When it comes to what you should keep in your car, it falls into two categories: the things you use regularly, and the things you hope to never need. In the first category are items like a charging cable for your phone, some cash (a few small bills and change for tolls and snacks), and an umbrella for surprise showers. While you have a good chance of using the things in the first category, the second list – and this article – is made up of things that will only come out in case of an emergency, like a breakdown or getting stuck in a blizzard. With a little luck you’ll never need the things on this list, but not having them could make things much more difficult should you ever find yourself stranded by the side of the road.
Food and water
If your vehicle breaks down or becomes stuck somewhere remote, it could take hours for help to arrive. That’s when a small supply of non-perishable foods like energy bars and bottled water will be extremely useful in making your wait more tolerable. Just remember to be mindful of expiration dates and rotate your supply every six months or so.
A blanket, warm clothing and spare footwear
Getting stuck in a blizzard is no joke, and neither is weathering a few hours in sub-zero temperatures while you wait for a tow truck or plow to arrive. A blanket will help to keep you cozy while you wait in your vehicle, and a spare winter coat and boots will come in handy in the event you need to walk to the nearest service station.
First aid kit
A first aid kit (and the basic knowledge of how to use it) is more likely to come in useful than some other items on this list, whether it’s bandaging a scraped knee at the beach or treating something more serious. Like everything else on this list, a first aid kit isn’t just useful for you and your passengers, but also others in the event you’re the first on scene at an accident. In addition to the usual complement of bandages and disinfectant wipes, make sure to include a seatbelt cutter in your kit.
Shovel and snowbrush
While you’ll be likely to use a snowbrush and ice scraper at least a few times every winter, a small shovel can also be a useful addition to your emergency kit. Whether you’re digging your vehicle out of a snowbank or helping someone else, you’ll be glad to have it if the situation arises.
Flashlight and candle
A flashlight or lantern will be useful for roadside repairs in the dark and will allow you to save your phone’s battery for calling for help. A crank-operated light is a great option, but regular flashlights can be just as good as long as you include a spare set of batteries. A candle (plus a tin can to burn it in and weatherproof matches) not only provide light but can also be a crucial heat source in emergencies when running your car’s heater isn’t advisable.
It’s probably been a while since you’ve relied on an old-school paper map for anything, but you’ll be glad to have one if you ever find yourself lost without a working phone or GPS. That’s when a map of your home province (or better yet, a Canadian road atlas) could make all the difference.
Nothing ruins your plans for an outing faster than a dead battery, especially if you’re far from home. Since this can happen to any vehicle at any time (if you run the air conditioner without the engine on, for example) a car booster is an essential emergency supply. Jumper cables also work, but since they require another vehicle, they won’t be useful in all scenarios.
Road flares and high-vis vest
Breaking down by the side of the road can be dangerous, especially if there’s low visibility. A couple of road flares placed a safe distance away will help make your vehicle visible to oncoming traffic and make it easier to find when help arrives. Likewise, if you ever need to change a tire or do any other roadside repairs, a high-vis vest will help make you visible to other drivers.
Jeremy Freed is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. His writing about fashion, travel, food and design appears in Sharp, Harry and re:Porter magazines, among many others.
Jeremy Freed is a paid spokesperson of Sonnet Insurance.