About 3 years ago, Atlanta saw some of the
worst snow ever… well actually it wasn’t snowing that bad but there was a major problem, the sheer amount of traffic from delayed dismissal caused major interstates and highways to shut down. People were forced to flee from their cars due to the combination of gridlock, low fuel, and freezing temperatures. A co-worker’s trip home took 17 hours instead of the normal 1.5 hours. While this isn’t certainly a common experience I really think there are some things you should have in your car really to keep it ready for, well, life. The goal of this bag is to keep it as practical and as cheap as possible. You don’t need a survival knife with built-in compass, GPS locator, and fishing kit. We’re planning on those things like: “Susie’s soccer practice is running late, I need a quick snack.”, “there’s a flat tire and it’s pouring down rain at night”, or the worst “I have an interview and I’m missing a button on my dress shirt!”
A quick note: You don’t need to go out and buy all this stuff at once. You’ve obviously survived without some or all of it until now. The things you’ll put in your bag will stay there, so don’t put anything you’ll use elsewhere or need. Obviously, if you use it, it needs to go back to whence it came or be replaced. With that being said, don’t put anything in there you’re not afraid to get stolen. A backpack is a quick score for a thief. Start slow and cheap with the basics and what you have around the house. Remember: it’s your life and money, use what you got.
A Proper Backpack
Why: Imagine your car dies and won’t start back up. No cell reception to call AAA. You’re stuck with a 5-10 mile hike to the nearest gas station at night. Having all your supplies with you is a good idea.
I’m going to catch some flack because I’m not doing as I say however, you need a decent cheap backpack. I strongly recommend not getting one of those tactical bags with Molle webbing and modular attachments. Something like a traditional old L.L. Bean bag works just as well as those. However, I have an older “tactical” bag that I got for $15 dollars. The reason I say you shouldn’t use one is depending on the situation if you need to flee your car (let’s say zombies did happen) you looking like a boy or girl scout and seemingly prepared makes you a target. Looking inconspicuous is your best bet. In all reality, that’ll never happen so find whatever you have laying around the house with two straps works. (A gym bag works in a pinch but in my opinion having 1 strap is going to cause you some pain. However, to each his own)
1-Day’s change of clothes. (I’m cheating here as there are multiple items but you need to have 1-pair of underwear, socks, a shirt, and a small towel.)
Why: You drank a little too much and you’re being a responsible adult and staying at your friend’s house, it’s a very hot day and you need to freshen up before going out later, or (happens to me often) you went to the gym and realized you forgot underwear.
I can’t emphasize how gross it is to put on your gym underwear after finishing your workout. If you’re going home it’s okay but if you’re about to go to work well… it’s not very hygienic nor comfortable for you or others. No worries! Just go get your spares that are in your car. There have also been times when I’ve been working late and instead of driving 1.5 hours home only to sleep and return to work in 5 hours I could simply stay at my in-law’s house which is closer. Having some spare clothes for the next day will help explain a few things the next day. Also, who doesn’t feel better in a fresh pair of undies?
The small towel can help on a sweaty day, dry you off if you’re caught in a rainstorm, or clean up spills. Don’t bring a huge bath towel but a hand towel should be fine.
One of those emergency ponchos that come in its own little baggy.
Why: You have a flat and it’s pouring rain or you’re at your kid’s little league game and forgot an umbrella.
Look, Weather is dumb and Weather Forecasts are too. These ponchos are great to have in your car. For a few bucks, it’s a quick waterproof shell to cover you in both survival situations and everyday life. Don’t worry about those big bulky yellow ones. The small pre-packed ones are what you’re gunning for. They’re inexpensive so they’re good enough for a single use and you can either discard it or try to repack it if it’s in good enough condition. Chances are you’ll never really need this but I can promise you that you’ll be glad you have one. I have one of those pocket jackets that are “waterproof” which isn’t really waterproof as much as it’ll work until it’s soaked. The great thing about plastic? It’s 100% waterproof and as long as it’s not torn you’ll be dry. (Unless you’re a certain former President.) They even have them for kids! Granted you’ll look like a walking trash bag but hey, at least you’re dry at the kid’s game.
A few road flares, Emergency triangles, and Safety Vest: Or buy all three from Home Depot and cover more at once!
