Thursday, February 29, 2024
Home Road Trip The Ultimate Winter Road Trip Packing List

The Ultimate Winter Road Trip Packing List

by Staff

Whether you’re driving home to visit family this winter or headed to the mountains on a ski trip, packing cold-weather road trip essentials will ensure your car adventure doesn’t turn into a dangerous misadventure. As a longtime Bay Area resident, I’ve taken many road trips to Lake Tahoe during ski season. I find that a well-tested car packing list simplifies my Friday night escapes for weekend getaways. With my trusted list, I can ensure that my car is equipped with everything from a cozy blanket to a reliable ice scraper. 

To cover the details of road trip safety gear and car preparation, I spoke with an automotive expert and referred to top-rated winter accessories, tech gear, and car essentials tested by the Travel + Leisure team. Wherever you’re headed, this complete winter road trip packing guide will make sure you arrive safe and warm.

Best Accessories for a Winter Road Trip

It might be cozy in your car, but David Bennett, Master Automotive Technician and Senior Automotive Manager at AAA, says it’s important to be prepared for the elements. “Dress in layers so if all of a sudden you break down and have to walk somewhere, you have the ability to bundle up,” he explains.

With the right winter accessories, you’ll be weather-ready when stretching your legs, changing a tire, or waiting out road-side assistance if an emergency arrives. 

Best Gloves

Hestra Wind Shield Liner Glove


We surveyed our T+L editors to find our top picks for winter gloves, and this fleece pair had excellent feedback. They come with grip on the palm and fingers, making them practical to wear while driving. They’re also compatible with touchscreens so you can keep them on during driving breaks as you check your GPS or messages. While the gloves aren’t waterproof, you can also wear them as a base layer under more heavy-duty gloves or mittens.

Best Snow Boots for Men

Columbia Men’s Fairbanks Omni-Heat Ankle Boot

Columbia Men's Fairbanks Omni-Heat Ankle Boot


On a winter road trip, you want shoes that are comfy enough for the car, but sturdy enough for a snowy destination. These winter boots for men are totally water-resistant and stood up to every puddle we could find during testing. The tread is also high-quality, reducing the risk of slipping while you stretch your legs. One T+L team member described them as “wildly comfortable” and like “snow pants for my feet.” The shoes can get a little toasty, but that will reduce your need to crank the heat during your drive, saving on gas or EV battery power.

Best Snow Boots for Women

Keen Women’s Revel IV Polar Boot

Keen Women’s Revel IV Polar Boot


These winter boots for women are perfect for a hike, running errands, doing yard work, and, yes, a winter road trip. Out of 24 women’s snow boots tested by T+L editors, these earned a perfect score for support, traction, waterproof capabilities, and design, placing them as our pick for the most versatile pair. They are sturdy and structured, so you might want to swap them out for longer drives, but they’re also lightweight, weighing in at only 1.3 pounds. You’ll be happy you have them in case you need to spend time outside your car in snowy weather.

Best Blanket

Oceas Waterproof Fleece Blanket

Amazon Oceas Outdoor Waterproof Blanket


A car blanket provides a little coziness and warmth in cold weather. This blanket from Oceas feels more high quality than others we’ve tested, and it comes with a carry pouch so you can keep it in your trunk when not in use. It folds down compactly, and there is an elastic band attached to the blanket that secures it when rolled up. The ripstop fabric is softer than other waterproof blankets we tested, which can sometimes have a plastic feel to them. The top layer is made from warm polar fleece.

Best Thermos

Contigo Autoseal West Loop Vacuum Insulated Travel Mug



Hot coffee might be the fuel you’re looking for on a cold winter road trip. This insulated tumbler stood out among the 33 travel mugs we tested because of the screw-on, leakproof lid and autoseal feature that reduces the chance of spills. We found it easy to use with just one hand because all you need to do is press the button to drink rather than removing the lid, making it easy to use with gloves on. It is also skinny enough to fit in most cup holders. It can keep cold drinks insulated for nearly two days, while hot drinks remained warm for about two and a half hours during our test. The top is dishwasher safe, but you’ll have to wash the painted stainless steel mug by hand.

