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I grew up in snowy Vermont. Every time any of us went for a drive, dad would shout out the same question: “Do you have enough clothes to walk home?” I’ll admit, I used to roll my eyes when he asked. But over the years, being prepared saved my neck more than once. Eventually, the refrain became half family road trip motto, and half life philosophy. Today I’m here to say, even as cars grow more reliable every model year, it’s still worth asking yourself: “Do I have enough clothes to walk home?”

Having enough clothes to walk home can save your life

The view of a snowy drive through a car's windshield.
Winter drive | Ross van der Wal via Unsplash

There’s a very utilitarian reason to carry enough winter clothing that you can walk home: You might have to hike for help or even all the way home. Cars do break down and run out of gas. In snowy and icy climates, cars also slide off the road and get struck–even in the hands of the best drivers.

Staying warm in your car and waiting for help is not always an option. If your car stops running, you won’t have any heat. If you are in a remote enough area, help may never come. I’ll never forget calling AAA in the middle of nowhere, only to have them call back and say that none of their contracted drivers wanted the job. The operator apologized and told me I was on my own.

If you decide to stay with your nonrunning car in the winter, you had better be prepared to bundle up–according to Consumer Reports. Packing enough clothing to walk home is a good place to start.

And finally, if you get in trouble but are prepared to bundle up and walk, you have many more options. You can hike for cell service or to find the nearest person. You may be able to trot to a gas station and buy a can of gas, or a set of jumper cables. You have a better chance of taking care of the problem yourself if you have the necessary outfit.

You can’t help out others if you can’t take care of yourself

A person walking down a snowy road in a warm yellow parka jacket, trees visible in the background.
Winter walk | Al Elmes via Unsplash

I was once one of the first cars on the scene of an accident. The driver was fine and emergency services arrived to help him. But he told me his dog had been tossed out of his truck and run into the woods. He asked if anyone could help look around for the pup.

Now I’m a dog person and wanted badly to help. But in the middle of the winter, If I had been driving down the road with nothing but a t-shirt, shorts, and sneakers, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything.

If I hadn’t been prepared to take care of myself, I certainly wouldn’t have been prepared to help out the doggo in need.

Preparing for disasters overprepares you for life

Women in snow gear walking down a winter road, carrying snowshoes.
Winter hike | Alain Wong via Unsplash

Most of the scenarios I’ve shared are pretty dramatic. Life usually isn’t. But preparing for the disastrous leaves you well-equipped to deal with the mundane.

Here’s an example: You pack some winter clothing and comfortable footwear in a duffle and leave it in your trunk for emergencies. Then your friend calls you at work and asks if you want to go for a hike, watch a winter parade, or head down to the rink and rent ice skates. You’re in your work clothes, but that’s not a problem. You are packed for emergencies, and so you are ready for nearly anything.

So during this winter, I wish you safe travels and grand adventures. But before you go, do you have enough clothes to walk home?

Next, check out my colleague Nate Ehinger’s handy list of six things you should carry in your car in the winter or see how to pack your trunk for emergencies in the video below: