11 Things to Keep in Your Car for Winter Travel

I wanted snow, and I got it!
Just when I thought winter left us behind this year, winter storm Jonas dumped an incredible amount of snow on a significant portion of the east coast. When all was said and done, Dulles Airport reported 28.3 inches of snow had fallen, Laguardia also reported 28 inches, and home sweet home Philadelphia reported just under 24 inches.

Allentown, Pennsylvania, however, saw a whopping 32 inches of snow fall in approximately 24 hours. And I know exactly what 32 inches of snow in 24 hours looks like because I was stuck right in the middle of it!

My partner in crime and I were en route to a winter festival at a friend's farm, and when it became clear the roads were going to get a lot worse before they got better, we decided to cut our losses and find a hotel for the night. We made it to our impromptu overnight accommodations in his Subaru without incident, save a little trouble getting into the hotel's driveway, but others weren't so lucky.

We were prepared for the storm because we'd packed for a weekend away, and because my partner in crime always keeps certain items in his car. When I lived in Alaska and drove stretches of road with limited cell service and few other motorists in winter like the Parks Highway, I kept some of the same items in my car, just in case.

Whether you find yourself on the road in a blizzard (pro tip: don't), or you're driving in normal winter conditions and get into trouble, being prepared is incredibly important. This list of things to keep in your vehicle when you're driving in the winter isn't exhaustive by any means, but it's a start.

Digging our way into the hotel parking lot, which hadn't been plowed. Boy did that shovel come in handy!
  1. Blankets, sleeping bags, and/or quilts are always good to have around. I've had an old quilt in my trunk for years, and though I can't remember how it got there, it's been a godsend on a number of trips. I've used it to insulate me from the ground on camping trips when it got cold, as a blanket around the campfire, and as something to sit on during an impromptu picnic. None of these are emergency situations, of course, but in a pinch, blankets, sleeping bags, and quilts can help you stay warm.
  2. A spare battery pack for electronic devices will allow you to keep things like your phone charged if you need to call for help in an emergency, assuming you're in cell range. Options like the Lithium 4400 battery pack are ideal. Keep in mind that batteries don't like the cold. If you car is inoperable, keep the battery pack close to your body to keep it functioning.
  3. A first aid kit, even a small one, can be a godsend in an emergency. Keeping duct tape in your first aid kit is always a good idea because it fixes just about anything.
  4. Have a flashlight or headlamp handy, just in case you need to see in the dark. And while we're on the topic of things that help you see, keep a few things in your vehicle that'll help people see you, like flares or reflectors like this.
  5. Gaining additional traction on slippery surfaces with kitty litter or sand can make all the difference when you''re stuck.
  6. Keeping an ice scraper, ideally with a brush, in your car should be a no-brainer if you live in areas that see snow in the winter, but don't forget to have a shovel handy. We used ours to help dig our way into the hotel parking lot and to help others who were stuck.
  7. Depending on where you find yourself stuck, have snacks and drinks packed. Dried fruit and nuts are staples for me as far as snacks go, given they're shelf-stable for a while and they're energy-dense.  
  8. After getting flat tires multiple times, I finally got a bottle of emergency tire sealant and it lives in my trunk for emergencies. Fix-a-Flat and other tire inflating devices seal the tire and re-inflate it with pressurized gas, giving you enough tire pressure to drive slowly for a short period of time. Keeping a tire pressure gauge in your vehicle is never a bad idea either.
  9. Having jumper cables in your vehicle helps a ton, especially if you know how to use them. I have emergency roadside assistance through my car insurance company, but if they can't get to me or I'm out of cell range and happen to have another vehicle nearby offer help, they're a must-have addition to your car's gear stash.
  10. As accurate and helpful as your favorite direction-finding mobile device can be, sometimes, it pays to have old fashioned paper maps or an atlas in your vehicle. They'll be a godsend if you lose signal, or you're in an area that doesn't have signal to begin with.
  11. Though not technically kept in the vehicle, no matter how prepared you are or what kind of vehicle you have, the single best way to prep for winter travel is to invest in a good set of snow tires. We saw many an SUV, including a Land Rover, run into trouble in the snow because the tires just weren't meant for that kind of weather. Our Subaru Impreza Sport did extremely well, which came as no surprise, but it has a serious set of tires and that certainly didn't hurt.
What other items would you add to this list? Have you ever found yourself in an emergency on the road in the snow? Any tips you've got to share? We'd love to hear them!