Best Hand Warmers

Survival Frog QuickHeat Pro Rechargeable Hand Warmer with Portable Power Bank

Amazon Survival Frog QuickHeat PRO Rechargeable Hand Warmer with Portable Power Bank


Hand warmers are helpful in emergency situations, like an unexpected breakdown when you might spend time in the cold. This hand warmer from Survival Frog was our pick for the one with the best battery life out of the 14 we tested. It heats up easily in 10 seconds and can hold a long charge as long as 14 hours on the lowest setting — just make sure to charge it well in advance. We found it can give off a very strong level of heat, and overall it was popular for its heating capacity and consistency. Drivers can use it for a few minutes to heat up their hands during a stretch break or before hitting the road, while passengers can enjoy it during the drive. It also doubles as a 9000 mAh power bank that can fully charge a smartphone.

Best Tech Gear for a Winter Road Trip

AAA expert Bennett puts a phone, a phone charger, and a flashlight at the top of his list of tech gear essentials. With these T+L-tested tech choices, you can stay connected and prepared for whatever the winter roads have in store.

Best Rechargeable Flashlight

Nitecore MT21C Rechargeable Flashlight

Amazon NITECORE MT21C Flashlight


You might be thinking: if I have my phone, why do I need a flashlight? Well this rechargeable flashlight from Nitecore topped our list as the best overall out of the 16 we tested. We love it for its compact size, durability, and five brightness levels ranging from ultra-low to turbo. Some of its safety features include strobe, beacon, and SOS modes, and we found it to be solidly water tight, which means it will stand up to rain and snow. In our tests, it also fit in every car console, big or small.

Best Phone Mount

Andobil Car Phone Holder Mount



This is one of the best car mounts we’ve ever tried, making it a must-have for your winter road trip. In fact, we named it our best overall pick out of all the car mounts we tested this year. There are three ways to mount it into the car: with a suction cup stuck either to the dashboard or directly onto the windshield, or with a different attachment that clicks into the vent. The mount is easy to use, stays stable, and features a quick-release button so you can get your phone back with one hand.

Best Power Bank

Mophie Powerstation XXL

Mophie Powerstation XXL


We did some research to find this high-capacity power bank that is strong enough to power your tablet and can handle three devices at the same time. That’s great if you have multiple phones and tablets that you or your passengers need to charge at once during a long ride. It’s important to have a fully charged phone in case of an emergency, especially if you don’t have access to an outlet.

Best Emergency Communication Device

Garmin inReach Messenger

Amazon Garmin inReach Messenger


If you plan to drive in remote or snow-covered areas, an emergency communication device may be necessary. It provides a reliable way to call for assistance when cell phone service isn’t available. This one from Garmin has a strong battery life and employs reliable satellite technology. With it, you can text contacts, share your location, and send out SOS signals to monitoring staff. You will need a satellite subscription, and monthly plans are about $15.

Best Car Gear for a Winter Road Trip

As with any road trip, you want to make sure your car is ready for whatever comes your way. For a winter road trip, there are specific considerations to make for the weather, including winter wiper blades or washer fluid. Here’s some key items you’ll want to keep on hand for your car.

Best Multi-tool

Leatherman Wave+ Multi-tool

Leatherman Wave+ Multi-Tool


This multi-tool hits the sweet spot in terms of size and function, making it T+L’s winner for best multi-tool out of 30 we tested. It’s big enough to be useful but small and light enough to carry around. We noted that the tools and blades are easy to open, including the locking mechanisms. At home, you might prefer to use each full-size, standalone tool for a specific job, but if a situation arrives on the road, you’ll be happy to have access to this practical solution.

