The average American spends 42 hours stuck in traffic jams each year, and they will have spent 5.42 years in their car during their lifetime. Seeing that you’ll likely spend that much time in your vehicle, it’s only logical and practical to stow an emergency kit in the trunk comprised of survival essentials.
Here’s a guide for putting together a kit you’ll need if it ever comes down to SHTF. We recommend you keep two things in your car trunk: a toolbox and a 72-hour survival kit.
The toolbox should be comprised of items to get you out of tough situations. We’ve drawn up the essential tools, but feel free to add items that don’t take up too much space, offer considerable benefits and have a long shelf life.
A small axe is sufficient. This is handy for chopping firewood or getting a felled tree out of your way.
This is useful for prying locks, smashing windows or breaking through fences. You can also use this to pry open doors and pop off windshields of wrecked cars during an accident; it may not be as advanced as the “Jaws of Life” carried by rescue units, but still worth carrying.
Useful for getting your car or another car out of mud, a large pothole, a snow bank or other mishap. It’s also handy for putting up a makeshift shelter if necessary.
A disposable lighter can be very useful; you can start fires quicker and do delicate tasks, like burning the ends of paracord to make a seal. It’s advisable to have at least one in your trunk, glove compartment and carry bag.
Speaking of paracord, no survival kit is complete without it. Entire books can be written about the many uses of this material, so pack a spool of at least 20 feet; you can bring more if you wear it as a bracelet or belt. You can even wrap your steering wheel to stash 80 feet of this literal lifeline (link to ASG article).
First aid kit
This is a no-brainer for treating injuries. Make sure the first aid kit has enough bandages, band-aids, a bottle of rubbing alcohol and iodine. Add some packs of QuikClot and Epi-Pens, if you have severe allergies, in for good measure.
Hand crank radio
You can’t rely 100% on your smartphone or your car’s radio for news and vital info since both can run out of juice. Pack one of these emergency essentials that’s equipped with a solar panel and hand crank to stay informed no matter what. Some even come with a light and charger combo, all powered by good ol’ sweat.
Updated local map
Don’t be restricted to GPS or online maps. It always helps to have an old-fashioned map of your city or state if you need to figure out how to evacuate in a survival situation. Electronic maps won’t always show back roads or shortcuts, and GPS devices do run out of power.
Opt for a survival knife with add-ons over a simple knife. Get one with extras like waterproof matches, fishing line and hooks, flint and steel or similar supplies.
A small shovel like the US Army issue Entrenching Tool should definitely be part of your survival kit. It’s not uncommon to be in a situation where you need to dig your car out of snow or mud.
If your toolkit is mostly for getting unstuck, the 72-hour kit is there to help you survive if your vehicle is disabled, roads are impassable or you need to stay put for whatever reason and you can only wait for help to arrive. The supplies in this kit should ideally allow you to hold out for at least three days. You can actually buy pre-assembled kits or put them together yourself. To be useful, a good kit should contain these items:
High-energy bars with at least 400 calories each should be in your pack. A minimum of six will do, but you can pack more. US Army-issued MREs are also a good albeit bulkier option, just take note of their expiration dates and that their shelf-life will be reduced by exposure to high heat inside the vehicle in warmer months.
With a 5-year shelf life, you can leave packs of Aqua Blox inside your car. This type of emergency drinking water comes approved by the Coast Guard. Around six 250mL packs should be enough to last three days.
Water Purifying systems
At least ten water purification tablets should be in your pack, coupled with a water purification system of some sort, such as the Lifestraw.
Survival light source
You should always have a light source that can work without batteries or external recharging, such as a dynamo-powered flashlight, road flares or glo-sticks (just be mindful of their expiration dates).
30-hour survival candle
Apart from providing a long-lasting light source that doesn’t need batteries, the survival candle can also be used as a small stove to heat food. Just be sure to provide proper ventilation.
Keep a box of these in case your gear gets wet.
Some preppers actually have one on their person, but it helps to have one even in your trunk. With its many attachments and functions, a good quality multi-tool can be very versatile and practical should you ever be in an emergency situation.
Emergency sleeping bag
In an emergency situation, you may not always be able to sleep in your car, and enough sleep is important for your survival. Pack at least one of these and make sure you get the windproof and waterproof type.
Get a poncho with a hood so you can have protection from the elements.
Eating utensils and crockery
Unless you’re okay with eating MREs with your bare hands or “spooning” your food with your survival knife, save the plastic spoons and forks from your takeout food, or invest in a couple of camping sporks. A small collapsible bowl and camper’s mug are likewise handy to have.
Dust mask and safety goggles
At least two pairs of these should be stowed in your trunk to protect you from debris and airborne particulate matter. Get those that meet the standards set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Sewing kit and duct tape
Store these to repair clothes, your sleeping bag, tarp shelter or tent.
Keep toilet paper, a small bar of soap, shampoo, shaving razor, a couple of toothbrushes, deodorant, sanitary napkins, Q-tips and other toiletries you deem necessary. Pack just enough to last you three days.
You don’t have to get all the items in one go, and you can choose to buy pre-assembled emergency kits at the store. It’s not necessary to buy top-tier products for all the items, but insist on items that are of sufficient quality such that they actually perform well and don’t fail when you need them the most.
To be sure, check any online reviews about the items that will go into your kit; remember that your survival can one day depend on them. As the old adage goes, “It’s better to have something and not need it, than not have something and need it”.