The weather forecast comes in. Snowflakes cover the 7-day projection. Your first thought when learning this news puts you in one of two camps. You may identify as a snow-loathing caveman who stocks up on bread, eggs and milk at the first hint of snow or the snow-fixated Yeti who immediately starts for the most frostbitten terrain. Both are likely to end up driving on the snow at some point if the white powder sticks for long. Regardless of your grouping, you need these 12 pieces of essential winter mountain driving gear for the Balkans. They will work adequately for other places, but these come from our experiences in the mountainous terrain of southeastern Europe.
Essential Winter Mountain Driving Gear for the Balkans
- Local maps – Google Maps and navigation devices are super helpful. Take them. Use them. They are right far more than not. Beware though, the local maps are usually more accurate in the Balkans. Venturing out on what Google Maps shows as a road while the local maps indicate only a little-used trail provides a good story in the summertime. In the winter, however, incorrect info can put you in danger. Navigation devices route the shortest distance. Switchback roads up and over a mountain are often not as good or as fast as the main roads that skirt some of the mountainous undulations. Plus the main roads are cleaned more regularly.
- Windshield washer fluid – If you have ever driven on snowy roads that are being sanded or salted, this one makes sense. Put an extra bottle in the back. It only costs a couple euros.
- Snow tires and chains – While having snow tires and chains is a legal requirement in most Balkan countries when driving outside the main cities, it is a matter of smart preparation for any part of the world. Winter mountain driving requires snow tires. As for any debate about all wheel drive versus snow tires, we suggest both. But ultimately, the tires are essential.
- Safety vest and reflective triangle – Once again, it’s the law. Make sure they are in there.
- Snow shovel – A collapsible snow shovel is pretty standard equipment for any regular mountain goer that has been stuck before. We carry two. One is the collapsible army shovel. Ideal for tight situations like digging snow out from under a vehicle, this compact tool also cuts packed snow and chips ice well. The other shovel we carry is more snow shovel in form, effective for digging out or clearing a snow drift.
- Waterproof footwear – Depending on your intention, some waterproof shoes, boots, or even snow shoes could prove invaluable. At minimum, have something you can wear out in the snow to keep your feet dry, one of the key things in preventing hypothermia. Also, pack an extra pair of socks. If your feet do get wet, you can have a dry pair on and hopefully one drying.
- Multi-tool – A Leatherman multi-tool or something like it can serve a number of functions in a snowy world. In a recent snowed-in encounter we used a serrated knife to cut a long, stout limb for pushing packed snowdrift out from under a jeep.
- Flashlight or torch – Many people rely on their cell phone for an emergency flashlight situation. However, having a designated light source has all sorts of advantages including saving battery, needing light and communications at the same time, etc. Add a flashlight and a backup set of batteries that you change out each winter season.
- Blanket(s) – After being caught on the side of a mountain at dusk without blankets one time, I vowed to never let that happen again. Two blankets (and an extra down coat) remain in the car at all times now. Layers are vital in an emergency situation.
- Protein – If you have trouble while out on the road, need to dig out, find another route, wait for help, or ride out the night, energy matters. Keep a pack of nuts or some storable food item put away. Of course water is important too, but in a fresh snow emergency, there is water all around.
- Phone and charger – Telling people to take a cellular phone with them today is like telling a dog to remember to wag their tail. But before setting out, ensure that you have your phone and a charger. If you are traveling from other countries, make sure that you can call if there is an emergency. Do not rely on wifi for your comms. Also, be aware that cold, remote locations can zap the battery of a phone quickly. If you are stranded, close unused apps and turn the wifi off to save battery.
- Trust – One thing I have observed personally is the willingness of others to help in a crisis. I have had Albanians put their tire on my car without accepting payment so I could make it up the road to a hotel late at night. We have had Montenegrins call a friend to bring the snow cat to pull our vehicle from a snowy perch. This is true of all my travels and experiences in different parts of the world, and it definitely is true in the Balkans.
In addition to these 12 items, we also pack an ice scraper, jumper cables, and hiking sticks year round. Just saying.
Links for Road Safety Information
Here are the official links for road safety information for select Balkan countries.
- Albania –
- Bosnia and Herzegovina – Auto Info
- Bulgaria –
- Croatia – Traffic Info
- Greece –
- Macedonia – AMSM
- Montenegro – Automotive Info
- Serbia – Automobile and Motorcycle Association
- Slovenia – AMZS
Prepare for your adventure. Pack your essential winter mountain driving gear, then get out there and have fun!
Also, let us know about your essential winter mountain driving gear list.