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Car Survival Kit: DIY Winter & Summer Gear Lists (For Preppers)

Survival kits for cars can range from a glove box toolkit to a full prepper bug out vehicle. This makes it hard to know what the most important survival gear is. This guide will teach you to build a DIY car survival kit that fits YOUR needs!

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You never know when you're going to be in an unexpected emergency, on your own or with others. Having some prepper gear ready to go can be the difference between making it out of an emergency, and not being found in time.

Whether it's an unexpected car breakdown or a more serious emergency like a wildfire, you should have a car survival kit ready to go, just in case.

Since survival kits for cars can range from a glove box toolkit to a full prepper bug out vehicle, it can be hard to know what the most important survival gear is. It’s even harder to evaluate what you have space for, and what you might need to sacrifice.

Fortunately, plenty of survival experts, ex-military, and emergency responders have thought about this issue, and the result is a wide range of specialized survival gear for vehicles.

If you’re trying to figure out what to put in your vehicle survival kit, you’re in the right place.

Let’s get started with a breakdown of our basic car survival kit list and then dive deep into lists for your winter car survival kit as well as a summer emergency car kit.

Car Survival Kit Basics

These are the most critical items in any car survival kit. You should have these packed with you all the time. If you have a very small car or need your cargo space for other equipment, these car emergency kit must-haves will get you by for the short-term or 24-hour survival situation.


Plan on having some freshwater, and water purification tablets in your basic emergency car kit. Potable Aqua Tablets are a good compact option for water purification, but Aquatabs are great as well.

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Both are fast-acting and will provide drinkable water in about 30 minutes.

In addition to water purification tabs, you should have some amount of drinkable water stored in your car. Pre-packaged water bottles are a good option, as are gallon jugs. Remember, an average adult needs a gallon of water every day to stay hydrated and active.

You won’t be able to carry enough water for an extended survival situation, so you also need to have water containers. Empty metal water bottles are a popular option, since they hold more water at once, don’t weigh much, and are more durable than plastic alternatives.

You should also have a survival cup, that is a metal cup you can use for heating water. These give you more food preparation options, as well as another way to make natural water sources safe through boiling.

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If you want to learn more ways of making water safe to drink, check out our complete guide on how to purify water.


You should have at least two outfits in your car, one for the summer car survival kit, and one for the winter car survival kit. These clothes shouldn't be your favorite by any means, you can even buy them from a thrift store if you need to.

The point isn't to be fashionable, it's to make sure you have some clothing to change into and can adapt to different weather conditions. If you have a partner or children, they should also have spare sets of clothing in your car.

Consider vacuum sealing your clothes, or at least placing them in a ziplock bag and pressing all the air out. That will keep them more compact, and the ziplock itself might be useful.

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Compass and Maps

If you get stuck somewhere and aren’t certain of rescue, you’ll be glad to have these useful items stashed in your car survival kit. It’s best to stay close to your vehicle for at least a few days, even if you have a backpack or other means of transporting your gear.

Even if you’re hunkering down in your car, you may need to venture out for water or other critical supplies like firewood. A compass and maps not only let you see where those critical resources are, but they can also lead you to another road or town to seek rescue.

Most outdoor stores will sell a selection of maps and atlases, and you should buy supplemental maps when you go on a road trip or a planned vacation.

For a compass, Suunto is a good option since you can use it at night without any other tools.

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This is the last must-have entry on our list. With these items and your car, you could theoretically make it several days until rescue arrives. Food in a survival situation can be anything that has a long shelf life. Canned food, MRE’s, dried and other preserved foods are all an option.

Your food stock does need to be cycled, however. Pay attention to expiration dates and try to cycle out food a month before it goes bad.

Pro Tip: use survival food nearing the end of its life for camping rations. That way it doesn’t go to waste, and you’ll get more experience with what kinds of food work.

Emergency food bars are a good option since they contain 100% of what your body needs and have a high-calorie count.

