowstorm, but why not buy a trail mix that you actually look forward to eating? Our favorite this year is Gourmet Nut’s Mega Omega trail mix, which includes an imminently snackable mix of dried mango, walnuts, cranberries, pumpkin seeds, and almonds.

Patagonia Provisions Salmon six-pack positioned in front of a white screen.
Patagonia Provisions / Patagonia Provisions

Patagonia Provisions

While products from Patagonia Provisions are aimed at campers, hikers, or people looking to go on an adventure, there’s no reason why you can’t pack some away in your car. These don’t last nearly as long as granola or chips, you’ll have to swap these cans out every year or so, but they’re actual meals instead of just snacks. And they taste pretty good thanks to the high-quality ingredients that one would expect to see from Patagonia.

Vehicle recovery items

Sometimes the difference between waiting on help and being able to help yourself is as simple as a few basic vehicle recovery items. The classic list of items is as follows, but we’ve got a few substitutions we recommend here as well.

  • Jumper cables
  • Tow straps and/or chains
  • Road flares and/or reflectors
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Compact shovel
  • Basic tool kit
  • Kitty litter, sand, or some other kind of “grit” for traction
Winter roadside traction boards.
MaxTrax

MaxTrax Vehicle Recovery Boards

Having something like kitty litter or sand to help get traction under your tires is better than nothing, but it isn’t ideal, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. We prefer keeping MaxTrax vehicle recovery boards somewhere in the vehicle, which are the fastest, easiest way to get unstuck in anything from snow to sand. These burly fiber-reinforced nylon boards are covered in tread-grabbing cleats, which dig into your tires as you roll over them to help propel you out of a stuck situation. They’re also backed by a lifetime warranty, so although they’re a much larger investment than … you know … sand, they’ll more than earn their keep over your lifetime.

Hulkman portable jump starter for winter roadside emergencies.
Hulkman

Hulkman Alpha 85 Portable Jump Starter

Yes, you should always carry jumper cables in your car, winter driving or not. Why? Because should your battery die on you (or should you accidentally kill it yourself),  being able to jump-start your vehicle will get you back on the road in a flash. Unfortunately, jumper cables require a second vehicle to do any good, which is why we highly recommend carrying a portable jump starter like the Hulkman Alpha 85 with you everywhere you go, especially in the winter. This is an incredibly powerful and portable battery pack that charges quickly and puts out enough cranking amps to jump-start gas engines up to 8.5 liters and diesel engines up to 6 liters. It’s also cheaper than your average tow truck service and doubles as a portable power bank to keep your electronics charged for hours in an emergency situation.

Hi-Spec Tool Kit 67-piece SAE tool set in front of a white screen.
Hi-Spec

Hi-Spec Auto Tools

Another item you should always keep in your car is a tool kit. You don’t need a fancy Craftsman or Dewalt kit, but something that’s affordable and has a good amount of tools, like this one from Hi-Spec Auto Tools. You never know when something simple, like a hose clamp or a belt will fail. A simple tool kit, like this on, has all of the necessities you need to complete a simple repair on the side of the road before heading to a service center.

ThruNite LED Flashlight in front of a white screen.
ThruNite

ThruNite LED Flashlight

A flashlight is an essential item that you should always keep in your car. While your smartphone can act as a flashlight, you’ll want to conserve battery life in the case of an emergency, and flashlights like the ThruNite LED Flashlight offer far better performance. This flashlight is also incredibly slim, which makes it easy to store.

An SUV parked in a snowy remote location
Simon Berger/Unsplash / Pexels

SOS communication devices

If you’re stranded in the middle of nowhere, an SOS communication device could save your life. A smartphone like the iPhone 14 with a feature to send out an SOS signal via satellite could help — but what if it runs out of battery? From my experience, things usually go wrong at the worst possible time. Since you don’t want that to happen, you need to pack the following items for a contingency plan:

  • Flare gun with flare cartridges
  • Portable CB radio
  • Portable charger for your smartphone
  • SOS beacon

If you’re planning to go on a camping trip to remote locations, the Starlink Roam for RVs and vans could be useful if you want to connect to the internet just about anywhere without cellular service.

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Kurt Spurlock
Kurt Spurlock is a writer for the outdoors and motorcycle industries. When he's not busy writing you can find him hoarding…
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