Camping & Survival

Travel in Severe Winter Weather

A powerful winter storm is rapidly approaching the Eastern Seaboard. Heavy snow is forecast, and winds are predicted to bring whiteout conditions, making driving extremely hazardous this holiday season. In the Midwest snow has been falling for some time and continues to fall across much of Iowa and Illinois with another 4 inches or more expected.

But despite the weather, it’s almost Christmas Eve, and millions of travelers are heading over the river and through the woods to spend quality time with the family at Grandmother’s house. When severe winter weather sets in and you still must travel, you should always be prepared. Below is an excerpt from our article on Extreme Cold Survival that deals with traveling in severe winter weather.

Cold Weather and Traveling The most common place you may find yourself stranded in the extreme cold is stuck in a vehicle stranded on the side of the road. Icy spots, snow drifts, mechanical difficulty, any of these can leave you alone and without help on the side of a cold and desolate highway. What can you do if you find yourself stuck in such a predicament? Obviously the first answer is to make sure that you are properly prepared.

When traveling through areas where the weather is extremely cold, you should always pack a cold weather survival kit in your vehicle. What you pack in your emergency kit will vary from person to person depending on your situation, but there are some things that should be in every kit. Each kit should contain some basic survival and emergency gear, in addition to a first aid kit and tire chains if appropriate. I keep my kit in a rubber tote, although duffel bags or other large bags work well too. Whatever supplies and tools you have should be secured. Unsecured equipment in an automobile accident can become deadly projectiles.

Your basic kit should contain blankets or sleeping bags, water, food, a flashlight, flares or emergency triangles, jumper cables, and an ice scraper or brush. Whenever you travel in severe winter weather, always take a mobile phone and a portable phone charger. If you still have room in your kit, I find that tire chains, a tow rope, a shovel, and bag of sand or granite (granite chips are usually available at your local gravestone manufacturer) are lifesavers for getting you un-stuck from deep snow or treacherous ice. Other items may include hand warmers or chemical heaters such as the ones often included with MRE kits.

If you find yourself stranded in your vehicle in the cold, the first thing to do is to stay calm. Signal your distress by raising your hood and tying something brightly colored to your radio antenna. Retrieve your cold weather survival kit, and anything else you need, from the trunk of your car or bed of your pickup truck and move it to the passenger compartment so that you don’t need to make multiple trips outside in the cold to get individual items from the kit.

Don’t leave the engine running. If you are stuck in a snow drift, or even just stopped on the side of an icy road, carbon monoxide from the exhaust can build up in the passenger compartment. If your engine is still functioning, run it for no more than 10 minutes an hour to heat up the interior. Make sure that a window is cracked an inch or so, and that the exhaust pipe is clear of any snow or other obstructions to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide build up.

Keep your cellphone or other battery-powered emergency devices as warm as possible by making sure that they are near your body in an inside pocket, not in an outside parka pocket or on the dashboard or console of the vehicle. Batteries lose their charge as much as 10 times faster when they are below 32F. By keeping your cellphone warm you will extend the battery life.

So, if you have to travel through this severe winter weather, pack the necessary equipment, take your time, and be careful. If conditions become too bad, just stop and wait out the storm: getting to Grandma’s house isn’t worth risking your safety. Above all else, have a safe and happy Christmas, and we’ll see you after the holidays!

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (3)

  1. A bit late to the show, but some advice from five years in Colorado:

    Take a section of an old tire tube, crimp one end closed with wire, fill it with sand, and then crimp the other end closed. It provides ballast in the trunk of a car or bed of a truck, won’t slide, and won’t tear. Make as many as you need. When you need the sand, open the wire and use it.

    Keep your gas tank at least half full. A woman slid down an embankment in Colorado and was trapped for nearly three days before being discovered. She survived by running her car occasionally to keep warm.

    If you do have to sleep in your car, crack the windows a bit. The humidity can build up in the car and cool moist air steals heat faster than cold dry air.

    Stay hydrated. Dehydration prevents you from maintaining body heat.

    When driving on snow and ice, momentum and power are your friends, but use them sparingly. Do not turn or brake suddenly, and think ahead of your current position.

    If you do get stuck and don’t have a charger or your car dies, text messages use less energy than phone calls. Turn off your data link, if you have a smart phone, or go to 2G if possible. Also turn off GPS unless you are using it to report your position.

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