Ultimate Car Survival Kit

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It’s more important than ever to ensure you and your loved ones are safe by preparing a comprehensive car emergency kit or car survival kit, especially for winter. You never know when you might be left stranded in the middle of nowhere. Preparing for this possible event could save your life.

Emergency car survival kit in the trunkThat’s why we’ve compiled this comprehensive survival kit list of essential items and key tips. Use our car survival kit checklist to ensure you’re ready for any possible breakdown or stranding scenario.

Our recommendations are divided into two categories: items required for the occasional breakdown, and for a DIY winter car survival kit. Everything needed for short- to medium-term survival. Both kits are necessary for traveling to any remote location or in any inclement weather scenario.

Essential, Everyday Items

Regardless of where or how populated your driving route is, certain items are essential for everyday driving.

If you happen to have a flat tire, calling a towing service is an option. But if your cell phone is dead or you’re in a hurry, it might not be a viable solution. It’s essential to pack a small first-aid kit for any of life’s unexpected mishaps, even if urgent care is only five minutes away.

Emergency Tool Kit for Your Car

help written in snow on car windshieldCumbersome issues such as a loose bolt or unsecured fitting can seriously hinder your ability to drive. These small issues may only take a few minutes to fix if you’re prepared.

Keep a small toolkit in your car with the following items. Each tool listed below can be bought separately online, or at an auto or home goods store. Full emergency tool kits can also be found online and generally include:

  • Wrench
  • Pliers
  • Ratchet and sockets
  • Adjustable screwdriver (six settings)
  • Hex key set
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Flashlight

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Tire Repair Kit

Tire repair kit for the carA tire repair kit is the single most important kit to include in your car survival kit list. At some point, you’ll likely need to change a tire. Doing so is impossible without the necessary tools and knowledge.

In a pinch, a quick YouTube video or list of steps can demonstrate the necessary steps for changing a tire. Nevertheless, it’s important to practice the process before doing it out on the road.

You can purchase a tire repair kit online, or ensure that you have the components on hand when needed.

If you can, it is recommended that you go through a practice round to ensure that you have everything necessary to replace a tire, such as:

  • A spare tire (or “donut”)
  • Tire sealant
  • CO2 canisters (for inflation)
  • A mechanical car jack
  • A tire wrench

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Medical Kits and Trauma Kits for Cars

For longer journeys and trips to remote areas, a more advanced medical supply kit is needed.

That said, for everyday use, a small first aid kit with the following essentials is all that’s necessary for basic medical incidents and minor trauma:

  • Band-aids
  • Large bandages
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Trauma pads
  • Gloves

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Comprehensive Survival Essentials

If your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere or you get stranded in a snowstorm, your life — along with the lives of anyone traveling with you — will be in danger. The lists previously discussed, including emergency tool kits and equipment, tire repair kits and medical kits, are also a requirement for a medium- to long-term survival situation.

Even if you’re able to contact help after a breakdown or accident, it can still take hours or even days before rescuers can reach your vehicle.

Pack all of the essential items discussed in the sections below in your car bug out bag and ready to go before any long journey.

The majority of items listed below can be packed in a duffle bag that also doubles as a backpack so that your survival kit is never left behind. You can find a list of duffle bags with backpack straps online, but any bag you choose needs to hold 64 liters or more.

It’s also important to note that we strongly advise against abandoning your vehicle in a survival scenario unless it’s simply unavoidable. In an emergency situation, your vehicle will offer protection from the elements, wild animals and other threats. Also, rescuers are far more likely to find stranded motorists if they decide to stay with their car, truck or SUV.

Leaving your vehicle is only advisable if you or a loved one is seriously injured, it’s dangerously cold or if your water supply is running dangerously low without a way to replenish it.

Tools and Devices

A few different tools and devices should always be close at hand and included in a car survival kit.

These items are also important to have on a daily basis, but they’re absolutely essential for longer or more dangerous journeys:

We recommend always having two to three flashlights in case one is damaged or broken.  It’s best to have a good tactical flashlight that will last longer and shine brighter than a normal one.

A good rule of thumb for ensuring that you have enough backup flashlights is to always have one flashlight per DIY car survival kit.

A car window breaker and seatbelt cutter can be found online or at any local car repair shop, while phone accessories can be found online.

If you don’t have a phone, we recommend purchasing a prepaid phone in case of emergencies.

Protection from the Elements and Winter Weather

Surviving with only the clothes on your back will work fine in normal conditions. However, adequately preparing for extreme temperatures is critical for survival.

Assemble an emergency car kit for snow and severe cold. A few essential items can ensure that you and your loved ones can survive extreme temperature scenarios:

  • Insulated base layers (long underwear and thermal shirt)
  • Rain gear (poncho with a hood)
  • Insulated jacket (with hood)
  • Bivvy sleeping bag or space blanket
  • Wide-brimmed hat

While this list includes only the essentials, it will ensure your survival during extreme weather conditions.

Insulated base layers will provide warmth at night and during winter days.

Include one waterproof poncho per person. This essential article of clothing will ensure that you’re able to stay dry in even the wettest conditions.

An insulated jacket can protect you from colder conditions, and a tactical bivvy or mylar blanket is an important backup in both extremely hot and extremely cold conditions.

