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Wilderness survival instructor Peter Kummerfeldt

Peter Kummerfeldt: Tips for spending the night in your vehicle during an emergency

Peter Kummerfeldt: Tips for spending the night in your vehicle during an emergency

Anyone who drives faces the possibility of spending a unplanned night in a vehicle.  Bad weather, breakdowns, running out of fuel, getting stuck are some of the more common reasons why a driver might have to bed down for the night (or perhaps for several nights) until the situation is resolved.  A night out does not have to be a life threatening experience. 

by Peter Kummerfeldt

Assembling a survival kit is the first step and, as with any survival kit, the contents should be selected based on personal needs, the season and the geographic location.  (See following list of recommended equipment)  If you become stranded you’ll be glad you took the time to put together an emergency kit.

A winter storm can make travel particularly dangerous. Make a vehicle survival kit, and let someone know when you left, and your expected arrival!

A winter storm can make travel particularly dangerous. Make a vehicle survival kit, and let someone know when you left, and your expected arrival!

In addition to the kit, you should also evaluate the effectiveness of your clothing to keep you warm in a cold vehicle when the engine isn’t running.  Most people dress to arrive at a destination and not to survive a night out. — the reverse would be more appropriate Dress to survive not just to arrive!”

When traveling with others don’t forget to provide sufficient supplies for the additional people as well.  Preparation also involves ensuring that your vehicle is ready for winter travel.  Never set out in stormy conditions without a full tank of gas, a good battery, proper tires, a heater and exhaust system in good working condition, good anti-freeze and a good dose of “common sense.”



 If you do get trapped by a blizzard or severe snow storm – “don’t panic!”  Stay with your car and use your survival kit.  Your vehicle makes a good shelter and an effective signal – don’t leave it.”  In your car you are warm (warmer than being outside), dry and protected from the weather.  Trying to dig yourself out or attempting to walk to help can be fatal.  “Sit tight – let the rescuers come to you!”  Move all of your emergency equipment and any other useful gear into the passenger compartment.


Stay with your vehicle after an accident (Peter Kummerfeldt photo)

Stay with your vehicle after an accident (Peter Kummerfeldt photo)

While sitting out a storm you must use your resources sparingly – you don’t know how long you’ll be there.  While the car will shelter you from the wind and keep you dry you will need to keep the interior warm.  The heat your body produces is insufficient to heat the interior.

Sitting in a car you will become cold quickly—especially your feet.  Put on your warmest clothes (socks, hat, gloves, long underwear and additional insulation layers), wrap yourself in blankets or get into a sleeping bag before you become cold.  Sit sideways so that you can place your feet on the seat where the foam cushioning will offer insulation from the cold.  The foot wells will be the coldest part of the vehicle.

Alternatively, place foam padding under your feet to insulate them.  Place insulation behind your head so that it does not come in contact with the cold window when you lean back.

If you are the sole occupant use a space blanket and duct tape to partition off the back of the vehicle from the front so you only have to warm the part of the vehicle you are occupying.  Ways to warm the interior of your vehicle include running the engine for short periods of time, long-burning candles, small stoves and Isopropyl alcohol/toilet paper improvised heaters.  Run the engine about ten minutes each hour or for shorter periods each half hour but only after ensuring that the exhaust is not damaged and the tail pipe is clear of snow and other debris.  Run the engine on the hour or half-hour – times that coincide with news and weather broadcasts.

Ventilate the vehicle by opening a downwind window approximately one inch.  Carbon monoxide is a very real threat to your safety.  Do not go to sleep with the engine running.  Carbon monoxide poisoning can sneak up on you without warning.  Almost 60% of the unintentional deaths in the United States each year are caused by carbon monoxide  poisoning from motor vehicle exhausts.  It is far less risky to use your clothing and other sources of heat to keep yourself warm.

 If you have to get out of the vehicle in a blizzard put on additional windproof clothing, and snow goggles if you have them, then tie a lifeline to yourself and the door handle before moving away from the proximity of the vehicle.  In a white-out condition visibility can be as low as 12 inches.

Eat right. Without enough energy stored in your body you will not have the ability to generate heat to keep your body warm.  Your emergency kit should include quantities of high-calorie, non-perishable food (carbohydrate food bars).  Keep yourself hydrated.  Dehydrated people have great difficulty maintaining their body temperature.  Don’t eat snow!  It takes body heat to convert snow to liquid.  Use your heat sources to melt snow for your drinking water.  Don’t smoke – the nicotine in cigarettes reduces blood flow to the skin and extremities and increases the possibilities of frostbite.  Don’t drink alcohol – alcohol affects judgment. Bad judgment decreases the chances of survival.

                                                                                                                     GETTING RESCUED


Emergency equipment to store in your vehicle


Cellular phone with charger

Four quart bottles of water

Three dehydrated meals

Other carbohydrate based foods

Toilet paper


Tools to include jack & spare tire

Road flares

Tow strap

Booster cables

Folding or breakdown shovel

Blankets or sleeping bags

Chemical hand heater packets

Check out this Altoid tin survival kit kit with knife!

Buy survival kits

Light sticks

Waterproof, windproof matches

Metal cup

Basic first aid kit


Additional clothing

Winter footwear

Two empty cans (one for melting snow & the other for sanitary purposes)

Sack of cat litter

Windshield scraper and brush

Spare personal medications

Flashlight and spare batteries

Portable radio with spare batteries

Emergency candles and/or small stove


Multi-purpose tool

Ski goggles

Duct tape

Space blankets

Book to read

25 – 50 feet of nylon cord

Flagging tape

Peter Kummerfeldt has walked the talk in the wilderness survival field for decades.

Peter grew up in Kenya, East Africa and came to America in 1965 and joined the U.S. Air Force. He is a graduate of the Air Force Survival Instructor Training School and has served as an instructor at the Basic Survival School, Spokane, Washington; the Arctic Survival School, Fairbanks, Alaska, and the Jungle Survival School, Republic of the Philippines.

Peter Kummerfeldt has taught wilderness and urban survival for four decades.

Peter Kummerfeldt

For twelve years, Peter was the Survival Training Director at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado. He retired from the Air Force in 1995 after 30 years of service.

In 1992, concerned with the number of accidents that were occurring in the outdoors annually and the number of tourists traveling overseas who were involved in unpleasant and sometimes life-threatening incidents Peter created 

He is the author of “Surviving a Wilderness Emergency” and has addressed over 20,000 people as the featured speaker at numerous seminars, conferences and national conventions.

Check out Peter’s blog at: OutdoorSafe.blogspot.com


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Wilderness survival instructor Peter Kummerfeldt

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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