Now is the time to swap your GHB out and prepare your car for winter. Depending on where you live winter can bring some significant challenges from icy roads to severe winter storms. Most of the time we get some warning of severe weather but that should not be an excuse for waiting until the last minute to prepare your vehicle and your home. You may find yourself facing a severe situation if your power goes out for any significant time as most modern homes need power to run the heat, even if you have gas heat, and most rely on electricity to run hot water heaters. While you may not plan to travel during severe weather it may change quickly or an accident may leave you stuck on the side of the road for considerable time waiting for the roadway to be reopened.
Your Get Home Bag (GHB) in your vehicle should contain your normal items such as fire starting, food, water, navigation and communications. For winter preparation you should check your gear, perhaps add some additional food such as freeze dried with self-heaters and power bars. Make sure you have a small stove and fuel and several ways to start it such as disposable lighters.
Keeping water in your vehicle during winter is a little more challenging. Placing water bottles in an insulated container, like a small ice chest, will reduce their chance of freezing. Your GHB should include a cook pot so worst-case scenario you can cut the bottom off the bottle and drop the ice water into the cook pot over heat to thaw it or even warm it a little. Drinking ice cold water when you are stuck in snow will only lower your core body temperature and make you more susceptible to hypothermia.
Your GHB should contain additional wool socks, thermal underwear, gloves and a wool or thermal hat/cap. If you travel with family then each should have extra cold weather clothing. Ideally each family member should have their own GHB. Your clothing should consist of layers and you should not wear cotton as you will significantly increase your chances of hypothermia if you get wet. Your GHB should also contain signaling items such as a signal panel. This can be used on the roof of your car or as a flag if you are stranded as it will contract with the snow and surrounding environment. Flagging or surveyors’ tape, found in stores like Home Depot, are an alternative and can be tied to your antenna to attract attention.
If you travel any distance, especially through northern or western states, you should also carry an extreme cold weather sleeping bag and you should always carry blankets, preferably wool, in your vehicle. Winter boots and snow/ice chains for them should also be in your vehicle. Although travelling on foot should be a last resort, as your car will afford you protection from the elements, hiking poles with the snow basket on the bottom are a useful item to have in your car as you can use them to provide balance and an idea of depth when assessing your situation.
You should have flash lights as well as extra batteries, if you choose a rechargeable flashlight always have a regular light with batteries as a backup. A battery pack for charging your cell phone together with the cable. A small solar panel capable of recharging batteries is also a useful addition if traveling any distances. A GPS unit is useful when traveling any distance as signs can be obscured by blowing snow or even blown over by strong winds. Having paper maps is also useful.
When traveling a distance, or other than your usual commute, let someone know your travel plans to include the route and when you should arrive and predetermined stops or the destination. You can check in with cell phone text messages or with other apps that allow group contacts. A great resource is CommsConnectUS.com. Comms Connect is a group of volunteers with connections to a large number of like-minded groups. You file a ‘flight plan’ of your route and they will check on you during your travel. If you get stuck they will reach out to find someone in the area that might be able to help you. When I travel across the country I always file a flight plan with them.
If your route takes you places where cell phone coverage is marginal, or non-existent, then consider investing in a satellite device that allows texting and sending your location over satellite such as the Garmin inReach mini. After the initial cost a monthly package with 10 messages a month and a SOS feature is about $15/month which well worth the peace of mind and safety.
Having an Amateur Radio (ham) license should be on your list of preparedness actions as it will provide communications with fellow hams in areas where there is little or no cellular coverage. In many areas, and especially in bad weather, local ham operators will monitor repeaters for those needing assistance. If you don’t have a mobile Amateur (ham) Radio installed make sure you have an external antenna, spare batteries, a USB battery charger (they make them for desktop chargers) & spare batteries. Make sure you have all the repeaters programmed for where you travel and especially those that are listed as wide-area coverage (WAC) and linked repeaters. You can find information for repeaters in any state at www.repeaterbook.com
Beyond the ‘extra’ items for your GHB and your vehicle you should always do a basic winter travel check on your vehicle & carry some extra items. This includes things like:
Checking tire pressure and tread. Winter tires provide about 40% better traction over the best ‘all weather’ tires so depending on the weather where you like, and your likely travel plans, consider getting winter tires for the winter. Again, depending on where you live, you might want to get tire chains. If you do make sure you know how to put them on, and practice, before you find yourself needing to put them on in a blizzard on the side of the highway!
Another car item is at least one heavy blanket, I prefer wool as they will keep you warm even when wet. You can find (or used to be able to, I’ve not checked recently) cheap wool blankets in Harbor Freight. Consider them single use, most will not survive in a regular washing machine (I know, I tried – makes a heck of a mess!).
A cheap bag of kitty litter, which can be found in the Dollar Stores, will provide some traction under your tires if you find yourself stuck. A collapsible snow shovel is another ‘must have’ item during winter travels. Your vehicle should have good winter tires as well as jumper cables or a booster jump-starter power pack. For your vehicle kit battery road flares are another ‘must have’ item to have. These are circular LED strobes with a number of different flash patterns you can place along the road as you would flares, or even on the roof of your vehicle.
You should also check your wiper blades as winter approaches. I put new ones on as winter approaches. If you have never used RainX on your windshield I suggest you do, make sure you follow the application instructions. I’ve used this for years and it makes a huge difference in your visibility. Make sure you re-apply regularly, I do so about once a month.
Before any trip where severe weather is predicted, or any long trips, check your tire pressure (when they are cold) as well as lug nuts. If you are towing a trailer it is always important to check the tire pressure and lug nuts before any trip.
If you have never experienced snow, or worse black ice, before find yourself an empty parking lot and practice. Understand how your vehicle handles in the snow, how braking is affected, what happens if you are in a skid and turn the wheel, how your ABS works or, in you don’t have ABS how to pump the brakes. One other thing, and I learned this the hard way, make sure all items in your vehicle are secure. Make sure nothing is going to come flying at your head!