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37 Winter Car Essentials for Road Emergency Kit (Checklist)

For many, the holidays are a busy time for travel. The winter holidays can be especially tricky if you’re driving to visit family. Through our years of family holiday visits, we’ve learned to pack a few winter car essentials to help keep us safe on our winter road trip. Consider this your winter car survival kit!

Plus, I’ve made a winter road trip essentials packing checklist to help you remember everything you might need along the way! Find it at the bottom of this post.

winter car essentials checklist

Winter Car Essentials

If you’re driving in winter weather conditions, you need to be ready to handle possible serious situations. We’ve traveled up to Edmonton, over mountain passes, and thankfully haven’t needed any emergency supplies. However, we still pack them just in case.

In addition to packing these winter essentials, you’ll also want to make sure you’re prepared for winter driving with some winter road trip tips. For example, make sure to know the road conditions on your route to your destination, and head out with a full tank of gas.

If you’re heading to a ski resort, you’ll want to check out our Ultimate Ski Trip Packing List

winter road trip packing list
Don’t forget to pack these road trip essentials for winter road trips this holiday season! © Stuffed Suitcase

Winter Car Safety

The first priority for packing for a winter road trip should be what you might need to take care of your car during the cold winter months.

Before you leave it’s important to have your standard car maintenance and check-up done. Fluid levels and tires are important to check. If you don’t live in a winter climate, be sure to tell your mechanic if you’re heading into winter conditions so they can make sure your car is ready to hit the open road. It’s also a great time to sign up for a AAA membership.

One of the things we always do is to make sure we have de-icing windshield fluid in our car instead of a summer bug formula.

Battery Pack / Jumper Cables

I actually prefer a portable jump starter since you might have trouble finding someone to jump you depending on where you stop and where you find yourself with a dead battery. But definitely pack at least a pair of jumper cables.

Ice Scraper

An ice scraper is essential for a winter road trip to safely remove ice and frost from your vehicle’s windshield and windows, ensuring clear visibility and safe driving in cold and snowy conditions.

Shovel / Sand

A portable shovel and sand are helpers in case you do find yourself stuck. We normally pack a cheap bag of cat litter instead of sand. Of course, perhaps it pays to watch a YouTube video before you leave so you know what steps to take to actually get unstuck.

Flashlight & Emergency Flares

If you do end up with car troubles once night has fallen you’re going to want a flashlight and flares. The flares alert others to your stranded car, and a flashlight lets you work on fixing the issue. A headlamp is best so your hands stay free.

De-icer Windshield Fluid

De-icer windshield fluid is crucial for a winter road trip as it helps prevent ice buildup on the windshield, improving visibility and safety while driving in cold and icy conditions. I recommend filling your windshield fluid up before you travel and packing this spray de-icer as well.

Pocket Knife / Multi-tool

You never know when you’ll need a pocket knife or even a screwdriver. It’s a good idea to keep one of these multi-tools handy in case you need to fix something. A roll of duct tape is a good extra to pack too.

Tire Chains

If you will be driving over mountain passes or on snowy roads with icy conditions, tire chains are a must for dangerous road conditions. Sometimes they’re a requirement for winter travel on certain roads in the United States.

Be sure to make sure that you have a spare tire, and that it’s still in working condition! There’s nothing worse than having a flat tire in wintry weather.

Many of these items can be found in a winter roadside safety kit.

Car Supplies

car essentials to pack

To keep you comfortable during your car ride, there are a few things you should pack along for the ride. Many of these ideas are found in my road trip essentials post. These are probably common-sense items that most moms will have on hand, but it never hurts to be sure!

  • Kleenex
  • Wet Wipes
  • Paper Towels
  • Deodorizer
  • First Aid Kit
  • Hand Sanitizer

Driving Items

The items above will help you stay safe and comfortable during a winter trip, but you’ll also need some basic driving items.

Driver’s License – this one is obvious, but it’s a good time to make sure your license is current. Also, be sure to bring your passport if you’ll be crossing the border.

Insurance Card – Be sure your insurance is current, and that you have your current card in your car before you leave.

Membership Cards – Don’t forget to pack your membership and discount cards. Consider if you need any gas savings cards or grocery discount cards. Also, bring your AAA card if you have a membership.

Road Map – There are two reasons why we still like to take road trips with paper maps. We actually keep a current road atlas in the car for every trip. It’s never good to rely totally on electronic navigation. And sometimes paper maps are way better for identifying landmarks you might be passing. Kids will also love following along on your trip. These can also be super helpful when you hit a surprise road closure!

