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How to build a winter emergency kit (and why you should)

A little bit of technology (and some know-how) can help keep you and your family safe. Here's what's inside my emergency kit.
car tire in the snow
Anna Grigorjeva - Getty Images/iStockphoto

A bitterly cold arctic blast of air from Canada is expected to bring life-threatening cold to parts of the United States in the lead-up to Christmas, weather officials have warned. 

Temperatures will plummet so low in some areas that exposed skin could suffer from frostbite in five minutes.

Also: The best extreme weather tech

And this is just the beginning, with temperatures in affected areas dropping 30 to 50 degrees below normal in the coming days.

Winter is coming

Whether you're someone who hunkers down when the weather gets bad, or you have to be out and about, technology can make a difference. And while most of the time that difference is reducing a problem into an inconvenience, sometimes -- and I don't want to sound overly dramatic saying this -- it can be the difference between life and death.

Here's my plan of action. And while it changes as tech moves forward and I learn more, I find this covers most of the bases.

Note that you might need to cater for different types of emergencies. Maybe the power goes out for days or even weeks, or maybe flooding is a risk. 

Also: iPhone 14 vs. Garmin inReach Messenger: Which SOS tech is right for you?

Let your personal experiences guide you!

1. Start with the kit

I'm going to break these down into the essentials, and things that are nice to have, both for the home and in the car. 

I will recommend some products that I have personally tested and use that I have found to be reliable (this is not the time to find out that something is unreliable!).

Home kit

The essentials

Also: The 5 best fire extinguishers

Things that are nice to have

Also: The 5 best portable power stations

Car kit

The essentials

Things that are nice to have

Also: The best portable jump starters

2. Familiarize yourself with any kit you don't know how to use

I've seen people superglue their hand to their face, smash themselves in the teeth with a hammer while trying to put up storm shutters, struggle for over an hour trying to start a gasoline generator that didn't have any gas in it, turn an expensive tent into a fireball attempting to refill a gasoline stove that was already lit, slice their hand open with a screwdriver, and settle down to read the instructions for some essential bit of kit as a massive storm approaches.

Add stress and fear into the mix, and you have the potential for a lot of chaos.

Not sure how your portable battery pack, generator, or new weather app works? The time to be figuring this out is now, not when you are hip-deep in snow and the lights are out.

Also: The 5 brightest flashlights

Oh, and now is a good time to download and print out any manuals you might need.

Also, the more you practice and use your gear, the more likely you are to remember you have it. I've known people forget that they have some useful bit of kit when an emergency hits. 

It's not a failing, it's human nature.

3. Charge all your gadgets all at once

Do this while you have power! 

This is especially important if you live somewhere where the power is likely to go out.

Also, remember to charge up any portable battery packs and rechargeable batteries that you might have (you might not need them, but they may help a neighbor out of a bind).

For things I keep at home, I charge these up to 100%, and I have a power station and a couple of power banks that stay on charge all the time for such emergencies. 

Also: The 5 best portable power banks 

For things that I throw into the car and forget about for six months or a year, I charge these up to about 80%, as this is better for longer-term storage.

4. Keep your eye on the weather

Here is a selection of websites that will let you do just that. You might also want to make a note of a local weather station and news site.

Also: The best generators

And here are a couple of apps to help you stay informed:

5. Weatherproof your devices

If you have big, cumbersome weatherproof cases for your smartphones and tablets that you don't normally use, now is the time to put them on.

Go on. No one will judge you!

Also: How to get water out of your phone

If you don't have a weatherproof case, then a Ziploc bag is better than nothing. And if you have one of those little bags of silica gel that comes with all sorts of things you buy, throw one or two of those into the bag with your device, as it'll help absorb any water that makes its way into the bag.

6. Back up your data

Fire, flood, theft. These can take your device, but if you have a backup, your data is not lost.

An off-site or cloud backup is preferable (even if "off-site" means keeping a drive at a friend or family member's house).

If all you have is an external hard drive or USB key, then that will have to do -- pop it into a waterproof bag to give it a fighting chance! Alternatively, you can invest in a waterproof and fireproof storage drive

Also: The best external hard drives

My solution is to back up to the cloud using Backblaze, and also have local backups in a waterproof and fireproof RAID external unit for easy access.

7. Take a first aid class

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