My Truck / Car Emergency Kit For Cross-Country Travel

With the reliability of today’s cars and trucks and the fact that your smartphone makes it easy to get help when you need it, you might overlook the importance of a car or roadside emergency kit. Most people, including me, give little thought to what could happen until we’re in the midst of an emergency situation.

As a man, husband, and (grand)father, I feel a sense of responsibility to protect my family, and part of that protection involves preparation.

I’m grateful that up to this point, we’ve gotten by without needing an emergency kit and not having it, but I’d prefer to have the kit and not need it.

But what happens when you get caught up in a winter storm with no winter emergency kit? Or what if the DOT shuts down the freeways and your cell phone stops working?

If it could happen, it will happen to someone. If it’s you, you’ll be glad you planned ahead. I know I will.

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If you’d like to skip over the backstory to this roadside emergency kit, and get right to the list of items I put in my kit, use the shortcuts below. Otherwise, keep reading.

An Unplanned Evacuation

It was 2005. A month prior, I had just moved my family to Richmond, Texas, southwest of Houston. The models showed Hurricane Katrina headed straight at us.

Being our first encounter with a hurricane, we called our realtor to understand how serious it was. She said that she’d lived in the area for more than 20 years and, although the hurricane was still a couple of days from landfall, she and her husband decided to evacuate.

We immediately packed our sons, the dog, and some suitcases in Vanessa’s RAV4 and headed for Austin. It usually takes under three hours to get there.

Driving at a snail’s pace, we passed one gas station after another with either a sign that said they sold out of gas, or with a line longer than what you see at a Trump rally (ok, that’s probably an exaggeration…I don’t think anything creates lines of people like a Trump rally).

Though we left earlier than many Houstonians, it still took us 16 hours to reach Austin. We felt worn out and hungry, but we’d made it. In the end, the hurricane didn’t hit much of Texas and took a sharp northbound turn in the Gulf.

Looking back, I was woefully unprepared. What would have happened if we’d gotten a flat tire or the car broke down? What if we’d run out of gas? What if the freeway got shut down by an accident, and we’d been forced to camp by the car?

I expect things to just workout. Most of the time, they do. But what happens when they don’t? I should have learned from that experience right away, but sometimes it takes time and new circumstances for wisdom to become meaningful.

An Emergency Kit for an Upcoming Road Trip

As Vanessa and I planned a road trip to Florida with our grandson, it got me thinking about a plan for the unexpected.

I read about bug-out bags and survival kits in the past. But traveling with our grandson added another level of importance to being prepared.

So, I made a list of items specific to roadside emergencies and another list related to survival needs.

Since there’s plenty of room in the bed of my truck, I decided to get most of the critical stuff put together into one kit.

A few points about the kit:

  1. I don’t believe this is the “ultimate” emergency kit as each emergency requires different items. I think I have most of the essentials covered, but I’m sure others would think of additional items to add (please do so in the comments section).
  2. Depending on your budget, you can spend a lot more than I did. For example, I spent under $40 on the backpack but could have easily spent $400+ on a better bag. I wanted my bases covered without breaking the bank.
  3. After my emergency kit components showed up, I realized how few of the items were “Made in the USA.” Even worse, many show they were made in China. That might not bother some people (and might even be celebrated by President Biden), but I always prefer buying American. Now that I have my emergency kit set up, I’ll replace many of the non-American-made items with alternatives made in the USA.
  4. Many of the links to the items I ordered include Amazon links. At first, I wasn’t going to include them, but then I decided it would make it more difficult for people to find the products if they wanted to buy them. If you can buy locally and support a hometown business, please do so. If you prefer to order the products through Amazon, I might earn a few shillings from your purchase.

Finally, I realize I’m probably missing some stuff others would consider “essential.” Please use the comments section to add any items you feel are essential.

Emergency Kit Components

The following are the items I included in my emergency kit. If I update the kit, I’ll update this post as well.

