How To Survive A Night In Your Car

Photo by Alex E. Proimos

It’s a harrowing statistic, but according to the National Weather Service, about 70 percent of winter weather-related fatalities occur in an automobile. You can bet many of those vehicle-related deaths began with someone simply leaving the house to run an errand, make a short trip to visit family or friends or take care of routine business. The weather turns unexpectedly bad, road conditions rapidly deteriorate and, suddenly, what was an ordinary drive becomes an overnight ordeal.

Don’t think just because you don’t live in New England, the upper Midwest or the western mountains that something like this can’t happen to you. Even in areas where snow is a rare event, cars can slide off icy roads and become stranded in freezing weather, leaving passengers stuck right there with them. Here’s how to make it through a freezing night in your car and ride out events until help can arrive.

Be Prepared

The first thing to do as winter approaches is be sure you have stored a few key items in your car. If you wait until you need them to try to round them up, it will be too late. Essential items to include in a winter survival kit, according to a combination of recommendations by Wisconsin Emergency Management’s Ready Wisconsin initiative and survival expert Peter Kummerfeldt’s OutdoorSafe website, include:

  • Bottled water (at least four quarts)
  • Snack foods, particularly nutritious energy bars
  • Raisins, dried fruit, nuts, candy bars
  • Strike-anywhere, waterproof matches and small candles
  • A flashlight with extra batteries
  • First-aid kit
  • Folding knife and multi-tool
  • Emergency flares
  • An extra winter coat, mittens and a wool cap
  • Winter boots
  • Toilet paper
  • Cellphone and charger
  • A space blanket
  • A spare blanket or sleeping bag
  • A portable radio with spare batteries
  • Tow rope
  • Nylon cord
  • Flagging tape
  • Chemical hand and body warmer packets

Other essential winter tools in severe weather country include jumper cables, the best small shovel, tire chains and rock salt, sand or kitty litter to provide added traction when stuck on a slick surface.

Before You Go

If you’re leaving for an extended trip, always check weather and road conditions before departing. If poor conditions are forecast, you may consider postponing your trip. Also, let others know when you are leaving, which way you will be traveling and when you should arrive at your destination so they can alert authorities and provide them with solid information to help in finding you should the need arise. Fill your car with fuel and make frequent stops to stretch, relax and refill your tank, never allowing it to get much below a half tank. Should you become stuck and need to spend the night in your car, the ample gas will allow you to start your car throughout the night and run the heat for short intervals.

If You Are Stranded

First call for help if you can’t get your car unstuck. Don’t overexert yourself and don’t leave your car and begin walking for help. You stand a much better chance of being found if you remain with your car, which can also provide the best shelter from the elements. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety warns against running your car constantly. Instead, be sure the exhaust pipe is free from snow and roll down a window enough to vent the car and prevent carbon monoxide buildup. Run the car for short 15-20 minute intervals to warm up and then turn it back off, using blankets, a sleeping bag, hand warmers and the body heat of others in your car to stay warm. Eat snacks to keep nourished and read a book (another item Kummerfeldt recommends) until help arrives.

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Poisonous Animals You Can’t Eat

Survival manuals often mention that the livers of polar bears are toxic due to their high concentrations of vitamin A. For this reason, we mention the chance of death after eating this organ. Another toxic meat is the flesh of the hawksbill turtle. You recognize them by their down-turned bill and yellow polka dots on their neck and front flippers. They weigh more than 275 kilograms and are unlikely to be captured. 

POISONOUS ANIMALS YOU CAN'T EAT

Many fish living in reefs near shore or in lagoons and estuaries are poisonous to eat, though some are only seasonally dangerous. The majority are tropical fish; however, be wary of eating any unidentifiable fish wherever you are. Some predatory fish, such as barracuda and snapper, may become toxic if the fish they feed on in shallow waters are poisonous. The most poisonous types appear to have parrot-like beaks and hard, shell-like skins with spines and often can inflate their bodies like balloons. However, at certain times of the year, indigenous populations consider the puffer a delicacy. 

Blowfish

Blowfish or puffer (Tetraodontidae species) are more tolerant of cold water. You find them along tropical and temperate coasts worldwide, even in some of the rivers of Southeast Asia and Africa. Stout-bodied and round, many of these fish have short spines and can inflate themselves into a ball when alarmed or agitated. Their blood, liver and gonads are so toxic that as little as 28 milligrams (1 ounce) can be fatal. These fish vary in color and size, growing up to 75 centimeters in length. 

Triggerfish

The triggerfish (Balistidae species) occur in great variety, mostly in tropical seas. They are deep-bodied and compressed, resembling a seagoing pancake up to 60 centimeters in length, with large, sharp dorsal spines. Avoid them all, as many have poisonous flesh. 

