It’s almost that time of  year again when we drag out our nordic skis, snowshoes and snowboards and head out to find some fresh powder. It’s also that time of year when many people head out unprepared and get into serious trouble.

Here’s 10 essential items to have with you anytime you head out during the winter.

Fire-making kit

If you get stranded, a fire may be the difference between life and death. Have at least two sources of ignition. A lighter, waterproof matches or a magnesium rod, tinder including cotton balls smeared with Vaseline, tampons or commercial tinder/fire-starter are essentials. For more fire-starting essentials click here.


Always carry something to cut with. I like to bring along a small saw as well. A multi-tool is also a good one because of all of the implements. I sometimes carry a small hatchet but it can be a bit bulky if you’re traveling light. Just make sure you have something sharp. Check out these four top camping knives here.

Container to melt snow

It’s pretty difficult to melt snow in a plastic water container. I always throw my Sierra Cup (just a stainless steel cup) in my pack. You can even use a tin can if you don’t have one but the idea is that you can melt snow to drink and even make vitamin-rich teas from pine needles etc.


There are a million uses for paracord. One of the most popular types is the 550. Strong enough to do most anything you need and still light enough to fit in a pocket. You can use it for repairs, to make shelters and anything that requires lashing.

Space blanket

This is the first thing Search and Rescue will throw over you when they find you. They are highly reflective, hold in the heat and are waterproof. They pack down to the size of a pack of cigarettes and could mean the difference between warmth and hypothermia.


If you get stranded, you’ll feel much better fumbling around in the dark if you can see what you’re doing. It can also be used to signal rescuers. I prefer to use a headlamp so my hands are free but either way, don’t forget to pack a light source.

Plastic garbage bags

I always throw at least one or two in my pack. I like the big black commercial type. They have many uses including a place to sit and stay dry and a poncho to keep out the rain/wind.

First-aid kit

This is kind of a no brainer. Anyone who’s endured a cut that won’t stop bleeding will appreciate that. Mine is small and has an assortment of bandages, tweezers, a needle and some Ibuprofen.

Spare gloves/mittens

Typically the first thing to go are the fingers. If you need to set up a shelter etc. you will surely soak your first pair. I like mittens because they hold in more heat but gloves are good too. Nothing is more miserable than having frozen hands while trying to start a fire.


These are handy for many things including a signal flag. I like red. They can also be used as a sling, a wind cover for the face and a ton of other things. I’ve carried one since Cub Scouts.

These are just a few items that I never leave home without. The bottom line is that the more you have, the better off you are if something goes wrong. It’s also a good idea to throw in a few energy bars, a couple bouillon cubes and some dark chocolate. My winter pack never leaves my truck in the winter and no matter where I wander, I always have these ten essential items.