Open in case of very small emergency.
December 22, 2013 1:48 PM   Subscribe

I'm assembling a bag of useful things that I will keep in the trunk my car. What goes in it? Think less "zombie apocalypse" more "raining, forgot umbrella."

While it will contain some disaster supplies, I'm primarily interested in being prepared for less dramatic but more likely "emergencies."

  • Clean dress shirt, underwear and socks
  • Toothbrush and paste
  • A birthday card
  • Compact umbrella
I live in Boston, so everything needs to be able to tolerate freezing temperatures.
posted by justkevin to Grab Bag (49 answers total) 97 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: bottled water
change (for parking, vending machines, etc.)
snacks (granola bars, etc.)
a full change of clothes, including pants & shoes
a sweater/jacket
baby wipes
posted by belladonna at 1:51 PM on December 22, 2013

Best answer: -A picnic blanket that is waterproof on one side
-A bottle of water
-A bit of cash
-Binoculars for impromptu wildlife watching
-An atlas in case your GPS stops working
-One of those portable batteries for charging phones
posted by quixotictic at 1:52 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Cat litter, shovel, blanket, chocolate, torch.
First aid kit, high vis jacket.
Some comfortable shoes if you make a habit of driving in dress shoes, a waterproof jacket if you are likely to drive without one and then need to change a wheel.
posted by emilyw at 1:54 PM on December 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: A roll of paper towels and maybe some kind of glass or surface cleaner, in case you make a mess in your car (or on yourself). Also useful for wiping off windows if they get covered in condensation.

A blanket, for warmth or impromptu picnics or outdoor events.
posted by MadamM at 1:55 PM on December 22, 2013

Best answer: Bottle opener
Can opener
Duct tape
posted by gubenuj at 1:57 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh and: Lint Brush
posted by gubenuj at 1:58 PM on December 22, 2013

Best answer: Sunscreen, gallon of water, a little cash, jumper cables, extra pair of gloves, blanket, umbrella , emergency poncho, socks, handwarmers, screwdrivers, flashlight, maybe sneakers?

Less emergency getting wet/cold: lint roller, febreeze, wrinkle release spray, chap stick, comb, minty floss, deodorant.

I used to keep a formal dress in my trunk, just in case, and I got to use it more than once. :)
posted by stormygrey at 1:58 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: heavy duty flashlight that doubles, if necessary, as a weapon. I like MagLite LEDs.

Small bolt cutter

A case of bottled water (get the individual bottles, rotate frequently)

A heavy wool blanket suitable for picnics and brakedowns

A bottle of headache pills


Cheapo (like, the $4.99 variety) headphones

An extra charger with the tips you typically use (mine has micro, mini and thunderbolt)

posted by arnicae at 2:07 PM on December 22, 2013

Best answer: The cat litter should be the non-clumping variety. The difference is important. :)

Duct tape and maybe also masking tape - if space is an issue, take a piece of cardboard about 4 or maybe 6 inches long that's as wide as your tape and wrap a bunch of tape around the length of it so it's flat-pack tape. (I use this trick to keep duct tape in my backpack.) Duct tape is good for everything, and masking tape is useful for marking things like putting your name on a plate you're taking to a pot-luck.

A waterproof marker like a sharpie. Durable work-glove type gloves, and optionally a couple of pairs of latex/vinyl/nitrile gloves for dealing with gross stuff. Speaking of which, a couple of garbage bags and smaller (optionally zip-lock) bags. Ice scraper. A spare fuse kit with a little fuse-puller (not necessary but convenient!) and several sizes of fuse (auto parts stores often sell these as a thing). flashlight and spare batteries. Bonus points for having a lanyard on the flashlight that can go around your wrist, so you won't drop it and watch it roll down the hill next to the highway. $50 or $100 emergency cash (where "emergency" can be "I have an emergency and need to, say, call a cab" or "i forgot the rest of my cash and need to buy milk")
posted by rmd1023 at 2:09 PM on December 22, 2013

Best answer: Caffeine tablets
posted by emilyw at 2:13 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You need a bag for it all to go in or it gets in a mess. I use this one. I got it half price on (they might have more or more in the future). It is flat, has good handle, and carries a fair amount. It also has lots of loops on the outside for tying stuff to it. The only thing I would add to the above is a few cheap (like wal mart 99cents specials) plastic plates and cups and nylon cutlery. And a multi tool. I like the leatherman skeletool. If you keep the water in 1 liter or 20 oz soda bottles they can freeze and not split. I have never had a old, reused soda water bottle split open from freezing. In fact I use them for frozen ice packs in coolers when I need that.
posted by bartonlong at 2:14 PM on December 22, 2013

