No matter what car you drive, there is always the risk of failure. Whether from breaking down, running out of gas, or simply from bad weather, even the most expensive cars can leave us stuck at only a moment’s notice.
Breakdown services can go a long way to getting our vehicle back on the road but having our own dedicated kit to deal with most car breakdowns or emergency scenarios can go a long way to saving ourselves, or others, when the worst happens.
In a similar way to bug out bags or get home bags, it’s impossible to make a one size fit’s all kit, but let’s look at some of the most important things for you to consider when building your own car survival kit.
When building a survival kit as part of your vehicle’s EDC, you will need to consider how you are going to store the items, what items to carry as they relate to repair, recovery, rescue, survival, personal defense, etc. These items can be influenced by your environment, skill level, vehicle type, and more.
Let’s dig a little deeper.
What Is the Role of a Vehicle EDC?
For most of us, we leave the house with our everyday carry gear, a backpack full of more daily essentials (Extended EDC), and may even have access to a get home bag in our car. So why should you bother building a vehicle survival kit?
There are countless roles a survival kit could fill, but fundamentally, your cars survival kit should aim to:
- Respond to medical emergencies
- Allow for the repair and recovery of your vehicle
- Help you bug in and survive for extended periods of time in your car
Carrying a basic first aid and trauma kit in our EDC is one of the best decisions you can make, but with over six million car accidents per year in the US alone, having a larger selection of supplies in our vehicle can help us deal with more complex injuries associated with motor vehicle accidents.
While medical emergencies on the road are a common site, it’s arguably more likely your car will simply break down and leave you stranded and unable to continue your journey.
If this happens, there’s nothing wrong with calling for assistance but if help isn’t available or you cannot afford to wait it to come, having the equipment necessary to get our hands dirty and fix any problems that may be slowing us down can be crucial.
Finally, we come to the survival aspect of our survival kit.
I’m a firm believer in having a get home bag separated from your survival kit, meaning survival in this sense often means bugging into your car long enough for either help to arrive or you to work the problem long enough and get back on the road yourself.
While some may see it as a waste to keep three bags all dedicated to relatively similar tasks, there are many benefits to doing it in this way.
Not only does it increase the chances of having a kit accessible when you need it, but also offers redundancy if you want to share pieces with others or in case equipment is lost, broken or stolen.
Compared to building a bug out bag, car survival offers some unique advantages over other scenarios as shelter is largely taken care of, but as we saw just this week with New Yorker becoming trapped in his car for over ten hours, it does not take much for these vehicles to become metal coffins.
Events such as this are relatively rare but demonstrate the kind of scenarios I attempt to build my survival kits around.
Any more time than a few days and I would be looking to use my GHB or bug-out-bag to find a way back to my family, instead, these kits are simply meant to keep me alive long enough for help to come and get my vehicle moving again.
So, with the basic aims of a vehicle EDC established, let’s look at how you can start building your own car survival kit.
How to store vehicle EDC items
Any good survival kit should be well contained. This offers you a range of benefits, including:
- Keeping your gear organized
- Keeping it secure from third parties
- Allowing for easy transportation (between vehicles and from your car during emergencies)
How you choose to contain your kit is largely a matter of preference, but there are four primary ways that a survival kit can be contained, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.
Messenger bags are a great option for everyday carry, with countless bags such as the 5.11 RUSH Delivery Mike and Maxpedition Sky Vale being praised for their high levels of organization but are unfortunately not suitable for survival kits in most cases.
That is not to say that it cannot, or has not, been done before but their limited carrying capacity often makes it difficult to store the equipment we need in a clean and convenient way.
Messenger bags may struggle to store large survival kits, but if you prefer a minimalist approach to only keep the absolute essentials with you, there are some benefits from carrying in this manner.
Most importantly, where messenger bags are top loading, accessing your gear can be much easier from a car as it is possible to just place the bag on the seat to have near instant access to all the bags content.
I’m a big fan of messenger and sling bags in my EDC, especially if I need to be able to access critical gear while on the move, but realistically there are much better choices for your survival kit.
If you have a bag like this that you’re dying to use, by all means feel free to do so, but at least consider some of the other options out there.
While transporting these cases is much more difficult than other methods of storage, they offer an almost unlimited amount of storage capacity to truly meet all of your storage needs.
More importantly, these boxes are perhaps the most secure method of storage you can possibly use.
They aren’t perfect, but with a padlock or two, they are secure enough to at least slow down a potential attacker and keep your contents from falling into the wrong hands.
This is particularly important if you choose to keep a backup weapon or ammo in your kit.
Where these cases fall down is their lack of organization, which can make it difficult to access critical pieces of gear, but they can easily be paired with a range of organizers (including some tech organizers) to make them much more usable for storing your survival kit in.
Backpacks are a staple of any survival kit, including both bug-out-bags and get-home-bags and work just as well for a car survival kit.
They offer a much greater capacity than most messenger bags, but are still easily transported, giving them the slight edge over rigid cases.