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You may still want to supplement these with protein-rich additions if you're planning to move around or work much. Consider adding a 3-day emergency food supply list, organized with what and how much you can eat each day, and ideas for how to stretch your food supply if you haven’t been rescued within 72 hours.

Most people, faced with a survival situation, end up eating their food supply too soon. Having a plan can help make sure you aren’t one of them.

If you would like to learn more about survival foods, check out our guides on the best survival food and ways to stockpile food in your home!

To be clear, these must-haves won’t make you comfortable, and you’ll still need other tools if you want to be able to create a shelter, gather from your environment, or spend much time outside your car. For a more complete DIY car survival kit you will need more than just this must-haves list.

Winter Car Survival Kit

We’ve covered the basic survival items to have in your car in case of emergency. Now it’s time to explore some niche situations you can be faced with.

The first of these are heavy winters. In the unfortunate case your car gets stuck in the snow, or a blizzard is so strong you’re forced to stop and wait it out, these items will improve your odds of survival.

In no particular order, as they are all important, here is what we recommend in our winter car survival kit list:

  • Wool blanket
  • Ice scraper
  • Crank radio
  • Winter boots
  • Heavy socks
  • Winter sleeping bag
  • Extra pair of gloves
  • Hooded jacket
  • Winter hat
  • Balaclava
  • Portable stove and fuel
  • Lighter & matches
  • Work gloves
  • Extra water reservoir
  • Kitty litter for traction in snow and ice

Make sure you always combine these specialized winter items with the other basic and general survival gear we recommend you keep in your car in case of emergencies.

Summer Emergency Car Kit List

As far as summer or hot weather specific items you can include in an emergency car kit, the list isn’t so long. Most of the things we recommend in the basic and general sections of this gear guide can be used successfully to boost your survival chances in case of heatwaves or wildfires.

However, here are a few things you might not have thought of when assembling you DIY summer car kit:

  • Extra drinking water
  • An extra water reservoir for your radiator
  • Electrolytes to keep hydrated
  • Sunscreen
  • Summer hat / cap
  • Loose fitting and light clothing
  • Towel, wash cloth & baby wipes

Just like the winter list, these summer car items are on top of all the other items we recommend.

Car Breakdown Survival Kit

These are for people who want to be more prepared in case of an emergency, or who live somewhere you are more likely to get stranded or need a car bug out bag.

Examples could be anyone living in the mountains, anyone living along a major earthquake fault line, and anyone in a flood plain or at high wildfire risk.

Once you start adding these supplies to your gear, you should include a toolbox for your car trunk or another container to keep things neat and organized.

It’s also time to start adding a car survival kit checklist. Include two copies, one that you've checked off as you packed your car, one to check off in your survival situation. That way you not only know what you should have but also what you actually have on hand.

Car Emergency Tool Kit

Depending on your car’s maintenance this can include:

Include a car emergency kit list with these items. In a survival situation, you’d be amazed how easy it can be to forget what you have on hand.

For a more comprehensive list of car specific items for preppers, check out our bug out vehicle essential lists for gear, tools and supplies.

Check out this video with 10 tips for regular car maintenance created by AutoGuide.

Other Car Breakdown Survival Kit Items

If your car breaks down, it’s good to have the above items on hand to fix any potential issues. However, think of yourself as well. You might not be able to fix your vehicle, and that’s when the below items can ease your wait, allow you to pay for a tow etc.:

If you happen to own a truck, we’ve dedicated a whole article on how to prepare your truck for SHTF and how to build a truck bug out bag.

Ultimate Car Survival Kit

For this section, we've focused on items that make extended survival possible. This gear takes you well beyond a 72-hour car survival kit and including all of them will give you the ultimate car survival kit.

Sleeping Gear

Since you don't know what conditions are likely to be like in a survival situation it isn't enough to prepare for getting trapped in the cold or to only prepare for the summer heat. You need equipment to get you through any weather situation.

