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A Private Pilot’s Guide: What to Pack in a Winter Emergency Kit

Private pilots of all skill level should always be prepared in the event of an emergency. Now that winter is in full swing, it’s crucial that you gather the appropriate emergency materials in the event of a crash or forced landing. A winter emergency kit can mean the difference between making it until helps arrives or severe injury or death, making it a necessary addition to your aircraft safety equipment.

So if you’re flying this winter, don’t take off without an emergency kit that contains the following components.

The Basics: Water, Fire, Shelter, Signaling for Help

For those that aren’t survivalists, you’re probably wondering where to start. Starting with the basics, you’ll need four main things, including water, a fire starter, something for shelter and something that can signal help.



Water is the most crucial thing to have, as you can only last a few days without it. According to, the recommended amount of water to bring is at least one gallon of water per person per day for three days, for drinking and sanitation. You should also include water purification tablets in your kit to ensure that you can purify water, should you have to scavenge some.


Fire Starter

Even if you have warm clothes, a fire will provide additional heat and gives you somewhere to boil water and cook food. A flint and steel fire-starter set is probably your best bet as it can withstand moisture well and can easily provide the embers to get a fire going. You may also want to bring something that can be used for tinder, such as cotton balls or dryer lint – it’s harder to find something flammable when it’s cold and snowy out.



In the event of a crash, pop up shelters can go along way in protecting you from the elements. Even a small tent will be better than nothing. If your plane experiences severe damage, you can’t always count on huddling inside the cockpit or cabin, so an emergency shelter is your best bet at surviving cold, windy or snowy weather.


Emergency Signal

When you get stranded, you need a way to signal to searchers so they can locate and rescue you. The main forms of signaling for help remains flare guns and whistles. Of course, more high-tech options are available, such as a satellite phone that won’t lose service, even in the most remote areas. The Garmin inReach, for example, is supported by the worldwide Iridium satellite network for two-way messaging and has topographical mapping as well as 24/7 monitoring.


Beyond the Basics: Other Smart Essentials

We’ve now covered the basics that should be in every kit. The following items are essential, but depending on your flying situation, may not be necessary, although we recommend you thoroughly consider them before leaving them behind.

Extra Clothing

If you’re flying through a cold climate, extra clothing is essential. If you’re stranded overnight, you may experience fluctuations in temperature, so having gloves, a warm hat, snow pants and a down-jacket can go a long way in protecting you from the cold. Additionally, examine the weather patterns in the area you’re flying – this will help you decide whether to bring snow gear or rain gear, for example.


Unless you’re flying in very remote areas, an entire smorgasbord may just take up space in the aircraft. However, it’s still wise to toss in a few granola bars, trail mix or canned foods to hold you over until help arrives. Consider your flight plan and the weather, and pack the appropriate amount of food to get by for three days.


An all-in-one tool like a Leatherman, which contains a knife, can opener, tweezers, pliers and bottle opener, can be applied in several ways in an emergency situation. Not only that, it will help save space compared to packing each item individually.


For those flying at night, a flashlight is a necessity. From exploring your surroundings to checking broken engine components to diagnosing body damage, flashlights can help you survive a dark situation.

Seatbelt Cutter

If your plane crashes, and your seatbelt jams, you’re going to need a seatbelt cutter to escape the situation. These little devices feature razor blades that will slice through seat belts to prevent entrapment in your airplane—especially important should your plane catch fire and you need to make a quick escape.


From bundling firewood to securing shelter to hanging clothes, rope can come in handy in a variety of ways. Pick up a few feet of rope at your local hardware store and toss it in your kit for any emergency situation.

Cooking and Eating Utensils

If you do pack cookable food in your emergency preparedness kit, then you may want to include a pot or pan, eating utensils, and perhaps a plate. This will make the cooking and eating process, as well as boiling water, easier and more sanitary.

Sleeping Bag

If you have room in your aircraft, a sleeping bag will give you a warm place to sleep should your plane go down during a winter flight. They come in a variety of temperature grades, some that are made to withstand temperatures as cold as -40ºF.

Survival Vests

This is another option for pilots that fly in remote, backcountry areas. In place of or in addition to the emergency kit, an emergency survival vest can be worn by the pilot through the duration of the flight. This decreases the chances of forgetting the kit in the aircraft or of it burning in wreckage before you can remove it. Plus, it’s already on you should an injury limit your mobility. Vests can be purchased pre-filled with survival supplies, or a simple fishing vest can serve as the base to assemble your own.

Pack Smart and Never Worry Again!

If you don’t want to assemble your own kit, you can also purchase pre-packaged survival kits, which may be a smart option. Kits and the supplies they contain are varied so we encourage you to practice with all of the different tools available to determine what would work best in a survival kit.


Overall, if you prepare for each flight and pack the necessary equipment, you can survive any type of emergency this winter, no matter how dire it seems.