By Rob K12
In December 2013, a family of six unexpectedly found themselves in a situation that could have turned deadly. They drove their SUV to the snow-covered mountains of Nevada for a day of fun in the snow. The driver flipped the vehicle, and they were stranded, unprepared, and no one knew of their location. The family was comprised of one man, one woman, and four children whose ages ranged from 3 to 10. They spent the next 48 hours in their vehicle until they were discovered by a search and rescue team. They survived because they maintained a positive attitude, stayed with the vehicle, and used it as a survival tool. The man started a fire right away and heated rocks that he placed inside the vehicle, on the rim of the spare tire, to keep his family warm.
As this family learned, emergency situations can arise anytime, anywhere. To equip yourself to face survival situations that may occur while you are on the road, assembling a vehicle prep bag - a.k.a., a “get home bag” - is essential.
The "Get Home" Bag
A get home bag is the size of a small- to medium-sized backpack that contains survival essentials based on the priorities of survival. Having all your essentials in a backpack makes it convenient to grab it and go if you need to leave your vehicle behind. Staying with your vehicle and using it to aid in your rescue should be your first course of action, but if your safety requires you to leave it, grab your bag, move to a safe location, and set up a camp.
At a minimum, your get home bag should contain the following essentials:
First Aid - A first aid kit, hand sanitizer, anti-bacterial wipes.
Shelter - Tarp, emergency blankets or emergency bivvy sack for everyone traveling with you.
Signal - Signal mirror, whistle, glow stick. Always have a signal device for both audio and visual recognition.
Water - Emergency water, water bottles (at least one stainless steel bottle to use for boiling) and a means of water purification – commercial filter, iodine tablets, or sodium dioxide tablets.
Fire - Lighter, waterproof matches, ferrocerium spark rod, tinder tabs. You should always have at least three methods of starting a fire in your kit.
Food - Freeze dried food, Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), high-caloric protein bars, and any food that you normally eat.
Security - Firearm, pepper spray.
Tools - Cell phone, knife, multi-tool, 550 parachute cord, flashlight/headlamp, spare batteries, rubber gloves, work gloves, cell phone charger.
Navigation - GPS, compass, maps.
Supplies Stored In Vehicle
If your vehicle has the space to store them, you should include more essentials that are separate from the gear in your bag. At a minimum your car should be equipped with:
First Aid - Its own first aid kit, hand sanitizer, anti-bacterial wipes.
Shelter - Your vehicle can be used as a shelter. You should also include a large tarp, wool blankets, rain gear, gloves, and hats.
Signal - Your car has many signal options. You can use the headlights and horn until the battery runs out. You can also use any mirror on the vehicle. Remove the rearview mirror and reflect the sunlight to your rescue aircraft. The spare tire when lit on fire will produce black smoke that can be seen during the day and a bright flame that can be seen at night.
Water - Equip your vehicle with extra water jugs and change them out as needed.
Fire - Keep lighters, matches, and tinder tabs handy in a little fire starter kit.
Food - Freeze dried food, Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), high caloric protein bars, and any food you normally eat.
Security - Your vehicle provides you with a first level of security. Added security will always enhance your safety.
Tools - Basic vehicle tools like screwdrivers, a ratchet set, wire cutters, flat tire fixer in a can, a multi-tool, flashlight/headlamp, batteries, knife, work gloves, cell phone charger.
Navigation - GPS, road map atlas. If your vehicle is equipped with its own GPS system, there may be an option to pull up your coordinates. Refer to the user manual and become familiar with that function. Then, if you are able to call for help, you can give the exact coordinates of your location.
Conserve your gas for running the heater in cold temperatures or the air conditioning in the desert. Run the vehicle for about 20 minutes for temperature control, then hold off for as long as you can in between. While the vehicle is running, use that time to go full steam on your horn and lights for signaling. The running engine will maintain your battery power, which will give you more opportunities for signaling for help.
If you have food that needs to be cooked, try placing it on the exhaust manifold when the engine is running. It makes for a great "field expedient" oven - and gives you a warm dinner. View our Car Kit Checklist.
Rob K12 is the owner and chief instructor at K12 Survival Solutions. He is a 20-year veteran of the United States Marine Corps and has extensive experience all over the world. He is a graduate of the “C” level SERE school and earned his Wilderness First Aid certification from the Wilderness Medical Institute of the National Outdoor Leadership School.