Building An Emergency Car Kit: Going Beyond The Basics

January 8, 2014

Bug Out Bags

 Emergency Car Kit

If you haven’t done it already, building an emergency car kit should be on your list of things to do in the next week or so. Especially now that winter weather is upon most of us. I’m not talking about a maintenance kit, with tools and important fluids (although also very necessary). What I’m referring to is packing enough food, water, and other gear to keep your family alive for several days. If you ever find yourself stuck on the side of the road due to weather, a flat tire, or worse, you’ll have a little more peace of mind knowing you have essential supplies to get you through.

What Is An Emergency Car Kit?

A car kit is different from a Bug Out Bag in that it is meant to stay in your vehicle at all times. The contents generally assume you will be sitting tight until help arrives. If you are preparing for an EMP scenario, or are otherwise concerned about being able to make it back home in an event of an emergency, you should include supplies for trekking it on foot. A ‘Get Home Bag’ requires different gear, so right now I’m just going to mainly focus on what you need to pack to survive a few days in your car.

If your regular commute requires you to drive more than an hour from home, I would definitely recommend that you add get-home gear to the list I’ll be sharing. My husband drives a lot, so I have adapted his emergency car kit to be something that he could also load up on his back for a hike home. This includes a tarp, tent, and sleeping bag in case he won’t make it before dark.

What Should I Include?

An emergency car kit can be as simple or as elaborate as you prefer. You can go with bare bones basics, or you can choose to add some comfort items in there as well. What you pack is determined by what your immediate needs would be if you were stranded in your car for several days.

I recommend that you pack enough for worst case scenario. If you’re single, but sometimes you carpool with another individual, you might as well pack enough supplies for two. There are six of us in my family, so I have to plan enough supplies for each and every one of us. It is particularly essential that you carry at least 3 days worth of food and water for as many people as could possibly be in your vehicle at any given time. If you are caught shorthanded, you will likely be sharing your own food and water with whoever is with you, severely decreasing your personal rations.

There is one main question you need to ask yourself when considering what to include in your kit:

“What would I/my family need in order to survive for three days with no outside help?”

You’ll need to consider every aspect of survival:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Heat
  • First Aid/Meds
  • Hygiene/Sanitation
  • Light
  • Safety
  • Communication

Let’s go through these categories one at a time. I’ll share with you what I’ve packed for my own family. You can determine how much of it you would need.

Emergency Car Kit (food)


How much?

You can live for weeks without a single bite to eat, provided that you have water. But who wants to suffer that misery? We all have unused spaces in our car to stash food- under seats, in the glove box, in the console, in the trunk. If you have kids depending on you, definitely pack more than enough. Kids get hungry when they’re bored. Providing meals for them will bring a lot of peace to their little bodies and minds in a potentially scary situation.

Calories are super important to maintain in an emergency situation, so be sure to allow enough calories for each person you plan on feeding. 2000 calories per person per day should be sufficient enough. You might want to bump that to 2500 for men. Children under 3 only need about 1000 calories per day. You probably won’t be very active during this time, especially if you are trapped in your car, so you won’t need as many calories as you would otherwise.

If you are a breastfeeding mama, you absolutely want to make sure you have more than enough calories to keep your milk supply maintained. It wouldn’t hurt to include some baby formula and a couple of bottles in your kit for emergencies. A woman’s milk supply can be reduced to nothing in a stressful situation, and God forbid something happens to mama and she can’t feed her hungry child. Having a can of formula in the car might be required to sustain your baby until help arrives.

Hot Meals

Don’t underestimate the psychological importance of including warm meals. Sure, you can survive on granola bars alone, but if you have the room I would highly recommend that you plan on having a few heat-and-eat meals in your kit. There’s a certain nourishing comfort that comes with a savory meal and warmth in the pit of your stomach, which personally I’d like to provide for my family at least once a day.

The great thing about a car kit is that you aren’t planning on having to carry it on your back, so you can include heavier things like cans of soup that can be reheated over a safe heat source. I’ve chosen to go with a couple of 9 oz. Heat Cells {affiliate link} for heating our food and boiling water, because they’re safe to burn even inside of your car, they don’t put off fumes, they burn for 9 hours, and they’re easy to light and re-use. Don’t forget a lighter and matches!

