Keeping your patrol car organized

As a police officer, you may spend hundreds of hours each month in your patrol car. Just like your personal vehicle, it’s easy to let the mess take over, but a few of these tips will help make sure your car is kept tidy while equipment, paperwork and firearms are secured:

Lock down firearms
The importance of keeping your firearm secure cannot be overstated. Police gear needs to be both well-fortified and easily accessible in case you have to access it quickly. In order to accomplish this, consider installing a gun rack. When picking one, however, make sure you get one that is specifically designed for your firearm. For example, a patrol rifle will not fit properly into a shotgun rack, leaving you vulnerable to theft and making it more difficult to access in an emergency. There are a few different options when it comes to laying out your firearms, so choose the one you are most comfortable with. These can include mounting guns between the seats vertically or horizontally – depending on whether you have a cage or shield – or vertically near the dash.

Aside from your cab, there is plenty of police tactical gear that has to be stored in your trunk, but more on that later.

Clean out your cab
When you spend 8-plus hours each day in your car, it’s easy to make it feel a bit like home. You may leave personal effects around or some paperwork here or there. These days, keeping your cab organized is more important than ever due to all of the gadgets that modern patrol cars have – mobile digital terminals, laptops, radios, video systems or radars, just to name a few. You may find that, once you get your car organized and give everything a proper place, your daily tasks can become easier. Invest in organizers – there are some that attach to the passenger seat for easy access. They will have slots for report forms, ticket books, reference materials, blank and completed citations, and writing utensils. There are also carriers available that can hold a flashlight, extra ammunition, maps and anything else you need during your day-to-day duties.

Tackle the trunk
There are few places in a car that can collect junk as quickly as the trunk of a car can. For personal vehicles, this can just be a minor inconvenience. However, for patrol cars, a disorganized trunk can lead to lost or damaged equipment and slow response to emergencies. Depending on the make and model of your patrol car, you have a few options when organizing your trunk. The famous Ford Crown Victoria, for example, manufactured a trunk organizer to make it a bit easier for officers, but not all cars have that option. There are plenty of trunk organizers available on the market, so consider your needs while picking one. A lockable storage box or security drawer will ensure that the weapons are kept secure, and well-designed locks still allow for quick access in an emergency.

Staying safe on patrol in the winter

We all know that police work doesn’t stop just because the temperature has dropped, so here are a few tips to stay safe and comfortable while you’re on patrol during the winter:

Prepare your car

You never know what the weather is going to do, nor do you know what any given day may hold. Because of that, you need to make sure your vehicle is ready for whatever you throw at it. Take your tires, for example. The last thing you need is to lose traction while on patrol. Depending on what neck of the woods your division is in, you may need to carry tire chains in your car during the winter. These attach to your wheel in order to give your tires more traction. You may also consider studded tires or those specifically designed for winter driving.

Then, there’s your battery. We all know that winter is the time that your car has the most trouble starting because the cold weather keeps your engine from turning over or kills the battery. Interestingly, however, the frigid temperatures are usually not actually draining the battery itself. Instead, it’s preventing a chemical reaction from occurring that discharges the power. Because of this, swapping out the battery in your car for the spare one in your trunk isn’t going to help at all. Instead, what you have to do is keep the area from getting too cold in the first place. There are battery blankets available that will help you accomplish this.

Keep yourself warm

As a police officer, it can be tough to know how insulated you’ll have to keep yourself during the bitter winter months. If you’re outside directing traffic in 20-degree weather, you’ll definitely need to layer up. However, you don’t want to wear so much clothing that you overheat once you get back to the station or to your patrol car. Layers are going to be your best bet, as you will be able to adjust your clothing depending on what your situation requires. Consider making an investment in a good pair of thermal long underwear or socks – the higher end products are usually worth the extra cost. Be sure to always avoid cotton, especially if there is snow, slush or rain in your future. Once cotton gets wet, it stays wet. If you’ve ever had to spend the day in wet socks, you know how unpleasant it can be. Always make sure you have extra socks and other layers handy – you never know when you’ll have to don or shed layers to keep yourself comfortable.

