If you’re driving to the hills in winter, as we did recently, or even just cutting about your local area over any distance, you’ll want a winter car kit in order to be prepared for the conditions on the road.
The first, most important and most useful thing to equip yourself with is proper knowledge. Knowledge of how to drive in icy and wintry conditions will go a long way to preventing you needing to use the car kit in the first place. There are courses to help you learn these skills but even a short session in a skid pan will give you a good idea of how to control the car in a slide. Alternatively, when wintry weather comes, find yourself a large, empty superstore car park and test out braking and cornering in a safe but real environment. Don’t try and set the donut record though, you’ll probably get arrested.
You’ll also want to make sure that your car is ready for winter, with anti-freeze and screenwash topped up, etc.
So, having learned the skills, you then want a backup. That’s where your winter car kit comes in.
A basic winter car kit, and there are many available to buy, will include de-icer, screenwash, a scraper, etc but the list below is what we would pack in the boot for the winter in the UK. Also, though not mentioned below, if you’ve got the funds to splash out on a set of winter tyres, which start to improve performance as the temp drops below 8c, then that’s advisable. In Scandinavian countries, it’s a legal requirement.
Wooden handled shovel
I’ve seen a few of the kits which suggest using an entrenching tool because they are compact. But I would always go for a wooden handle because wood is a much better insulator than metal. If the temp is dropping below zero you definitely don’t want anything to drain heat from your fingers quicker than absolutely necessary. The colder your fingers get, the less useful they will be.
You’ll want to be seen. A minimum inclusion in your winter car kit would be a simple high-vis vest. A better option would be a fleece lined hi-vis jacket.
Headtorch (and spare batteries)
You’ll be using your hands, or keeping them in your pockets. A headtorch makes things easier. Also, batteries drain quicker in cold weather so have spares.
Gas Stove (and/or a Kelly Kettle)
A warm drink not only raises your core temperature, but it raises morale. In really cold conditions, gas stoves become less useful as the pressure in the canister drops and it’ll take you a year to warm water over a meagre flame. In this case a Kelly Kettle, plus some sticks for fuel, will allow you to boil water regardless of the temp. Plus you can pop the cork in and use it as a hot water bottle.
Thermal Mug & Hot Chocolate
No point in boiling water for it to go cold immediately so a thermal mug is great. Also, as much as tea and coffee are lovely, I find that Hot Chocolate with milk powder mixed in i.e. Highlights, is the best because it only requires hot water for a comforting brew.
When stuck in a snowdrift for hours, nature may call. But that secondary benefit aside, I always pack a bag of gritty cat litter in the boot because on icy, hard packed snow, pouring a small path of this in front of the drive wheels will probably get you on the move. I have tested this for real a few times and it has worked a treat. It’s cheap, the bag is easy to pour from and store. Nice one.
Folding Saw/Leatherman tool
If you are out in the country and you get stuck in snow or ice, and the job is too big a task for one bag of kitty litter, you may find yourself wishing for some matts to get you free. Well, a trick I adopted from an experienced Land Rover driver in Uganda is simple – branches. Most of the time in Scotland you are not far from evergreen trees. a good armful of these branches will see you out of the mire. Sure, you could rip the branches from the trees like some sort of angry gorilla, but it’s far easier to simple saw a few off. I like a plastic handled Gerber saw but a Leatherman could do the job too.
Cyalumes (posh glowsticks)
Awfy useful things for providing 12hrs of light without running any batteries down, or for sticking on the back of your car as a warning light.
If you’re fiddling with shovels and saws, thin gloves will allow you the dexterity required, while still protecting you. Pop a pair of mitts over the top when you aren’t doing anything and this will keep your wee fingers toasty and free from frostbite.
Fairly self-explanatory, but keep a set in your winter car kit. One that you aren’t tempted to take items from. That way you’ve always got warm kit to stick on. Hat, fleece, thick socks if the mood takes you, that sort of thing.
Sleeping Bag/Survival blanket
If it’s going to be a long night, then a decent amount of insulation will mean you don’t have to be uncomfortable when out on the road. Fold down the rear seats on most cars and you’ll be able to sleep flat and fully extended with you legs going into the boot. But even if you have to make the best of your seat, a sleeping bag or at the minimum, a foil blanket, will keep you that bit warmer. Have one for every passenger.
Scraper (and possibly de-icer)
When ice coats your windows, you’ll need to clear them to see, obviously. I prefer to use a scraper as the glass ice clear and clean afterwards. De-icer seems to leave a streaky sludge on the windows. Actually, let’s be honest, I usually use a Starbucks loyalty card as a scraper but proper, insulated ones are available.
Hopefully that provides some help to you and we wish you bon voyage on whatever winter adventure you’re undertaking.
Rob is a chubby, out of shape bloke who spent a lot of time in Sub Saharan Africa peering down well shafts. He is not suited to running long distances.