Written by Kevin Estela:

Vehicle preparation is more than carrying a well-stocked bag in your trunk. The decision to carry all your equipment there, in your SUV cargo area or behind the back bench of your truck, is based on a survival scenario where you can easily access it. What happens if it is out of reach, stolen or damaged in an accident? The expression about putting all your eggs in one basket rings true here. While you cannot prepare for every scenario, you can apply common sense to what you carry in your vehicle and where you pack it. Your vehicle can be packed according to realistic scenarios, and multiple redundant layers of protection can be positioned throughout.

Make an ICE Envelope

Assuming you are unconscious after an accident, do you have identification on you? If you’d rather not sit on your wallet in your back pocket, you may be in the habit of putting it in the center console or on the passenger seat. After an accident, the contents of your wallet will be lost with it if it is thrown about the inside of the vehicle. A solution to this problem is stocking your vehicle with an ICE, or “In Case of Emergency,” envelope. Written health instructions, a copy of your driver’s license and any emergency contact information can be carried here. Conspicuously label the envelope in large, bright lettering. If this letter expedites care, contact to your loved ones and creates no delay in identifying you, then it improves your situation.

Hard-Shell Tent

There are stories of people stranded in their vehicle who have perished for leaving it in an attempt to make a fire. One recent story tells the tale of a family man who tried to stay warm by burning the car’s tires, only to be found dead far from his car, stripped naked and victim to exposure. If you have to leave your vehicle, you need fire-starting and sheltering skills to maintain your core temperature. Since the majority of the population does not have these skills, it is far easier to plan to shelter in your vehicle with some basic emergency survival items.

“Rather than carrying chemical agents, which can be illegal in certain jurisdictions, fire extinguishers are extremely effective for self-defense.” 

The temperature inside your vehicle can be altered with the most basic preparation. An emergency space blanket can be taped inside the cabin, from the ceiling to the driver-side and passenger-side windows to the floor, with the reflective side facing the driver. Additionally, a small painter’s can with a few ventilation holes can be carried with an emergency candle to help raise the temperature. Just make sure to crack at least one window or prop a door slightly open to sufficiently prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Also make sure to position the candle in a place where it cannot be accidentally knocked over or where anything can fall on top of it to create a fire hazard.

Furthermore, remember when you are emergency bivouacking in your vehicle that the principles of airflow and thermal dynamics are still relevant. Keeping your feet low in the vehicle, near the pedals, is where the cold air seep is. Having spent nights in my vehicle testing this theory, it is warmer sleeping across your seat than in line with it. Reach down on a cold day and you’ll notice a distinct temperature change.

Versatile Defense

Your vehicle allows you to quickly move from danger as long as you know how to position and drive it strategically. Break down and you may have to wait for help in a bad area. What can you carry in plain sight to defend yourself? Gloves left on the dashboard with pennies shoved down the fingers can be an effective flail up close and personal. Rather than carrying chemical agents, which can be illegal in certain jurisdictions, fire extinguishers are extremely effective for self-defense. As an added bonus, they also work for putting out engine fires. Think about where you may be when examining your vehicle and when you could be most vulnerable. Under the hood is not just an engine but also plenty of vacant spaces where tools/defensive weapons can be carried. As long as it is properly stored, a basic .22 LR rifle and a couple hundred rounds of round-point (hollow-points are illegal in some places) ammunition will improve your survivability. Also, in a pinch, you have rifle accuracy and improved range, making your survival .22 rifle a defensive firearm.

Contacting the Outside

Communication can never be overrated. As humans, we take comfort in location, and being able to relay this location helps put ourselves and others at ease. Since we are connected to our phones and we are dependent on them running, carrying the necessary recharging accouterments makes sense. What makes even more sense is utilizing your cigarette lighter jacks to charge emergency battery packs for your phone. Just make sure to charge your electronics when your vehicle is running. There is less of a chance of your vehicle’s battery running dead. Some emergency radios are equipped with USB ports to charge electronics off the turbine or a solar panel, making them a good option to pack in your vehicle.

Communication options should also include the ability to signal for help. When I was a survival instructor at the Wilderness Learning Center, carrying a salvaged tent pole with a flag on the end was part of the school’s recommended gear list. The tent pole sections could be connected and the flag could fly high over the top of your vehicle in an emergency. Even in a ditch or covered in a snow bank, that flag would be obvious to those passing by.

GPS units communicate directions to the driver, but unless the driver regularly updates the software, the GPS unit will provide out-of-date instructions. I always pack backup maps to cross-reference any directions I’m given. Maps provide invaluable information and should always be part of your preparation. Also, to ensure you check your sources, carry your maps within reach.

Disaster Relief

The moment you hear disaster, you think of a large-scale event like a hurricane, flood or blizzard. Disasters don’t have to be large-scale events to have devastating effects on a person or family. Think of those events where you may not be able to go back home. It is unwise to store all of your emergency supplies in one place. Your vehicle, however, if parked away from your home/garage, can be a great place to store emergency items in a small cache. A small amount of cash, photocopies of important documents, even a spare set of clothes and dry shoes can be an emotional security blanket when you lose everything else. I personally keep an “overnight bag” with me that allows me to change my clothes, shower up and set up a temporary home away from home. I also keep certain items in my vehicle to help remedy “little disasters” like accidental immersion, the need to hit a non-existent restroom and rehydration/electrolyte replacement resources for after an exhausting workout.

When considering what to stock your vehicle with, be realistic with your provisions. Consider how much time you spend in your vehicle and where you travel to. Think about how to keep your vehicle running and how to keep yourself safe and healthy. Consider your vehicle one layer in an overarching system of preparedness including what you carry on you, what you have at work, at home and what skills and knowledge you store in your head.

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE TM Fall 2014 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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