Best First Aid Kit

Adventure Medical Kit Ultralight Watertight .5

Adventure Medical Kit Ultralight Watertight .5


This versatile kit tops our list of the best first aid kits for travel. With over 40 pieces, it addresses a wide range of potential issues and includes two doses of various over-the-counter pain relievers, antihistamine, and antibiotic ointment. When fully stocked, it offers ample supplies to cover one person for approximately two days. The bright yellow color enhances visibility in emergencies, though it’s worth noting that the lack of interior organization may lead to some fumbling in urgent situations.

Best Tire Chains

KÖNIG XG-12 PRO 210 Snow Chains, Set of 2

Amazon KÖNIG XG-12 PRO 210 Snow Chains, Set of 2


The König XG-12 Pro 235 chains have a pattern design that allows for maximum grip in tough conditions. According to our research, these chains are easy to install — which you know is a major plus if you’ve ever been on the side of the road putting on chains during a blizzard. These chains also provide good braking performance and stay tight to the tire.

Best Ice Scraper

Birdrock Home Snow Moover 55-Inch Extendable Foam Snow Brush & Ice Scraper

Amazon Birdrock Home Snow Moover 55-Inch Extendable Foam Snow Brush & Ice Scraper


One of our researched options, this ice scraper and snow brush combo will get your car out from under snow and back on the road again. It can extend up to 55 inches, which means it works for larger cars, too, without taking up too much space inside. The freeze-resistant foam head makes it easy to push off snow, and since it extends, you won’t end up with snow all over you.

Best Roadside Emergency Kit

First Secure 90-piece Car Emergency Roadside & First Aid Kit

Amazon First Secure 90-piece Car Emergency Roadside & First Aid Kit


This 90-piece roadside emergency and first aid kit covers a lot of the road trip essentials. It comes with a reflective triangle, jumper cables, an air compressor, a headlamp with an LED bulb, a tow rope, a tire repair kit, a window breaker/seatbelt cutter, a tire pressure gauge, electrical tape, bungee cords, cable ties, bandages, tools, work gloves, and more. You won’t necessarily have the best of each item, but with one purchase, you’ll buy a lot of peace of mind. An emergency kit is definitely a must, and this is a good place to start.

Best Antifreeze

Valvoline Multi-Vehicle Concentrate Antifreeze/Coolant

Amazon Valvoline Multi-Vehicle Concentrate Antifreeze/Coolant


Antifreeze, aka coolant, prevents the water in your engine’s cooling system from freezing when it’s cold outside. Without antifreeze, the engine water could … freeze. That would cause damage to the engine block and radiator, leading to extensive and costly damage. This antifreeze from Valvoline has a long life and is compatible with many vehicles. It also claims to be compatible with other coolants, which means you can use it even if you don’t remember the last coolant you used.

Best Snow Tires

Bridgestone Blizzak WS90

Amazon Bridgestone Blizzak WS90


If you plan to drive regularly in the snow, snow tires (aka winter tires) are a must. They use specialized rubber and tread to work better on cold, wet roads. Using snow tires increases overall safety by reducing the likelihood of skidding, sliding, and hydroplaning. The Bridgestone Blizzak WS90 are a reliable, high-quality option. Note that some drivers notice more noise compared to all-season tires.

Best Winter Wiper Blades

Rain-X- 2 Latitude Water Repellency Wiper Blade

Amazon Rain-X- 2 Latitude Water Repellency Wiper Blade


Bennett, the AAA expert I spoke to, recommends winter wiper blades for their thicker rubber. This set from Rain-X also has water repellent coating that transfers to your windshield and will allow you to maintain visibility even in downpours. They’re also easy to install, but you may have to clean off residue the first time you use them.

Best Winter Washer Fluid

Prestone Deluxe 2-in-1 Windshield Washer Fluid

Amazon Prestone Deluxe 2-in-1 Windshield Washer Fluid


This washer fluid from Prestone won’t turn to ice, thanks to a super low freezing point of  -27 degrees Fahrenheit. The formula can also repel water and is suitable all year long. It actually comes with a bug wash, which you might appreciate more in the summer.

