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Broken Down Car

Survival 101 – Car Bug Out Bag

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It’s Fall and you have made your way to Vermont to enjoy the colorful leaves of foliage season. After a short stop in Rochester to pick up a picnic lunch from Sandy’s Books and Bakery, a local favorite, you head off to enjoy your lunch by a lake. Only 15 minutes away just off of Route 125 is Pleiad Lake, a wonderful spot to enjoy spend the afternoon. After making the drive into the mountains you park and make the 1/4 mile hike to the lake with your picnic lunch. After a couple hours the sun begins to set and you decide to enjoy the sunset before heading back to your car. The combination of the foliage and the incoming clouds results in an amazing sunset. After a quick hike back you find that your car won’t start.

You grab your cell phone to call for help, but like much of the state of Vermont your super cool smart phone has no service. Vermonters are known for being super friendly, and your parked right next to one of the state’s major roads so you decide to stand by the road and wait from someone to drive by so you can get some help. After almost an hour no one has driven by. As it turns out in Vermont many of the roads through the mountains may have absolutely no traffic on them after dark, it’s very common for hours to go by with out a single car going by.

The sun has now set, and the cold night time temperatures that cause the colors of the leaves to change has now set in. Tonight the temperature will drop below freezing. If you are prepared for the unexpected this is nothing more then an annoyance, but if you are not this could easily be a life threatening situation.

You never know where you might be when you get put in a situation where you ability to survive might come into question. Growing up in Vermont Car Emergency Kits and Car Bug Out Bags were just part of life. They are common place due to the remote locations that many residents travel through. In many areas of Vermont you may find yourself traveling on roads that if you got stranded at night you likely wouldn’t see another person till the next day.

As part of my BSA Venturing Crew annual rechartering all the adults and youth who are drivers have to complete a drivers ledge and what do you know one of the items on the requirements list includes a general safety checklist. Although the wording may not say the car must have an emergency kit it does have that requirement. Since I am reminding all of my youth and adult members of the requirement I figured what better time to do a blog post about mine, even more so since I am in the middle of doing a survival 101 series of blog posts.

So what exactly is a Car Bug out Bag or Emergency Kit? The Car BOB is a combination of a Get Home Bag and Bug Out Bag, kept in one’s car. It is intended to get the user, either in his/her vehicle or on foot, from wherever the car happens to be (whether at home or not) to another place (either home, or a bugout site). Typically, it is a big larger than a Get Home Bag carried in a daypack (because it can be left in the trunk rather than carried every day), but not as complete as a 72 hour bug out bag (because it is usually only going to be used for a short period of time, to get home to one’s other preparations). The car bug out bag should also carry car-specific items, like trunk-safe emergency fuel, a battery charger, fix-a-flat, road maps and atlases, flares, etc.

With winter and the holidays approaching many people will be traveling. If your lucky your travels are likely to take you to areas of snow! Whats Christmas without snow? So now is a great time to make sure your car kit is ready for the unexpected.

Bad Spot For Car KitAs a general rule of thumb I expect a car survival kit to be able to handle basic emergencies encountered while driving and provided me with the things I might need to survival overnight in bad weather. The first thing I will mention should seem pretty obvious but in order for the emergency kit to be effectively it actually needs to be in the car! I mention this because I just pulled mine out of the storage room in the car port, where it has been for the last two months. A while back I was cleaning the car, took and out and of course never put it back in the car. Had anything happened during this time all I would have been able to do was think about how I had took all the time to put a kit together but couldn’t be bothered to actually keep it in the car.

Most cars are going to come equipped with storage areas for the basic items that everyone should have in their car. So we will start with those general common sense items that should already been in your car! Don’t assume they are actually there take a minute to check and confirm they are.

