Road Trip Essentials: Winter Safety Edition

Winter mountain road with Rocky Mountains in a background

Written by Scott Shetler on

Scott Shetler is a freelance writer who enjoys offbeat destinations, national parks, urban adventures, cultural experiences, and everything in between. Follow his travels on Instagram @quirkytravelguy and his blog, Quirky Travel Guy.

Winter mountain road with Rocky Mountains in a background


Before heading off to the slopes or another wintery destination, here’s what you need to do to make sure your vehicle is ready and your bags are adequately packed for a winter road trip.


Experienced travelers know that winter offers some of the coolest outdoor activities. But before racing off to hit the  slopes or  explore a glacier, take a moment to do the responsible thing and prepare with the winter road trip essentials.

You don’t want to miss out on that skiing adventure because your car wasn’t winterized! Being ready for a  winter vacation or road trip means getting your vehicle tuned up, packing everything you might need, and researching your destination to avoid surprises. Read on for more winter road trip tips!


Preparing Your Vehicle for a Winter Road Trip

It’s never fun to think about worst-case scenarios, like being stuck in a snowstorm in a disabled car. But safety has to be your number one priority in the winter. Then you can worry about  planning the fun stuff.

Beyond getting a tune-up, as you would before any road trip, make sure to have a winter-ready vehicle. That means having winter tires and snow chains, topping off all your engine fluids, and bringing essentials like jumper cables, an ice scraper, and a shovel.

There’s nothing worse than being caught in a snow or rain storm with poor windshield wipers, so install new wipers and have plenty of spare wiper fluid, too. 

If there’s a chance of running into snow on the roads, you should have a four-wheel drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicle. Either can be suitable for winter driving, but AWD typically provides better handling and traction on snowy and icy roads, so for most winter destinations, driving an AWD vehicle would be ideal. 

No matter what kind of car or truck you drive, bring snow chains and know how to use them. And be cautious when driving! Take your time, keep a safe distance from other vehicles, and slow down when conditions warrant it.

Checklist of winter road trip preparations:

●     Get a full tune-up to check brakes and battery, replace filters, and top off all fluids.

●     Have a spare tire, jumper cables, ice scraper, and shovel.

●     Install new windshield wipers and bring plenty of extra wiper fluid.

●     Have snow tires or chains.

●     Be sure tires are properly pressurized.

●     Bring rock salt or sand in case your tires become stuck.

●     Drive cautiously in bad conditions.


Road Trip Essentials for Winter Travel

What should you bring on a winter trip to stay safe in challenging conditions? You’ll want to have all the  basic road trip necessities, such as a first aid kit, food and water, flashlight, and chargers for your electronic devices. In addition to your phone and GPS, bring printed maps, since those modern devices may not work if you’re heading to a remote area.

Having some basic  winter survival skills will help, too. Beyond that, bring blankets such as the  Cat Nap Blanket to stay warm in case of emergency. Bring plenty of heavy clothing, including sweaters, coats, gloves, hats, snow boots, scarves, and thermal shirts and underwear. 

Use a  massive trunk that will hold lots of puffy jackets and winter gear. And to ensure you have space for your adventure gear and your safety essentials, compress and store your clothes with an  compressions cubes and  large compression sacs.  


Make Sure Your Destination is Accessible!

Don’t forget to consider the weather forecast. No matter how adventurous you are, if there’s a major winter storm with heavy snow coming, it may be worth making alternate plans or adjusting your departure time to avoid the worst of the storm.

Finally, before planning a winter road trip, make sure your destinations will be open! That may sound like a no-brainer, but many of  the best national parks close some of their entrances and main roads during the winter. 

So if you haven’t done your homework, you may find yourself showing up to  Yosemite with an awesome, winter-ready vehicle, only to find that you can’t drive to Glacier Point because the road is closed. Snow chains won’t help you on roads that aren’t open, so be prepared!


While Eagle Creek is here to provide tips and insights on travel, we cannot accept any responsibility for any potential consequences arising from the use of this information.  Always conduct your own research and use your best judgment.


Related Links (From Eagle Creek's Blog):

Trending in 2019: Canada for Winter Adventure Travel

10 Road Trip Essentials You Should Always Pack

Essential Winter Survival Skills You Need to Learn Now