Include these items in your list, and you’ll be more comfortable, and better able to stretch your food and other supplies:

As you can see, most of this gear is designed to provide shelter and warmth. No matter what season, hypothermia can be a serious risk if you don’t have a way to stay warm, prevent yourself from getting wet, and get out of the wind and other elements.

Tarps and survival blankets can be used to create a larger sheltered area, providing shade and a break from the wind, while a survival tent is more about having a safe place to sleep if you can’t sleep in your car.

A fire starter is a good addition because it lets you cook food, helps keep wildlife away, and can help with temperature regulation.

However, you should never start a fire if you aren’t certain you can keep it controlled. Cleared dirt, preferably a small hole, surrounded by rocks is a good fire location. Never build a fire close to grass, tree branches, or other flammable debris.

Hyperthermia is also a risk if you live in a sunny warm climate, or don’t have a way to create shelter. Water is your best friend in hot weather. Make sure you’re drinking plenty, and use natural water sources to wet your shirt or a bandana in extreme circumstances.

Only use your fresh and safe water supply to cool off in an absolute emergency when there isn’t an alternative. Getting dehydrated makes you more prone to hyperthermia, so potable water should be saved for drinking whenever possible.

Again, create a car survival gear checklist for these items, including how many you have, and how large each item is. That way you know what resources you have, whether you’re alone, or get stranded with others.

Survival Gear for Any Car Kit

You may have noticed that, for most of this list, we’ve focused on specific survival items and less on survival tools. Items are great in the short term. They'll help you get through a hard couple of days, even a week or two if you plan right, but they aren't the same as tools.

Good survival tools extend your ability to survive by giving you access to additional resources, including food and water in the long term. Having a few extra tools at your disposal can mean the difference between life and death in a survival scenario involving your car.

The most basic tools will allow you to create a small campsite. More advanced tools let you start hunting or trapping and can help you forage for additional supplies. Here are some of the most important survival tools.


A good survival knife is the first tool you should consider adding. It’s one of the most versatile, and also gives you a way to defend yourself from wildlife in an extreme situation.

A knife can also be used to modify other survival gear to fit your situation, make cutting through the undergrowth easier, and even help you cut through grassroots to build a fire pit.

Ultimately, the use of your survival knife is mostly limited by its size and your own imagination and creativity.

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Axe or Hatchet

Another important addition, survival axes tend to be multi-purpose tools.

They give you access to firewood, assuming there are local trees and dead-fall and can be used for a wide variety of other purposes in addition.

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Another basic addition, a survival shovel, particularly a multi-purpose tool like the Gerber Shovel, has a wide range of applications. Most importantly, these shovels will let you dig a fire pit, bury your own waste, and even dig a water collection pit.

Multi-tool shovels can also be used as a survival tool for self-defense, just like the knife and the hatchet.

A word of caution – all three tools together can be bulky survival gear for your car, and heavy for you to carry around. Unless you have a lot of space and are confident that the weight won’t be a problem on your belt or in a backpack, pick two out of the three.

A survival shovel and hatchet are the most useful and versatile of the three, the survival knife is the lightest.

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You should try to have a reasonable length of rope. This will help in survival situations by making it easier to mark out your area, giving you more options with your tarp, and helping if you need to climb trees or rocks.

You can also use the rope as an exploration guide. Tie it to a tree or other stable object and use the rest to stretch out behind you in low visibility.

About 100ft is a good balance between usefulness and required storage space. However, dedicated survivalists will recommend as much as 500-1,000ft if you have the room.

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If you would like to learn more about paracord, check out our guides on the best paracord and ways to use paracord in survival scenarios.

Hand Crank Flashlight

This tool is especially important for extended survival if you live somewhere with limited firewood, or where it would be unsafe to start a fire.