Their capacity is still somewhat constrained when compared to other methods of storage, but as long as you are selective with what you pack, it should be more than doable in a traditional backpack such as the 5.11 Covert 18, which we recently reviewed.
Backpacks offer a particular edge over other storage methods, as almost everyone carries a backpack, and with the ever-growing popularity of “tacticool” within the mainstream, even the most MOLLE loaded bag can often go unnoticed.
That is not to say that you should leave a backpack freely in your backseat, but rather that if a passerby were to spot it in your trunk, it’s less likely to raise any eyebrows.
Backpacks may be the icon of a survival kit, but duffle bags are my personal favorite method of storing a survival kit.
This is for a range of reasons, but most simply put, they are able to combine all of the benefits of our other options into an extremely easy to carry package.
With bags up to 100 liters, they rival the storage capacity of rigid cases, while their open top design makes accessing gear from the seat next to you just as easy as accessing a messenger bag.
My go-to duffel bag, regardless of if it is for a survival kit or international travel has always been the Vertx Contingency 45L.
The included backpack straps, also seen on brands such as North Face (one of my other favorites), make it much easier to carry than other options with almost no compromises, and with the added CCW capabilities offered by Vertx, it is hard to recommend any other pack.
With that said, as long as you are able to find one with multiple carry options, they will almost always make one of the best options out there for almost any survival kit.
Building a IFAK (Individual First Aid Kit) is an incredibly intensive process and should be built around your own personal knowledge and training.
We’ve explored this topic before about how best to build your own medical kit, but at the very least, we recommend including:
- SAM Splints
- Gauze and Dressings
- Quick Clot
This list may not seem overly extensive but will allow you to respond to a significant number of medical emergencies including excessive bleeding, fractures, and blunt force trauma.
Increased equipment may help you be better prepared for more complex conditions, such as pneumothorax, although there are inherent risks of using such equipment without proper medical training, so it is important to always know your limits and always train to be better.
It may not be possible to replace an engine or drive train on the roadside, but with only a few simple tools, we’re still able to repair a huge amount of damage or faults on the roadside.
Although specialty tools exist, most work on a car can be carried out with only a few wrenches and screwdrivers of various sizes, in addition to some basic tools such as pry bars and hammers.
My daily driver is a rusty old ’03 Jeep Grand Cherokee, so I typically keep a 60-piece Husky toolset in my trunk, and while mechanics tool sets can be a great investment, there is nothing wrong with piecing out your own collection of tools to meet your budget.
Building a comprehensive set of tools is a great addition to your vehicle, but it is also important to be aware of the tools you already have included in your car.
Although most cars typically come with a jack and wrench needed to change a tire, not all do, so it is important to check your vehicle upon purchasing to make sure you are never left stranded and out of luck.
In addition to your tools, it is normally worth including the parts and components necessary to repair your car and actually get it moving again.
This depends on your vehicle, but at the very least it is worth having a supply of fuses, duct tape, wires (to bypass faults in your electrical circuits), and fluids to replace any leaks.
How and what exactly you store is largely up to you, but I typically include a five-gallon Jerry can of gasoline (a metal can help to minimize leaking fumes), brake fluid, and coolant.
This relatively simple load out can go a long way when your car fails, but what about when the environment catches you in a bind and you are forced to recover your vehicle yourself?
Recovery and Rescue
Vehicles can become trapped at a moments notice from a range of environmental conditions.
If you live in a nice and stable climate, this may not be an overly concerning issue, but for many of us snow, water and mud all pose a very real threat that can trap us with life threatening consequences.
Snow and mud create very similar challenges to your vehicle as they struggle to get traction and keep you from moving, and although large snowfall can pose more of a challenge, the way we address the problem is very similar.
The first recovery tool we can use to save ourselves improves traction by increasing the resistance of our tires against the ground.
Metal snow chains are extremely effective, but I am personally a fan of the ziptie style as they can be easily applied in only a short amount of time but do not take up huge amounts of space when not in use.
Traction boards are another approach that solve the same problem and are arguably much easier to deploy, although their large size makes them unsuitable for most people, especially in smaller vehicles such as sedans.
A shovel or e-tool can also be a great addition to a survival kit allowing you to dig your vehicle of the snow, or access fresh dirt to increase the traction of your vehicle.
Tow ropes, winches, and portable air compressors can also help get out of a bad situation but even the most powerful winch will struggle to save your car from flooding, as the force of flowing water is powerful enough to carry a car away with little we can do to stop it.
Instead of attempting to rescue our car in these situations, it is typically worth investing in a rescue tool to save ourselves.
Seatbelt cutters and wind punches are incredibly affordable, although the Stinger Plus is an incredible option on the market that offers a life-saving tool with the convenience of two USB chargers.
It may not always be possible to save your car from an emergency scenario but having the right tools when you need them can improve your chances of saving your vehicle and most importantly save ourselves.
We’ve mentioned it before and it is worth reiterating that car survival offers a unique set of advantage when compared to surviving in the wild, as cars offer one of the best shelters away from the elements out there.
So if protection from the elements is already covered, what considerations are important when trapped in or near your car?
Food and water are obviously important and also some of the easiest to deal with.
