11 Essential Items to Keep in Your Car for a Winter Survival Kit

Driving in the winter can be tricky, even for the most seasoned winter drivers. Although there are plenty of good tips for driving safely in the snow and ice, you should always be prepared for the chance of being stranded in the car. So, these are the 11 essential items to keep in your car for a winter survival kit. 

  • Candle Heater
  • Flashlight
  • Phone charger
  • Small tool kit
  • Jumper Cables 
  • Shovel
  • First aid kit
  • Gloves
  • Blanket
  • Non Perishable foods
  • Pen and Paper
A red 1984 Subaru Brat coupe utility lands in the snow after making a big stunt jump with Travis Pastrana behind the wheel.
1984 Subaru Brat lands in the snow | Nitro Rallycross via YouTube

What are the best items to keep in your car for a winter survival kit? 

As with all things survival, your car’s winter survival kit should only have items that will solve your potential issues quickly and simply. The goal should be the items in your kit can solve as many problems as you can think of without getting too complicated. 

Most importantly, never forget the basics of survival; food, water, and shelter. This means your kit should ultimately be aimed at making your car safe and warm should you be trapped in it for an extended period. Then make sure you have enough food and water to survive at least two days. 

Lastly, These items could mean life or death, so don’t skimp on quality. The better tools and supplies you buy for your winter survival kit, the more heavily you can rely on them when they are needed. 

Candle heater

someone holding a candle in their hands
Candle | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

This first item is wisely recommended by the Handy Family Man but goes back to the dawn of civilization. If you have a fire, everything else can be figured out. Of course, your car’s heater will keep you comfortable for a while, depending on how much gas you have. However, even on a full tank, an average car will idle for about 10-15 hours. Also, depending on how/where you’re stuck, you may not be able to keep your car running safely. Snow and ice can block your exhaust and raise CO2 levels to a dangerous place. 

A candle heater is a simple and cheap way to keep warm and raise morale. All you need is a candle, a lighter, and a tin can. This little flame works surprisingly well as a makeshift heater in the small confines of a car. 

Flashlight

a Little LED flashlight should be a part of your car's winter survival kit.
Surefire E2L Outdoorsman LED flashlight, $129 | Ross Hailey/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT

Like fire, light is one of the most important tools in your kit. A small LED flashlight can be a real lifesaver in an emergency. Simple tasks like changing a flat tire or looking under the hood can turn nearly impossible without a good light source. 

As with all survival tools, always make sure your flashlight is well maintained and has fresh batteries. 

Phone charger

These days, most everyone has a charger in their car. Having a phone is a key part of survival. If you can call for help or simply let others know where you are and that you are safe, it is not only a good way out of a pickle but can also help morale. Just knowing that someone knows where you are can keep your spirits up. 

Secondly, being trapped in your cold car for hours can be boring. A phone can be a good source of entertainment. Again, this can go a long way in keeping you and your passengers in a healthy mindset. 

Tool kit

Regardless of winter survival, every car should have a small tool kit. There are many roadside issues that could easily be resolved with a hammer, screwdriver, pliers, and a wrench. There are many options for premade great small tool kits that fit neatly in any car. There is no excuse not to have this and about a million reasons why you should. Get a tool kit. 

Jumper cables

Jumper cables are a must have item in your Car's winter survival kit
Jumper cables | Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images

RELATED: Inexpensive Emergency Tools to Keep in Your Car

Like our tool kit, there is no excuse for not having jumper cables in your car at all times. Even if you don’t know how to use them, chances are someone else nearby will. It can serve as an easy fix to a dead battery and help other stranded motorists. Be a good neighbor and keep cables in your car. 

Shovel 

Man digging his car out from the snow. Winter driving is dangerous.
A man digs out a car from snow | Danny Lawson/PA Images via Getty Images

A normal shovel might be a bit too overlandy for the average driver. However, keeping a small foldable shovel in your car during the winter could help you get out of a sticky situation. If you are stuck in the snow, using a shovel to dig out your tires or bust up some ice can be the difference between spending the night in your car or in your bed. 

First aid kit

Here’s another no-brainer winter survival kit item. First aid kits are a must-have. In survival situations, a small injury or wound could be a killer if not handled properly. This is why having a first aid kit in your car is a smart move. 

Gloves (and other warm clothes) 

cars stranded in the snow
Motorists stranded in their cars | J. Michael Dombroski/Newsday RM via Getty Images

RELATED: Take the Jeep Snow Quiz to See How You Handle Winter Driving

Gloves are key for winter survival. Our fingers can get cold really quickly, especially if your car requires some maintenance like changing a tire or jumping off the battery. Without gloves, these simple tasks can get very painful and potentially life-threatening. It’s also not a bad idea to keep hand warmers in the first aid kit or even a spare hat if you are forced to walk for help. 

Blanket 

This is a biggie. A blanket is not really standard fare for car survival kits, but for winter travel, a blanket should be seriously considered. Anything from survival blankets to actual household blankets is a good idea to have on hand. This little bit of comfort can not only keep you more comfortable but also help preserve your fuel. 

Non-perishable foods

Don’t overthink this one. We can survive weeks without food, but who would want to? This winter survival item is one to consider more with children or people with health conditions. Also, keeping food in your system will raise your body temperature and keep you warmer. 

Food items like granola bars, dry ramen, and candy are smart to keep in a kit because they last a long time and can give a stranded person something to look forward to while awaiting rescue. 

A pen and paper 

This last one is a bit more outside the box but has plenty of value. If you are trying to track down a tow truck or other emergency service, having a pen and paper is a reliable way to make sure you take notes, phone numbers, or directions that aren’t reliant on phone service or battery. 

This item can also be useful for leaving a note behind with your car letting people know where you went if you have to go it on foot. It might seem silly, but a pen and some paper are valuable resources. 

A good winter survival kit is a great way to be prepared for winter driving

As the Boy Scouts say, “always be prepared.” This is strong advice. A little bit of preparation can result in a potentially life-threatening scenario getting flipped into a small bump in the road. The lack of preparedness in respect to winter driving could turn fatal. Use your head and build a smart winter survival kit for your car. 

RELATED: Warming Up Your Car in the Winter Before Driving Might Be a Bad Idea, According to Consumer Reports