While it is possible to end up off the road in a deep ravine miles from civilization during a blizzard, Colorado’s winter reality rarely puts you in a position where you may need to eat your fellow passenger. Auto travel in the Rocky Mountains does have quirks that are somewhat unique to the region though, and having a well-stocked set of Colorado-appropriate gear will make your adventures into the mountains much safer.
First off, let’s look at the normal safety gear that should be in everyone’s vehicle during the snowy months:
- Jumper Cables
- Windshield Wiper Fluid (2 gallons are a good idea in Colorado)
- Warm Blanket
- Ice Scraper / Brush
- Kitty Litter or Ice Melt (for traction on ice)
- Emergency Flares
- Working Flashlight or Headlamp
- Compact Shovel
- Tire Chains
For Colorado-specific conditions, here are ten more items that are worth adding to your kit.
1 - Portable Battery w/ Jumper Cables
I have been the hero to many a stalled vehicle in many ski lots and trailheads thanks to this winter essential. A quality portable battery jumper will run about $70 but is worth its weight in gold. Look for one that has built-in jumper cables, a portable inflator and a built in light. These do require at-home recharging once in a while, so if you get one, make sure to keep it fully charged before hitting the road.
2 - ** Cold Weather Rated Sleeping Bag**
More than once, I’ve been forced to stay off the highways due to bad weather only to find out all the local hotels are filled up (and the locals don’t appreciate strangers knocking on their doors asking for a place to stay). A cold-weather rated sleeping bag may be the best you can do while waiting for the roads to reopen -- and of course, a very good option if you actually do get stranded at a trailhead or a more remote part of the state. Plus they make for good doggie beds on a long ride home.
3 - ** Snow Boots**
It seems like a no-brainer that one would be wearing boots to begin with but because weather in lower elevation is often much milder than mountain temps, Colorado drivers often commute with two pairs of footwear: light shoes and ski boots. Neither of which are great if you need to walk to a service station or spend an hour digging your vehicle out of the snow.
4 - Pee Bottle
For those times when you’re stuck for hours in I-70 traffic and simply peeing by the side of the car would be uncivilized (though very few fellow drivers would really mind). You can make life a little easier for the ladies (sort of) by keeping a wide-mouth bottle for just such an occasion. Just make a point to label your bottle so that you don’t accidentally take it along for drinks on your next hike (unless, like Bear Grylls, you like that sort of thing).
5 - Traction Plates
When kitty litter won’t cut it, traction plates may get the job done. They are flat, relatively cheap (about $20) and actually work pretty well in Colorado’s freeze-and-melt road conditions.
6 - Camp Stove
A simple canister stove that uses Isobutane fuel is a great tool to keep in your vehicle in the winter. Besides making drinks for the ride home after a fun day of skiing or snowshoeing, a stove can be used to heat up water that could potentially help free frozen windshield wipers or thaw a frozen door lock. Note that Isobutane doesn’t burn well in exceptionally cold temps but a cannister is safer to keep in your car than liquid fuel (if you are going to a remote trailhead, consider a white gas stove, since it’s more reliable in a true emergency and will burn hot in the coldest temps).
7 - Extra Water / Drinks / Snacks
Sports drinks like Gatorade have a slightly lower freezing point than water but all of them will freeze if it gets cold enough. However, you’re more likely to need a drink while sitting stuck in traffic (and if you have a camp stove, you can always melt snow) and your beverages will most likely be thawed if your car is running. Extra food is always a good idea for both emergencies and regular ol’ hunger. (Bonus: the pain reliever of your choice for altitude-induced headaches -- or normal, frustrated traffic-is-not-moving headaches).
8 - Spare Hat / Goggles / Gloves /Socks
Easy enough to keep these extra items around and they may come in handy when your ski buddies forget vital pieces of gear (especially goggles). Dry socks are always nice at the end of a long day or for the drive home.
9 - Multi-Input USB Outlet
You can be the hero of telecommunications world, at least amongst your friends. A multi-port USB plug is only about $10 and lets you and your friends recharge your phones to let loved ones know you are going to be way late getting home. For true superhero status, leave both an Apple and a Samsung-style charging cord in your vehicle.
10 - inReach (or similar communication device)
This is one you probably won’t want to leave in your car per se, but if you are headed to remote trailheads to ski or to explore huts, a satellite device like the DeLorme inReach can help in the case of a true emergency. There are several similar devices, but we like the inReach because you can buy airtime as needed and it is a reliable unit with strong battery life.