  1. Spare Tire: Ok I think it is pretty safe to assume that everyone has one of these in the car. The real question is not do you have one but is it actually usable. Check the tire make sure that it isn’t flat. You would be amazed how many people are driving around with flat tires as spares. In addition to it being usable make sure you actually know how to remove it from its storage place and put it on your car. If you don’t know how to put it on your car and you are alone then a spare tire does absolutely no good.
  2. Car Storage Space

  3. Tire Tools & a Jack: Like the spare tire I am going to assume that you already have one in your car somewhere. The majority of cars some with them, again like the spare tire make sure you actually know how to use it. If you have never changed the tire on your car take some time out in the near future and change one of your tires to the spare just for the sake of practice. If your car is like mine and you have locking lugnuts on your tires make sure the key to the lugnuts is stored with the tire tools. If you cant get the lugnuts off of your tires a spare, jack, and tire tools are going to be completely useless.
  4. Fire Extinguisher: Fire is an awful thing and can go from small to massive very quickly. When gasoline is present its important to be able to put a fire out quickly. Keep a fire extinguisher in your car and be able to get to it quickly. If you car didn’t come with one get one and find somewhere in the car to keep it! Remember to check the type of extinguisher you are putting in the car and make sure it is a class C (able to handle liquid based fires) extinguisher.
  5. With the basic items checked off our list lets move on to some of the items that likely didn’t come pre-installed in your car when you purchased it. Also keep in mind you are likely going to have to find a sensible spot in your car to keep these items and no they all shouldn’t go in a box in the trunk because some items you will need fast access to in the event of a problem.

    One important thing to consider when you are building your car kit, is that it should address the key elements of survival: Attitude & Knowledge, Shelter, Fire, Water, Signaling, Food, Navigation, Medical and Protection.

    Car Emergency Kit

  6. Duracell Power PackBattery Pack: Many people will say you need to keep a pair of jumper cables in your car just incase your car battery goes dead. Personally I don’t think this is actually that good of an idea. The main reason I say it’s a bad idea is if your battery does go dead jumper cables will only work if you have another car there to help you out. A better solution is the ability to jump start your car with out another car. There are several products on the market that cost less than 100 dollars which can cover this need. The one we keep in the car is a bit more expensive but also includes a light and the ability to charge other items (like the cell phone listed above). We use a Duracell DRPP300 Powerpack 300 Jump Starter and Emergency Power Source, which you can buy on Amazon for just over $100. Just remember that like the cell phone a power pack is only any good if it has a charge!
  7. Flashlight: Good for providing light at nighttime when 1) putting on a spare tire, 2) jump starting another car, or 3) exchanging insurance information with the clueless driver that rear ended you at a stop light. Get a Maglite and you can also thump would-be car jackers in the head with it. Personally I keep a couple in the car. I have a massive D Cell Maglite in the emergency box in the trunk. And I have a small personal size one in the glove box. I also have this little tiny one that I got as a christmas present that plugs directly into the cigarette lighter so it always has a charge.
  8. Roadside flares/reflective triangle: When pulled over on the side of the road, you’re basically a sitting duck, hoping that other drivers don’t turn the situation into a clip for one of those extreme video shows. It’s especially dangerous to be hanging out on the side of the road at night. Ensure that you and those around you are visible when you pull over to the side of the road by using road flares or at least a reflective triangle. The old school flaming flares seem to be harder to find these days as people switch to LED “flares.” Although the flaming flares may be harder to find I consider them essential in the car emergency kit, because not only can they be used to warn others on the road but in an emergency you can also use them to start a fire!
  9. FOOD: Remember its possible you could be stuck with just what you have in your car overnight. Throw a couple of cans of food that can be eaten with out being cooked in your car emergency box! Canned fruit and Soups are a great option for this. Think about the number of people most often in your car and plan accordingly. For our house its two adults and one child. So three cans of soup and three cans of caned fruit.
  10. Bottled Water: For when you’re stranded in Death Valley in the middle of the hottest heat wave on record… or for any other time your car decides to break down on you. Or, for after you’ve left a concert and you’re so dang parched! Remember if you are in cold weather areas water left in your car overnight will likely freeze and it could break the container it is stored in.
  11. A Blanket: You never know when you are going to find that perfect spot for a spur of the moment picnic! More importantly when your car goes off the road in the middle of a blizzard and you need to stay warm!
  12. A First Aid Kit: For a massive head wound or a little boo boo your four-year old got, it’s always good to have a fully stocked first aid kit in the car.
  13. Ice Scrapper: It never fails we all plan on putting on in the car just before winter, yet the first time we need it, its not in the car yet. Don’t be the chump that’s out there scrapping their windshield with a credit card at 5AM in the morning. A good ice scraper will set you back just a few bucks, and it will make clearing your windshield easier and much faster. Keep it in your car emergency box year round cause you never know.
  14. Folding Shovel: These things have lots of uses, but don’t get the cheap Walmart style. Stop at an army surplus stove and buy a good one. The are great for getting your car unstuck or burying the body of the person who you hit walking on the side of the road, kidding of course. They do offer for lots of uses and are worth having in the car at all times.
  15. A Tarp: Tarps come in handy for all kinds of things and its always good to have one. After all you always have to have something to wrap the body in from the above example so you don’t get blood in your car, again kidding of course. I have used mine a number of times and consider it a must have item in my car emergency kit.
  16. In addition to the items listed above that are kept in my Emergency Kit in the trunk of the car I keep a number of items close at hand around the driver seat. These are items I feel that I might need to be able to get to quickly or more often than items in the back. For me I am lucky because the car I drive is equipped with two separate gloves and a center console. The upper glove box is smaller and is perfectly sized for all the items that are listed below. So basically my upper glove box (which in japanese versions of the same car is actually a cooler) is my emergency glove box.

