Whether you love or hate winter weather, it comes nonetheless. You may think road trips are only a summer thing, but winter road trips offer plenty of opportunities for adventure, sightseeing, and fun. If you want to plan the ultimate winter road trip, we’ve got a list of your top must-haves to keep you safe on the road.
Let’s get started.
Why Road Trips in Winter Are Different Than Summer Trips
Although heat exhaustion is a thing, there is a greater risk of injury associated with cold weather. Winter brings frigid temperatures causing cold-related illnesses like frostbite and hypothermia. The weather also impacts driveability, and the snowy and icy conditions lead to nearly one-quarter of all weather-related car accidents.
Over 70 percent of the roads in the USA get snow. Depending on the area of the country you’ll explore, you need to prepare for cold weather and winter-related driving.
Top 13 Winter Road Trip Essentials
As with any road trip, get a full tank of gas, properly inflate your tires, and fill up your vehicle fluids before you hit the road. But here are some things you should add to your packing list before heading out to keep you safe.
As the saying goes, “hope for the best and plan for the worst.” You’ll enjoy your winter road trip much more if you have the necessities to help you combat the wintry weather along the way.
1. Ice Scraper & Snow Brush
With winter comes ice, snow, and sometimes lots of it. An ice scraper keeps your windshield and windows clean, so you can enjoy the scenery and drive safely.
A snow brush also comes in handy. You may struggle to use your hand to fan off the thick blanket of snow covering your vehicle. Instead, use a snow brush to clear off your windows.
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2. Windshield Wash with Antifreeze or De-Icer
You’ll need to keep extra windshield wash handy to refill when you get low. Driving in snowy weather brings with it plenty of slush that gets thrown up on your windshield. You’ll want to clean your window more frequently.
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- Removes light snow, ice, grime, and bugs
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Additionally, make sure your wiper fluid can withstand winter temperatures, so your windshield doesn’t frost over when you use it. You can purchase a de-icer to melt the iced-over windshield when you spray it on. Or, spray the de-icer on before a storm comes to help keep the ice from accumulating.
Except for Hawaii and Arizona, Daylight Savings Time ends November 7. With that, you turn back the clocks one hour, meaning you lose an hour of daylight in the evening. With less sunlight each day, you’ll need a strong, reliable flashlight or two.
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You’ll want to have one for any issues that might arise during the night while driving. And it’s also helpful to have for any adventures you take at dusk or night.
Additionally, if you drive an RV or set up a tent, flashlights help with any outdoor maintenance or setup you need to do. Another way a flashlight comes in handy? To flag down help if you find yourself stalled on the side of the road at night.
Pro tip: invest in a high-quality headlamp so you can keep your hands free while giving you the extra light you need. Don’t forget to bring extra batteries for your lights, or invest in hand-crank options.
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Learn More: If you want to take your RV out on adventures in the colder months, this is How to RV in Winter for Cold Weather Camping.
4. Tow Strap
A tow strap comes in handy for many uses, some of which don’t even pertain to winter. In the winter, you can use it if you get stuck in the snow, in a ditch, or need to help pull others out. But it also comes in handy if you get stuck at a beach or in a muddy area during other seasons.
Tow straps are typically polyester. They don’t stretch, which can lead to them snapping. They can cause injury or damage when the metal hooks hit something or someone. However, recovery straps have loops instead of metal hooks.
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Invest in some good recovery straps if you want something with some stretch made to pull a stuck vehicle. Regardless of which you choose, get one that’s rated for your vehicle weight.
5. Chains for Tires (For Mountain Driving)
Driving in the mountains can be a thrilling experience, but winter weather and higher elevation can quickly turn dangerous. Make sure your tires have tread appropriate for winter conditions. But you’ll also need to invest in some chains for mountain driving.
In fact, several states require that you have chains on board and use them when enforced by law. You can face a fine if you don’t put them on. Plus, it’s just not safe.
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Wherever you plan to road trip, be sure to look up their state requirements and keep an eye on the weather. In general, you’ll need to have a chain for each drive wheel, and you should only install them when specified by state law.
Make sure whatever chains you purchase fit your tires. Finally, make sure you familiarize yourself with chains and practice installing them before your trip.
6. Jumper Cables
Car batteries and cold weather don’t always mix. The cold weather affects your battery’s performance and depending on your battery’s age, and how long it’s sat unused, it may not turn over when you need it to start.
Carry a good pair of jumper cables. To ensure the best performance, invest in heavy-duty ones like two or four-gauge cables that are 100 percent copper.
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Jumper cables only work when you have another battery to run off of. If you have an RV, you can use that.
If you will travel to a more remote area and won’t have another vehicle battery accessible to jump you, consider investing in a portable battery booster. This allows you to charge your own battery to get back on the road.
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7. Spare Tire Inflator Can (Like Fix-A-Flat)
Although a can of Fix-A-Flat isn’t always the best thing for your tires, it’s a good thing to have on hand on a winter road trip. If you encounter a slow leak or a flat tire, the Fix-A-Flat can hold you over until you can get the damage properly fixed.
This is especially helpful in winter weather or if it’s after hours to get the tire repaired. Plus, it can be dangerous to fix a tire on the side of the road during poor weather conditions.
With that said, don’t put off getting your faulty tire repaired. Your vehicle will better handle the snowy and icy roads if you have properly inflated tires.
8. Portable Shovel
If you get stuck or snowed in, you’ll need a way to dig yourself out. A portable shovel also helps keep your exhaust pipe area clean of snow build-up to ensure you don’t breathe in any harmful gases.
