Gift Guides

The Greatest Gift I’ve Ever Given*

. 7 min read . Written by Russell Smith
The Greatest Gift I’ve Ever Given*

*According to my sister-in-law

Eight years ago, I became tired of seeing my car’s center console in a constant state of junked disorder. Around that time, my brother and his family had their car break down on a frigid, winter evening. I went to take the kids home while my brother awaited assistance from AAA. These happenings, plus my desire to feel generally prepared for most of life’s exigencies, forced me to get organized. In the coming weeks, I assembled a Car Emergency Kit. For Christmas, I gave every member of my family one of these Kits. My sister-in-law in Cincinnati still calls her Kit, “the greatest Christmas gift you’ve ever given.”

Below you will find a list of the key items the Kit contains. (No affiliate links.)

BioLite Headlamp 200

When your car breaks down, will it be at the perfect time and place? No….it’ll be at 3:00 am about 127 miles from Winslow, Arizona….at best. This headlamp keeps a solid charge, lights up to a surprising distance and weighs virtually nothing. Don’t build your Kit without a headlamp – useful for seeing in the dark, but also a handy emergency signaling device.

Pen Knife or Multi-Tool

A multi-tool or pen knife makes an essential addition to the Kit. A few of my favorites:

Victorinox Swiss Army Classic Knife

Basic, light, handy. You will rarely need more.

Victorinox Hiker

Thirteen tools to get you through the rough patch. You will use the screwdrivers more than you think.

Leatherman Free P4

Another sturdy option. I love mine and use it all the time.

Victorinox Swiss Champ XXL

Take the volume to 11 with this bad boy and never doubt you have the tool for the job. Plus, by the time you figure out what tool you need to pull out, the rescue squad has probably arrived.

Pokka Pen

A pen comes in handy often. These pens measure about 2” closed. With that compact size, plus ink that stays usable even after months of disuse, this pen makes for a worthy addition to the Kit. I actually keep a few in my car and one in my briefcase and each of my rucksacks.

Field Notes Book

Again, a compact addition to the Kit, with lots of pages to write on. Get those sweet lyrics out of your head and down for posterity; write a love letter; take down the address of a cute house to send your real estate agent; whatever you need to remember, this notebook has you covered.

Another option: Rite in the Rain waterproof notebooks. These come in a wide variety of sizes and styles. If you work outdoors, these will ensure your thoughts and notes never disappear.

Dermatone Original Medicated Lip Balm SPF 30

On our first date, my now-wife bemused, “You really use your lip balm a lot.” Indeed I do. I always carry a lip balm with me. Like the Pokka Pen, I also keep a lip balm in my briefcase and every travel bag I have. If you find yourself in a true car emergency, it’ll likely involve the heat or the cold. Either way, you’ll feel reassured you have this lil baby with you to keep those lips protected from the sun and wind. This lip balm from Dermatone performs well in all weather. Pretty much every fishing guide I know uses it too – high praise!


Yeah, it’s an e-world but stamps still come in handy more often than you expect. A sheet of 20 should keep you a year or two; you’ll always feel glad you have a stamp nearby.

Band-Aid Flexible Fabric Travel Pack

Fix boo-boos on the fly with a bandage from this little packet.

Travel Tissues

When Cousin Eddie’s dog Snots drops a boogie, help the fella out with a tissue.

Flatware Set

Americans eat a lot of meals in their cars. This little set adds a touch of elegance to that moment. And it’s more durable than the cheap, plastic sets restaurants hand out.

Two emergency $10 bills

I dip into my emergency stash quite a bit. Why two $10 bills rather than one $20? Because if you get rescued, you may have two saviors to tip, not only one. They’re not going to want to make change.

An emergency roll of quarters

Even in today’s world with few, if any, street parking meters requiring quarters, I still find myself dipping into the ole roll regularly. Get a gumball, hand the drive-thru some change rather than an extra bill, and make a wish 25 times more potent than dropping a penny in the well….you’ll use these quarters.

Hand Sanitizer


Pocket Mirror

I’ve never used mine, but I do keep it around. A great signaling device during daytime in a real emergency.

Topo Designs Accessory Bag (Small)

Sturdy and durable, this Accessory Bag fits perfectly in most vehicle center consoles. It can hold a surprising amount of stuff, making it a terrific choice for the Kit. I keep all the items mentioned above stored in one of them in my car.

For True Emergencies

You may also want to keep five additional items in your car. They won’t fit in this Kit, but perhaps you have a small compartment in your trunk to store them in.

First Aid Kit

Like the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts advise, “Be Prepared.” You will likely never need more out of a first aid kit than bandages and antiseptic ointment. But perhaps you will. Be ready for yourself, your friends, your family and your community with a first aid kit. Here are three super options.

Adventure Medical Mountain Backpacker Medical Kit

All the basics in a lightweight carrying case.

Conterra Guide I Complete First Aid Kit

This is the first aid kit my wife and I carry in our cars. We also keep one in the kitchen. Super-compact, it’s filled to the brim with routine and intermediate first aid supplies. I like to have a face shield in my first aid kit, in case I ever have to perform CPR. Not essential, but definitely nice to have.

My Medic MyFak Mini

All the basics and more in an easy-to-access kit. It also contains a CPR shield.

Gallon Bottle of Water

You’ve seen those 50-mile backups on the highway during blizzards. You’re too smart to let that happen to you, right? You may be right, but thousands of cars become trapped for hours, even a day or day and a half, every year. If that happens, you’ll want every drop of that gallon.

Snack bars

Ditto. Pick your favorite and keep a 12-pack in the car.

Emergency Blanket

If you get caught in that 50-mile pileup, your car will likely run out of gas. Stay warm and safe in this emergency blanket until help arrives.

Toilet Paper

I showed a vacant house to clients once; they brought along their 4-year-old son. Nature called. We looked high. We looked low. No TP. The story ended well – no accident – but ever since I keep a roll in my car. Should you require it, please do the decent, moral thing and place it overhand.

There you have it. The greatest — or most useful — gift I’ve ever given. I dip into my Car Emergency Kit for at least one item every week. My relatives get similar usage from their Kits. You will too.

If you think I missed a crucial item for the Kit, please comment below. And if you’d consider purchasing a pre-made Kit with the items noted, please also comment.


Images created by Olivia Lund.