If you’re driving off the main interstates you might want to pick up road maps for the specific state(s) you’ll be driving in as they’re often more detailed than a road atlas.

Wallet / Credit & Cash – Be sure to pack cash and credit cards. Credit cards are great for buying gas, and cash might be needed at some small towns or roadside stops.

GPS device – While paper road maps are great for getting a good overall look at where you’re going, GPS devices have perks too. Our absolute favorite feature is the estimated driving time. It’s nice to see when you’ll be arriving at each stop. Phones can work just fine for this, but we’ve had a GPS device for years and so still use it on our road trips.

Staying Warm

Again, just in case you do get stuck in inclement weather, you should have warm clothes and a couple of other items packed to keep you warm in the cold weather. And remember that if you do become stuck, before running your car, make sure your exhaust pipe isn’t damaged or blocked by snow as that could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Hot Packs

If you are stuck or stranded you need to do what you can to stay warm. Hand warmers are easy to pack and can help you stay a bit warmer until you can be rescued. You can also buy rechargeable hand warmers if you like to use them often in the winter.

Blankets – These are great for staying warm. Mylar camping blankets are great and take up little space.

Gloves / Hats / Scarves – you’ll likely make stops along your trip so these are great for winter weather. Plus they’re useful if you do have car trouble.

Boots – while you don’t want to wear boots when you’re lounging in the car since they’re kind of bulky, you should pack a pair for trekking in any snow or ice.


road trip snack bin packed in car

You definitely need to pack food and water for your winter road trip. Again, hopefully, you won’t have any problems, but just in case you do, you want to be prepared.

Snacks – Make sure you pack some nutritious snacks along with all those junk-food road trip snacks. Protein bars and granola bars are also a good idea if you do find yourself stuck in a winter storm for a while.

Water – It’s always a good idea to keep water on hand when driving. Large plastic gallon jugs of water and bottled water are easy to pack.

Reusable Water Bottles – We like to try to be eco-conscience when on our road trips so we pack reusable water bottles.

Tech & Entertainment

While most of these items aren’t necessarily essential for the winter, they do help you stay entertained along the way and keep your devices charged in case you do have car troubles.

Cell Phone – this one should be fairly obvious. Just be aware that some areas of North America still don’t have cell signals. If you’re planning to travel in rough terrain it might make sense to have a satellite communicator for emergencies.

Portable Battery Packs – If you do have car trouble, you want to make sure you have enough battery life on your phone to get help.

DVD Player / Tablet – This is especially useful for families to keep kids entertained. However, I love reading books on my iPad during a road trip.

Holiday Music Playlist – There are so many fun holiday songs, make a playlist of your favorites. Singing along to fun music can help make the miles go by quicker! If you subscribe to Spotify or a similar music streaming service you can find plenty of ready-made playlists!

Holiday Books – Your local library is a great spot to find some holiday books to pack along for the ride. Get in the winter spirit with some great kids’ books or adult fiction about winter or the holidays.

Coloring / Writing Supplies – there are some great adult winter coloring books that are great to pack along for the trip. Kids might enjoy my own A to Z Travel Coloring Book!

Travel Games – Check out my own printable road trip games for kids or my post about family fun travel games!

Charging Cables / USB Plug – If you have multiple devices that you’ll need to charge, be sure to pack enough cables. Also, consider a USB plug for your car’s 12V outlet and a multiport DC plug inverter.

I’ve created a printable winter car essentials packing list to help you make sure you don’t forget any of the important things you’ll need.

printable winter car essentials checklist download
Click on the image to download my printable winter car essentials packing list © Stuffed Suitcase

Of course, don’t forget all your other vacation necessities, like clothes and a toothbrush! You can use my Customizable Packing List Spreadsheet or Packing List Template Printable to help you with that.

If you’re still deciding where to go on your winter trip, check out these posts:

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Tuesday 4th of February 2020

[…] be sure to monitor mountain pass and road conditions. You’ll likely need to pack properly for a winter road trip, including bringing […]


Friday 7th of June 2019

Oh my goodness! This page is truly so so helpful and very very cute and sweet! Thank you really so much for creating and making such an amazing page! That really is so sweet that you would like to be so helpful!Thank you again!


Friday 7th of June 2019

Glad you found it helpful! Happy travels!