If you knew that you would end up stranded hip deep in snow late at night on a lonely back road, you would come dressed for it with supplies and a way to call for help. Sadly emergencies rarely send you a postcard ahead of time. With winter just around the corner for the Northern hemisphere, it is time to update any kits that you may have in your car, at home, and at work.
At home, your kit may be less of an organized bag as just having certain things on hand. One important one in cold climates is an alternate heat source if you use a heat pump or electrical heating. In the event of a power outage these will no longer work. For a small space, a portable propane heater that uses the camping style 16 ounce propane bottles is a good option. Here is an example, but there are several styles. Click the pictures for more info.
In addition to the heater, a good stock of warm blankets and clothes should be kept. These will help you conserve fuel and also conserve body heat while you sleep. This also conserves calories. Wool blankets are a much better choice than cotton. Since these are meant to stay at home, the extra weight over something like a space blanket is a better trade off for the extra warmth.. A wool blanket like this is a good fire resistant option.
You will also need light during this time. A few good flashlights and backup sets of batteries are a good choice. Candles can be used, but need to be secured in a safe way so to prevent the chance of fire. A lantern style light like this one would be a better first option as long as you have batteries.
If you do need to use candles, tealights have a shorter burn time, but cannot be tipped over. They are cheap and easy to buy in quantity. They could also be used an improvised cooking flame if hard pressed. Here is a example of them.
Food will need to be reviewed also. The best is to have food that is ready to eat. Canned foods are a good long term option since weight is not a factor. This can be soups, fruit, vegetables, or meat. Saltine crackers are a good option to accompany these. Sealed they stay fresh a long time. The idea is to limit the need to cook because that requires extra equipment and fuel. It is also another potential fire hazard. Though if the power outage is long term more food options will help curb cabin fever. In that case a stove such as this one is compact and uses the same bottles as the heater above. As an added benefit, it can be used to boil water (or snow and ice) if you run out of clean stored water.
Foods such as “camper” meals can be stored long term and easily prepared using the stove above. The trade off is that they cost more than standard canned food. They have a great variety of food options and some come sealed in a container for even better storage. They do require water, so be sure to keep a good storage of clean water. Mountain House is a popular brand of these meals. This bucket includes 6 different types of meal pouches.
In case things go beyond just sitting and waiting for the weather to clear, you need to have a way to make outside contact. Given the upgrade away from traditional copper line landlines, a cell phone is the most possible option. Those require power too. A compact option for that is a hand crank device. This one is a AM/FM, weather radio, flashlight, and power bank combo. These are nice because they not only help you communicate out, but can help you keep up on things going on around you based on news reports and weather alerts. Also, unlike a traditional power bank, you do not need to remember to keep them charged. Either sit this out in the sun or hand crank it to fill the battery. Just be sure to have cables compatible with all your electronics that you want to keep charged.
Some of these items such as the blanket, flashlights, batteries, and radio combo are also a good part of a winter car kit. In addition some candles and a lighter can provide light and enough warmth to make a difference in the small space of a vehicle. Just be sure to crack a window to compensate for the used oxygen. In case you get stuck and can possibly “self rescue’ a shovel and salt/sand/cat litter can help to restore traction. If you need help and someone comes along, having booster cables and a tow rope or chain can ensure you have what they need to help you. You can also be the good Samaritan if the reverse situation arises. Road flares and reflective signals will keep you from getting ran over (hopefully). In addition, a sturdy set of winter boots and a change of clothes including gloves and a warm hat need to be kept in the car. This is in case you are caught dressed inappropriately for walking in bad weather. Top the kit off with some ready to eat snacks that can stand temperature fluctuations in case you get stuck for an extended amount of time. Be sure to keep these in a kit so that they stay secure and organized in your car. A plastic tote can work in the trunk, but just be sure to include a backpack in case you need to load up supplies and leave the vehicle.
Since you also more than likely spend a significant amount of time at work, it can pay to store some items in a safe spot there. If you do not have easy access to your vehicle and your work attire is not appropriate to walk in bad weather, a change of clothes should be stored here. Boots, a sweater or sweatshirt, warm pants, wool socks, and possibly even a thermal base layer would be good to have. A good flashlight, a radio combo like above, and some snacks would also be a great idea. If you have storage room, a blanket would be very welcome if you get stranded at work overnight.
As you can see, none of the items included above should be terribly surprising. the problem is that on a day to day basis most are not needed, so people overlook them. This is where a clearly defined plan can help you to properly equip your kits to be there for you when they are needed. So, yearly you should review your winter planning, check for equipment that needs to be swapped, replace any supplies that were used, and add any new additions that have come to light. This small amount of planning will go a long way in keeping you safe until you can get to safety, have someone pick you up, or the emergency has ended.