Saturday, November 26, 2016

Vehicle Winter Safety Kits

This is quite a stray from my main topic but as winter approaches I think it is a very important matter to discuss. The average American spends 12.5 percent of their waking hours in their motor vehicle. If that is an average, then some spend far more time and some spend less. But no matter how you look at it we drive a lot. I commuted from the Baltimore area (Fort Meade, MD) to my home in Pennsylvania every weekend; four to six hours driving north on Friday and three and a half to five hours driving south on Sunday. I did that drive for many years. On several occasions, in the winter mostly, I had to pull over and sit in my car for some time, up to six hours once, because of accidents or impassible roads. I was very glad to have an emergency kit with me.

I have a summer and winter emergency kit for each of my vehicles (four) and change them out as the weather changes from cold to warm and warm to cold. My pickup truck has the smallest, most Spartan kit due to lack of space behind the seats (it is a Ranger, standard cab). But there is enough in it to survive a night if necessary and/or to increase comfort for a long delay. Since winter is coming I'll list what I recommend you put in your kit for the next four to five months of cold weather.

1. Blanket - I prefer a military surplus wool blanket. They are warm, sturdy, and will still provide insulation when wet. They will also protect you in case of a fire. The down side is that they are thick and bulky. You can get these Online at any of the many military surplus dealers.

My other choice is an Army "Poncho Liner", also called a "woobie" (why, I do not know). These are lighter and compact very well so they take up less room. They are not as warm as a wool blanket but if you are dressed appropriately for the weather they are often enough. These can also be ordered Online or picked up at a surplus store and generally go for $19.99-$40.00.

This year, I will be including a "bivy bag" in each of my kits. A bivy bag is a light weight sleeping bag, really just the outer shell of a sleeping bag. You can get nice fleece bivy bags at any good sports store like REI and Dick's (I have one and it is very nice). But I bought four emergency bivy bags, sometimes called "body bags" to save space. These are bivy bags made out of heat reflecting material, like the old space blankets, and are very compact but efficient. My intention is to use the bivy bag in addition to a light weight blanket to make the survival system more adaptable and efficient. I bought four of these on sale for $24 ($6.00 a piece). They claim they are reusable so they should last. The nice thing about these is that they are also water proof so if you must leave your car you could wrap up in your light blanket and then crawl into the bivy bag to stay warm and dry.
I bought this particular brand on a sale. There are other brands available so check around and get the best price.

2. Heat Source - I carry a large candle in each vehicle. You can buy special purpose "emergency candles", usually at a premium price, or just go to a hardware or thrift store and buy a large, unscented candle. Look at the ingredients, if listed, and make sure there are no additives, you don't want to breathe in perfumes, scents, or additives. A single, large candle, will provide approximately the same amount of heat as a 40 watt light bulb when lit. Inside a vehicle, it will keep the temperature near or above freezing, which is plenty if you also have a blanket. Of course you need to be able to light the candle so pack a box of camping matches or a butane lighter.

3. Calories - Calories allow your body to generate its own heat. I carry a couple chocolate candy bars in my kit. Chocolate has calories and caffeine, both will help keep you warm. There are other energy bars on the market that work just as well. Just check the Sell By and/or Use By dates because these bars might not last as long stored away in your kit.

4. Water - Water is critical because it is very easy to become dehydrated in the dry, cold air of winter. Most people do not drink enough under normal circumstances. Becoming dehydrated, even only slightly, effects your thinking and your body's ability to stay warm. When you are dehydrated, your body pools its remaining water in the organs, your arms and legs get less circulation. You want to use glass water bottles or plastic bottles without the chemical "BPA". BPA is used in the food industry to protect the contents from the container. But BPA has health risks and long term storage in containers with BPA is not safe. This is especially important for your warm weather emergency kit becuase heat causes BPA to leach into the water. Since it is cold in winter, you need to insulate the water bottles by placing them in the center of your kit. I wrap my blanket around two bottles of water. This serves two purposes. First, it helps to keep the water from freezing. Second, it helps to prevent you from grabbing a bottle of water from your emergency kit, for a drink when you are driving. Leave the contents of your emergency kit alone so that they are available if you really, really, need them.

5. Extra Clothes - It is highly likely that you drive with inappropriate clothing for the winter. Dress clothes or gym clothes are not going to help you survive if you have an accident or get stuck in the snow. So pack a slightly too large pair of pants, a long sleeve shirt, a wind breaker type jacket, thick wool socks, a hat that covers your whole head, and good gloves. I save the removable hoods from old coats and store them in my kit box. This extra layer over top of the clothes you are wearing makes a huge difference. If you end up having to sleep out in your vehicle, as I have a couple times, you will be glad to have a warm hat. There is nothing worse for you than to pull the blanket up over your head because your ears are freezing. Breathing inside your blanket or bivy bag will cause condensation to build up and you will get wet. Wet and cold means death. Keep your mouth and nose outside your blanket. 

