Checklist for winter driving

Whilst we’re primarily a bushcraft company we teach a couple of survival courses as well, there’s a lot of crossover and commonality.  Your biggest survival skill is to not get in a survival situation in the first place and that’s all about preparation.

This morning as I drove to our woodland camp there was snow on the ground and I started thinking about being prepared for winter driving and decided to put together a checklist for winter driving, a mixture of advice on getting your car ready and a few useful things to have in your car.  When I got to the camp I had a check to see what I had in my car at that moment in time and took some photos to share.  It also highlighted a few things I need to put in.

The standing advice in bad weather is to not go out unless you have to and this is good advice.  But if you really do have to go out, make sure that you’re prepared for it, a few simple precautions can make life much easier.

Your car

Checklist for winter driving

Winter is the time when any problems with your car will come to the fore, so get things sorted before they become an issue.

Either check, or have someone else check, that all the fluid levels are correct; make sure you have anti-freeze in the coolant and think about changing the engine oil to winter grade oil.

Make sure that you’re using cold weather screen wash.

Check your wiperblades are in good order, they tend to get more use in bad weather and having good visibility as you are driving is crucial.

Batteries are more likely to fail in cold weather, so if you have any doubts about the battery, get it checked out.

In many parts of the world people have winter tyres and summer tyres; that’s not particuarly common in the UK, especially here in Kent.  I swap my tyres to all terrains in the winter, the ones I have are not specifically snow tyres (look for a snowflake symbol on the tyres) but because I find myself driving on mud and slush more than snow, they suit my needs.  Make sure that the tyres  have plenty of tread and the pressures are correct.

Make sure you have a plenty of fuel in your car before setting off.

Driving in bad weather

I grew up in the west country and now live in Kent.  Suffice to say that I don’t have a huge amount of experience of driving in snow so I’m not going to give any advice now on how to do so.  If you live in the south of England, there’s a good chance that you also don’t have much experience of driving in snow and ice, so if the conditions get wet, slow down; if it gets icy, slow down; if it’s snowing, slow down.  You get the picture.

Take a couple of minutes to look at this article from the RAC for advice.

Things to carry

Make sure that you have warm clothes, a hat, gloves and scarf and a waterproof coat and boots in the car (even if they’re just wellies).  If you have to get out of your car you don’t want to get wet.  Chuck a sleeping bag or thick blanket in the back, along with some high energy foods; add a flask of tea or coffee.

Like all of us I tend to put stuff in the glove box.  In mine this morning was:

Checklist for winter driving

  • Mylar emergency blanket
  • 2 x glow sticks
  • Windscreen hammer
  • A multi tool
  • Compass
  • A plastic beetle*
  • A fold away bag
  • Tissues
  • Lighter
  • Notebook and pens
  • A torch with an LED bulb and strip lights that can stay on or flash.  It also has a magnetic end and a hook to suspend it.
  • SatNav
  • Bandana
  • A few membership cards

I have an in-car phone charger plugged in to the dashboard and I always plug my phone in when I’m driving to make sure that it’s fully charged.

I know lots of people who use their phone as a torch, but don’t rely on it.  Instead make sure that you have a torch in the car.  A torch serves at least 2 purposes, it’ll allow you to see and to be seen, both important.    Carry spare batteries for the torch.

I also have some glow sticks to make sure that I can be seen.  If you really want to attract attention, tie the glow stick to a piece of string and swing it in a circle in front of you as fast as you can.  No string?  Use a shoe lace or draw cord from a coat.

Whilst I have spare glasses in the car, I will be adding a pair of sunglasses; snow can create a glare that can have an adverse effect on your vision.

In the boot

In the boot I always carry my ‘work bag‘, mine’s the green one, the other is Nicola’s; the contents are similar.  In my bag I have things that I use on a regular basis for work, so my bushcraft tools, fire lighting kit, first aid kit, paracord, water proofs, hat, gloves and buff, water bottle, note pad and pencil, head torch, hand torch, emergency bivvy bag, sharpening kit, and some other bits and pieces.

Checklist for winter driving

The spare tyre is attached to the outside of the car so there’s a storage compartment under the boot, useful for carrying things around.

Checklist for winter driving

To give a better idea of what’s in this storage compartment:

    Checklist for winter driving

    • A box containing ratchet straps and 6mm cord in case I need to put anything on the roof bars
    • A couple of bottles of water
    • A knife
    • Tow roap
    • Foot pump
    • Jack and wheel brace
    • Shovel, which I used last year to clear a snow drift
    • Jump leads, I’ve used these in the past to jump start a student’s car

    And not in the photo (I do have one, I just forgot to take a photo of it) I have an ice scraper for clearing the windows.  Also think about de-icer and remember, never pour boiling water on your windscreen, you’re likely to crack it.

    Also in the boot are:

    Checklist for winter driving

    • A warning triangle,
    • A hi-viz yellow vest
    • 2 x glow sticks
    • Orange surveyors tape
    • A road atlas**

    You should also consider carrying a 5 litre fuel container in case you run out of fuel.


    Make sure that your breakdown cover hasn’t run out and provides the cover that you need.

    If you breakdown on a motorway or main road the best thing to do is to get out of the car.  This is in case your car is hit by another vehicle, which has the potential for severe injury or even death.  Get out on the passenger side so you don’t put yourself near the traffic and find a spot out of the way.  Put on your hazard lights and, if it’s safe to do so, set out a warning triangle about 50m behind you.

    If you breakdown or get stuck somewhere out of the way in adverse weather, you want to make sure that your car is as visible as it can be to make it as easy as possible for you to be found.   Again, put on your hazard lights and set out a warning triangle about 50m behind you.  At night you could attach glow sticks to the car to make it more visible.

    I would advise staying with your vehicle, leaving the vehicle is likely to be a last resort; if you do need to walk, you need to be seen, so put on the hi-viz vest and grab a torch and glow stick.  If you can, let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to arrive.  If you can’t get in touch with anyone, leave a note in your car.

    Drive safely guys, getting there is more important than how long it takes to get there.



    *I carved a marshmallow fork for a little boy a couple of years ago and he gave me the beetle in exchange; it used to be blu tac’d to the dashboard but fell off.

    **I Iike SatNavs but grew up with maps.  Many years ago I drove to Gutesloh in Germany to vist a friend, it’s about 400 miles.  This was before SatNav and the internet so my route planner consisted of looking at an atlas of the world and writing ‘Calais, Brussels, Dusseldorf, Dortmund & Gutesloh’ on a piece of paper which I sellotaped to the dashboard.

    About Gary

    Lead Instructor at Jack Raven Bushcraft, teaching bushcraft, wilderness and survival skills to groups and individuals.

    Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.