Always remember weapons safety

Don’t let the cold weather be an excuse for not keeping your weapons secured at all times. There’s a good chance you’ll have some extra stuff to lug around in your patrol car during the day, whether it’s those snow chains or rock salt or extra blankets. This makes winter an important time to get your police gear organized. Keeping a lockable storage box in your car, for example, can not only keep everything secure, but can also help you stay organized so you can access whatever you need quickly and easily.

Winter hiking tips

For those of us who love the great outdoors, winter can be one of the best times for hiking. Familiar trails have a whole new look, plus there are far fewer people out and about that you have to work around. 

While you can simply set out with your hiking boots, back pack and your water during the warmer months, winter hiking takes a bit more preparation. Here are a few tips to make sure you're safe and comfortable while out in the cold:

Dress in layers
Of course, this isn't the first time you've heard this particular tip if you are a veteran hiker, but it can't be emphasized enough. Dressing for a hike in cold weather can be tricky because the amount of heat your body can generate may surprise you. However, you need to be protected from the wind and any precipitation to keep your body as dry as possible. Always have a base layer with fabric that is designed to wick moisture off of your body, while the outer layer should be a waterproof shell of some sort to keep you dry from the outside in and to block the wind. In between, depending on how cold it is or how strenuous your trail is, is where you can add or subtract layers. A fleece jacket is always a good option for insulation. 

Remember, no matter how many layers you put on, avoid cotton, as it sucks warmth away from your body as soon as it gets wet, a sure cause of hypothermia. 

Use proper footwear
Even if you have a pair of trusty boots that you love to hike in throughout the spring and summer, make sure to get yourself a new pair designed for winter hiking. They should always be above the ankle and waterproof, at the very least, and you may want to consider gaiters if the snow is more than a few inches deep. Wool blend socks are your best bet, as they will keep your feet toasty and dry quickly if they get wet. Remember to always bring an extra pair in your pack.

Keep your belongings safe
It's a good idea to leave your electronics in the car while you're on a hike – you never know what is going to get wet or frozen. Consider investing in a portable safe or laptop locks to be sure that everything is safe and secure, so you have peace of mind as you explore the trails.

Stay fueled
Hiking in cold weather can burn significantly more calories than a similar hike in the summer. Because of this, it's essential that you have lots of high-energy snacks to keep you fueled along the way. Plus, as you consume calories, you will help your body warm itself. Keep your snacks – especially those that can freeze – in your jacket or fleece pocket instead of in your backpack so your body heat can keep them from frosting over. Also, even though you might not feel as thirsty as you may while hiking in August, make sure you keep drinking water. Surprisingly enough, it's easier to get dehydrated during the winter because the air is so dry.

Be prepared for an emergency
Depending on where you're hiking, you may be at risk for avalanches or other hazards, and there is always the chance of an unexpected snowstorm moving in. Make yourself aware of weather forecasts, and be prepared for worst-case scenarios. Avoid hiking alone and be sure to carry a topographical map and compass, along with a first aid kit, fire starter, waterproof matches, a pocket knife and an emergency blanket. Finally, make sure you tell someone where you're going and when you expect to be back.

Must-have camping supplies

Sure, winter isn't exactly the time most of us are clamoring to spend a few nights sleeping in a tent, but spring is right around the corner. Sure, a few of us are willing to brave the cold, but there's no doubt that summer is the prime camping season. While you wait for the snow to melt, here are a few gadgets to stock up on so you're ready to pack up and see the great outdoors this spring:

Solar anything
As the world become more ecologically conscious, solar powered technology is becoming more prevalent. While solar panels are useful for cutting down your energy bills at home, they also have tons of different uses for when you're out in the wilderness. There are gadgets for sale that will charge your cell phone or mobile device with just a few hours of sun, for example. If electronics aren't your thing, you can find solar powered flashlights or water heaters – practically anything that needs electricity to run can take advantage of solar energy.