Barracuda

Although most people avoid them because of their ferocity, they occasionally eat barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda). These predators of mostly tropical seas can reach almost 1.5 meters in length and have attacked humans without provocation. They occasionally carry the poison ciguatera in their flesh, making them deadly if consumed. 

Other Dangerous Sea Creatures

The blue-ringed octopus, jellyfish, and the cone and auger shells are other dangerous sea creatures.

Blue-Ringed Octopus

Most octopi are excellent when properly prepared. However, the blue-ringed octopus (Hapalochlaena lunulata) can inflict a deadly bite from its parrotlike beak. Fortunately, it is restricted to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia and is very small. It is easily recognized by its grayish white overall color and iridescent blue rings. Authorities warn that all tropical octopus species should be treated with caution, since many have poisonous bites, although the flesh is edible. 

Jellyfish

Jellyfish-related deaths are rare, but the sting they inflict is extremely painful. The Portuguese man-of-war resembles a large pink or purple balloon floating on the sea. It has poisonous tentacles hanging up to 12 meters below its body. The huge tentacles are actually colonies of stinging cells. Most known deaths from jellyfish are attributed to the man-of-war. Other jellyfish can inflict very painful stings as well. Avoid the long tentacles of any jellyfish, even those washed up on the beach and apparently dead. 

Cone Shell

The subtropical and tropical cone shells (Conidae species) have a venomous harpoonlike barb. All are cone-shaped and have a fine netlike pattern on the shell. A membrane may possibly obscure this coloration. There are some very poisonous cone shells, even some lethal ones in the Indian and Pacific oceans. Avoid any shell shaped like an ice cream cone. 

Auger Shell

The auger shell or terebra (Terebridae species) are much longer and thinner than the cone shells but can be nearly as deadly as the cone shells. They are found in temperate and tropical seas. Those in the Indian and Pacific oceans have a more toxic venom in their stinging barb. Do not eat these snails, as their flesh may be poisonous.

 

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Why Try Body Armor?

As this is the first post I’ve had about body armor, we’ll start with a little bit of history:

Bullet-Proof-Vest

The modern form of body armor has its Western origins in Italy and England in the mid- to late-1500s. From there, we move on to various updated forms of body armor, paying
particular attention to forms of “bulletproof vests,” experimenting with steel breast plates and cotton padding. The greatest shift occurs with the discovery of properties leading to the creation of Kevlar® in the 1970s. The synthetic fibre known as Kevlar® is extremely strong, while having the benefit of being lightweight. This revolutionary discovery lead to the advancement of improvements with body armor, allowing for a less restricted frame of movement while being exceedingly strong. Though the name Kevlar is synonymous with bulletproof vests, there are similar aramids used to create vests, such as Twaron and Heracron.

There are various types of body armor on the market, with different levels of strength, as outlined by the NIJ. The NIJ takes care to note the difference between bullet proof and bullet resistant. Although the types of ammunition increase incrementally as the armor level goes up, as armor cannot protect against every type of ammunition, they thus cannot be called bulletproof. In fact, “an extremely small percentage of cases, a round can even go through a vest that it is rated to stop,” meaning that one must exercise reasonable precaution even while wearing a form of body armor.

Although the Level IIA offers the lightest weight, and thus is easiest to conceal, it may not be an optimal choice for your protection needs. For comparison purposes, the vest most commonly worn by police officers is a Level II. Interamer offers a pretty comprehensive chart outlining the specific weapons and ammunitions each armor level will cover. As the protection level increases, so too does the weight of the vest. You should be taking that fact into account when it comes to choosing your vest – if your vest is too heavy to comfortably wear, you’ll likely forgo wearing it altogether.

Another important thing to keep in mind about your body armor is its longevity. Though the NIJ “rates for five years of service,” that ends up depending on how often it’s worn. A vest worn at least semi-daily will have more wear than one worn sporadically, so further inspection is required. Related to this, due to wear and weather conditions weakening the ballistic fibers, the strength of your vest will end up dwindling over time. As it is unsafe to buy a used vest because of this, I wouldn’t recommend trying to sell it either.Teijin Aramid, the company that produces the synthetic fiber known as Twaron offers a buy-back program of vests. The materials are recycled and used as an “asbestos replacement.”

Provided you care for and wear them properly, a bullet resistant vest could end up being a worthy investment. So long as the vest is fitted properly, it has the benefit of offering additional protection in case of vehicle crashes. If you’re realistic about what a bullet resistant vest could do for you, the positives of owning (and more importantly wearing) one certainly outweigh the negatives.

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