By Rik Paul
The gear you carry in your car while driving in the winter can make or break your trip. Here are the everyday essentials, some emergency items in case your vehicle has trouble, and some things you can probably leave behind.
Ice scraper or snow brush
Clear the car’s glass with a tool long enough to reach across the windshield yet designed to crunch down for storage in a small trunk.
The best ice scraper we’ve tested
Hopkins SubZero 80037
The 80037 combines a scraping blade and ice-crushing teeth with a plow-like bristle broom that’s the best we’ve tested. It measures 5 feet long when extended.
If you prefer a foam broom
Birdrock Home Snow Moover
The foam broom on this 55-inch Birdrock can remove a lot of snow quickly but is less deft than a bristle brush at clearing snow from nooks and crannies.
If you just need a scraper
Hopkins SubZero 16621
If you don’t need a long handle or broom, you can’t go wrong with this 11-inch scraper.
Seasonal temperature changes can lower your tires’ pressure without you realizing it. That hurts your car’s handling and gas mileage, and can cause the tires to fail. Regularly checking their pressure with an accurate gauge is the best safeguard.
The best dial gauge
Accu-Gage 60 PSI with Shock Protector
After using this gauge for several years, we’ve found it to be accurate and durable. It’s available in several configurations.
The best digital gauge
This digital gauge is easier to read than an analog dial gauge, and taking a reading with one hand is simple.
When—not if—the low-tire-pressure light comes on in your car’s dash, a tire inflator can fill tires up on the spot, sparing you a subfreezing detour to a gas station.
The best tire inflator for most drivers
This sturdy inflator, which plugs into your car’s 12 V outlet, is quick and quiet, and its pressure gauge is easy to read and accurate.
Easy to use and versatile, but more expensive
DeWalt 20V Max Inflator (DCC020IB)
You can run this inflator cordlessly (with a DeWalt 20V Max battery) or plug it into a car’s 12 V port or a household AC outlet (with an optional adapter).
The best cordless value
Ryobi 18V One+ Dual Function Inflator/Deflator
Like the DeWalt, the Ryobi has separate hoses for filling tires or inflatables, but it runs only cordlessly (with a separate Ryobi 18V One+ battery).
USB car charger
Keeping your phone charged is critical when driving in iffy conditions, and the better plug-in USB car chargers can work measurably faster than other options.
The best car charger
Nekteck PD 45W Type-C Car Charger
With both a quick USB-C port and a regular USB-A port, no other charger we’ve tested offers as much power for a better price.
If you don’t need a USB-C port
ZMI PowerCruise C2 36-Watt Dual USB Car Charger with QC 3.0
Both of the PowerCruise C2’s USB-A ports support Quick Charge 3.0, which offers slightly faster speeds for compatible devices.
If you need more than two ports
RAVPower Quick Charge 3.0 54W 4-Port Car Adapter (RP-VC003)
This four-port model is especially useful when you’re traveling with a car full of passengers, as it can charge up to four devices simultaneously.
Phone charging cord
To get the maximum charging rate from the faster USB-C car chargers, you need a compatible cable.
For charging an Apple device
Anker Powerline II USB-C to Lightning Cable (3ft)
We think Anker’s sturdy, rubber-encased cable outdoes the version that comes in the box of an Apple device.
For charging a device with a USB-C port
Anker PowerLine II USB-C to USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 Cable
When you’re using a compatible charger, this sturdy cable will charge any USB-C device at maximum speed. Plus, it has a lifetime warranty.
First aid kit
Anything can happen on the road. This first aid kit can treat minor cuts, burns, and other ailments, and it even includes a 52-by-84-inch aluminized emergency blanket.
The best first aid kit for carrying in the car
First Aid Only First Aid Essentials Kit
This kit comes with plenty of bandages, alcohol prep pads, pain relievers, and equipment to treat up to four people’s minor cuts and scrapes.
Put it over the windshield before a storm and then peel it off—along with the snow and ice—afterward.
A quicker way to clear your windshield
Frost Guard PLUS
Measuring 61 by 41 inches, this cover fits most cars, SUVs, and trucks. Its waterproof backing prevents it from freezing to the glass.
Whether you need to tighten a screw, cut some tape or cloth, or securely grip a small part, a good multi-tool can substitute for a small toolbox, and it’s much easier to stow in a car.
A handy tool for a wide range of uses
Leatherman Free P2
The Free P2 has a large selection of tools that you can access with one hand—a convenient feature when you’re, say, working under the hood.
A good phone mount makes it easier and safer to use your smartphone hands-free for navigating, streaming music, or voice-messaging, helping you keep your eyes on the road.
The best phone mount for cars
iOttie iTap Magnetic 2
This model has the best combination of safety, convenience, and stability of any we tested. It’s available in dash/windshield-, vent-, and CD-slot-mounted versions.
If you want to wirelessly charge your phone
Kenu Airbase Wireless
The dash-mounted Airbase held our phones steady and was among the quickest in charging compatible devices.
If you want to wirelessly charge your phone
Kenu Airframe Wireless
The vent-mounted Airframe held our phones steady and was among the quickest in charging compatible devices.
