HELP distress message written on car in snow Photo Credit: donald_gruener (iStock).

Photo Credit: donald_gruener (iStock).

Are you prepared to hit the roads in Colorado this winter?

The Colorado Department of Transportation has published a list of items that travelers should keep in the trunk of their vehicle to make winter driving safer.

I've gone through and added an explanation for why each item is needed and I've also tracked down a highly-rated option on Amazon to make getting these products as simple as possible.

Here's what you should have in your trunk this winter:

The essential items:

  1. Sturdy ice scraper with a snow brush: Keeping those windows clear of snow for the sake of visibility is crucial to winter driving safety, as is knocking stacked snow off of the vehicle prior to driving. Grab this 2-pack of ice scrapers from Amazon. That way, there's a back-up in case of failure and in the meantime, multiple people can clear snow, getting the car moving more quickly. ($20)
  2. Shovel: During winter travel, a vehicle may need to be dug out of the snow. Be prepared for this moment by keeping a collapsible snow shovel in the trunk. Here's an option from Amazon that will do the trick. ($30)
  3. Blankets and a sleeping bag: In the event of getting stuck or stranded, sitting around with the vehicle running is not ideal. Not only is this a good way to run out of gas, it can also lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. Instead, use of warm layers is recommended. There are several options, ranging from battery-powered heating blankets to large throws to full-blown sleeping bags. When stacking the trunk with warming layers, remember that it's better to have too much than not enough. Also be aware that electric blankets can drain a cold car battery. ($20 to $100)
  4. Gallon of water: Water is needed for obvious reasons, though this shouldn't really be kept in the trunk on a permanent basis due to freezing. Before heading out on any winter excursion, toss some water in the trunk. This is one item that's probably best to snag from a local store rather than from Amazon. Better yet – get a water jug and simply refill it prior to departure. For those worried about water freezing, use of an insulated water bottle can help. ($20)
  5. First aid kit and essential personal medications: Not having the proper first aid gear can make a bad situation much worse. Plan ahead by packing a kit that's got the essentials and don't forget to bring person-specific medicine that may be needed in the event of stranding. ($20)
  6. Tire chains: Though chains are not required in most non-commercial travel instances in Colorado, it's not a bad idea to bring them along for particularly snowy situations. Chains can be a bit pricy, but are one of the best traction tools around. Make sure to purchase the correct chains for the vehicle that they'll be used with. ($70-$100)
  7. Tow strap: It's hard to get towed out of a ditch without a tow strap and it's never a good idea to rely on a bystander to have the right equipment to get the job done. Tow straps can be found for under $50, capable of pulling up to 30,000 pounds of working load. ($25-$50)
  8. Jumper cables: Cold weather can kill a car battery quickly, making it important to keep jumper cables close-by should they be needed. Energizer makes a highly-rated and affordable version that can be purchased online. Portable power banks can also make jumping a car battery possible without another vehicle, though these are more expensive.
  9. Flares or reflectors: When things go wrong, it's crucial to keep a roadside vehicle visible to other drivers. Not only can this help with getting assistance, it can also prevent a crash, especially in bad driving conditions. Kits can be found online that include both flares and emergency lights, as well as other emergency safety items. ($40)
  10. Battery or crank powered radio: In order to get important weather alerts while stranded, it's crucial to have a radio that doesn't drain the car battery. Thankfully, a number of options that are hand-crank operated can be found online, many of which can also be used as a power bank to charge a phone. ($30-$60)

UPDATE: A reader named Mike reached out with another item that's a great recommendation – windshield wiper fluid. Running out of wiper fluid during a winter drive can be very dangerous, so it's great to bring this along, as well.

The secondary items:

  1. Extra clothes: These clothes can be used for layering or in the event that melting snow gets something wet. It's never a bad idea to bring a change of clothes along for a long trip – and maybe bring a third pair of gloves and socks.
  2. Chemical hand warmers: Hand warmers that don't require any sort of battery to charge can be a game-changer when it comes to staying comfortable in the cold. Don't expect them to be a substitute for gloves, though.
  3. Non-perishable snacks: With a long shelf-life, snacks like granola bars can be a great option for emergency trunk food. Even in the event of a short stranding, having food available can help with maintaining a positive mood and mental clarity.
  4. Non-clumping kitty litter or sand: Not only can a heavy bag of kitty litter or sand in the trunk add a little bit of weight, thus traction, to the back end of a vehicle, these products can also be used to find a little traction in slick snow. Sometimes, freeing a stuck car can be as simple as putting a little bit of sand under the tires. Most kitty litter that works for this isn't environmentally friendly, so sand is recommended.
  5. A deck of cards or board games: Gotta find a way to stay entertained when trapped in a vehicle. A deck of cards should do the trick. Bonus points if you're prepared with a collection of board games.

I'm also going to add another item to this list – a storage container that fits in your trunk. This will vary by vehicle, but you'll want to have one convenient spot to keep all of your winter gear. Not only will that make it easier to find things in a moment of stress, it will also make summer storage a cinch.

Another big tip is to make sure your gas tank is full at the start of the trip and that you're not letting it get too low throughout your travels. This can be key to safety, as stranding may mean relying on your vehicle for warmth for hours or days at a time. On that note, it's also important to be aware of the carbon monoxide-related risks of sitting in a running vehicle for long periods of time. Turn your vehicle on intermittently and assume that your exhaust pipe may get covered or blocked by heavy snow.

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