Best Emergency

Cartman 3-pack Warning Triangle

Amazon Cartman 3-pack Warning Triangle


Heavy snowfall or foggy conditions can significantly reduce visibility on the road. If you stall out or need to pullover to install chains, reflective safety triangles make it easier for other drivers to see you. In fact, carrying safety triangles is required in some areas and for some specific types of vehicles. These Cartman triangles are approved by the Department of Transportation and have a folding, snap-fit design. Just don’t forget to be extra careful when you’re setting them up behind your vehicle.

Best Jumper Pack

NOCO Boost Sport GB20 500 Amp 12-Volt UltraSafe Lithium Jump Starter Box

Amazon NOCO Boost Sport GB20 500 Amp 12-Volt UltraSafe Lithium Jump Starter Box


You know what’s better than carrying jumper cables? Carrying a jumper starter pack that doesn’t require another vehicle to operate. If your car battery dies, trust me when I say you’ll be grateful to have the Noco Boost Sport GB20 with you. You just attach the clamps to your battery, press power, and start the vehicle. The jumper pack also works as a portable power bank you can use to charge smartphones, tablets, and other USB devices, although the charge can be slow. It also has an LED flashlight with emergency strobe and SOS modes.

Best Snow Shovel

Snow Joe 18-Inch Strain-Reducing Snow Shovel

Snow Joe Shovelution SJ-SHLV01 Strain-Reducing Snow Shovel


If the snow really comes down, you’ll need something to get your car out or clear the driveway or parking spot at your accommodations. That can be a literal pain, but the spring assist on this shovel will keep the strain to a minimum.

Best Kitty Litter for Traction

Worlds Best Cat Litter Multiple Cat Unscented

WORLD'S BEST CAT LITTER Multiple Cat Unscented


If you get stuck on ice, sprinkling kitty litter under your tire can help regain traction. Since it’s also absorbent, it can soak up water or wet snow that might be keeping you stuck. This relatively small eight-pound bag is easy to throw in the car so you have it on hand if needed.

Tips for Packing for a Winter Road Trip

Now that you have your complete winter road trip packing list, here are some expert tips to help make your departure smooth. 

Prioritize the essentials

To start off, make sure you have a phone and a charger. During a road trip, we rely on our phones for essentials like directions, music, and reaching emergency services. So prioritize making sure you always have a charge. Other essentials you should have on hand include snacks, water, a flashlight, and jumper cables or a jump pack that you know how to use. 

Bennett also shares this great tip: keep these essentials in a backpack in your vehicle cabin. If an emergency comes up, you can easily carry the essentials with you as you walk to get help. Having an essential backpack also makes it easy to access things like snacks and water during your trip. Think of it like an airplane carry-on and pack accordingly. 

Prepare for all types of weather

If you’re heading on a ski trip or covering a lot of ground in the winter, chances are you’ll see some snow. In that case, snow tires are a good idea. “They’re going to provide a little bit better grip on the road and give you better traction,” Bennett says. 

You also can be prepared by bringing along a set of chains — but be sure you know how to install them. “If you do not know how to put them on correctly, they could cause significant damage to the vehicle,” Bennett points out, noting that poorly installed chains could fly off and cause a lot of damage to the vehicle.

Make sure you have a roadside safety kit

In the event of unexpected breakdowns or accidents, the kit provides tools to manage minor repairs and jump-start the car in cold weather. Since accessing help may take longer in bad weather, having a roadside safety kit adds an extra layer of security on challenging winter roads. The packing list above will make sure you have all the basics covered. 

Check your vehicle maintenance

Tires and lights are the two most crucial car elements for a safe winter road trip, according to Bennett. “Take a look at your lights to make sure that you can see and can be seen,” he says. 

For tires, you should check the tread and pressure. You can check the tread yourself with the “quarter tire test.” Take a quarter, put it upside down, and stick it inside the tread. “If you can see Washington’s head, it’s probably time for a new set of tires,” Bennett explains. 