Best answer: --dog treats, in case you have to lure a stray out of a busy road (I've actually done this!)
--quarters, for when you go shopping at Aldi and need a cart
--repair kit for eyeglasses (The little screwdriver is also useful for electronics repairs.)
--The classic Engineer's Fix-Anything Kit: duct tape and WD-40
--mechanical pencil (doesn't run out of ink or misbehave in the cold, doesn't need sharpening)
--extra house key?
--bungee cords in a couple of different sizes
posted by SuperSquirrel at 2:15 PM on December 22, 2013

Best answer: Things I often wish I had, or have added after realizing how useful they'd be:

(note that I work in a casual workplace and live in southern California):

- an extra warm layer, like a jacket or a scarf.

- some way of accessing money, even if it's just a slip of paper with my bank account number on it I could take to a teller. (Lifesaver when you realize you left your wallet in your other pants.)

- a snack.

- non heels to drive in, or in case I have an uncomfortable shoe emergency.

- water is a no brainer.

- useful phone numbers actually written down, on the off chance I'm in a tight spot and my phone dies/doesn't have bars.

- dog treats (YMMV if you don't have a dog or your dog rarely rides in the car)

- lip balm

- extra sunglasses, because I'm prone to forgetting them.

- a pen.

- one helpful map of the area just in case I get hopelessly lost and my phone dies. Mine is a freeway map of Los Angeles. YMMV as to what would be most useful for you.
posted by Sara C. at 2:17 PM on December 22, 2013

Best answer: Maybe grippy shoe-bottom things for walking on snow/ice in case you get stranded somewhere? I used to like yaktrax but then someone on askme recommended something better which I naturally can't recall right now.

Shitty old but tough gloves in case you have to change a tire in freezing rainy conditions?

I always prefer a headlamp to a flashlight, so you don't have to give up the use of a hand to also have light. Make sure to get one that uses standard AA or AAA batteries and not something you have to order from an arcane battery supplier online.

Also I really want to know what kind of emergency people are anticipating that would require sunscreen.
posted by elizardbits at 2:17 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I keep a container of Handiwipes for when I accidentally touch something yucky
Hand lotion
A roll of paper towels
Tiny flashlight
Lint roller because I'm always covered in dog
posted by cecic at 2:23 PM on December 22, 2013

Best answer: Nail clippers. I've given similar advice for "what emergency things should I have in my desk at work" questions before, and they've always proven useful.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 2:25 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If there's a woman who uses the car regularly or even irregularly, a couple of tampons or pads don't take up much space - and can, in a pinch, be used for first aid purposes as well.

When you make this, keep in mind all the temperature variations that the car, and thus your kit, will go through. I used to keep chapstick in my car til it melted - now if I keep that in the car, I make sure it's the kind in a sealed tube or pot. Same for deodorant. Anything that might melt should either be put in its own zip lock baggie or traded for a version that won't melt (roll on liquid deodorant, for example.) And food items should definitely be in sealed packages; mice do get into cars and you don't want to feed them or encourage them to make a home.

and if i were going to do this, I'd use a flashlight that's powered either by a crank or shaking it, so you don't have to keep track of batteries.
posted by lemniskate at 2:33 PM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: - Condoms
- Enough cash to pay for a meal for two or three or a taxi across town, plus tip
- Ibuprofen
posted by doop at 2:38 PM on December 22, 2013

Best answer: Tide pen. Gym clothes in addition to a regular change of clothes. Imodium and Tums.
posted by telegraph at 2:41 PM on December 22, 2013

Best answer: Sleeping pills and earplugs

Solar phone charger (try

Nail file

Little Dopp kit with enough personal grooming junk to see you through an unexpected sleepover

Your slightly outdated pair of prescription eyeglasses

I thought pre-moistened hand wipes were nonsense until I bought a kind with moisturizer in them for the car

My car came with (!) a pair of gloves and a big bag for the dirty tire

A flat sheet folds down pretty small and has a lot of uses

A vacuum sealer is a nice gadget to have when putting this sort of stuff together; maybe you know somebody with one who'd lend theirs out? Keeps things fresh-ish/less broken/less filthy/not leaky.

