Every car should be stocked with an emergency kit, just in case you encounter hazardous winter roads. To find out exactly what belongs in it, I called Tod Pritchard, the public information officer for Wisconsin’s emergency-preparedness campaign. Here are his top gear suggestions, plus a few of my own.
“Most of us don’t carry a flashlight in the car,” Pritchard says. “But light becomes a major issue if you're stranded at night.” An inexpensive flashlight or headlamp will do the trick, but we like the $60 Black Diamond Revolt, because it runs on either AAA batteries or a stock rechargeable one. With those two options, you should never be stranded without a light again.
Most of us don’t dress for a winter emergency everytime we walk out the front door, so it’s always good to have extra “oh-shit” clothes in your car. I like to carry a blanket, gloves, and an extra jacket at all times. Pritchard always packs a pair of snow boots in his vehicle, too: I personally like Bogs’ Classic High boots ($120) because they’re waterproof and rated to 40 degrees below zero.
If you get stranded off the side of the road, you’ll need to call for help. Make sure your phone always has enough juice by carrying a spare charging cord plus a cell charger that works in a car. I like the Brunton Torpedo 2600 ($40), as it plugs into my cigarette lighter and has two ports, letting me charge my phone and another gadget (like the BD headlamp) simultaneously. It also has an internal battery that's good for one complete phone charge.
Food and Water
“Have some food that you don’t need to refrigerate or heat up,” Pritchard says. Also, carry at least one liter of water per person. For food, I like the ProBar Meal Bars ($39 for a case) because they’re delicious but also pack 350 calories in each serving.
I like to carry a basic first-aid kit with bandages and pain medicine. Pritchard also suggests that people who need daily meds pack along a few extra doses. “If you don’t [pack extras] you all of a sudden aren’t just talking about a car in a ditch situation: it’s a medical emergency,” he says.
There’s nothing more useful than a shovel when your car gets stuck in the snow. If you don’t have room to carry a full-length garden shovel, check out something like the Black Diamond Deploy avalanche shovel or pick up a folding model at your local army-surplus store.
You’ll rarely use chains, but they can be a game-changer if conditions get rough, especially if you have a two-wheel-drive car. They’ll help you get un-stuck—or just ensure you get past that highway-patrol checkpoint on the way up to the ski hill.