How to Build the Ultimate Vehicle Survival Kit: With Checklist

Yes, You Need a Vehicle Survival Kit!

And here’s why.

You jump in the car; fire the ignition, head down the road, and all is well. But then, the unexpected happens.

A small error, an unavoidable accident, a rapid change in weather, some black ice, vehicle malfunction, something causes everything to change in an instant. And BOOM! Your world is turned upside down.

Truck Flipped Over In Snow

Now you find yourself facing an emergency situation, or worse, a horrific disaster.

Unfortunately, that’s what happened to the Kim family on November 25th, 2007.

Disaster Strikes

Trying to avoid the snow the Kim family took a wrong turn onto an old backcountry-logging road. They ended up stuck and stranded. After six days, Mr. Kim set out on foot for help. Sadly, he never made it.

However, a helicopter pilot rescued the rest of the family two days later. Read the full story.

This story illustrates why everyone should prepare for the unexpected now!

Additionally, this highlights an important rule.

Always stay with your vehicle.

Staying with your vehicle increases the chance of rescue significantly.

Therefore, don’t try to walk for help unless the weather is temperate and you have the proper resources — food, water, clothing, and strength to do so.

Charles Dornford, a staff sergeant in United States Air Force, Pacific Air Forces, teaches cold weather survival to Department of Defense personnel at one of the most frigid places on Earth: Arctic Alaska.

Here’s his list of things to do when you get your vehicle stuck in the snow:

  • Immediately ensure that the exterior exhaust on the car is clear of snow, so you don’t get carbon monoxide buildup in the car.
  • Once you find yourself stuck in your car in a snowstorm, the best thing to do is stay put (unless you see a building nearby).
  • Then turn the vehicle off. Turn it on every once in a while to heat it up, and then turn it back off to conserve gas.
  • Continue to check the tailpipe each time you turn on the heater.
  • Some of the ways to keep warm in the car are doing various exercises. Just do a set of pushups or flutter kicks every once in a while.

Okay, enough on the macabre reasons to build a kit.

On to the fun stuff

Please note. The ideology behind this kit is to prepare for every eventuality, including being stranded in a remote place for an extended period, an emergency evacuation or having to Bug out at a moment notice. Therefore, the list is more extensive than what you will need for most roadside “emergencies” — especially if you are in a densely populated area where help is likely to arrive quickly. I recommend two kits, a large backpack “Survival Kit” (so you can take it with you), and a large bag or plastic box “Vehicle Service Kit.”


Remember the rule of three. Most people can survive 3 minutes without air, three hours without shelter (in a harsh environment), three days without water, and three weeks without food.

According to FEMA guidelines, you should have at least 1/2 a gallon drinking water for each day.

That means it’s going to be difficult to carry enough water for more than a few days.

I recommend the 64 oz., all-stainless steel (no plastic) growlers by Rocky Mountain or the all-stainless Klean Kanteen. Both are excellent.  Two will provide enough water for two days, per person.

Other good options are the DATREX foil water pouches and the Rethink paperboard cartons. Stay away from plastic bottles if you have concerns about BPA chemical leaching.

Select the Right Bag for Your Emergency Vehicle Kit

Many roadside emergency kits you can buy are nothing more than a flimsy little bag with a couple of items inside.

That’s not going to work well if you have to walk 250 miles home, as Morgan did in the survivalist series “Going Home“– a fun read by the way.

Bottom line. Use a sturdy backpack for your emergency kit. That way, you can take it and its contents with you, if need be.

Get something large — like this Gonex 100L pack.

Okay, here comes the secret sauce.

By the way, there is a printable .pdf checklist for download at the bottom of this article. I also have, for your convenience, included links to most of these items on Amazon, and pictures for the products that I particularly like.

Survival Kit Items


Maintaining hygiene while in an emergency situation can protect your health and keep you a little bit more comfortable.

Toilet Paper or even better Dead Down Wind Wet Wipes. These heavy-duty large wet wipes are sturdy and bio-engineered (with a vegetable enzyme) to eliminate odor. They are the next best thing to taking a shower. They just work, and the are better priced than others. Highly recommended. Get some!

Toothbrush, Paste, Floss.