Emergency Car Kit (eating utensils)

You’ll also need a heat proof cup or small pot to boil water or cook your food in. My family is using 18 oz. GSI Outdoors Bottle Cups ; you can boil water in them directly over a flame. Don’t forget utensils! We started our kit with a few plastic forks and spoons, but have since upgraded to a fork/spoon/knife swiss army knife style combo set.

Don’t feel like you have to spend a fortune on supplies. Just use as much of what you already have, and gradually add to your kit as you go.

Emergency Car Kit (food)

Meal Ideas

Here are some shelf stable meal plan ideas for your car kit. It’s important that you pack things that your family normally eats. Healthier is obviously better, so try not to load up on junk. Also, stay away from too many salty foods, which will cause you to want to drink more water.



  • Freeze dried or dehydrated fruit
  • Trail mix
  • Crackers
  • Peanut or almond butter
  • Honey sticks
  • Unsalted/low salt pretzels
  • Rice cakes
  • unsalted nuts
  • Fruit leathers
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Goldfish
  • Freeze dried apple sauce (just add water) {affiliate link}
  • Energy bars
  • Graham crackers
  • Cookies
  • Organic suckers (we found some good ones at Trader Joe’s)


Drinks Mixes

  • Instant coffee/sugar/cream
  • Tea bags
  • Hot Cocoa
  • Thrive Powdered Drink Mixes (all natural!) {affiliate link}
  • Hot Cider
  • Thrive Instant Milk (actually delicious!) {affiliate link}
  • Juice boxes (keep in mind they might freeze)
  • Shelf stable milk (we’ve included little boxes of almond milk for our lactose intolerant child)

Clean Up

It’s important to keep your eating utensils clean. Pack a wash cloth and biodegradable camp soap {affiliate link} to lightly wash dishes after each meal. Be careful to conserve water.

Emergency Car Kit (water)


Experts recommend that you provide a half a gallon of water per person, per day. I know this sounds like a lot of water to store in your car. It is. Honestly, people have survived on only sips of water a day for weeks. The point is, store as much water as you can fit in your car. You can go for weeks without food, but if you don’t have water, you won’t last longer than a couple of days.

Don’t forget to stash enough water to reconstitute any meals you’ve included. If you have dried soup mixes that require rehydration, make sure you allot for that on top of your daily water ration. You’ll also want a little extra for sanitation purposes.

I do not recommend that you store typical bottled water, as the chemicals in the plastic can leach out under extreme heat. Instead, look for a BPA-free water jug {affiliate link}, or U.S. Coast Guard approved water boxes {affiliate link} (similar to juice boxes, only water). Both of these are meant to withstand extreme temperature fluctuations.

Emergency Car Kit


Staying warm in your vehicle, especially during cold winter months, is crucial to your survival. Once you run out of fuel to heat your car, you’re going to need an alternative heat source. Here are a few things I recommend you keep in your car kit, particularly through the winter or if your area experiences cold nights.

  • warm clothing- coat, hat, gloves, wool socks, pants, long sleeve shirt for each person
  • Hot Hands warmers- plan to have enough for both feet and hands for several days/nights
  • blankets- fleece {affiliate link} or wool (or a sleeping bag if you have room)
  • Fire starter and matches/lighter- just in case you have to start a fire near your vehicle to stay warm.

Emergency Car Kit (first aid)

 First Aid Kit

In addition to a standard first aid kit which would typically include various sized band-aids, antibacterial cream, pain killer, alcohol wipes, and maybe a sting relief swab, you’ll also want to have…

  • instant ice packs (for head injuries, etc)
  • children’s pain medicine (if you have kids)
  • antihistamine
  • charcoal tablets (for upset stomach/food poisoning)
  • QuickClot blood clotting sponge (to stop a deep wound from bleeding further) {affiliate link}
  • large sterile gauze pads
  • ace bandage
  • Latex free gloves
  • N95 dust masks
  • super glue (to use as stitches)
  • moleskin
  • tweezers
  • Backup glasses or contacts
  • sunblock

Don’t forget to include any prescription meds you or a loved one needs to take on a regular basis.

