Lesley Wimbush in front of the Volvo XC60
Winter Survival. Click image to enlarge

Article and photos by Lesley Wimbush


Hunching down to ward off the cold, I optimistically scratch a happy face into the frost built up on the window.

Through the deepening gloom, we can still make out the dark and silent Northumberland woods, pine trees heavily laden with snow.  Against the dark velvet sky, the snow gives off an otherworldly glow that would be strikingly beautiful under different circumstances.

We’ve been in the car more than four hours now, and with the sun gone, the temperature is dropping rapidly.

Just a short while ago we were enjoying a routine drive on a crisp winter day.  Safe within our toasty car, the frozen landscape was just a remote vista, viewed from behind a protective windshield. But how quickly circumstances can change when we least expect it.  And now we’re faced with the frightening prospect of a night spent in our vehicle while the thermometer registers minus double digits.

A growing awareness of climate change, and the utter chaos of recent weather disasters have most of us realizing just how dependent we’ve become on technology that can leave us vulnerable if it fails.

We Canadians can’t afford complacency when it comes to winter.  While the plight of those poor sods in the deep south, stranded and panic-stricken by a couple of inches of unexpected snow, had us chuckling in smug superiority – the reality is that few of us are really prepared if the unthinkable happens.

Many of us regularly cover a lot of miles during less than ideal conditions. And let’s hope we’re all sensible enough to ensure that not only are our vehicles in good working condition, but that they’re also outfitted with dedicated winter tires.

But that’s just a start.

Have you ever really stopped to think about how you’d fare if you actually did have to spend the night in your car?

Are you prepared if the unthinkable happens?

Rather than compile yet another tedious list of survival kit items that readers will probably ignore,  we decided to actually experience what it would take to spend an entire night in a cold vehicle in the dead of winter.

Although I’ve probably had a lot more driver training than the average person, I’m just now realizing how woefully unprepared I really am.

In fact, probably the only smart decision I made in this adventure was my choice of driving partner.

My friend and colleague Shaun de Jager, a professional driving instructor who frequently appears on television as an expert on driver safety.

A military background – and a love for extreme outdoor activities have given him a wealth of practical knowledge.

My contribution to our venture consisted of a fully loaded Volvo XC60 AWD vehicle, a full tank of gas and two large coffees.

Volvo full of equipmentShaun de Jager with a thermometer
Shaun de Jager and a car full of equipment. Click image to enlarge

From within a rugged satchel l didn’t dare refer to as a “murse”,  Shaun withdrew an arsenal of survival gear:

-cell phone and car charger
-at least 1L of water
-about 2,000 calories worth of energy/meal bars
-2 disposable lighters
-4 tea candles
-a decent folding knife
-several hot packs
-a couple flashlights (consider headlamps for hands-free use) plus extra batteries – consider a small wind-up light/radio unit
-thermal underwear
-warm footwear
-large heavy duty double zip freezer bags (to pee in and use as hot water bottles)
-handful of glow sticks
-deck of cards
-lip balm

“These items make your situation more bearable” said Shaun, but in the trunk of your car, you should always have:

-extra clothes (wool socks, mitts or gloves, warm hat, sweaters)
-first aid kit
-shovel, salt/sand
-jumper cables
-an SOL emergency Bivvy bag for each person in your car
-a sleeping bag for each person in your car (preferably ones rated to -10c) – or at the least heavy, warm blankets for each person

The first rule when stranded is to stick with your vehicle. It offers protection from exposure,  but just as importantly – it’s much larger and therefore much easier to spot than a moving person.

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