Emergency Assistance

Outdoor Survival – The Essential Car Emergency Kit

Having the right supplies in an outdoor survival situation could mean the difference between life and death. Do you have what you need?

You have a desire for adventure. It’s in your blood. You can’t wait to pack up your car and hit the open road right now to get to your favorite outdoor location. But as you are driving to your campsite or fishing spot, are you prepared to handle a crisis head on? If your car were to break down in the middle of nowhere, do you have what you need to survive in the wilderness? Survivalists advise that you sit tight and wait for help in your vehicle. That makes perfect sense, but in order to ease the waiting time and to make it back to civilization alive, use this essential survival guide to find out what everyday items you need for a well-stocked car emergency kit to handle even the most extreme outdoor conditions.

Extreme Desert

You’re driving through the Mojave Desert. It’s 120 degrees Fahrenheit. You’re hours away from your destination and you run out of gas. What do you do to survive while waiting to get rescued?

1. Finding water:

Your first priority should be to find water to prevent dehydration. Use these supplies to dig for water in dry riverbeds, collect rain fall, or create a solar still to produce drinkable water through condensation:

  • Shovel or Entrenching Tool
  • Some type of covering (tarp, garbage bags, etc.)
  • Fixed blade knife
  • Metal container or receptacle

2. Signaling for help


Reflective objects are your best friend in any emergency situation, especially in the desert where there is plenty of intense sunlight. During the day, aim any reflective surface you can find to signal for help:

  • Aluminum foil
  • Your car’s side or rearview mirrors
  • Compact mirror

3. Playing with fire:

In extreme heat, the last thing you want to do is break a sweat building a roaring fire. But fire can help protect you against predators and provide heat for cooking. Your best chance at survival is to build a fire before night fall. Some items you should pack to start a quick fire include:

  • 9-volt battery
  • Steel wool
  • Jumper cables
  • Graphite pencil
  • Cardboard

Good to know: To create a spark to start a fire, simply touch the steel wool to both 9V battery terminals and the steel wool will ignite due to the electrical current. You can also connect your jumper cables to an exposed graphite pencil and connect the other end of the cables to your car battery to start a fire. The cardboard will act as a secondary tinder to intensify the flame.

4. Shelter:

Temperatures in the desert can drop below freezing at night, so it’s crucial that you find shelter for warmth, protection from the elements and predators – and an overall good night’s sleep. If you’re traveling solo, here’s what you’ll need to make a quick and safe shelter:

  • Your car
  • Sleeping bag
  • Backpack
  • Pillow or any other cushioning

Extreme Cold

You and your pals are on a moose hunting trip in Alaska. It’s the middle of November and the temperature of the day is a high of 26 degrees Fahrenheit. The trip was a success, but as it’s time to head home, your car won’t start. The battery has died. What do you do?

1. Signaling for help:

With a dead car battery, you can’t use your headlights to signal for distress and you can’t charge your cellphone to call for help. Prepare for the unexpected and make sure you have these items in your car if you experience an emergency in an extremely cold climate:

  • LED Flashlight
  • Your firearm (use with extreme caution!)
  • Shiny/reflective objects

2. Playing with fire:

While cold, wet climates aren’t ideal for making fire, it is still possible to build one even in the most frigid temperatures. To prevent hypothermia and to create smoke signals to alert for help, you can use these items to build a fire:

  • Cotton balls
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Butane lighter
  • Binoculars

Good to know: Cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly are a perfect fire starter for an emergency. Pack the soaked cotton balls in a tin case and when emergency strikes, use your lighter to ignite the material. If you don’t have a lighter, you can use your binoculars with the heat from the sun to ignite the cotton balls or other tinder.

3. Finding water:

Water shouldn’t be hard to come by in a climate filled with snow and ice. While there may be an abundance of potentially drinkable water, do not attempt to eat snow. It does not hydrate the body and can actually increase your risk of hypothermia. While you can use your breath to melt the snow or ice, you can also use these items to build a fire and collect the water:

  • Natural sunlight
  • A pair of eye glasses
  • Container or bottle (aluminum, stainless steel or tin)

Good to know: Hold your eye glasses up at an angle between the sunlight and amount of snow you wish to melt. Focus the glasses until you see a small beam or dot. This bending of light from the sun through the glasses will create heat to melt the snow. Use a container to hold the water and drink. This method can also be used to start a fire, just replace the snow with tinder.

