Survival Skills Blog & Off The Grid Guides

The Road Less Traveled


43.6 million Americans are expected to travel during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, averaging a distance of 588 miles. Of these travelers 87% (37.9 million) will be travelling by car. I personally drove 600+ miles over the weekend, much of it through relatively remote stretches of highway. As we passed over 80 miles without seeing another car on the road I began to wonder just how my wife and I would fair if we were to become stranded in our car.

In our neck of the woods we have pretty warm winters. In fact, snow is a rarity so in most cases I wouldn’t need to worry about extreme cold temperatures.  At the same point, I always carry a lightweight hooded jacked for myself and my wife in my tool bag.  I also have all of the standard tools that I would need to work on my car, a couple of ration bars and several Mylar water bags.  In my area I have more to worry about with heat than blistering cold.

Unfortunately the majority of the country will not be quite so lucky.  As the winter goes on the weather and driving conditions will only get worse.  I wanted to leave you today with a few tips that could help you survive, should you be left stranded in your car at some point in the cold.

  • Never leave the vehicle. If you are stranded, the vehicle offers a form of protection from overexposure to the cold. A single person walking through the snow is also harder to find than a stranded car or truck.
  • While you should not leave your vehicle, you will need something to keep warm.  A car will block you from the wind but the high glass and metal content will also wick away any heat that your body will produce. Make sure you have another way to preserve heat.
  • It is okay to run the car for short periods to provide some heat. Remember to crack the windows a small amount to allow for the circulation of fresh air. Failure to do so will cause exhaust fumes, like carbon monoxide, to build up very quickly. Especially if the tailpipe is buried in the snow.
  • Keep yourself moving. Most cars offer very little extra room to stretch out and move around, but exercise is a must. Do whatever you can to keep your body in motion. Clap your hands, stomp your feet, and move around as much as possible at least once an hour.
  • Another very important step that is often overlooked is to keep your morale high. While potentially dangerous situations are nothing to celebrate, allowing your morale to dip and your body to become stressed will make for a much more dangerous situation that if you were to keep calm.
  • Make sure that your car is as visible as possible. Hang bits of bright colored cloth or plastic from the windows. An open hood on your car is a universal distress signal and helps make you much more visible.  Only do this if there is no snow falling otherwise this could cause your engine to freeze up.

You also need to make sure that you have some kind of emergency kit in your car at all times.

You can purchase a pre-made car safety kit or build your own. If you decide to purchase a kit don’t just store it in your trunk, make sure you are intimately familiar with the contents and how know how to use them!

Learn to use all of the supplies in the kit! When you are freezing cold, and possibly wet, you will NOT have the time to waste reading the directions.

  • Get blankets or sleeping bags such as a space blanket.
  • Flashlight with extra batteries.  LED flashlights work best as they require very little battery power
  • You absolutely need an auto first-aid kit.
  • A knife and some high-calorie, non-perishable food like ration bars or protein bars (make sure that you switch them out regularly to avoid spoilage)
  • A large empty can and plastic cover with tissues and paper towels for sanitary purposes plus a smaller can and water-proof matches to melt snow for drinking water.
  • Sack of sand (or cat litter) for tire traction and a shovel.
  • An auto emergency tool kit Kits should include tow ropes, windshield scrapers, jumper) cables, and a few emergency tools like a small ratchet or wrench set.
  • A compass and road maps.
  • I always keep a small bag with some extra “just in case” clothing that can be worn to replace soiled or wet clothing or as an extra layer for warmth.

Be sure to keep any other items that suit your specific needs, keep an extra set of glasses if you wear them. Bring diapers and formula if you have children.  Also if you have children, it would be a good idea to bring a few games and something like a teddy bear or blanket that will help comfort them.

Can you think of anything that I missed or that you would add?




  • Contrary Mary says:

    I cannot get any or your post to link to facebook. They say you have been flagged as unsafe and/or spammy. What is up with that?