Bar of Soap.

Hand Sanitizer. It’s perfect for hygiene, and it doubles as a fantastic fire starter fuel. Squirt some on your tinder, then light and watch the magic.

Change of Clothes. May include – Coat, pants, weatherproof shirt, underwear, socks, hat, gloves, etc.

Wool Socks. Don’t use cotton. Cotton absorbs moisture and takes forever to dry. Wool socks will wick away moisture and keep your feet warm.

Extra Shoes.

Plastic Garbage Bags.

Ziploc-style Bags.

Feminine Pads and Tampons. In addition to providing comfort, these items have a number of survival uses. You can use these items, and their packaging, as a medical bandage, a water filter (not purifier), fire tinder, water straw, candle wick, cordage, blow-dart fletching, a blow tube for coal burning, fishing bobber and more.


6 Dehydrated MRE’s. I like the Beef Stroganoff with noodles from mountain house.



Fire Starter and Tinder. The ability to start a fire is so important I carry four different methods.

  1. Torch – I like the Ronson Jetline Butane Torch Lighter. If you don’t mind spending a little bit more for quality I recommend the UCO Stormproof Torch.
  2. Waterproof matches. I strongly recommend the UCO Stormproof Match Kit with Waterproof Case. They are incredible. [edgtf_icon icon_pack=”font_awesome” fa_icon=”fa-youtube-play” size=”edgtf-icon-tiny”] [video_lightbox_youtube video_id=”BQAkZYYdXkU” width=”640″ height=”390″ anchor=”Click here to watch a video and see what I mean.”]
  3. Carbide & Flint Striker
  4. Magnesium Fuel bar

For Tinder pack cotton balls in Vaseline or pick up some Sol Fire Cubes.

Cord. I like the 100% Dupont Kevlar Braided Line. It’s smaller than paracord but just as strong.

Small Marine Blow Horn From SABRE. Extremely loud – 115 dB horn can be heard up to ½ mile (805M) away. Maximizes safety – signals for help in an emergency (camping, hiking, boating, car, etc.) Reduces risk of bear attack – great bear spray accessory, is a louder alternative to bear bells; periodic blasts alert bears in the area, reducing your chance of startling an animal into aggressive behavior.

Life StrawLife Straw On a scorching day, some years ago, my truck broke down in the Idaho dessert. Like an idiot, I had taken my survival kit out the day before — to clean the vehicle — and forgot to put it back in before I went out and hit some trails. Long story short, I could have been in serious trouble. However, I was able to call for help — which arrived 9 hours later. I was able to find water nearby, but it had cow dung all around it. I would have gotten very sick if I drank that water.

More than anything else on this list, I wished I had put drinking water in the truck, and a Life Straw in the glove box, for when the drinking water ran out.

As a side note, it’s a good idea to have a fire starter and a life straw somewhere in your car as backup, just in case you somehow forget your survival pack one day.

Water purification tablets.


Pocket Chain Saw.

Flashlight. I recommend the Goal Zero solar/crank flashlight with built-in solar panel. It also has a USB port for charging our phone.

If you are looking for a cheaper option, get a LED handheld flashlight. Don’t forget to bring extra batteries.



Hand warmers.



Emergency blanket. An emergency blanket will regulate your body heat and keep you warmer longer.

Emergency water packets.

Rain ponchos.

Heavy Duty Trash Bags. For sanitary use as well as water collection (tie around a tree branch to collect condensation overnight), waterprooffing shoes, as thermal underwear, for ground cover, to build a solar still, and much more.


Zip Ties, Wire Ties.

N95 or an N100 Dust  Masks.

Work Gloves.

Binoculars. I love the Vortex Diamondback binos, and you can’t beat their lifetime replacement warranty.  I have been using them for years.

Light Sticks.

Orange Cotton Hat.

Duct tape. You can use duct tape to make a rope, patch clothing, make a bandage, make a spear, create a splint, tape a broken window, build a hammock, repair your vehicle, start a fire or tape your spouse’s mouth shut or tape an attacker to a tree. Okay, don’t do the last two.

Moleskin Adhesive Pads.  These pads alleviate pain from blisters, bunions, calluses and corns.