Shackle Hitch Receiver, D-Ring Shackles, and Tow Rope

Liberrway Shackle Hitch Receiver, 2-Pack of Liberrway D-Ring Shackles, and Sunferno Tow Rope
Liberrway Shackle Hitch Receiver, 2-Pack of Liberrway D-Ring Shackles, and Sunferno Tow Rope

We moved to the country in the north half of Wisconsin, where snow and ice are part of winter life. Even though we have all-terrain tires on Vanessa’s Jeep and my Ram, it’s only a matter of time before we get stuck somewhere. It’s even more likely we’ll need to pull someone else out of a ditch.

Though both of our vehicles already have built-in tow hooks, I ordered a Liberrway Shackle Hitch Receiver anyway. I figured it might avoid scratches that turn to rust and might come in handy if someone else needs it to pull one of us out instead one day.

Then, I added a pair of Liberrway D-ring shackles to make it easy to connect a tow rope to someone else and the 20′ Sunferno tow strap, which handles up to 35,000 pounds.

By the way, you can also use cat litter if you’re stuck. It helps give your tires something to grip.

Road Atlas

2021 Rand McNally Large Scale Road Atlas
2021 Rand McNally Large Scale Road Atlas

Had it not been for my friend Scott Schuler, author of Man Up, I would have never considered a road atlas. That means I’m way too accustomed to relying on navigation.

Of course, if the power ever went out, so would navigation. That would mean we’d need to go back to using a compass and a map.

I love the security in having it, but I’m more excited about using the 2021 Rand McNally Road Atlas as a way to teach our grandson a little geography.

Orienteering Compass

TurnOnSport Orienteering Compass

While your smartphone has plenty of apps to guide you, they don’t do any good if the battery is dead.

This orienteering compass, matched up with the road atlas above, could come in handy when needed.

It includes a high-speed magnetic needle, orienteering lines, and a magnifying glass.

I also plan to set up some “tests” for our grandson this summer, where my truck will “unexpectedly break down”, and we’ll have to navigate through the woods with a map and compass to get some practice in.

I’m looking forward to the planned adventures and know this could come in handy with the unplanned ones.

Bungee Cords

Rhino USA 28-piece Bungee Cord Set
Rhino USA 28-piece Bungee Cord Set

I ordered the Rhino USA 28-piece bungee cord set not only for the emergency kit but also to tie stuff down in the back of my pickup.

The various sizes make it easy to hold almost anything in place, and the extra tarp clips could be useful if you do need to bug out and spend some time sitting under your tarp.

Of course, if you have to bug out, you probably won’t want to carry all of them. Instead, you’d probably want to grab four medium-length cords, the connectors, and the tarp clips for your backpack.

Though the name suggests Rhino USA products are American-made, not all of their products are. However, Rhino USA is a family-owned American company.

Leatherman Rebar Multitool with Molle Case

Leatherman Rebar Multitool

Rather than carrying a whole tool kit, I added the Leatherman Rebar. It comes in matte black, and with a Molle sheath, you can attach it to your backpack if there isn’t room inside it. It includes the following 17 tools:

  • Needle Nose Pliers
  • Regular Pliers
  • Premium Replaceable Wire Cutters
  • Premium Replaceable Hard-wire Cutters
  • Electrical Crimper
  • Wire Stripper
  • Straight Edge Knife
  • Serrated Knife
  • Saw
  • Awl w/ Thread Loop
  • Ruler (8 in | 19 cm)
  • Can Opener
  • Bottle Opener
  • Wood/Metal File
  • Phillips Screwdriver
  • Large Screwdriver
  • Small Screwdriver


Gabbro 4-Pack Wiregate, D-Shape Carabiners
Gabbro 4-Pack Wiregate, D-Shape Carabiners

To make it quick and easy to attach stuff to my backpack, I went with these Gabbro D-shape carabiners with a wire gate because they’re quick and easy to open and are supposed to handle 2697 pounds. They also came with four key rings, but that wasn’t necessarily a selling point for me. I just wanted strong and simple (kind of like VIGOR Training).