4. Shelter:

Alaskan temperatures can drop well below freezing, especially at night or in the winter months. In addition to fire, you will need shelter to stay warm and protect yourself against inclement weather and dangerous animals. Here’s what you’ll need for warm emergency shelter:

  • Your car
  • Extra winter clothing
  • Blankets/sleeping bag
  • Hand Warmer

Extreme Wilderness

You decide to take your family on one last camping trip of the year. To add a little excitement and adventure, you choose to take the unbeaten path. As you’re driving, you notice your car begins to jerk and sputter and isn’t accelerating like it should. You have a failed fuel pump that will require professional attention. And on top of that, you’re lost and you can’t get any cell phone reception. What do you do?

1. Signaling for help:

Woods and forests can have high, dense trees that can make it difficult for aircrafts to see you from above. You will need to find alternative methods to alert for help. Be sure to pack these supplies for added visibility:

  • Industrial Grade Light Stick
  • Camera lens
  • Chocolate
  • Soda can

Good to know: To increase the shine and reflectivity of an ordinary soda can, simply rub chocolate on the bottom of the can until it disappears for a polished finish. Use the can as you would any other reflective object (like a camera lens) during the daytime to signal for help.

2. Playing with fire:

Fire is essential for any outdoor survival situation. The good news is you won’t have to bother rubbing two sticks together or fashioning a bow drill. When packing your car to go camping, don’t forget to bring these crucial items:

  • Steel striker kit
  • Waterproof match kit
  • Fire starter tool
  • Processed potato or tortilla chips

3. Finding water:

You can survive weeks without food, but you most likely won’t survive more than three days without water. Here are some items you should pack in order to collect, drink and purify wild water.

  • Bottle/container
  • Portable water filter
  • Iodine Tablets to treat water

4. Shelter:

Protection from the elements should be one of your top priorities when stranded in the wilderness. Bear in mind that building a decent shelter takes time and energy, so the least amount of energy you use to build shelter, the better. Your car may not work as the temperature may be too hot or humid. Here are some alternative items you could use to protect yourself:

  • Tarp
  • Poncho
  • Garbage bags
  • Reflective Rope
  • Mylar blanket

Survival Must-Haves

For the ultimate car emergency survival kit, here is a list of survival must-haves that are perfect for any climate or environment:

  • Multipurpose utility tool (Swiss army knife)
  • Shovel (foldable or collapsible)
  • Waterproof Matches
  • First aid kit
  • Car repair kit
  • Tarp
  • Cordage/rope
  • Duct tape
  • Batteries (all sizes)
  • Container/bottle
  • Flashlight
  • Bottles of Water
  • Snacks, protein bars or fruit: Doritos and other processed snacks make for an excellent food source – and tinder

Honorable mentions:

  • Glow sticks: great for nighttime illumination and no batteries required
  • Tampons: to pack a bleeding wound or as fire tinder
  • Ziploc bag: great to waterproof cellphones or flashlights
  • Superglue: perfect to seal small cuts and scrapes
  • Sand/kitty litter: cheap solution for additional traction in icy climates
  • Salt tablets: when used correctly, they can restore lost electrolytes from sweating
  • Siphon tube: to collect gas or oil to use as a fire starter
  • Needle and thread: great for sewing together torn clothes, rips in shelter coverings and sealing wounds

This guide is not all inclusive. There are hundreds of other creative emergency survival items you could include in your kit for when a crisis strikes. Use everything you have at your disposal, especially any items you might normally keep in your car for quick repairs like a jack and tire iron, wrench, pliers, windshield scraper and work gloves.

Always do your research before venturing out into the wild. Knowing how to survive in a specific environment will increase your chances of making it out alive. Reach out to local park rangers or professional survival guides to additional tips and tricks.

Also, consider packing your NRA Endorsed Emergency Assistance Plus (EA+) card. This emergency medical and travel assistance program steps in with more than 20 medical and travel assistance benefits. However, this coverage does not replace calls to 9-1-1. It acts as a backup plan if you are hospitalized and require additional medical or travel services such as transportation to a different hospital or help replacing a lost a passport.

Learn more about this program and how it has benefitted NRA members across the country.

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