Notebook, pen pencil

Weather radio. This weather radio, broadcasts continuous weather information from the National Weather Service offices across the country.

Silverware set.

Solo Stove or compatible and pot. You are going to need a stove to boil water and cook food. I like the Solo Stove Stainless Steel Titan and Solo Pot 1800 Camp Stove. It is also the #1 wood-burning backpacking stove recommended by Backpacker Magazine and other serious survivalists including Discovery Channel’s Matt Graham.

At about $135 the Solo Stove might be out of some readers budget. Another, more affordable option is the Esbit Ultralight Folding Pocket Stove ($10.24).

Quality First Aid Kit.

Aspirin (or similar).

Fleece Blanket.


Cash, Coins. In the event of a grid-down situation, it is likely that ATM’s will not be working. Also, you may need coins/cash for tool-roads, vending machines, or to purchase something from someone who cannot accept a card.

Pepper Spray.


Foam Ear Plugs.

Fragrance-Free Sunscreen.

Lip Balm.

Bug Repellent.

Playing Cards.

Service Kit Items


Snow Chains.

Ice Scraper.

Cat Litter.


Radiator Fluid.


Power Steering Fluid.


Tire Gauge.

Tire Plug/Repair Kit. This kit that includes pliers and everything else you will need to fix a puncture.

Foam Tire Sealant.

Air Compressor.


Gas Can.

Jumper Cables.

Latex Gloves.

Duct tape.

Tow Rope.

Tool Kit.

Folding Shovel. I have tried a bunch of shovels, and this Glock Entrenching Tool with Saw and Pouch is by far my favorite. How can you go wrong with a shovel made by one of the best gun manufacturers?



Fire Extinguisher. This is an item that is often overlooked but is critical. Not only can it save lives, but it can also save your vehicle from being totaled by a fire. My baby, a 79 Ford Bronco once had a fire in the engine compartment — caused by too much transmission fluid being put in. The liquid overflowed from the fill spout. When it hit the hot engine block, it ignited. Thankfully, I had a fire extinguisher on board.

Phone & Charger.

Flares, Reflective Triangles.


Here’s the download. Please feel free to share this file with your friends. All that I ask is that you keep the attribution link at the bottom.

Vehicle Survival Kit Checklist

Well, that’s a wrap. I hope you have found this helpful. Please share it with your friends on Facebook.

  • Show Comments

  • Mark Goulette

    I used to carry bread bags, boots get soaking wet, put on dry socks and a bread bag over them and back in the boots. Works in an emergency. Dry feet are always warmer than wet ones.

    • Justin Cummins

      Great idea Mark.

  • Jaybee

    It would be interesting to add up how much it would cost to obtain all these items. I wish cost were borne in mind more on prepper websites.

    • Justin Cummins

      Jaybe that is an excellent idea. We will do that and post it here in a bit. By the way, if cost is a factor, just start with the most important items, water, fire starter, cell phone and charger, and then build from there.

    • Justin Cummins

      So we ran the numbers. If you stick with cheaper options on the list and don’t count the Vortex Binoculars ($239) or the Leatherman ($99), you can do this for $200-$350 easily. We calculated almost $24 for garbage bags and zip lock bags for instance, and you only need a couple for your pack, not the whole box. Of course many of these items you probably already have around the house.

  • GWS Prepper

    Tried to open the file. Adobe says file is damaged and cannot be repaired.

    • Justin Cummins

      Usually, when that happens, it is because the file has not downloaded all the way. The file has been opened on many devices without trouble. Please try again.

  • Bob

    May I print your vehicle survival kit checklist and distribute it to my friends at church? Your website address is at the bottom should they want more prepper information. Thanks, Bob

    • Justin Cummins

      Yes, you are free to distribute it. I just ask that you keep the link on the bottom for attribution. Thank you!

  • Aerol

    I guess you means Sanitation and not Sanity ;). And instead of the LifeStraw I’d recommend the Sawyer water filter

    • Justin Cummins

      Aerol. No, I did mean sanity. Those are items which will help you keep your sanity if stranded for a long time. Yes, the Sawyer is an excellent product as well and we often recommend it too.

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