Molle Tactical Backpack

Reebow Gear Military Backpack - 3-Day Assault Molle Bag
Reebow Gear Military Backpack – 3-Day Assault Molle Bag

There are some really nice bags out there. You could easily spend as much on a backpack as everything you put in it.

Since I don’t anticipate using the backpack frequently, I couldn’t justify getting an expensive one for the emergency kit.

However, with more almost 10,000 positive Amazon ratings, the Reebow Gear Military Tactical Backpack should get the job done.

The backpack does not include a separate water bottle sleeve, so I ordered two Novemkada water bottle pouches to attach to the bag if I needed to.

There’s plenty of space in the bag, and it felt pretty heavy-duty, especially for the low price point. The backpack also includes a compartment for a hydration bladder and came with two carabiners.

Rather than stuffing the bag from the start, I simply laid it in my plastic tote in the back of the pickup. If I need to use it, I’ll pick the appropriate stuff from the tote to put in the bag and bug out.

Paracord/Parachute Cord

Tough-Grid 750lb Paracord / Parachute Cord
Tough-Grid 750lb Paracord / Parachute Cord

To complement the bungee cords, I ordered 50 feet of Tough-Grid 750lb paracord. You can order it in numerous lengths. I ordered 50 feet because adding more meant taking up more space, and I wasn’t sure I’d need it.

The Tough-Grid paracord is 100% nylon, and best of all, it’s made in the USA.

🇺🇸 Made in the USA.

First Aid Kit

Carlebben Molle EMT Pouch
Carlebben Molle EMT Pouch

I’ve got my bases covered with the Carlebben Molle EMT Pouch. It’s a 180-piece medical supply kit, so it’ll take care of most medical needs we could run into.

However, as is the case with a lot of the stuff I ordered, it has a huge number of positive Amazon ratings, but it isn’t American-made. When I took a peek inside, the kit’s first item was a rain poncho with a label written only in Mandarin.

Tactical Flashlights

GearLight Tactical Flashlights - 2-Pack
GearLight Tactical Flashlights – 2-Pack

With more than 38,000 ratings on Amazon, I figured the GearLight Tactical Flashlights would get the job done. They’re made to take a beating and are water-resistant. On top of that, they’re incredibly bright.

Best of all, they take up minimal space.

Mylar Thermal Blankets

Swiss Safe Emergency Mylar Blankets - 4-Pack
Swiss Safe Emergency Mylar Blankets – 4-Pack

Of all of the equipment, the Mylar thermal blankets amaze me the most.

The four emergency blankets take up about as much space as my wallet, yet, they’ll help you stay warm when faced with winter weather. They’re not as comfortable as the blanket on your sofa, but their convenience is hard to beat.

The Swiss Safe blankets above came with a bonus fifth blanket as well.

Emergency Tent

GoTime Gear 2-Person Life Tent
GoTime Gear 2-Person Life Tent

I ordered the 2-person Life Tent from GoTime Gear. I figured that since Vanessa and I almost always travel together, and we sometimes have our grandson, if we needed to, we could all squeeze in it, and we’d stay warmer than lying in separate tents anyway.

The GoTime Gear Life Tent also comes with 20 feet of paracord, which adds to the 50 feet I mentioned already. Though this isn’t the type of tent you’d use on a camping trip, you can’t beat the size of it. Wrapped up in the bag, it’s about the size of a soda can.

LifeStraw Personal Water Filter

LifeStraw 2-Pack
LifeStraw 2-Pack

After the mylar blanket, the LifeStraw is the next most amazing survival tool. I hope we’d never need to do so, but it’s nice to know we could drink out of almost any reservoir of water if we needed to.

You also can’t beat the size and weight of the LifeStraws. They’re like oversized Crayola markers.

According to the manufacturer, each Life Straw filters 1, 000 gallons of water, removing 99. 9999% of bacteria including Escherichia coli (e-coli), campylobacter, vibrio cholera, pseudomonas aeruginosa, shield, salmonella, and 99. 9% of protozoa including giardia lamblia (beaver fever), cryptosporidium parvum, entamoeba histolytica.


