Traveling In the Winter: How To Be Prepared

October 17, 2014 by | Be the first to comment »

Let’s finish up the winter prepping series. Today I’m talking about traveling in the winter. We’ve seen the news reports every winter. Someone gets stuck in their vehicle during a storm. They either die of exposure, or dehydration. Those are the two main focuses today. I will mention food. More for comfort and strength though. It will take weeks to die of starvation. You will most likely be found in that time.

I am going to advocate staying in your vehicle. If it is 0n the road at least. If you went off the road make sure to leave signs for rescue workers. You’re trapped on the side of the road. Surrounded by snow. No cell phone reception.  Getting home is not an option. What do you do? Traveling in the winter is dangerous but I have tips for you today.

Traveling In the Winter

If you plan on traveling in the winter with any chance for bad weather tell someone. If you can’t avoid the trip. That’s the best plan. Just avoid the trip all together. If you must go though leave a detailed route with someone. If you don’t check in have them alert rescue personnel. You will be found easily with the route info you left. This is why staying in the vehicle is so important. That’s what they will be looking for.

Make yourself easy to find. If you have a shovel, you do have one right, dig out your car. Make sure it’s as visible from ground and air as possible. Shoveling an arrow or a “X” are both good ideas. Put out reflecting cones if you have them. If you have road flares keep them handy. Don’t just set them off unless you see help. I would wait until the storm let up though before doing too much.

Maintaining Core Temperature

We touched on this concept earlier in the week with Winter Prepping Tips To Survive the Cold. This time we will taking a different route. How do you stay warm in a car when traveling in the winter? Automobiles are not well insulated. They are drafty and lose heat fast. You are still better off than outside. The vehicle will keep the elements off you. Though drafty the car will keep most of the wind off you. You won’t have to worry about loosing heat thorough conduction. Conduction is heat loss through direct contact. Made from foam rubber car seats are great insulators.

The trick I’ve heard often is to run your engine 10~15 minutes every hour. Crack your window when running the engine. Tailpipe obstruction can cause carbon monoxide to fill the cabin. Better yet dig it out if the weather permits. I hope you topped off your gas tank the last chance you had when traveling in the winter. If you have a truck keeping filled gas cans is an option. I have a hatchback and it doesn’t work inside the cabin.

I keep extra winter clothes in my car for emergencies. 100% wool socks and down coat. I always keep winter gloves in the car . Gripping a freezing steering wheel sucks. I keep a spare wool watch cap in the car too. Normally I wear one when I go out in the winter. This is backup, I don’t want to take it out the car for any reason.  The same goes for the rest of the winter items. These are for the car for traveling in the winter. Do not remove them.

I keep a military sleep system in the hatch along with a cheap 30 degree sleeping bag. The military sleep system (MSS) has three parts. A patrol bag, an intermediate bag and a gortex bivy. The ratings for the nested bags is around at -30F. Even if that’s a bit off the lowest temperature ever recorded in here in Nashville was  -17, January 21, 1985. I had just turned 3 by the way. This system in a car sheltered from the wind is more than fine. If traveling in the winter I WILL have the MSS with me.  My friends in the North might need to invest in a colder bag.

So by staying in the car in the sleeping blankets we can maintain core body temperature. To supplement heat and for food I keep a camping stove. I have a pocket rocket with at least 3 fuel canisters. Be careful using this in the car. Push the seats forward and keep a cookie sheet to put down on the floorboard. Crack a window in this case. I use this more for cooking and heating up coffee than heat. The heat is a side effect. Open flames for long times in a car is not a good idea.

Hot hands are useful too. I almost forgot to mention it. Usually in a car the part that gets cold is my feet. Tossing hot hands or feet in your shoes really help.


I like to keep at least a case of water. I have not had problems with it freezing solid yet. When traveling in the winter you can keep it in the passenger seat. I usually keep a case in the hatch and one or two in the back seat. The general rule is 1 gallon per person per day. Better to bring to with you than worry about finding it. If you run out or don’t bring enough we have options.

Surrounded by snow finding water is easy.  Do not start eating snow though. It will bring down your core temperature. You are not out moving around to counter act the snow with body heat. I keep metal camping cups and pots in the car. Use a metal container to melt water in. That’s the main reason for the camping stove. With it we can melt snow and make coffee. I pack instant coffee for this. Instant espresso is the best by the way.

If you are traveling in the winter with only  a plastic container you can still melt snow. Place it in front of a vent when you run the car. In the 15 minute time it should melt. You can also keep it in the sleeping bag with you. Your body heat will melt it quickly.

You didn’t bring any container? You went traveling in the winter with nothing to hold water in? OK we can work something out. Snap off your side view mirror. Remove the mirror. Pack the hallow part with snow and place under the hood of your car. Find a spot that will not tip over. The heat will melt the snow and you can drink it real fast. This is a pain so just bring a metal pot and a stove.

I keep a few MREs in the car. I also keep dried salami’s. When traveling in the winter I bring enough salami to last several days. In addition to this bullion cubes and dehydrated veggies. This allows me to make easy soups and stews. Beef jerky is another items I liken to bring. Libby’s seasoned beef crumbles are always in my Bug Out Bag. I don’t often eat white potatoes I like to pack some instant potato packs. Put them in a cup of boiling water with the Beef crumbles and you have  instant shepherd’s pie of sorts. Very hearty and filling.

James Burnette is the founder of Survival Punk, and takes a rational, creative approach to self-reliance, applying a punk DIY ethic to survivalism without any of the fear mongering or “tinfoil hattery” found in some other areas of the survivalist movement. The Survival Punk blog covers a huge range of his projects, both success and failures along with a healthy bit of myth busting. He also provides a ton of dirt cheap creative solutions to common prepping needs and does a great job of integrating the paleo lifestyle with the prepping lifestyle.

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