Do not let the recent February mini-heatwave lull you into a false sense of belief that winter has gone and summer is already on its way as that could be dangerous, continues Mike Gormley.
We can plan and be prepared for the unexpected to some extent and we don’t necessarily have to be driving great distances to need to be prepared. It is all about having enough gear with us to help us to remain safe and reasonably comfortable if things do go pear-shaped. For this feature I am concentrating on being vehicle-based, rather than backpacking, and also assuming we are looking at being caught out by wintry conditions, but again this does not have to be the case.
First of all, make sure your vehicle is in good mechanical condition and with decent tyres at the correct pressures. When did you last check yours? Maintain fuel level at least over half full if conditions are looking suspect. If the outlook is bad, fill up. Oil and water need to be checked to. Importantly, screen wash should be topped up and treated to prevent freezing. Wiper blades are often overlooked but ideally should be renewed every year. There is nothing worse than peering through a smeary windscreen at night when conditions are poor; it is also worth giving the screen a good rub with a cloth and there are some very effective cleaners on the market to remove traffic film.
Now for the ‘what if?’ questions. A key factor in all this is forethought and common sense. Think through what it may be like if……. There is a very high chance in snow, floods or high wind that you will be forced to stop. You will always hope this will be just temporary while things get moving again, but every now and again they don’t.
In an emergency you may be able to help others. This will mean getting out into the bad weather. A few useful items will enable you to be more useful. First and foremost you will need good clothes – warm and dry and protective. If the efforts to sort things out fail, you may be stuck where you are for some time. It is now when some forethought and preparedness comes in handy, if not essential.
Any hint of bad weather should see you putting together some gear and leaving it in your vehicle. I was going to say at the start of winter, but this is not necessarily a winter thing. You can get stuck in your vehicle for hours on a hot summers day so bear this in mind as well. This is not at all about venturing out on a long trip either. So many get caught on the daily commute to work, taking kids to school and so on. It is just so easy to jump in the car, with normal day/work clothes on. Into a nice warm protective box. It’s only a few miles. Next thing you are stuck in a queue in snow, low on fuel, no warm clothes and, worse still, unhappy kids in the back. No more than 15 minutes from where I sit writing this article I can be on a notorious hill, where most winters hundreds get caught out. You may not be able to prevent getting caught but at least if you do you will not spend some very uncomfortable hours or even a night or, worse still, freeze to death.
As a base you should select some suitable clothing; warm, dry, windproof plus hat and gloves. In this photo I am wearing a Keela Munro waterproof mountain jacket (yellow good for visibility) with Keela Alpine Advance waterproof trousers and holding a Snugpak SJ9 Softie (very warm, windproof and water-resistant) which in red shows up well. On my feet I have Zamberlan Zeniths, which are good all rounders, and I am also taking Zamberlan Vioz Plus in case the going gets tough. The rucksack is a Snugpak RocketPak. These are examples of high end gear well suited to extremes but other kit, so long as it is good quality and works, can be sufficient. In my vehicle I put together some items I do not generally use so they won’t be missed or worse still removed to use and not get put back into the emergency kit. Consider that you may well have at least one passenger or maybe kids in this situation as well. Also consider a kit for yourself and then separate kits for passengers and kids as necessary. You may also be able to assist others in adjacent vehicles.
Most vehicles will have odd spaces where unneeded things can be stowed away. Under seats, behind side panels, in the spare wheel well. Boot space is sometimes quite limited so small items can be stashed away elsewhere, but make sure they remain dry. Dry Bags are great for this. As well as this, a rucksack is a good bet; a rucksack is better than a hold-all or plastic bag as you will probably need your hands for free for other things. Not only is one good to store your emergency kit in but it could also come in very handy if you need to walk out to get help or find refuge. Again, an old one is good enough to be left in the boot of the vehicle.
I mentioned walking out. Just consider the situation. If you get stuck in snow or flood, going nowhere so you have to walk out, or even just getting involved in trying to recover the situation but you are wearing city shoes. Not great. Cold wet feet and slipping all over. So add to your list some walking boots and socks.
Don’t forget a phone charger. You mobile phone may become critical for recovery. I will not get into the issues of the poor levels of signal in the UK but be aware just how poor it is. ALWAYS have a charging cable in your vehicle and if the vehicle does not have a USB port get an adapter for the lighter socket, or carry one of the many independent re-power packs and keep this fully charged too.
Food and water are essential. Personal choice, but have items that last, are nutritious and tasty. Particularly good for your emergency pack are ration pack type ready meals like those from Blå Band, which can be eaten hot or cold and last for a very long time. It is easy to carry several so you have choice as well. The cook set combo from SOTO is ideal – it is very small in its pack but includes two mugs and a cook pot/kettle. A SOTO stove fits inside so only the gas is separate. Make sure you have a full canister. More on this as a separate review later.
Use only pure water and keep it in a container such as a Source Liquitainer which will keep it fresh for a very long time – one and four litre sizes are available; just carrying water and not a drink mix is more universal. Obviously water can be drunk on its own or also made into drinks, hot if you are able, but importantly it can also be used for other things such as washing an injury. Talking of injury, a first aid kit should always be carried. There are plenty out there but choose wisely. A head torch is also a very good item to have. So much better than a conventional hand-held. The version I have from Supra is ideal. Powerful and also rechargeable.
With some common sense and forethought plus a sensible selection of kit in your vehicle you may avoid becoming stuck. What I have said here is not definitive but I hope will be a useful template to work around. But if you do get caught, whoever is at fault, you should at least be warm dry and have food and drink and be safe and reasonably comfortable.
Take care out there…
[images © Mike or Jean Gormley ]