Most survival situations are not dramatic falls or being shipwrecked on a forgotten island. Most survival situations start as mundane events that evolve into dangerous situations through the combination of unforeseen forces. Of all the survival situations, the one that might be the most common is surviving a few days in your vehicle waiting for someone to find you. While car survival may seem like a no-brainer, every winter the headlines are full of stories about outdoor enthusiasts or weary travelers involved in life-threatening car survival situations. Most situations involve the travelers breaking down, getting lost or encountering bad weather that strands the vehicle – life threatening situations usually combine variations of all three. The secret to car survival is that the same planning you use to hike safely can be used to survive comfortably in your car until you are rescued. Follow these three tips and be prepared for your next extended vehicular camping trip.
1. Leave a Note
You don’t go for a long hiking or climbing trip without making an itinerary and leaving it with a trusted friend or family member. Make a habit of doing this even on short trips. On the note include a detailed trip plan, the make and model of your vehicle, planned routes, maps taken, emergency signaling devices, survival gear and communications technology taken. Lastly, include a “drop-dead” time to call for help and include who should be called if you don’t return at the specified time.
Why include the maps you have with you? A person’s view of the situation often depends on what can be seen. If rescuers know what maps you are looking at they can begin to see the survival situation from your perspective and make educated choices about where to look for you.
Why include your emergency signaling devices? Rescuers find you faster if they know what to look for. Is that a piece of shiny garbage or a reflective emergency blanket?
2. Stay with Your Car
Your car is the best piece of survival gear you have: It is shelter, heat and a signaling device…don’t leave it. With a little preparation your vehicle can keep you comfortable and safe in subzero temperatures. One danger of staying in your car is the dangerous build-up of carbon monoxide produced by exhaust or the use of a camp stove. Make sure to crack a window and try to get cross-ventilation while running the car or using a stove. If you are running your car for heat, turn the car into the wind if possible and make sure the exhaust is not blocked by snow or mud. Run the car for approximately five minutes every half hour and never fall asleep with the car running. Be aware that in really cold conditions the intermittent engine use could allow for snow to melt in the engine compartment and impair proper operation of the vehicle in the future.
Next, make use of the gear and resources you have with you. Wrap up in a sleeping bag if you have one. Old newspapers, floor mats, and carpeting can also provide warmth. In a pinch, the upholstery stuffing can be packed inside of clothing to increase warmth. Your comfort and survivability in a vehicle is only limited by your preparation and imagination. Carry an emergency survival kit next to your spare with survival food, water, signaling devices, a knife, a well-stocked first-aid kit (if you cut yourself with the knife) and emergency blankets.
3. Stay Positive and Active
In addition to packing survival items also think about packing a book or some games. Survival is more of a mental game than a physical one, and staying positive and alert increases your chances of survival. Having patience and staying calm can keep you from doing something stupid – like getting bored and trying to walk out. If you can safely exit your vehicle, get out and do some jumping jacks to increase circulation, warmth, and get a shot of spirit boosting endorphins. Check on your signaling devices and make sure they are still visible and not blown away or covered by snow. The activity will make you feel like you are contributing to your rescue and doing something useful, both powerful mental motivators for survival. Lastly, enjoy the moment. Notice the beauty in the snow drift or the patterns of the rain as it hits the window. Meditate, outline the great American novel, or sing as loud as you can. Few people have the opportunity to truly be alone; help will be there soon so take the opportunity to enjoy your momentary quantum of solace.
The Indispensable Space Blanket
Few items have such versatile life-saving uses as the small, light-weight, and often over looked space blanket. Used as a wraparound the space blanket reflects 90 percent of body heat and minimizes cooling through convection and radiation. To use the space blanket properly, put the shiny side next to your body. If you can, use duct tape to close the blanket around you so you don’t have to expose your fingers to the cold while trying to hold the blanket closed. The space blanket has many uses beyond just being a shiny cool wrap. The space blank can be used to increase warmth inside of your sleeping bag, as a lean-to shelter, and even as a large signaling device. At such a small size and weight it is hard to think of another piece of gear that can do so much in emergency situations.