    • Joe Joe says:

      Hey Mary,
      Sorry about not being able to post to facebook. I am still trying to figure this out myself, unfortunately facebook doesn’t have anyone I can personally talk to get this figured out. It is quite odd because twitter, myspace and all the others sites work, it is just facebook.

      Trust me its been a major pain in the rear for me, and I am sorry for that.


    • Lynette says:

      Mary, post it like this: Replace the DOT with a period. survivallifeDOT

  • Dodged5 says:

    If stuck on a back road or old logging road, keep the roof and hood of you car or truck clear of snow. I will help if there is an aerial search. If your vehicle is white, lay a dark colored tarp or something over the car to make it more visable. Carry a window scraper that has a long handled brush on it for clearing snow. Carry several Plumbers Candles in your emergency kit along with water proof matches. Burning the candle will provide a heat source that will keep you warm inside your vehicle. Keep the windows cracked for fresh air. The candles are available at most hardware stores. Road flares are also very useful for letting people know you have a problem and they can also be used to start a fire in damp wood if you decide to camp outside you car. Burning a spare tire will make a very black cloud if you need a distress signal. A entrenching tool is also a very handy thing to have to dig yourself out if you need to and most can also be usd as a pick and an ax if needed. They fold up and require very little space. I think that’s enough for now.

    • Sandy Hoyt says:

      Also have an old coffee can (metal) and a few votive candles and box matches. When stranded you can light is and it will generate heat without burning anything..Put it on the floor because heat rises to get full effect from warmth. Also leave a little cash in the can, just in case you find a place to make a phone call..cell phones do go dead..My dad made sure I had this in the 70’s when I drove in the winter in Ohio and more than once did I have to use this and it kept me warm til help arrived

  • Great Grey says:

    You should have enough plastic (space blankets) and tape to cover/replace all the windows in case they get broken (I was in car that rolled, it was good for shelter but had big air leaks) also, it can be used to reduce the size of area in the car that you have to keep warm.
    When hiking/walking always carry at least 1½ e-blankets per person (1 to wrap up in and one to help make a shelter. i.e. 1 person 2 blankets, 2 people 3 blankets, 3 people 5 blankets, 4 people 6 blankets)

  • 0

    A metal coffee can, and candles. keep inside vehicle, slight crack in windows keeps oxygen flowing through. light candle. works as light as well as a heat source. also a way to melt water to drink or boil. an old tea pot works great, make screwdriver holes in metal can so air can flow through, and light a 3 wick candle. you have a way to make water from snow and ice. as well as stay warm. all can be kept in a small tote in the back seat which doubles as a little desktop for kids with crayons and coloring books. also keep a spare set of boots and 15 below sleeping bags per kid, as they tend to freeze faster or for elderly.

  • Rose Payne says:

    I always have 3 Big metal coffe cans in the car, one contains 3- 6 ” pillar candles, lighter,matches. One has he other can has pull top protiens like sardines, tuna,,vienna susages, potted meat, crackers,energy bars,and dark chocolate. The other can has 2 space blankets, plastic fold up poncho,toliet paper. One can is used for waste the other 2 are for candle holders for heat and light. I always keep a book in the car, extra blanket, change of clothes and boots. a jug of water.

  • Debra says:

    I would carry emergency candles that you but in tin containers. They would help warm the car about 8 hours & matches. I have heated my greenhouse in power outages with large candles in metal buckets before!

  • Nana says:

    1) hand held CB or 35 mile or 2 way radio
    2) lighter
    3) mirror
    4) floresant/ rlective spray paint & ora reflective tape for painting SOS on roof, hood, road, snow
    5) hand and foot warmers
    6) water pouches
    7) magazine/book for reading, insulation in
    shoes, fire
    8) spare cell phone battery/cbarger

  • David Greene says:

    A shovel (metal), a jump box w inflator, and good rope or a tow strap all ought to be on this list.

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