Also, make sure you have a spare tire, if your vehicle allows for one. Bennett points out that up to 30 percent of new cars are not equipped with spare tires, so in that case bring an inflator kit and have your roadside assistance number handy for emergencies. “Understand what equipment you have,” Bennett advises. 

You also want to check all your fluids (oli, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, wiper fluid), and ensure that your car’s battery, brakes, and heating system are in good working order for winter conditions. If your car battery is more than three years old, Bennett also recommends having it tested, as most batteries last between three and five years.

Put away all distractions

Whether your car ride is five minutes or five hours, distractions are dangerous. “Don’t be looking at your phone while you’re driving,” Bennett cautions. He advises that you add your destination on your GPS before departing and plan as much as you can while you’re not driving. And create and download your playlist before you hit the road. 

If you’re traveling as a family, keeping kids engaged is also crucial to a less-distracted ride. “There’s always the license plate game or I spy, but give them things to read or a tablet or something that entertains them,” Bennett says, noting, “You want to remove anything that distracts you from the task at hand. And that task at hand is going from point A to point B, safely.”

Maintain visibility while carrying cargo

Packing up skis or a snowboard? Consider getting a cargo box and make sure it’s securely fastened. “If all of a sudden you’re filling the hatchback, you can’t see out your back windshield,” Bennett says. Also know that a heavy load will impact your gas mileage or battery range. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you prepare your car for a winter road trip?

    “The big thing is to start early,” Bennett says. He recommends inspecting your vehicle two or three weeks ahead of your trip. There may be a part you need to order or an expense you weren’t prepared for. If appropriate, also ready your car by swapping in your winter blades, wiper fluid, and snow tires. 

  • What do you wear on a road trip in winter?

    Dress in layers. It can get cold during breaks, or you might want to turn down the heat to conserve mileage, so sweaters and scarves are your friend. You’ll also want to be prepared with snow boots, gloves, and waterproof clothing if you need to be outside to install chains or during an emergency. 

  • How can you make long car rides more comfortable?

    “Take frequent breaks,” Bennett advises. If not, you could get tired mentally and physically.  Bennett suggests you spend at least a few minutes each break walking around and stretching. 

    Staying hydrated is another important way to stay comfortable. “If all of a sudden you get dehydrated, that’s going to affect your cognitive abilities,” Bennett says. This means you won’t be able to react as well. If you’re worried about needing to stop for the restroom, just consider those other chances to take a break.

    Finally, Bennett recommends that you plan stops ahead of time. Best case scenario: there is a scenic overlook or historic site on your way.

  • What should you keep in mind for a winter road trip in an EV?

    If you’re traveling in an electric vehicle, make sure you plan your route around charging infrastructure, and confirm that each charging station is accessible in winter weather. 

    Weather conditions can also impact your battery performance, with cold weather reducing efficiency. One way to get around that: use your car’s preconditioning feature while you’re connected to the charger. This will warm up the battery and the car, saving energy on the first part of the drive. 

    In your pre-departure vehicle check up, take a look at your battery health as well. Bennett is also clear to emphasize the importance of checking tire pressure and tread on all cars. “Your tires are the main part of the vehicle that grip the road, and that doesn’t matter if it’s an internal combustion engine or an EV,” he says. In addition, low tire pressure can reduce your range.

Why Trust Travel + Leisure

For this story, T+L contributor Annie Gabillet spoke with David Bennett, a 36-year automotive industry veteran, ASE Master Automotive Technician, and Senior Automotive Manager at AAA. Annie included products extensively tested by the T+L team as well as thoroughly researched options. She also called on her experience planning winter road trips, including many ski trips to Lake Tahoe. 

Love a great deal? Sign up for our T+L Recommends newsletter and we’ll send you our favorite travel products each week.

Leave a Comment

Copyright ©️ All rights reserved. | Tourism Trends