Those five categories are the absolute essentials. With those you can survive terrible weather for a couple days if you are stranded or snow bound out on the roads. But there are a few items that can provide some comfort if you have the room to store them.

6. Flashlight - I keep one of the newer type multi-LED flashlights in each vehicle. They are small, bright, and the batteries last a long time. Being able to see at night is handy if you have to get out of your vehicle to use the toilet. I do not suggest that anyone attempt to walk out of an emergency situation if it is cold and dark; that is inviting disaster. Stay in or at least with your vehicle. You can also use your flashlight to signal for help. A beam of light in the snow carries a long way. You want to conserve the power in your vehicle battery in case you need to start your car. Keep the batteries out of the flashlight until it is needed. They will last longer and they won't leak and destroy the light. These lights are dirt cheap, less than two dollars in most cases.
7. Radio - Yes, your vehicle has a radio but you want to conserve your power. Carry a small radio that gets weather alerts. You can buy these Online or at higher end outdoors stores. Knowing how long a storm is likely to last will help you conserve and portion out your food and water. plus, it is always nice to have a possible end time to the emergency you fell into. Keep the batteries out of the radio so they don't leak and ruin it. Having a little music to pass the time will also keep your morale higher. 

8. Metal Cup - With a metal cup (I recommend stainless steel, not aluminum) you can melt snow over your candle if you run out of water. If you want to really do it right, also pack a couple bullion cubes to make a cup of warm broth. Having a warm, tasty drink is not just a great boost to your morale, but it also really helps to warm you up. The activity of making the broth keeps you busy and passes the time.
I prefer the Knox Chicken bullion cubes but there are lots of other choices out there.

9. Hand Warmers - Pack a small box of chemical hand warmers. Those little packets could save your fingers and toes. These things use a chemical reaction to generate heat for up to a couple hours. They won't warm the inside of your car but toss one into the bottom of your bivy bag and your feet and toes will stay warmer. In the case of severe cold, activate two and place one under your clothes and next to your kidneys (at the curve of your side, above the hips, slightly to your rear) to raise your core body temperature. You can get these at any general retailer like Walmart or Sears.
This is just one example brand, I do not do product endorsements
10. First Aid Kit - Every car should have a good first aid kit and every driver should know basic first aid. Get a kit with a full assortment of band-aides, latex gloves, a pressure dressing of some sort, chap-stick (your lips will go dry), a couple cough drops, and over the counter pain meds (I prefer Aspirin).

11. Tire Repair - A can of tire sealer/inflater is a good idea. I am constantly amazed at the number of stranded motorists I see every week, that are stranded simply because of a flat tire. Every driver should know how to change a flat tire with their spare. But in some weather it might be safer and easier to use one of these emergency tire sealer products. Driving on snow and ice with one of those ridiculous space-saving spares is not safe. I saw a car last year driving on all four mini space-saving spares!  I have never used one myself but I understand how they work. I have used "Green Goo" to repair leaking tires and have been very happy with the results.

Fix a Flat is probably the most commonly seen on store shelves but they all work more or less the same way.
 12. Spare Phone Charger - Buy a second car charger for your cell phone. being able to make contact with loved ones and emergency crews is pretty helpful. Know the dead zones in your area and avoid wasting battery life playing games or surfing the web.

13. Reflective Triangle - If you get stuck or broke down on the side of the road during a major snow, you want something to mark your car so that snow plows don't run into or bury your car. Last year I read about an older woman the lost control of her car and slide onto the median strip between the north and south bound lanes. She stayed in her car and the car was buried under many feet of plowed snow. She was found two or three days later, still healthy, but it could have been bad. So pack something that will mark your car even if it does get buried, like one of those bicycle flags (orange flag on a long fiberglass rod).

14. Toiletries - You should think about toiletries; toilet paper and feminine hygiene products and a means to dispose of them. In the Army, Long Range Recon soldiers lie in wait for days and days and cannot move out of their hide site. All human waste goes into plastic bags and is sealed with a bag tie. That would work in a vehicle too. Dropping your pants outside when it is deathly freezing is probably not a great idea.

That's pretty much it. If you decided that you needed everything listed here, it would all pack neatly in a medium backpack you could throw on the back seat.

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