Why: A deer runs out in front of you at night and you run into a tree or you get a flat.
In Japan, it’s law to have at least 1 road flare and emergency triangle in your car. Honestly, it makes sense and it’d be a smart idea if the US did the same. Why two road flares? You’re going to light one and set it 100ft from you down the road. This will catch any drivers attention. The road triangle will go 25-50ft from you and the final road flare you’ll put near you. This will alert drivers who have difficulty seeing at night, are driving too fast, or have their headlight out. People often think since they have headlights they can see but you’d be surprised (quite literally when they side-swipe you). The road flare near you will assist them in seeing you AND help you see. It’ll also help police/emergency personnel locate you and know you need assistance. Even if you call AAA or whomever to come and get your car you won’t know the exact mile marker you’re on so can help by saying “I’m putting a big burning candle there.” There’s also a bonus, road flares work even if it’s pouring rain (Actually some work underwater) and can assist in fire-starting. (So be careful). Speaking of, make sure you remember how long they last, there is a big difference between a 15-minute and 30-minute in how much you can accomplish or length of time waiting. As far as the safety vest, some flare kits already come with one but seriously, you do not realize how hard it is to see someone at night. Looking stupid for a short while is worth your life. They’re cheap and can be used even if you decide to go for a late night run.
These are going to go in with your car tools. They don’t need to go in your bag but I would at least keep 1-flare and safety vest in your bag. If you have small kids you need to walk with, get one for them too.
An old pair of shoes, tennis shoes will work but if you have a pair of waterproof hiking boots, all the better.
Why: Remember that 10-mile hike? Guess what sucks in heels or dress shoes. What’s worse? Having wet feet. Perhaps maybe a last minute decision to go for a walk?
Again, don’t go out buy a brand new pair of shoes for this. We’re not hiking the Appalachian Trail or running a marathon. Use whatever you have that you don’t wear anymore. I have several pairs of running shoes that don’t provide enough support for running but for day-to-day but in emergencies work great. If they’re tennis shoes, treat them with some additional waterproofing spray. I recommend hiking boots only for the additional traction and coverage since they tend to be more supportive/protective but tennis shoes would always be a better all-around fit. I heard a few years ago during the Atlanta Snowpocalypse people had to walk a few hours home, if you were wearing dress shoes or heels would be murder not to mention freezing cold. It’s also nice if you’re simply out and a sudden change of plans means a lot of walking.
A small medical kit/hygiene kit.
Why: You’re out and about and get a cut, your allergies are bothering you, or worse more serious injury.
I cannot convey the importance of having a quality medical kit not only at home but in your car. You can go down to CVS and buy one of those “kits” that look sufficient enough but you need a couple more things:
A temporary splint/sling. (For when you hurt your arms or ankles having one of these can go a long way for your comfort or of others.
Insta-clot. With a little training, even something like a deep enough cut on your hand/arm/leg this can assist in stopping the bleeding (or even bullet wounds). These are great if you’re alone and run off the road. The ambulance might be awhile and you losing blood isn’t helping matters.
Waterproof Sports-tape and assortment of gauze pads. Let’s face it, band-aids never stay in the places we need them to like on your finger or knee. A small roll of sports tape can be used to tape an injured finger to another one or attach large gauze pads to big scrapes.
A clean cotton handkerchief or cloth. (For absorbing blood or tying a brace.)
This is also the one item which should break my rule of cheap and what you have. A quality kit with necessary items will cost some money. Do not go cheap, but instead pay attention to the amount of items contained in the kit. You can also assemble one yourself.
A quick hygiene kit can go a long way as well, Deodorant and Crest Wisps while not necessary aren’t bad ideas in case you forget or have an onion-infested salad. Feminine hygiene products should be in here too, regardless of your sex. I use tampons a lot as tinder for starting fires but they can also be used to plug puncture wounds and they’re generally wrapped in a protective coating. Plus, being a brother and a husband, sometimes you may get asked if you happen to have one. Anyone woman in need may question as to why but they’ll be thankful just the same.
A sewing kit with a few spare buttons.
Why: You had one-too-many burritos and your pants button popped off. Or your off going to an important interview and you noticed a button missing on your shirt.
You’ll need a needle, some thread, and some buttons of various sizes and types. They have little emergency sewing/repair kits which work great. Make sure they have common thread colors like black, navy, and white.