Police Security Blackout High Lumen Headlamp
Police Security Blackout High Lumen Headlamp

I picked up this Police Security Blackout Headlamp at Fleet Farm, thinking I’d just keep it in my vehicle emergency kit. However, I needed to check on something in the woods one night and knew my hands would be too full to carry a flashlight.

I took the headlamp out and gave it a try. I was seriously impressed with how bright the lamp was. Using 4 AAA batteries, it should last for 2.5 hours on high, which is 615 lumen, and 5 hours on low, which is 300 lumen. The high setting creates a 240-meter beam of light.

I’ll probably get a couple of more to use around our property this summer.

Pocket and Tactical Knife

KA-BAR Serrated Knife & Kershaw Brawler Folding Knife

I keep a full-size serrated edge KA-BAR in my truck at all times. This is one awesome knife, from the balance to the comfortable handle and the multi-purpose blade. With the MOLLE compatible sheath, it can be carried vertically or horizontally.

It could be useful for self-defense or when your wife wants you to cut some pine bows on the side of the road.

Though some KA-BAR knives are now manufactured outside the United States, they make this one in America.

I also carry a Kershaw Brawler folding pocket knife. It’s the perfect size for an everyday carry, the blade whips out quickly, and the blade stays razor-sharp. You can also adjust the pocket clip to carry it on either side and in either direction. While I keep a larger KA-BAR folding knife in my jacket pocket for work around the house, the Kershaw is much more comfortable as a “pocket” knife.

Extra Wool Socks

Dickie’s Men’s Dri-Tech Moisture Control Crew Socks

I love comfortable socks, so I ordered a 6-pack of Dickie’s Men’s Dri-Tech Moisture Control Crew Socks and put two pairs in the emergency kit and four pairs in my sock drawer.

Wet, cold, or sweaty feet suck, so don’t skip over this one. Remember to include a couple of pairs of socks that fit each of your passengers, too.

Additional Items I Added (not pictured)

I talked to my friend Scott (who recommended the road atlas) about how I could store all this stuff. Obviously, it wouldn’t all fit in a backpack.

He suggested just tossing it all in a plastic trunk, which would make it accessible when needed. And, if there were a situation that meant we’d have to fill some backpacks, we could always do so at that time.

After doing some searching and reading reviews, I found the Plano 108 quart storage trunk. It’s a solid trunk that also has wheels on one end, making it easy to move around.

Before hitting the road, I’ll add some non-perishable food, which I ordered from 4Patriots, extra AA and AAA batteries, a tarp, and some bottled water.

I had a small camo-colored tactical backpack that came with an ammo order. I’ll tuck it in the trunk so our grandson has a backpack of his own. He’ll like that.

Finally, I’ll pack up a sidearm and some ammo, though it’ll be locked and stored as many states do not accept my Wisconsin concealed carry permit. Of course, the way things are going in Washington DC, you might not even be able to own a potato gun before much longer.

Additional Items I Will Add (at some point)

The following are a handful of additional items that would make sense to add, but I’ll probably wait until I need them for a camping trip.

  • Crank radio
  • Coffee percolator
  • Pot for cooking
  • SOG survival shovel
  • Backpacking stove
  • Platypus water bladder and filtration system

Being that we live in the north, you run into people in parking lots with dead car batteries all the time. From my experience, those with questionable car batteries know they’ll need a jump start, so they have their own cables. However, I should probably put a set of jumper cables in my truck sometime too.

Wrapping it Up

Chances are, all of this stuff will sit in the back of my truck untouched. However, knowing it’s in the truck’s bed provides peace of mind that makes the investment in this stuff worthwhile.

Whether it’s the winter season and the roads are slippery, or the electrical grid shuts down and we need to navigate old-school, I know you’ll be glad to have some survival gear if you need it.

Did I miss something you’d add? Let us know in the comments below.