Portable coffee maker
Whether you're getting up to go to the office or for a hike, if you need coffee in the morning, you need it. Just because you're camping doesn't mean you need to forego your morning pick-me-up. There are plenty of portable coffee makers on the market that will suit your needs. Whether you and your camping buddy need just a cup each to kick start your morning or you'd like to make enough for a few mugs, you can find one that works for you. Some models need boiling water added to work, while others run on propane. 

Rugged digital camera
There's nothing like the breathtaking views that can only be found at the peak of a mountaintop vista or along a quiet river. Capture these moments using a digital camera. However, with your rough-and-tumble lifestyle, not just any dainty camera will do. Look for one that is water and shock resistant – there are even some on the market small enough to attach to your helmet as you bike, climb or kayak, which is the perfect way to capture your adventure. Remember, if you leave your electronics at your campsite, make sure they are protected. Invest in a small portable safe – it will be sure to keep your items safe while you are out and about.

Portable kitchen sink
It's important to do more with less while you're out in the woods, and that means cleaning a lot of dishes – a task that is much easier with a big basin of water. Such an object would be too big to lug around on your trip, so there are portable kitchen sinks that have been designed. These waterproof containers can hold up to 20 liters of hot water, then collapse into a pouch that you can easily fit in your bag or pocket.

Portable shower
Let's face it – after a long day of hiking, fishing or hunting, a warm shower sounds pretty good. Unfortunately, a dip in the cold lake or river isn't going to have quite the same effect. However, if you bring a portable shower along, you can treat yourself to a good rinse. There are those available on the market that can hold more than 2.5 gallons of water – just fill up the pouch, let it sit in the sun to warm up and you've got yourself a shower. Your fellow campers will thank you for this purchase.

Water filtering bottle
Though the water may look crystal clear where you're hiking, it's important to filter out anything you drink. Fortunately, there are water bottles on the market that will strain any bacteria or pathogens out of your water in one easy step.

Taking road trips with your kids

Perhaps, in your younger days, your image of a road trip involved a convertible, a mix tape, spontaneity and the open road. And, sure, that was a good time. But if you’ve got a spouse and a couple of kids, chances are that’s not quite what your road trips look like any more.

Whether you want to save money on airfare or give your children a glimpse of the countryside, road trips can be a blast with the whole family. That is, assuming you’ve planned it out thoroughly.

Here are a few tips to make sure your family vacation is safe and fun:

Plan, plan, plan
Gone are the days that you can drive until you find a campsite or hotel that suits your fancy. When kids are involved, it’s much more important to make a plan and stick to it. First and foremost, make sure your kids understand what they’re getting into – especially the younger ones. Tell them how long you’ll be driving each day, when you’ll be stopping for lunch and what your expectations are for them.

As for your trip, make sure you know where your nightly stops are going to be. The last thing you want is to be stuck on a stretch of road with a carful of wailing kids searching for a place to stay that doesn’t resemble the Bates Motel.

Pack smart
You can’t be over prepared when it comes to traveling with children. Snacks, books, paper towels, water and toys are all necessities if you’re going to be traveling for long distances. Consider bringing along extra pillows – they not only make the backseat more comfortable, but they are a great make-shift wall to give each kid his or her own space.

And, on top of keeping the little ones safe, make sure your belongs are secure as well. Your roof cargo needs to be locked down to ward off break-ins while your family is having lunch or asleep in a hotel room. Smaller items should be kept secure to – a portable safe or laptop locks are both good ways to keep those with sticky fingers from getting their hands on your valuables.

Travel around their schedule
It’s much easier to drive with a couple sleeping kids than those who need to be constantly entertained. So, if you have kids that are still napping, plan your trip around their schedule. If you leave a little bit before lunch time, they can eat in the car – which should occupy them for a little while – and then be snoozing in no time. Do your best to get as many miles in as possible while they sleep.

Consider seating arrangements
Depending on the age and number of kids you have, it’s not a bad idea to shuffle the seating arrangements around throughout the trip. Letting Junior – assuming he’s old enough – ride shotgun is a great way to shake things up and ward off arguments that can devolve into full-on meltdowns.

