By Nathan Barton
Are we really responsible for our own safety, daily actions? Or do we depend on others – especially government – to make up for our lack of thought, planning, and preparation? Consider traveling by auto, by car or pickup.
The Triple Baker’s Dozen ™ things everyone should have in their automobile:
In the jockey box (glove box) or other places in the passenger compartment (under seats etc.)
- Paper maps of the area – or a pocket paper atlas – smartphones and GPS units are great but limited: they can go down at any time (especially in frontier and even rural areas).
- Food – snacks at a minimum, for yourself and others. High-energy and stable for long-term storage and changing conditions in your vehicle.
- Cellular phone charger – preferably a cable with both a cigarette-lighter adapter and a 110-volt adapter. (An alternative is an external back-up powerpack.)
- Back-up external battery for cell phone – normally uses charger cable. Don’t depend on just the car’s battery. (Especially when a dead battery is why you are stuck somewhere). [Mama’s Note: If you use your cell phone a lot, or it is an older model, you might be wise to include a spare battery itself. All of the recharge stuff won’t do you much good if the battery itself fails.]
- Safety belt cutter (or good folding knife in a multitool with a hammer to break windows). You don’t need to spend fifty bucks on some fancy specialized tool to do this. But remember that those fancy power windows don’t work with the battery dead or the engine not running.
- Flashlight – other than the one in your smart phone. A $3 LED flashlight with three AAA batteries can keep you communicating longer. And the real disadvantage in using your smart phone for this is clear: battery life. But it also limits other uses. [Mama’s Note: A $3. flashlight MIGHT be OK, but might not be… I just bought one, brand new. I dropped it on the carpeted floor… and it never worked again! A flashlight that is going to rattle around in the car should be sturdy, possibly even waterproof. A good flashlight might be worth it’s weight in gold.]
- Bottle of water (sealed from the bottler) – at least 32 ounces, preferably a gallon. For drinking, washing, and other uses. [Mama’s Note: Depending on your climate and the time of year, this can be challenging. It is best to carry water in something that can allow expansion of the liquid and not leak when frozen or over heated. Food grade plastic or stainless steel is best, because water that sits for a long time can become contaminated by the container. I carry two gallons of water in good plastic jugs, with plenty of room for expansion, and replace the water in them frequently. I also take a bottle or two of plain water with me from the house if I’m going more than a short distance. If standing water is common where you are, a good bio water filter system or “straw” is probably a good addition. Be sure you can tell the difference between safe drinking water, and something that should only be used for washing.]
- First-aid kit (detailed list coming in another article) – emphasis on trauma, not meds and comfort items.
- Warm (preferably wool) blankets – space blankets if nothing else. And not just in wintertime. Even warm climates have cool nights and, after getting soaked in the rain or an accidental plunge in a river, reduction of thermal loss it is essential. (Extra warm clothing, socks always a plus.)
- Poly tarp – at least 5 x 8 in original package (to save space) for all sorts of uses, even to make an emergency shelter. Include a good coil of stout rope and some tent stakes.
- Small fire extinguisher – ABC-rated – specifically for cars in which electrical fires are far more likely than movie-like gas tank explosions. (A box of baking soda, in heavy plastic bag or container, is good for a lot of things, including small fires.)
- Ice scraper (with brush)* and not just for obvious reasons: it will also scrape mud and other things off. And is faster and better than just the built in washers (see the next item).
- Aerosol or squeeze windshield wash fluid. Windshield washers built into the car are notoriously undependable, and only work on the … duh, windshield. Not the side windows or (usually) the rear window.
In the trunk:
- Portable air compressor for airing up tires – make sure it works and all the fiddly bits are present and clean. [Mama’s Note: Take the compressor out of the cardboard box and put it and the little parts in a heavy plastic bag. Find a really sturdy box for it – metal or plastic, or return it -in the plastic bag- to the original container. You will be glad you did.
- Windshield wiper fluid – gallon size, replace when less than half-full. [Mama’s Note: Find a place where the jug can remain upright reliably. Over time, the cap may get loose (or break) rolling around in the trunk, or the bottle may crack, and then you have a mess. Don’t ask me how I know this! 🙂 ]
- Folding warning triangles (minimum 2 each) – or if you have room, full-size solid ones: minimum desirable size 18″ on a side. Or the plastic thing that can be put up inside the windshield and/or back window with a “CALL 911! Emergency! printed on it
- Road flares (minimum 4 each) for nighttime and signalling (there are both electric and burning types available – if electrical, make sure you have good batteries for them: don’t depend on plugging into your vehicle)
- Jumper cables – at least 10 feet long: many are too short and can’t reach across one vehicle to another.
