Each year, people die in the winter because they weren’t prepared, when they are traveling somewhere by car, especially through snow covered and forested areas. A young couple with children went through this last year when they traveled from Washington State to California and were on their way back. They took a wrong turn, were stranded, and the husband died while trying to walk out of the wilderness.
It isn’t hard to prepare, though, nor does it take a great deal of knowledge.
Having camped in the snow and ice, and worked with Search and Rescue, there are several things that I recommend making sure that you take with you when you are driving through winter country. These are:
A basic first aid kit
This should be in the car at all times, in any event. Even a simple first aid kit can literally be a life saver when trapped while traveling.
A person can last roughly 3 weeks without food, but only a few days without water. Snow can be melted for water, but to do so, you need a heat source, and you may not have it. Taking a gallon milk jug full of water can save lives. Dehydration is a very real danger, particularly for children.
An old newspaper stored in the trunk can be the difference between a person building a fire and freezing to death. Even scraps of paper are helpful. If you have no means of starting a fire, you can freeze to death.
There are article ins Camping that details how to make very easy fire starters. They are waterproof, they will burn easily even in rain and snow, and they burn hot enough to start wood on fire. It is recommend having at least three of these fire starters in your trunk or glove box.
A reflective object
Even a CD will work, but if needed, you can even rip off the rear view mirror to have this, so that if a search plane or helicopter gets near, reflect it in their direction in order to get aid. Replacement costs are cheaper than a human life.
Good maps of the area can be tremendously valuable, if you don’t know the area. These are relatively inexpensive, yet provide you with the means of finding help.
With the windows open, just a little, most people would be amazed at how much heat a candle will produce inside of a car. The windows must be open a little, though, due to carbon monoxide. Still, this can keep people from freezing to death in a severe snowstorm.
It goes without saying that you should not travel anywhere in the winter without a blanket in the car.
Along with this, while a lot of knowledge isn’t necessary, some knowledge is. Let’s say you break down in a forest, there is snow everywhere, and you haven’t seen traffic in a long time. How do you build a fire?
The fire starter, or even the paper, will start a fire, but it won’t last for long. There is relatively dry wood to be found, however. On the trunks of especially fir or pine trees, there are small limbs that will be drier than most other wood. Once smaller wood is burning, larger and wetter pieces can be put on the fire to burn. If reasonable care is taken, with a little patience, you can have a very nice hot fire burning.
Where do you make a fire? Well, if you are broken down, it is a safe assumption that you are in a road. Scrape as much snow and ice off the road as you can, using your hands and shoes if necessary. Build the fire in the middle of the road, about 20 feet from the car. As it heats up, it will melt off any snow and ice that is remaining. The road is also where any rescue team is going to look first, and a fire serves the dual purpose of keeping you warm and signaling any searchers. A small amount, and I stress a SMALL amount, of green wood or brush will produce extra smoke, which will help in finding you. Too much, though, and you threaten putting out the fire.
It is very important to always make sure that someone knows where you are going to go and when you expect to get there. Having a person, who knows where you are going, can be those who alert search and rescue if you don’t get to where you are going. Also, don’t wander far from the vehicle, even if days pass without help.
Don’t ever think it can’t happen to you. Many people have thought that in the past, and many of them are dead. The best way to divert a tragedy is to be prepared for it to begin with.