Most dress shirts have two spare buttons at the bottom for emergencies just like this, but a lost pants button could be devastating.
Finally, a little sewing knowledge couldn’t hurt and you could do more repairs to other things, like a broken backpack strap.
A blanket and emergency blanket. (Once again, I’m cheating with two.)
Why: You’re driving late at night, it’s cold, and you want to take a rest for an hour at a rest stop/late night sporting event on a cool evening. You’ve been in an accident and/or having car trouble and you’re not in range to call someone.
Chances are the first example is the most likely to happen but the second could occur. In the introduction, I spoke about Atlanta’s Snowpocalypse. Many people left their vehicles because they were running out of gas and weren’t prepared for the cold. Contrary to what you’ve seen on TV, never leave your car at night or in the cold unless instructed to do so. (Unless the safety of your car is in question such as an accident that causes fluid leaks.) Your car is probably the safest place you can be, even at night having a rigid structure, some insulation, and locks. If you’re stranded on the side of the road, and the gas station is 10-15 miles away it’s going to take some time to walk there. You’re better off sitting in your car waiting until morning. In the mean time put your emergency triangles out. Chances are someone will be along like the Police, who can assist you. In the meantime, especially if it’s cold, your car will at least be several degrees higher than the outside but that doesn’t mean you can’t get hypothermia or simply just be cold. I recommend grabbing a cheap small packable blanket like these AND an emergency blanket. Emergency blankets are great as they reflect body heat back onto you. The packable down blanket can also be added for comfort for any occasion. (I.E. outdoor sporting event where you just need a little more heat). Just make sure you can pack it in your bag with everything else as if you need to egress from your vehicle its small enough to carry. I also like wool-blend blankets like the army uses as they’re strong enough to put down on the ground while changing tires.
Tools: The Short Version
A small mechanics tool kit like this Husky 38-Piece set:
Even if you’re not a “car” person, simply having a small set of sockets and wrenches may mean a simple Good Samaritan who is passing by might be able to assist. I’m guilty of this. I’ve tried to assist someone with a car battery at a parking lot only I cannot disconnect or tighten it due to lack of tools. Also, make sure you’re getting a mechanics set. Often times batteries and other random important cables are slightly different. (I’m looking at you 11mm wrench and sockets!)
Jumper cables (Bonus for small jumping battery though I cannot speak to their reliability)
I’m surprised how few people have these in their car.
Things are dirty, your hands don’t have to be one of them. I like Mechanix Fast Fit.
A small amount of food including 1 liter of water per normal passenger.
Granola and/or Protein Bars – Great for having a snack when you’re stuck in traffic or running late. Try to find ones that have a decent amount of calories and not very much sugar. KIND bars are nice since they’re all natural but really I’d get a couple of protein bars that have low sugar. Keep a few but be careful the ones that will melt. (Remember it’ll be in your car.)
MREs. While normally I’d recommend something like Mountain House dehydrated meals for hiking their downside is simply they need a fire. Quality MREs contain saltwater packets which you add and to create a chemical reaction that heats the food. A hot meal will raise your spirits regardless of the flavor. You only need 1 since food isn’t high on the priority list in most emergencies, unless of course, your emergency is you’re driving home late at night and taking a quick rest stop.
Water. You can survive a while without water. 3 days for most people before major health concerns occur. However, water serves many purposes. Clean water can be used to assist in cleaning wounds, cooking your dehydrated meal (MREs will GENERALLY have a saltwater packet or you need to purchase one), and simply you’re really thirsty and stuck in traffic. 1 Liter per adult is fantastic. If you can heat the water, Mountain House meals take 250-500ml of water this leaves you something to drink.
Anything else not mentioned!
The biggest thing is building a bag that works for you. I’ve seen some people carry Epipens, flashlights, firearms, and other various items which is 100% okay. I’ll more than likely get a lot of flack from the preppers which is also okay as well. My point overall isn’t to prepare your for the apocalypse, but prepare you for the things that will happen reasonably happen. There are quite a few important items I’ll follow up with in an appendix to this, I’ll also be sharing what I use in my every day life bag soon.
Got a recommendation? Something you don’t agree with? Something I missed? Great! Let me know below! Let’s talk about it!