Portable power bank
If you need to charge your phone when your car isn’t running, having a backup power bank handy can literally be a life saver.
The best power bank for carrying in a car
Anker PowerCore 10000 PD Redux
This high-capacity power bank has enough power to fully charge an iPhone XS more than three times, and it includes both a regular USB-A port and a quicker USB-C port.
Whether you need to read papers during a nighttime drive, check fluids under the hood, or change a tire, a headlamp is a better choice than a flashlight because it leaves your hands free.
The best headlamp
Black Diamond Spot 325
For a reasonable price, the Spot provides a bright, adjustable beam and long-lasting battery life. It’s also splashproof and dustproof. Don’t forget to pack extra batteries, too.
If you want a rechargeable headlamp
Petzl Actik Core
The Actik Core is durable, easy to use, and versatile; it can run on its integrated rechargeable battery or regular AAAs.
In case your car has trouble
Here’s hoping you won’t use these items often—but if you do need them, you’ll be glad to have them along.
Portable jump starter
If your vehicle’s battery dies, a portable jump starter can get you up and running again in minutes, so you don’t have to wait for roadside assistance or a Good Samaritan with jumper cables.
The best jump starter for most vehicles
Weego Jump Starter 22s
The affordably priced 22s is powerful enough to start most cars and SUVs. It has the best clamps we’ve seen and it alerts you if you’ve connected them incorrectly.
For larger V8 engines
Weego Jump Starter 44
The 44 has the same great clamps and safety features as the 22s, while providing more power. It also includes an integrated flashlight and USB ports for charging digital devices.
If you need to pull off on the side of a road, it’s critical that you give other drivers as much warning as possible. Battery-powered LED emergency beacons are convenient and effective.
A safer alternative to road flares
StonePoint LED Emergency Beacon
The StonePoint kit includes three magnetic lights that are water resistant, crushproof to 6,000 pounds, and easy to use.
Aerosol tire sealant
Using an aerosol can of sealant is easier and quicker than changing a tire. It won’t fix tires with large holes or sidewall damage, but it will seal the tire if you run over a nail, for instance.
A quick fix
We’ve used this aerosol inflator more often than we’d like. But it works. Once the puncture is sealed, you can use a portable tire inflator to top up the tire’s pressure.
If your car gets stuck in deep snow, digging out the tires may be your only way of getting it free, short of a winch or tow truck.
A sturdy, collapsible shovel for digging out a car
Voilé Telepro Avalanche Shovel
The Telepro has a nice, strong scoop and is easily disassembled for stowing underneath a car seat or in a corner of the trunk.
If your car is stuck and just spinning its wheels, pouring some kitty litter around the tires could give them some much-needed grip.
An inexpensive kitty litter for emergency traction
Dr. Elsey’s Ultra
Okay, we tested this clay litter for cat-box use, not as a winter-traction aid. But at only about $20 for a 40-pound bag (or about $10 for 18 pounds), it’s a good choice.
Emergency thermal blankets
If you’re stranded in cold weather in a vehicle that won’t start, you may need extra help to stay warm and avoid hypothermia. Mylar blankets reflect back 90 percent of your body’s heat.
An inexpensive and effective way to stay warm
Emergency Mylar Blankets
These blankets are available in four packs that easily fit in a car’s glove box. Each blanket measures 84 by 52 inches, plenty big enough to wrap yourself up.
If you have the room to store it in your car, an inexpensive sleeping bag can be an effective way to stay warm when the engine isn’t running, and it’s a lot more comfortable than an emergency blanket.
A smart balance of price and utility
REI Co-op Siesta 30 Sleeping Bag
Designed for use in temperatures as low as 30 °F, the rectangular shape of this bag is more suitable to hunkering in a car than close-fitting mummy-style bags.
In a stalled car, these hand warmers can ramp up the effectiveness of an emergency blanket or sleeping bag.
Instant warmth when you need it
HotHands are easy to pack and inexpensive, and they lasted almost six hours and reached 118 °F in our tests.
Tool storage bag
If you need to use your emergency items, it helps to have them organized in one place.
The best tool bag
Black+Decker MATRIX Wide-Mouth Storage Bag
Measuring 21 by 5 by 8.5 inches, this soft-sided tool bag is big enough for plenty of gear, and it has pockets and dividers for organizing your stuff.
Things to leave behind
Although the following items can be useful, if you’re carrying the things we recommend above, you probably can get by without them.
Jumper cables: These are bulkier than a good compact jump starter and harder to store in a vehicle. And, of course, they require you to get the aid of another driver who can park within a few feet of your car—no small feat in a tight parking lot or driveway.
Road flares: Traditional road flares are a common way to alert other drivers when your car is parked on the side of a road, but newer LED emergency beacons are safer, longer lasting, and easier to store.
Fire extinguisher: While a class B or C fire extinguisher can help you snuff out a small fire that’s just beginning, most experts recommend that you get well away from the vehicle as quickly as possible. Of course, turn off the engine to stop the flow of fuel.