These hints apply to ski trips, winter cabin campouts, winter camping, Klondike Derbies, and similar events. Note that in almost all cases, the prevailing conditions at the locales to which we are driving are more extreme than those in Arlington – in some cases, considerably more extreme. We have had several mornings on ski trips where the air temperature was nearly 20 below zero (not wind-chill, actual air temperature).
All vehicles should arrive at the assembly point in a “ready-to-roll” mode. There are few things more frustrating than spending an hour getting the convoy together, then stopping for gas (or whatever) 5 minutes after we pull out of the parking lot.
Gas – Use PREMIUM gas only (93 or 94 octane); this will greatly help your vehicle in cold weather starting, and also on tackling hills. Use only premium gas for the entire trip (remember, you will be reimbursed for your gas expenses). Also, if you have had any issues with cold-weather starts or performance here in Arlington, add a bottle of Dry Gas to your tank when you fill up.
Oil – If your vehicle needs oil, it is a good idea to use a lightweight grade when you are heading into very cold weather; for example 5W20 or 5W30. This will thin out your current oil, and help the vehicle turn over on very cold mornings.
Windshield Washer Fluid – Be sure to fill your reservoir to the top, with pure (undiluted) fluid. If you are anticipating extremely cold temperatures on the trip, low temperature windshield washer fluid should be used. If you have only water or very diluted fluid in your reservoir now, and it’s almost full, it is highly advisable to drain it out and refill with pure fluid (if necessary, use a siphon hose to drain the fluid). Most importantly, run your fluid pump afterwards for about 5 seconds to replace the water in the lines with pure fluid – the lines may otherwise be frozen when you need them. If you have an auxiliary reservoir and pump for your back window, repeat the process for that system too.
Other Fluids – Check your coolant, brake fluid (very important!), transmission fluid, and power steering fluid levels, and if necessary bring them up to level. If you need coolant, use pure fluid, don’t cut it with water. If your coolant overflow reservoir is empty or nearly empty, be sure to check the level in the radiator too.
Battery – If your battery is weak and won’t take a charge, please replace it before the trip. If it’s having a hard time starting your car here in Arlington, it needs replacing. I have replaced several dead batteries at near or below zero temperatures in howling winds on a resort parking lot or similar, and you may rest assured that it’s no fun.
Tires – Inflate your tires to within 5 pounds of their maximum recommended pressure (e.g., 39 pounds for a 44 psi tire). The pressure will go down in cold weather, so this will compensate. REMEMBER TO CHECK AND IF NECESSARY INFLATE THE SPARE TIRE ALSO! If you don’t own one, get a four-way tire iron – these are far superior to the standard tire iron, and may be the only thing that works on lug-nuts in very cold weather.
Tire Chains – If you have tire chains, bring them (yes, even if you have a front wheel or all wheel drive car). In icy conditions, chains are often the only effective solution.
Keys – Drivers should always use an abbreviated set of keys for winter trips (that is, just vehicle keys). Keep your regular key set secure in your vehicle or in your gear, and carry only the vehicle keys. This way, the impact is minimized if you lose them on the slopes or elsewhere (yes, this has happened on past trips).
Cell Phones – If you have a cell phone, and wish to bring it, please make sure it is fully charged (or have a cigarette lighter adapter for it), and EXCHANGE NUMBERS with all the other adults on the trip who have cell phones. Note, however, that many of the resorts and other areas we drive through or go to do NOT have cell coverage, so cell phones may have very limited utility.
Other Equipment Items to Bring If You Have Them: battery jumper cables (heavy-duty and long much preferred), a broom, a CB Radio, a good flashlight with fresh Batteries, a good snow-scraper, maps of the States where we are traveling, a METAL Snow Shovel, a small tarp (to kneel on if you have to change a tire or do any similar type work), and a small trashcan (for Scout trash). Note that these items should be accessible when the vehicle is fully packed – plan accordingly.
Other Optional Prep – If we will be traveling in rain or wintry precipitation, it is a good idea to use Rain-X on your windows, front headlights, and outside rear-view mirrors. If your windshield wipers have seen better days, get them replaced before the trip. Cleaning the inside of the front windshield is also a good idea and will help prevent fogging. If you (still) have nice floors in your vehicle, you may want to lay old towels on them to soak up moisture and mud. A small towel to wipe off fogged up windows is a good item to have handy. A small bag of road salt is also a good idea.
TROOP EQUIPMENT – FYI, this is what the Troop carries in each of its passenger and cargo vans: a box of tools, a 4-way tire iron, tire chains, broom, Motorola radio, flashlight, scraper, shovel, and trashcan. This is what the Troop carries its cargo van: A bunch of fluids (all types mentioned above), a set of battery jumper cables, a battery charger and extension cord, extra flashlight batteries (“D”), and one or two extra Motorola radios (if we have enough). The Troop Medical Records and First Aid Kit will be carried in one of the vans.
Motorola Radios – The Troop uses hand-held Motorola radios for inter-vehicle communications on virtually all trips. POV drivers will be issued a radio just before departure. If you are unfamiliar with their use, please request instructions. Note that the radio volume must be high enough to be heard over vehicle noise.
Special Instructions for Multi-Cabin Camping – If the Troop is staying at multiple cabins on, e.g., a skiing trip, note that we try to pack each vehicle only with the stuff for one cabin. That is, each cabin has a dedicated vehicle. This helps unloading and organization upon arrival when it may be dark and cold. Each car will also receive a canvas boat tarp and newspapers (or a blanket) to put on top of it, to place “first thing” inside the door of the cabin for storage of snow-covered or muddy boots (this helps keep the cabin floors otherwise clean and dry). Finally, each cabin’s primary adult will receive a Troop Motorola radio for cabin-to-cabin communication. Thus, if you are a driver on such a trip, you need to be aware of these protocols when loading up at the Parish Center.
– Dr. Bob (2008 Edition)