Emergency Car Kit (hygiene)


Bathroom Breaks

If you were stranded in your vehicle for a few days, where would you use the bathroom? What if it was too cold to get out of the car? What if you were trapped in a snow bank and couldn’t even open the doors? Here are a few items you should keep with you for worst case scenario…

  • A potty bucket (5 gallon bucket w/ potty seat lid {affiliate link})
  • toilet paper
  • baby wipes
  • hand sanitizer
  • kitty litter (to kill the smell)
  • clorox wipes
  • heavy duty trash bags (to line the bucket)

Store all of these items in the bucket to save space. If you have a baby, be sure to keep a pack of diapers and wipes in the car at all times.

You might also want to include a small, fold-up shovel to dig a hole with if you are able to relieve yourself outside of your vehicle.

Don’t have room for a 5-gallon bucket? Maybe keep a bottle to pee in instead. Ladies, with the assistance of a Go Girl Female Urination Device, you too can go like the menfolk.

For number two… you’re on your own.

We actually have an Easy Folding Travel Potty in the back of our car, for those times when we’re out and the little ones just can’t wait any longer. It uses ziploc bags, and takes up hardly any space at all. It would work for adults, too, in a pinch. Just another option to consider.

Personal Hygiene

Feeling fresh each day will help keep your morale up. In a separate container include…

  • a toothbrush
  • fluoride-free toothpaste (safe to swallow)
  • deodorant
  • feminine hygiene products
  • wet wipes
  • chapstick
  • nail clippers
  • hair band
  • handkerchiefs/bandana
  • vaseline (or comparable product) to protect your skin

Again, if you have a baby in tow, remember to pack everything they would need for an overnight stay.

You should also include a complete change of clothes for each family member. Remember to update it seasonally, and as children grow. Comfortable walking shoes should be included.

Emergency Car Kit (light)


A light source is an invaluable tool. Have several.

  • Flashlight (solar/hand crank with backup battery)
  • Headlamp (for hands-free use)
  • Glow sticks
  • Backup batteries


You can never assume that you will be safe wherever you are. There is always a chance of being attacked. If you can keep some form of self defense with you at all times, you will greatly increase your odds of survival. If you can’t carry a handgun, you might opt for a knife, pepper spray, or a taser. Something is better than nothing.


Having a means of being able to communicate your position and situation is your key to a speedy rescue. If possible, carry a cell phone with you at all times. Also keep a car charger for your phone.

Cell phones are your best bet, but unfortunately they aren’t always 100% reliable. Consider carrying some of these items as a backup…

  • mirror for signaling
  • whistle
  • flares

A hand-crank emergency radio would also be handy to have (some also have the ability to charge a cell phone manually). Although you may not be able to reach out with it, you would at least be alert to any bad weather moving your way.

Emergency Car Kit


As if I haven’t already given you enough stuff to try to cram into your already crowded vehicle… there’s more. These things are more extras than absolute necessities in a basic “stranded in your vehicle” situation. Hopefully you will never have to leave your vehicle, but just in case…

  • Backpack for carrying supplies
  • Pen and paper to leave a note for your rescuers
  • map and compass
  • light tarp or small tent
  • 100′ nylon tow rope
  • trail tape (to mark your way)
  • baby carrier or sling
  • tools: work gloves, hatchet
  • fishing kit
  • GPS
  • duct tape

You might also consider including a survival manual for reading material, a Bible, games and toys to keep the kids entertained.

Finding A Place For It All

I know this list might seem outrageous to some of you. Don’t be overwhelmed. If all you pack is a blanket, some water, and a few power bars, you’ll be SO much better off than if you’d packed nothing at all. The point is to try to do the best you can. If you’re a single guy, you’ll need MUCH less than a large family. Pack to fit your individual needs.

I’m storing our car kit supplies in a few separate containers. The first aid kit goes under the front seat. A $1 plastic shoebox holds all of the kids’ clothes, slid underneath the middle row of seats. Beside that box is another shoebox with all of our hygiene products. In the back of the car I have a storage tub full of food. And a smaller, under the bed style storage container with everything else in it. The glovebox, door pockets, and console hold the items we’d want to be able to grab immediately if necessary. Do your best to make the most of the room you have available to you.