The most frequently used pseudo-emergency item I travel with is probably the pair of swimsuits. The emergency blanket doubles as a beach towel.
posted by kmennie at 3:09 PM on December 22, 2013

Best answer: Sunscreen, blanket, jumper cables, pocketknife/leatherman, hat and sunglasses to use or lend to a passenger, bandaids, water, paper towels, kleenex.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 3:17 PM on December 22, 2013

Best answer: One thing I've found useful that I haven't seen mentioned is some empty trash bags. Regular shopping bags would also work, it's handy to have something to put trash/messy things. A few empty plastic baggies are also helpful, I've had to use those more than once.

Oh, also a knife or a pair of scissors.
posted by kassila at 3:18 PM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Cash in small denominations and coins.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:23 PM on December 22, 2013

Best answer: A low-level first aid kit: a handful of bandages, moleskin, and over-the-counter drugs (a painkiller, an antihistamine, and a non-antibiotic antiseptic like ethanol or povidone iodine) will go a long way. If you decide to repackage the drugs (e.g., aliquot out a few pills from a big bottle), make sure you can still distinguish the different pills and include in the kit the bits of paper or packaging that give dosing guidelines and contraindications.

Also, from a quality improvement perspective, you should include a notebook to use as a kit log. If you want something and realize you don't have it, you can write that down. If you use some stuff and need to replace it, you can write that down. When you look through it and realize you've never actually used something, you can remove that from the kit. Strangers from the internet can get you started, but ultimately this will work best if you customize it to your own experience.

If you're going to keep this kind of kit, make sure you schedule time for maintenance and training. It's no use to have moldy food and expired medication and tools you don't know how to use.
posted by d. z. wang at 3:30 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Basic eating gear - a thing to drink out of, a knife, a plate.
A blanket.
Toilet paper, handwipes, a couple of wash cloths.
posted by Kaleidoscope at 3:47 PM on December 22, 2013

Best answer: Basic first aid kit.
Tape (I like duct tape and blue painter's tape).
A blanket.
Tools: a decent multitool and/or flat & phillip's head screwdrivers, pliers, maybe a hammer.
Flares (say half a dozen or so).
Chapstick, hand lotion, mints.
Assorted bungie cords.
A couple plastic bags; grocery bags are fine. (Good for trash or wrapping stuff so it doesn't get rained on, among other things.)
Recharger cords.
Pens, pencils, notepads.
Paper towels.
A bottle of window cleaner.
posted by easily confused at 3:59 PM on December 22, 2013

Best answer: A funnel that will work for both motor oil and trans fluid, kept inside a ziplock (so it won't get dusty and your trunk won't get oily).
A quart of motor oil, a quart of trans fluid (works for power steering also), pint of brake fluid, gallon of antifreeze.
A old bath towel (Ford Prefect was right): towel yourself off after getting caught in a downpour, kneel on it when changing a tire, sit on it if drink gets spilled on the seat....
Large piece of cardboard, works great for laying on if you need to look at the undercarriage if there's a strange noise, or putting on tire chains in the slush...
Large trashbags, work as seat covers if you are bespattered with mud, oil, a milkshake, etc, work as emergency ponchos, a sack for yard finds...
posted by 445supermag at 4:10 PM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Some reasonably strong climbing rope (think paracord times 2). Having that allowed me to get my car pulled out of a muddy ditch by a friendly SUV.
posted by alms at 4:41 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Please don't keep condoms in your car; the change in temperatures can degrade the latex.
posted by Weeping_angel at 5:17 PM on December 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

Tampons if you're a lady.
posted by OsoMeaty at 5:20 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Roll of toilet paper in a large (e.g., gallon-size) Zip-Loc bag, and a roll of paper towels in its own large Zip-Loc bag. If you can get bags bigger than a gallon, that's awesome. If you need to use these to clean up something, you may also need to wrap up something nassssty.

Also get some zip-ties: a couple of tiny ones and a bunch of foot-long ones. You can make a lot of improvised repairs with zip-ties.

Skip food & water, it'll only spoil/freeze before you can use it.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:23 PM on December 22, 2013

Also I really want to know what kind of emergency people are anticipating that would require sunscreen.

Car breaks down somewhere & you have to walk in the hot, hot sun and you are pale as a ghost, so you burn horribly without sunscreen. Or last-minute trip to the park/beach on a sunny day.