A flashlight will keep you safe by helping keep predators away, most don’t like bright light. It will also help you see better and accomplish more, especially if you find yourself in a survival situation in the winter where days are shorter.

Hand crank flashlights are expensive, but the best option. That’s because they don’t require batteries, which are bulky, heavy, and can expire. The one we’re recommending also has a solar charging option, making it even easier to use and more useful overall.

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First Aid Kits

This should be self-explanatory, but you want a good kit that's designed for extended survival situations.

The Sportsman line of survival kits are fantastic, but we particularly like the largest version, the Sportsman 400 Adventure survival kit, since it accommodates the most people for the longest survival situation.

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If you want to learn more about the essential contents of a first aid kit and how to build one yourself, check out our tips on the survival first aid kit checklist.


Other Car Survival Gear

Of course, not everything you might want will fall neatly into a set survival category, consider these items optional, but suggested.

They aren't directly survival-related but can help you fare significantly better in a survival situation.

Extra Food

These food options are a good way to supplement canned food, MRE’s, and especially emergency food bars. We also recommend having emergency food for your cats and dogs as well.

Gatorade Powder

Electrolytes are critical for good hydration, but if you’re sweating a lot, you can lose them faster than you get them from your food. Gatorade fixes that problem and also provides an energy and calorie boost.

Instant Coffee

A small container of instant coffee might seem silly, but if you’re a habitual coffee drinker, you can actually go into caffeine withdrawal without it.

The last thing you want is to feel groggy, have a headache, and generally out of sorts in a survival situation. Bringing a small amount of instant coffee can actually help you survive if you need it.

Dried Fruit and Jerky

Both of these options are there to provide some variety, additional calories, and key nutrients. In the case of jerky, you’re getting electrolytes and protein.

Dried fruit provides additional vitamin C, along with other important vitamins and minerals, along with sugar.

Both provide additional calories and can help fill your stomach if you're mostly eating survival bars for calories.

Salted Nuts

Like the other suggestions, good salted nuts provide calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals, and salt an important electrolyte.

They're also very shelf-stable, so they'll last longer, even if the temperature changes in your car make them go stale.


This one might seem like the silliest addition yet, but chocolate is calorie-dense and can help keep your spirits up.

Packing a couple of chocolate bars, a bag of M&Ms, or a tin of hot chocolate mix might not seem like much, but it will make a survival experience easier mentally.

Extra Survival Gear

Emergency Whistle

An emergency whistle can make it easier for rescuers to find you. They are also a handy way to distract and confuse predators. These won’t necessarily help you survive, but they might help you get rescued sooner.

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Signaling Mirror

Lastly, you may want to consider a signaling mirror.

Even in the case of a crash, or getting lost while hiking, it’s likely that there will be rescue crews in your area within a few days of finding yourself in a survival situation.

Since those crews often include bush planes, volunteer aircraft, and helicopters, a signaling mirror can draw attention to you and make rescue more likely.

Car Survival Kit Conclusions

Disasters and emergencies are measured not only be the severity of the situation, but also by how the people who experience disaster respond.

People talk about preparedness in terms of getting through normal everyday situations, but you know that another layer of preparedness is important – preparedness in the face of the unexpected.

Having these tools on hand will let you adapt to and overcome an emergency, whenever it strikes. We’ve intentionally picked items with a lot of versatility. Survival is survival, and with these tools in your car emergency kit, you’ll be able to overcome whatever life throws at you.

This wraps up our guide on the best survival gear for your car emergency kit.

Make sure you check out our other gear recommendations by navigating with the side menu. 

Otherwise, you can jump straight to our next survival gear list: Wilderness Survival Kit.

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Hi, I'm Russ!

I've been prepping for a long time, but 2020 convinced me that I need to take it to the next level.

This website started as a way to keep me going forward on the path to being better prepared.

Now, I’m turning it into a complete blueprint for anyone else looking to do the same!
Russell M. Morgan
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