- Tow strap – woven or braided with hooks are the best: usually 20-30 feet long and safety yellow or orange.
- Shovel, full-size and metal; not just the flat-blade snow-only, or the cheap little plastic ones with the collapsing handles (for snow and mud – those little plastic ones aren’t worth it)* [Mama’s Note: Don’t know if they are still available as military surplus, but the old folding trench shovels will do most anything a full size shovel will do, without taking up too much room. I have carried one for more than 50 years, and have used it often.]
- Tire chains or cables*
- Kitty litter (for traction in both snow/ice and mud) – a bucket or bottle is good – bags get cut and leak. [Mama’s Note: Get the old fashioned kind, not the “clumping” sort. Buy a bag of it and put some into a plastic pitcher that has a tight lid, then seal in a plastic bag. The pitcher will make spreading the litter much easier.]
- Stocking cap* – we lose most body heat through our heads, especially with wet hair
- Work gloves (cotton/leather) with insulation.* Military issue with wool inner removable liners and leather shells are good because they help keep your hands warm even if wet.
- Trash bags – at least a dozen 13-gallon – black are better – 5 mil or thicker.
- Hand warmers (crush and mix) – tea candles might work but are not as safe*
The asterisk *indicates items primarily for conditions where snow (or mud) are likely, but I recommend year-round: you’ll never remember to pull them out from the garage and take with you.
- Moist wipes (the cheap ones for babies: you may need to periodically replace the water as they dry out even if sealed)
- Paper towels: cheap, and wrap carefully in a couple of shopping bags or one of your trash bags to keep dry.
- Ammo – your family’s favorites: keep in waterproof bag or box or kitchen-type container.
- Quart of motor oil – in a plastic bag
- Quart of transmission fluid -in a plastic bag
- Pint of steering fluid – in a plastic bag
- Windshield wiper replacements – especially in bad weather, one or two can crack and split instantly: be sure to keep them on-hand
- Duct tape – at least 2 inch wide
- Sunglasses or tinted goggles – goggles double against sun, snow glare (and dust)
- Hand lotion – in a plastic bag (Tubes are best. Check often if frozen or overheated.)
- Pen AND pencil – avoid water based ink which might freeze. Sharpie marker.
- Paper (spiral notebook or small pad) – in a plastic bag
- Gas can – 1-2 gallon, at least- and again, if you carry any fuel in it, keep it in a plastic bag. (I don’t recommend carrying even partially full gas cans in your trunk except when immediately going to rescue someone. Fire is a definite danger, and fumes are unpleasant.
THAT IS THE LIST. Please, give Mama Liberty and me some feedback.
Mama’s Note: Learning to pack all that in compressed form is the immediate job, unless you plan to haul a small utility trailer. 🙂 I carried this and much more the 20 years I drove 300-400 miles daily all over So. Calif. as a visiting and hospice nurse. I went from the mountains, to the deserts, through cities and suburbs, and never knew what conditions or problems I might encounter.
One of the things I had to attend to constantly was keeping both car/emergency and medical supplies rotated and clean – ready to use. I hauled out everything every few months and made sure all of the liquids remained in their containers, that all the containers were intact, and added to the supplies as needed. Seasonal requirements were considered and added, or set aside as necessary.
Just remember that you probably can’t carry everything you want. Where possible, pack things that can serve more than one purpose. The paper towels or cheap napkins can serve as “baby wipes” most of the time.
Make a comprehensive list of things you think you could need in an emergency, and add essential things (some mentioned above) you might never expect to need. The list will be very long. If you can pack all that, and still have room for the kids and the dog, go for it. Otherwise, prioritize and pack what you can. Plan to re-evaluate it frequently, at least for a year or so. Your experience and needs will be different than that of others, so make your list fit your family and the traveling conditions you are most apt to encounter.
And one last observation… aren’t we glad we have so much plastic available? Much of this would be impossible without it. Plastic bags and containers were fairly rare when I was a child – and I remember those days! I wouldn’t want to live without it now.