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An added tip: Carry some sand or burlap to put down near your tires. It’ll give you some added traction to help you get unstuck.
9. Warm Winter Jacket, Hat, & Gloves
These should all go without saying, but make sure you have a cold-weather-rated coat, hat, and gloves for yourself and any passengers.
You should plan to spend considerable time outside for any issues that arise, like adding chains to your tires, getting yourself unstuck, or repairing a maintenance issue.
This means you could find yourself in frigid temperatures for a long time. Consider packing a pair of water-resistant boots as well to keep your feet dry.
Additionally, throw in some wet wipes so you can clean your hands after any repair work you’ll need to do. And, pack a clean, dry towel to use on your windows if they get fogged over.
10. Hand & Toe Warmers
Hand, toe, foot, and body warmers are good items to keep in your vehicle for emergencies. Plus, they last for years, which means you can store them in your car.
Once you need some extra heat, shake them up and stick them in your gloves, socks, or boots. They’ll provide hours of warmth, with some lasting eight hours and up to 20 for other products.
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Don’t forget to check the expiration date of your warmers before you take off on your trip. If they expire soon, replace them before your trip.
11. All-Weather Gorilla Tape
Things happen. If you have some issues, having all-weather Gorilla tape on hand can be a lifesaver.
Need to repair your bumper in a pinch? Patch a fender? Hold a side mirror that’s hanging or even a headlight that’s falling off your vehicle? All-weather Gorilla Tape can come to the rescue.
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If you camp in a tent or an RV, you can even use this tape to seal up any random leaks to keep you dry. It’s made with butyl rubber, so it’s permanent and waterproof.
You can apply it in temperatures above 40 degrees, and it withstands temperatures down to -40 degrees.
12. Emergency Blanket
NASA created the original emergency blankets in 1964. These blankets reflect a significant amount of your body heat back to you — up to 90 percent. These waterproof and durable blankets hold up to the elements.
Wrap one around yourself while in your car, or add one to your sleeping bag to hold in your body heat. You can even use one as a ground cover, to create an emergency shelter, or to use as a wind and rain blocker.
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Pro Tip: Don’t let the cold stop you from camping in the winter. Try one of these 5 Best Cold Weather Sleeping Bags for Staying Warm While Winter Camping.
13. Emergency First Aid Kit
Having an emergency first aid kit is important to always have on hand, especially during the winter. After all, you never know when your vehicle will get stalled on the side of the road, when your car won’t start, or when the stores close down in winter storms.
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Then, imagine getting injured and not having the supplies on hand and no way to get them. This is another must-have for your winter road trip.
Basic first aid kits include items to treat minor cuts and burns, eye injuries, provide pain relief, and help with any sprains and fractures. If you’re traveling to a remote area, consider adding extra supplies to help with life-saving issues, like severe bleeding or respiratory problems.
Having these things on hand helps you treat your injuries if emergency medical services can’t get to you quickly due to the weather or road conditions.
Finally, consider adding some bottled water and energizing, non-perishable snacks. And don’t forget to bring along any medications you may need.
Winter Driving Tips
You may or may not know how to drive in the winter. Either way, these are tips we can all brush up on.
A tip that goes without saying, but unfortunately, we must repeat it: slow down.
Driving slowly keeps you and others around you safer on the road. No matter what, you’ll have less traction on icy or snowy roads than you would have on dry ones. Driving slow and steady keeps you from spinning out and avoids skidding.
Finally, keep an ample distance between you and other cars to allow you enough time to stop. Slow down early for stop signs and lights to give you enough time to stop safely.
Check the Weather Often
Being weather-aware includes watching the local weather forecast and checking the weather apps on your phone. Aside from this, consider your specific road trip variables to best plan.
Will you be sticking to major highways and interstates or traveling rural, back roads? Will you be in higher elevations or traveling a mountainous area with steep inclines? Think of your specific plans and adjust them for safety depending on the weather report.
Familiarize yourself with the Department of Transportation (DOT) resources for the states you’ll drive through. Save their hotline on your phone, bookmark their website, and download their app to get the latest road conditions and alerts.
Buy a paper road map to have on hand, or at the very least download maps to work offline in the event you lose signal. Have extra portable chargers as backups in case you lose power to keep your phone charged.
And remember, a weather report is simply a prediction. If you begin to feel unsafe driving, turn around or stop at the nearest place until the weather clears and the roads improve. Your safety is worth a detour or delay in your plans.
Consider Winter Tires
Your vehicle likely has all-season tires, made for typical road use throughout the year and light winter driving. To conquer severe winter road conditions, you could purchase winter or snow tires.
Winter tires are different from all-season tires. The tire stays more flexible in cold weather, providing a better grip. They also have deeper treads to provide better traction in the snow. And, winter tires have a different type of edge that offers better traction on ice.
If you go the route of winter tires, be sure to purchase a whole set. Only putting them on your fronts or backs will not make you safer in the snowy weather. Instead, this can actually make it worse for you on the road.
Once you’re past snow and ice weather indefinitely, reinstall your all-weather tires for the best road performance.
Winter Road Trips for Off-Season Travel
We hope this list didn’t scare you off from enjoying a winter road trip. After all, a road trip in any season can make amazing memories.
If you enjoy visiting places in the off-season for better rates and less traffic, the winter can be a perfect time to head out on a road trip. So gather up the supplies from this list, and get ready to hit the road or the slopes.
What are your winter road trip essentials? Drop a comment below!
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