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Winter outdoor lovers should take extra travel precautions as rural and natural areas can put you alone against the elements during emergencies. A skid into a ditch, mechanical problems, black ice, drifting snow or sudden storms can lead to unplanned, dangerous situations in areas where passersby are rare.
Use this enhanced winter safety list to stay safe. Pack adequate supplies for all passengers—especially children and seniors—as they are most susceptible to weather extremes. Keep items in a bag or container to switch between vehicles as needed.
Smoke canisters and signal flares
Blizzards can strand cars for hours, even days, buried in snow and drifts. When you sense help is near, fire a smoke canister or signal flare. This is most useful when ditched in hard-to-spot ravines or culverts.
A collapsible, lightweight backpacker shovel stows easily.
Breathing dry winter air can quickly lead to dehydration, which inhibits the body’s ability to generate heat. Keep long-burning candles and matches in a metal container to melt snow. When using, crack windows open to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
Stash high-energy bars, nuts, granola or trail mix in the vehicle. Or go full out and add backpacker meals and a small propane burner. Cook units should only be used outside the vehicle. During storms, use a windscreen—either purchased or made with a 2- to 3-foot rolled up section of metal flashing. To use, encircle the burner to block wind and reflect heat to save fuel and reduce melting times. An 8- to 10-inch square of ¼-inch plywood as a base keeps the burner from melting into deep snow.
Cold temperatures can sap battery cranking power. Keep a set in your vehicle and know how to safely use them.
Inexpensive and compact, these allow another vehicle to pull a stranded car from the snow.
Warm mummy bag
Blankets are good, but a cold-rated, winter sleeping bag increases protection and comfort. When compressed in a stuff sack, they take little space. Add warmth by having an emergency space blanket made of heat-reflective Mylar foil. These are the size of a couple decks of playing cards.
Keep extra clothes in the car. Synthetic or wool stocking caps, mittens, wind-proof layers, boots, warm socks and insulating layers such as wool sweaters, fleece and long underwear mean comfort over misery. Snow pants, snowmobile suits or ski bibs keep legs and torsos toasty.
First aid kit
Injuries from a slide off the road or collision can require immediate attention. First aid kits are invaluable year round.
Cell phone, charger and GPS
Don’t forgo a winter safety kit to rely solely on a phone as coverage varies in the boonies. Even with a phone, hours may pass before help arrives. Keep a charger adapter on board. If you have a GPS, use it to give coordinates to rescuers when in rural areas or when whiteouts cause landmarks or mile markers to vanish.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2013 issue of Iowa Outdoors magazine.Subscribe today or explore more on Pinterest on our Iowa Outdoors magazine board.