Mylar blankets include a metallic lining that’s able to reflect all heat from its surface. A tactical bivvy is essentially the same as a mylar blanket except that it’s in the form of a sleeping bag instead of a flat blanket.

These items can be used to keep someone warm by trapping heat. Or conversely, ensure that the sun’s rays are reflected away from the space blanket’s surface. This depends on which direction the reflective surface is facing.

A wide-brimmed hat is essential for sun protection and can prevent life-threatening heatstroke.

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Water, Water, and More Water

The human body can survive without food for up to three weeks, but the same is not true without water.

Regardless of all other factors, if someone doesn’t drink water for three days, they will die. Therefore, the top priority for any survival situation is securing water resources.

The only scenario in which water is not the number-one priority is if you’re in immediate danger from the elements or an injury.

For any trip, you should bring along one gallon of water per person per day as part of your car emergency kit checklist. At the very least, your survival kit should include enough water to last 72 hours.

Knowing how to purify water for survival is a crucial skill to learn for preparedness.

Water Storage

The best way to store water is in large metal bottles, which are a great option because they can withstand intense heat or cold while protecting the water within.

Plastic bottles can rupture under extreme conditions. As a result, use metal bottles to boil water. This is essential if your initial water source is depleted. We recommend always carrying at least one metal bottle, even if you bring the rest of your water in plastic jugs.

Water Filtration

Besides bringing enough water, it’s also essential to include a water filtration system and purification tablets in your survival kits.

A gravity filtration kit, such as the Sawyer Squeeze, can filter any type of water and remove 99.999% of all bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

That said, use purification tablets after filtration to ensure the elimination of all contaminants from standing water.

Boiling water for 10 minutes also accomplishes this level of purification, but having to boil water is not convenient for every situation. Water bottles, filtration kits, and tablets can all be found at a local outdoor supply store.

Make sure you have the following in your car survival kit:

  • A gallon of water per person per day
  • Single-walled, insulated bottles
  • A filtration kit
  • Purification tablets (three to four packs)

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Sanitation and Toiletries

Prepare a small to-go bag for personal hygiene items. Staying clean and healthy can mean the difference between life and death while you’re stranded away from civilization.

The list below includes general items, but anything you use on a daily basis should be included in your car survival kit:

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Comprehensive First-Aid Supplies

The budget first-aid list already above is sufficient for everyday use.

However, the fully prepared person will need additional items for survival situations and severe injuries. For serious car accidents, without the help of first responders, you’ll likely need to care for injuries to yourself and your loved ones.

At the very least, you need to be prepared to treat serious injuries while waiting for professional help. 

This trauma kit list for your car includes the same items as the everyday kit along with those used to treat severe injuries and guide the healing process over a longer period of time. It’s essential to include everything on this list in your first-aid kit to treat major bleeding, broken bones and other illnesses.

Learn how to make your own DIY first aid kit for your dog.

We recommend including one comprehensive car survival first aid kit at all times:

  • Gauze bandages
  • Smaller bandages
  • Absorbent pads
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Burn gel
  • CPR mask
  • Splint and sprain bandage
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Safety pins
  • Pain relievers
  • Nausea medication
  • Diarrhea medication
  • Duct tape
  • Suture kit

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Food

A surprising fact for most people is that food should not take priority over shelter and first-aid items. Remember the Rule of Three.  The human body can live for extended periods without food.

Also, in survival situations, a balanced diet is not a concern, and survival food should include as many calories as possible in the smallest form allowable. Therefore, energy bars at outdoor supply stores are great resources to add to your survival kit.

Some survival bars pack enough calories for two to three days and remain edible for several years. However, we recommend steering clear of energy bars at major grocery outlets, They often include salt, which can lead to dehydration.

Personal Protection

You never know what could happen in the middle of nowhere, and you must be able to defend yourself. Doing so could mean anything from carrying a firearm to packing pepper spray and a survival knife.

If you know how to use a gun, including a 9mm pistol in your survival bag will ensure that you’re able to meet any threat head-on. Remember that no matter what form of protection you decide to take, it must be powerful enough to incapacitate an attacker.

Miscellaneous

The final items listed below do not fit into a defined category but are still essential for your survival kit. Pack these items in the same to-go bag as your other survival items:

  • Reflective mirror (for signaling rescuers)
  • Sleeping bag
  • Multi-tool and pocket knife
  • Cash ($100 or more)
  • Whistle
  • Pencil and notepad
  • Hazardous breathing masks
  • Extra batteries
  • Can opener
  • Matches (large box)
  • BIC lighters (large pack)
  • Sunglasses
  • Reflective vest

Wrapping up the Ultimate Car Survival Kit

Every year, there are stories of Americans all over the country getting stranded in their vehicles. Sometimes these stories end happily. Other times, the motorists were ill-prepared and suffered a disastrous fate.

But hey, you read SHTFPreparedness, so you’re prepared, right? It’s incredibly unlikely that you’ll experience this same fate.

If you do, you’ll thank yourself for preparing the essentials for survival.

These same DIY car survival kit items will also come in handy while you’re driving on a daily basis. We highly recommend packing a comprehensive car survival kit as described above. But, just promise us you’ll at least pack the bare minimum for your next journey.

Be prepared for the unavoidable with a car survival kit, whether it's black ice, snow, a breakdown or an accident.

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