If you still want more ideas, please check out a printable spreadsheet I created with all of this information, plus a lot more.

Assembling an emergency car kit just makes sense. How often have we heard stories on the news of families lost or trapped in the snow for days? I would venture to guess that these people never planned on getting stuck, never in a million years thought they’d have to survive in their car for days on end until help arrived. We just never know when something like this might happen to us. Be prepared. It’s better to have and not need, than need and not have.

I’m sure I forgot something really important. What would you add to the list?

About Kendra Lynne

Kendra shares all of her homesteading adventures on her website, New Life on a Homestead. Also be sure to check out her popular Canning DVD: At Home Canning For Beginners and Beyond!

View all posts by Kendra Lynne

8 Responses to “Building An Emergency Car Kit: Going Beyond The Basics”

  1. Brandon Says:

    Great article! It’s very detailed and comprehensive.

    When it comes to food, I personally prefer not to go with anything dehydrated, simply because I don’t want to have to use water from my supply for it (or to have to carry more water just for the food). You also need to heat up the water for the food outside of the vehicle. Weather and/or temperature could make that very difficult. But I do agree, it can be really nice to have a hot meal, especially when you’re in a stressful situation.

    It’s also important that people rotate their food out on a somewhat regular basis, to ensure nothing comes close to going out of date.


  2. Victoria Rose Says:

    Rain gear, change of clothes, ( in case the clothes that your wearing get wet), space blanket for added body heat, canned cheese, ( the kind that’s in the pressurized canister), & crackers, chocolate bars, ( boosts morality), hard candy, chewing gum, & an extra pair of shoes.


  3. TWilly Says:

    If you travel often with pets, plan for their food/water/bathroom needs too.


  4. Kenneth Says:

    This is a great list and as you mentioned already it can be overwhelming. Having personal experience and talking with many people especially moms anything this size would be all to often pulled out of the vehicle and left in the garage to make room for groceries, other shopping trips, soccer balls, the dog, etc. once again these are good suggestions but I would suggest also that you cut this kit down big time to a size that won’t get taken out of the car regularly and left in the garage. Put the essential items in places, like under the seat, so that they will not be removed regularly.

    The other point is food and medical items in the summer time in this suggested kit most likely will not last more than a month or two either in the back of a mini van and especially in the trunk of anyone’s car where temperatures can often cook raw meat in a matter of an hour. It is hard to find food that actually will last longer in a summer and especially in the southern USA. People are naturally lazy and will not switch out the food as often as needed and can do some serious damage to themselves by just bring lazy.


  5. Brad Says:

    A few packs of red/cherry kook aid. I hear from mountaineers that it can make a lot of red snow, so that if you need to erect the international distress sign: three piles of red snow (or anything) in an equilateral triangle, you can do so with minimal effort. I have never actually experimented with koolaid and snow, so I don’t know how effective it is.


  6. Susanne Says:

    My daughter commutes with her 2 autistic boys about 45 minutes to their school every day, a lot of it is on country roads with houses few and far between and sometimes limited cell service. I will definitely be encouraging her to store more emergency supplies. Both boys have food issues so I will be looking for things they will eat that can be safely kept in a car.


  7. Jacob Says:

    This list seems to have a glaring hole: nothing for the car. Fuses, some wire, a tire ‘puncture repair’ kit and a cigarette lighter air pump, some aspirin (you can drop them into batteries to get them to take a charge when they won’t hold one), jumper cables, and a spare set of belts would cover the bulk of issues that you may run into. Every car has a small list of things that fall apart, they are likely known to both mechanics and people who have owned the car type that you have, for example: if you have an older ford, you need to keep a starter silonoid in the car (I kept 2) or struts for a dodge car. You will also need the tools and skills to swap these out.

    Some of the suggestions I make to everyone I talk to.
    Thank you for the list. I will direct people here when answering questions about what is needed in what I call an “any situation” survival system.


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