Plan family activities
There is no shortage of car games the whole family can play and make the hours zip by. Old standbys like I Spy or 20 Questions are great for kids of all ages. That being said, eight-straight hours of just about anything can get tiresome, so consider some individual activities as well. Audio books are a great way to quietly pass the time, and there are plenty of options that are enjoyable for both kids and adults. Hand-held video games and portable DVD players are another handy way to occupy the little ones while the parents get some much-needed quiet time.

All about winter road trips

While most Americans consider the summer to be road trip season, the more hardy among us aren't afraid to hit the roads during the winter. So where are the best spots for beautiful winter road trips? Here are a few of our favorites:

If you're looking for some beautiful country in the Northeast, check out Route 100 in Vermont – it will take you more than 200 miles through the state from top to bottom – or bottom to top, depending on your starting point. One of Route 100's most notable features is its series of picturesque bridges, like the Big Eddy and the Lincoln Gap.

For small-town charm, consider Maine's U.S. Route 1. Beginning at the southern-most point, Kittery,  this historic highway runs along Maine's east coast through Portland, Calais and terminating at Fort Kent. The scenic drive will bring you through national and state parks, plus all sorts of historic buildings like forts and lighthouses.

Though you may picture sunny beaches when you think of the West Coast, there is plenty of beautiful winter scenery to be found, as well. If you have a vehicle that is reliable in the snow and are feeling adventurous, consider exploring the continental divide. It can be found in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming and is some of the most beautiful wilderness in the country. While this is true of all winter road trips, don't overestimate your car's ability to handle some rough conditions and be sure to check for closures before setting out.

The Pacific Coast Highway runs down nearly the entire coast of California. While this isn't your traditional winter road trip – don't expect to see many snow-capped peaks, especially once you start getting into Southern California – it's a great option for those looking to hit the road in the off-peak months but don't want to fight through harsh weather. Consider driving this particular highway from north to south, which will keep you close to the coast for the entirety of your drive. San Francisco is a popular starting point, though the highway stretches up into Oregon, and it runs down the coast to San Diego.

Depending on the part of the country you're in, there are a few special considerations to make before setting off. If you're planning a road trip during the winter, here are a few tips to make sure your drive is safe and enjoyable:

Plan your route
If you're driving in the warmer months of the year, spontaneity is a bit easier. However, if you're setting out on a trip during the winter, it will behoove you to be a little bit more diligent in your planning. With today's technology, planning out a route complete with designated stopping points is easy – there are a number of websites that will help you with this. Keep in mind that there are far fewer hours of daylight in the winter, so this may restrict the time that you feel comfortable driving, particularly on snowy roads. 

Make a contingency plan
Though you'll likely be watching weather reports like a hawk in the days leading up to your trip, you never know when a winter storm is going to move in unexpectedly. There are plenty of cases that you'll have to change plans on the fly, so make sure there's always a second option – the last thing you need is to be stuck in a remote area with no where to stay the night during a blizzard. 

Protect your belongings
During a road trip, it's likely that you'll have more valuables with you than on an average day. It's a good idea to make an investment to keep these items safe. A portable safe, for example, is a great option to secure valuables like passports or firearms while you're on the road – many come with security cables so no one can make off with them. Car roof racks are great for storing luggage and other belongings so they don't take up space in your car. Look for one with a solid lock system to deter would-be thieves.

Be prepared
It's hard to overstate the importance of being prepared for any problem you may encounter during a road trip, and this is especially true for long drives in the winter. A broken-down car can be a major inconvenience in the fall, but down-right deadly in the winter. Check the weather frequently in case any unexpected storms develop. Also, have your car packed with an emergency kit. This should include the following:

  • lots of drinking water
  • long-lasting foods like protein bars
  • a first aid kit
  • a blanket
  • jumper cables
  • a flashlight
  • an ice scraper and a shovel. 

Make sure your car is fully tuned up before you set out, and consider investing in heavy-duty windshield wipers. 

Remember, always keep a charged mobile phone so you have a line of communication in the case of an emergency.