I second the suggestions of toilet paper & a beach towel. I've been very grateful to have those stashed in the trunk more than once.
posted by belladonna at 5:28 PM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

In addition to a lot of the above, I also keep a deck of cards. I've only used it once, when a group of old friends got together at a restaurant and wanted to play Spades, but I was glad I had it.
posted by CathyG at 5:36 PM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

paper towels to clean up puke. Bottle of water helps with this also.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:07 PM on December 22, 2013

I used to keep wrapping paper, scissors & tape in my car and it was a godsend more than once, particularly when my kids were younger and we often had the last minute birthday party run. Right now I keep a quart of oil, windshield wiper fluid, a bunch of trash bags, paper towels, a real towel, pens and pencils, bandaids, bug repellent, sunscreen, dog treats, a sweater and a jacket in there along with some cardboard boxes. All these things have come in handy at one time or another.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:42 PM on December 22, 2013

Waterproof matches and/or a lighter.
Bottle opener
Needle and thread.
Butterfly bandaids
crazy glue
duct tape
a knife
baseball glove (and ball)
garbage bags
a four iron
a paperback book
jumper cables
wool hat and gloves
roll of toilet paper
bathing suit
fleece blanket
roll of quarters
freeze dried food
bungee cords and rope
folding chair
emery board
rubber mallet.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:32 PM on December 22, 2013

I live in Arizona; any situation that would require you to leave the car for more than 30 seconds is a sunscreen emergency.
posted by celtalitha at 8:02 PM on December 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

FWIW bottled water can leak until one day you notice a funky smell in your car, and you just can't figure out why. if you have bottled water, make sure you're drinking it and replacing it regularly.
posted by cupcake1337 at 8:34 PM on December 22, 2013

If you might find yourself stranded overnight, and need a garment that is equally a jacket and a sleeping bag and perhaps a tent as well; and provides warmth and breathability in a very light packaging, I present to you the Bivanorak. It's quite comfy too.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:16 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also I really want to know what kind of emergency people are anticipating that would require sunscreen.

Any impromptu stop anywhere out-of-doors.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:16 PM on December 22, 2013

You need a bag for it all to go in or it gets in a mess.

I use a plastic milk crate
posted by arnicae at 5:34 AM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

I try to keep at least one packet of beef jerky stocked. Even if it's not an "emergency," it can stave off the hangries in case of unexpected delays. This has been useful more than once.
posted by mimi at 7:43 AM on December 23, 2013

A small, simple gift in case you find yourself at an occasion where one is needed. Something universal; $25 Amazon gift card?
posted by duffell at 7:43 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I always keep a travel size deodorant in my car.
posted by haplesschild at 8:55 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

2nd climbing rope or tie-down straps. This is the thing I have that I end up unexpectedly using the most. More often than pulling a car out of a ditch, it's for when you buy something too big to fit in the car and have to tie down the trunk lid.

Cigarette lighter, can/bottle opener. Not so much for emergencies, but for those, "oh, I've got one of those in my car, brb." moments that can save the day pretty much anywhere.

Pre-printed cards with your contact+insurance info for if you bang a parked car but don't have a pen. Also, blank cards and a pen.

(I'm assuming you already keep obvious stuff like tire iron and snow chains that fit the car)
posted by ctmf at 1:36 PM on December 23, 2013

the survivalists call this a "bug out bag." Another term is "EDC" for "every day carry." If you use those as search terms, you will find hundreds of recommendations. Both of these terms have dedicated subreddits. Pls note that an astonishing number of people feel that firearms are necessary for every day and for emergencies.
posted by ohshenandoah at 9:12 PM on December 23, 2013

I live in Arizona; any situation that would require you to leave the car for more than 30 seconds is a sunscreen emergency.

Right, of course, and that makes absolutely perfect sense. But the OP is in Boston and it's december.

What I was really hoping to hear was something like "little-known fact: sunscreen also works as a de-icer/emergency firestarter/etc".
posted by elizardbits at 12:16 AM on December 24, 2013

I got a couple of flashlights that has a clamp handle, a strong magnet on that, and a head that can move independently. They come in handy when poking around the engine.

The key take away is that a flashlight or lantern that doesn't demand use of a hand can come in handy, be it a headlamp or camping lantern or something else.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:19 AM on December 24, 2013

Hiking boots stuffed with good socks. A coffee tin with kitty litter, an unscented candle and box of waterproof matches inside. A small tarp, a length of nylon cord and an old quilt. A $1 rain poncho.
posted by maggieb at 11:02 PM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

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