I personally keep a 24 pack of water in my backseat (which I casually drink and replace regularly), in addition to several MREs in the trunk of my car, although the quantity and types of items you store are entirely dependent on your needs.
MREs are a personal favorite in most of my survival kits, as not only are they an incredibly rich source of calories (>3000cals) but the included can also be used reliably as a great source of heat which is particularly important as other methods (such as fires) are difficult to pull off within such a confined environment.
It is still worth keeping a dedicated fire kit in your survival kit as you may be able to start a fire outside of your vehicle for cooking, water purification and heat, but having alternative methods of staying warm is always crucial.
On the topic of staying warm, it is also worth having a spare set of clothes and even a thick blanket or woobie.
Inclusions such as this help to make your survival kit more versatile, as you are able to not only employ your kit in survival scenarios but also have increased access to supplies to deal with life’s smaller emergencies such as staying a night on short notice.
Finally, no survival kit should be considered complete without options for both communications and navigation.
At the bare minimum, it is worth keeping a phone charger, power bank, and HAM radio. While most people prefer handheld units for their survival kits, cars are a perfect situation to employ a base station such as the BTECH UV-50X3 which brings a range of advantages including increased transmission range and operation times.
While a communication kit can be built up relatively quickly, especially if you already have the training and are familiar with the world of HAM radios, navigation is arguably a much more complicated beast as it can be difficult to know what areas to keep maps of.
GPS units, such as the Garmin Drive or TomTom Go, can be extremely useful if you typically travel to unfamiliar areas but if you have the ability, it is always worth keeping high-resolution, laminated, paper maps of your local area available.
These are small enough that they weigh almost nothing in your kit but can dramatically help you to avoid threats on the road (such as rising water or roadblocks) in order to always keep you moving forward.
One of the reasons survival kits are discussed so heavily online is because of the immense amount of customization they offer, but no matter what your kit looks like, it is always worth covering the fundamental of food, water, warmth and communications.
A Word on Weapons
We’ve discussed it before when looking at get home bags, and for exactly the same reasons, we do not recommend having a dedicated weapon in your car as part of a survival kit unless you have a legitimately secure way of securing it.
There is simply too much of a risk that your car will be broken into and potentially arm another criminal on the streets.
If you already carry a pistol concealed as part of your everyday carry, there is not much of a need to include one in your survival kit beyond serving as a backup if you were to ever forget yours at home.
Instead, if you feel the need to augment your daily carry, your survival kit may be a perfect place to store additional ammo and magazines.
Although with the current cost of ammo, any ammo you store inside your vehicle should be kept hidden as much as possible and potentially even stored in a dedicated safe box, such as the VAULTEK MX.
Are Prebuilt Vehicle Kits a Viable Survival Tool?
As with all other aspects of the survival world, there are a wealth of companies eagerly offering the “best” prebuilt car survival kits, sold at a premium in neatly packaged containers.
While many of these can be expensive and even gimmicky at times, they are one of the few cases where buying premade may not be such a terrible option, at least to start with.
Like almost all other premade kits, these often leave much to be desired, but if you are looking for the bare essentials to get started with or need something quickly to leave in a vehicle, there are some acceptable ones on the market.
These kits can then be supplemented relatively easily to include our other essential items and tools, such as a more thorough medical kit and food reserves, making them into more than sufficient survival aids.
The most important thing when buying premade is to have a plan for how you can develop the bag further.
Almost all survival kits will be deficient in one area, so go into your purchase with a clear plan of what you need to do to add to a premade kit in order for it to be ready for you and your family.
Maintain Instead of Survive
A well-built vehicle EDC gives us a sense of confidence that we’re ready for anything.
A flat tire or radiator leak on the roadside is an inconvenience, but as long as we’re prepared, they are problems that can be overcome with relative ease. This does mean we should become complacent.
Even the newest cars should undergo regular checks and maintenance, including:
- Checking tire wear and pressure levels
- Checking fluid levels and replacing as necessary
- Investigate check engine lights as they appear
Any mechanic should be willing to do these services for a relatively low cost, but although car maintenance can be intimidating to those unfamiliar with cars, there is a huge amount of resources available online that can help you learn the essentials.
ChrisFix and Scotty Kilmer are some of the best youtube channels you can find, covering a range of topics from basic light changes to fully rebuilding you car, but you can also often find manuals for your specific vehicle online for free.
Wherever you choose to find resources, regularly taking care of your vehicle will go a long way to avoiding roadside emergencies and hopefully keep you from ever having to dig into to your vehicle EDC.
It’s safe to say emergency kits are one of the most heavily discussed issues within almost any survival community.
They are what got many of us into prepping in the first place, and as a result, each of us likely has their own beliefs regarding what a kit needs to truly make us ready.
A bug out kit is a great place to start, but with many of us spending hours of our day outside of the house, either near or in our vehicles, having the means to survive on the roadside may just very well safe your life one day.
The most important thing to remember though when building any kit is to always build around your needs.
Always evaluate your environment and the situations you believe are most applicable to you and allow that to guide how your emergency kits come together.