    Emergency Glove Box

  17. A Cell Phone: No I am not talking about the one you already carry around with you anyways and use every single day of your life. I am talking about a dedicated cell phone strictly for emergency purposes in your car. Many people don’t know it but every phone out there is able to call 911 even if you don’t have a service plan associated with it. In the past analog cell phones were the best way to go on this because they had the best coverage but as of 2008 most analog cell towers in the US were turned off. So if you have kept an old cell phone in your car for this purpose power it up and make sure it actually has signal because if it is analog only it won’t work any more. It’s also important to remember that rechargeable batteries will lose power over time so every couple of months you will want to take the phone out and charge it back up to full power. I keep the phone charger for mine in the emergency box in the trunk. The phone itself stays in the glove box where I can get to it quickly if I need it.

    If you don’t already have an old cell phone kicking around somewhere you can pick up a TracFone for as little as $10. Remember there is absolutely no need to activate service on the phone. If the phone has a signal it can be used to call 911. Granted if you want to be able to call more than just 911 then you might want to think about using a prepaid phone like a TracFone and keeping like an hour worth of time on the phone.

    Remember not everywhere in the US has cell phone service, there are still some area’s where you wont get coverage. Reference the below map and you will immediately see some of the dead zones. If you ever travel in one its even more important that you be ready to survive overnight with only what is in your car.

    Verizon Cell Coverage Map

  18. Pair of Warm Gloves: I never seem to have warm gloves when I need them, so I keep a pair of fleece gloves in the glovebox of my car. I would say I use them about 30 or more times a year.
  19. Dog Leash, Collar & Dog Treats: I have two dogs myself and ended up needing these are rest areas multiple times. They have also come in handy dealing with the lost dog wandering around the street in the middle of the night because it escaped the owners yard. Remember to use caution if you are approaching unknown dogs.
  20. Rubber Gloves: The last thing you want to do when you come upon a car accident is get blood on your hands from some unknown stranger. I keep a number of pairs of rubber gloves in my glovebox just in case. I mean what better spot to keep gloves then in a glove box!
  21. A Pocket Mask: Used for rescue breathing instead of having to mouth to mouth on someone who is need of CPR. Cause hey you never know when you might need it.
  22. EMT Hip Holster Kit: As a former EMT I wont go anywhere with out one of these. Included is all the basic items you need to provide first aid to someone in need. A knife, pair of utility shears, a tourniquet, a disposable penlight, a window punch, kelly forceps, tweezers, and bandage shears.

So what about you what do you keep in your car at all times? Do you not carry something from the list above because you don’t find it useful or have found something better? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Avery Z ChipkaBorn in central Vermont, Avery has spent is life exploring the wonders of nature. When he isn't off in the backcountry he can be found behind the keyboard digging through lines of computer code.View all posts by Avery Z Chipka →

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