How to Build an Emergency Kit for Your Vehicle

Eight items that will keep you alive in the event of a breakdown, or if you become stranded, any time of the year.

When Maia Herman–Kitami and Carlos Hernandez Jr. got stuck in their Jeep for five days during a snowstorm in the California mountains last February, they were, in a sense, lucky. That’s because the couple had been returning from a camping trip and had supplies, including food, to keep them alive. Even so, the snow was so deep that they couldn’t get out of their predicament until they were rescued by good Samaritans who had heard about the missing couple and mounted a search on snowmobiles. At that point, the couple had started rationing their food.

The lesson here is that even if your vehicle is in excellent condition, has four-wheel-drive and is equipped with snow chains and a spare battery—as did Hernandez’s Wrangler—you could still get stuck at any time of the year. In order to survive such an ordeal, you need food, water, and warmth, and tools to help you produce and conserve those three essentials. Here are eight items you should carry in your vehicle to ensure your survival in the event of a breakdown.

Contains Ten Servings

This meal is sealed in an airtight container and will last for 30 years. Mountain House

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If you’re stuck in your vehicle, calories—and a lot of them—are a necessity for surviving, especially if it’s cold. Mountain House is well known for producing lightweight freeze-dried meal packets for backpacking and camping trips, but they also excel as emergency food. Mountain House guarantees a shelf life of foods for 30 years after the date of manufacture, so you can use whatever you buy for three decades. Mountain House meals come in an airtight container that you can keep in your vehicle for three decades—meaning the food supply will probably outlast the vehicle itself. You also could remove a few meal packets and replace them with some of the rest of the gear in this list, making it a self-contained vehicle survival kit.

Surpasses EPA Filter Standards

This option filters up to 1000 liters of contaminated water, without the use of chemicals. LifeStraw

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If you find water jugs too heavy to tote around in your vehicle, an alternative is to melt snow, or find a running water source such as a creek. To make sure the water is safe to consume, pack a water purifying device like a Lifestraw, which filters water as you drink it.

Accessories Included

This choice has an integrated cooking cup, allowing super-efficient and fast heat transfer, and it all weighs less than a pound. JetBoil

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You’ll want to conserve gasoline if you’re stuck, so to melt snow for drinking water and to create heat without starting the car, pack a portable backpack stove. These lightweight stoves are powered by sealed iso-butane/propane canisters and put out a lot of heat for their size. Get an integrated backpack stove—the cooking cup connects to the stove and will heat up the contents quickly because it’s custom-fit to the stove top, maximizing heat transfer. That makes melting snow or ice fast and easy. (Be sure to open windows a bit if using such a stove inside a vehicle to prevent the build-up of deadly carbon monoxide.)

Comes in Many Colors

These long wands allow you to place a flame into small spaces, such as underneath a pile of tinder. Bic

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Light your stove, make a fire outside for warmth or for signaling, have a backup to a flashlight—there are many reasons to keep several lighters in your vehicle. Disposable butane lighters are simple, reliable, and lightweight. And they’re inexpensive, so you can toss a handful of them into your vehicle for very little money.

Reflects Body Heat

Lightweight, waterproof covers will keep you warm outside. Swiss Safe

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These lightweight mylar-backed blankets weigh only a couple of ounces but are very efficient at conserving heat. They’re also waterproof, so one can serve as an emergency shelter or a makeshift poncho. Keep several with you so you’ll have enough for any companions.

Spring-Loaded Pliers

A dozen integrated tools will help you to accomplish any task you need to get done. Gerber

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It’s difficult to know exactly what you’ll encounter in a survival situation, which makes a multitool a perfect addition to emergency gear. Keep one in your vehicle and you’ll always have a knife, saw, pliers, wire cutter, screwdrivers, scissors, can opener, and other tools at your disposal. New models are small and lightweight, so there’s no reason to not keep one in your car or truck, year-round.

Ultra Bright

This model features five different settings: high, medium, low, strobe and SOS. GearLight

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Even if you already keep a flashlight in your car, it’s a good idea to double up in case the first one breaks, or the batteries die. Your survival flashlight should be able to withstand rough use, resist water, and shine brightly for hours. That means going with an LED flashlight, which will consume much less battery power than a standard flashlight.

Folding Design

This works with snow, mud, dirt, sand and more. Birdrock’s

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If your vehicle gets bogged down in a snowbank, having a snow shovel on hand may make the difference between a survival situation and a temporary setback that you can resolve simply by shoveling your way out. And if you do get stuck somewhere, a snow shovel will allow you to keep the doors clear of snow so you can get in and out of the vehicle and keep the tailpipe clear, so you can run the vehicle without fear of carbon monoxide seeping into the passenger compartment. A snow shovel with a telescoping, folding handle takes up very little room in your vehicle. Having one may allow you to get you home so you can shovel out your own driveway—which will be a pleasure compared to where you might have been instead.