You never now when you may end up in a winter survival situation. Knowing how to build a snow shelter is an essential piece of knowledge – read through this post and learn how you can build a strong, sturdy igloo or snow shelter.
How to Build a Snow Shelter
A true winter survival situation may arise at any time. Having the knowledge and skill set to build a snow shelter is a mist, especially if you live in a colder climate with heavy snowfall. If build properly, a snow shelter, or igloo will maintain a constant temperature of 0 C or 32 F regardless of what the temperature and conditions outside are.
TIP: Did you know, if you light one tea light candle inside you snow shelter, the temperature can rise up to 4.4 C, or 40 F. That 10 degree rise can make a big difference! The reason why a snow shelter, or snow cave is so effective is due to the make up of the snow. Snow is mostly composed of trapped air, and this trapped air acts as insulation.
Another big plus is, a snow cave can be build with basically no equipment!
Getting Started – Snow Cave Tips
As with any survival situation, there are certain risks involved.
- Don’t build a snow shelter in a location that could be wiped out by a landslide, avalanche, falling rocks, or falling trees.
- Sheltering in a snow cave can prevent search and rescue workers from finding you, so place a brightly coloured flag on top of your snow shelter so it can be seen easily from a helicopter.
- Snow shelters can trap carbon monoxide/dioxide, especially if you are lighting a candle inside for some warmth. Poke a hole about 2 inches in diameter in the peak of the roof to let these gases escape. Poke a stick through the hole every hour or so to ensure the hole is not blocked with more snow.
Finding a Suitable Location
1. Find an area with deep snow. If you can find a snowdrift with at least 5 feet of snow, a lot of you work will have already been done for you. Look for areas where wind has blown snow against a wall, or slope. Keep in mind, you are going to need an area which is large enough to accommodate your group. A 10 foot diameter cave is suitable for around three people.
2. Test the snow. Light, powdery snow is going to be hard to work with, and will likely collapse as it won’t stick together very well. A good thing for us is, snow tends to harden once disturbed, so if you find yourself in an area with only powdery snow, you are going to have to pile it up, and wait a while until it hardens, usually a few hours.
TIP: Having a shovel will make work a lot easier, but it is not necessary. You can use your hands to dig your snow cave, it will just take a little longer, and you may get cold hands.
Building a Snow Cave Shelter
1. Pile up the snow. You will need to pile the snow up to a least 5 feet tall, and large enough to fit the number of people in your group, into it.
2. Pack the snow tightly. Pack the snow pile, or snow drift down by stamping on it. If the snow is light and powdery, you may need to stamp it down a few times until it settles properly in. You should pack it down every so often when adding snow. For example, add 1 foot of snow, pack it down, add another foot, pack it down, and repeat until high enough.
3. Allow 2 hours or more for the cold air to harden the snow. This makes the snow firmer, and reduces the risk of your snow cave collapsing.
4. Dig your tunnel. Dig your tunnel several feet through the snow, sloping upwards. A compact snow shovel is best for this.
5. Hollow our the cave. Dig snow from the middle of your snow pile, or snow drift, and bring it out the tunnel you just created. Make sure you keep the walls and ceiling of your snow shelter at least 1 foot thick to ensure it does not collapse. Make the sides a few inches thicker, as they will be supporting the walls. Try to make the floor of you cave higher than the tunnel, as this will keep the sleeping area warmer.
Finishing up Your Igloo
1. Strengthen the snow shelter using water. In freezing conditions, if you have water to spare, pour it over the outside of your shelter. It will freeze and make the shelter stronger. Never pour water over the snow shelter if the temperature is above freezing!
2. Smooth the roof and walls inside to prevent dripping. Scrape the walls and roof inside your cave to prevent dripping.
3. Make the outside of your shelter. If in a survival situation, and you are awaiting rescue, mark the outside of your shelter with brightly coloured materials, or even light a fire near your snow shelter, though, far enough away so that it doesn’t melt it.
4. Ventilation holes. To prevent suffocation, use a pole, branch, or whatever you can find to poke a hole in the roof of your snow cave. This hole should be around 2 inches in diameter. If you do not do this, your risk suffocation.
5. Insulate to floor. Cover the ground of your snow shelter with insulation. Leaves, pine needles, branches, or even a camping pad will work well.
So, now you know how to build a snow shelter! Make sure to practise before hand, so you are not in freezing temperatures trying to prefect this newly learnt skill. In a true survival situation, you don’t want to be doing any trial and error. Everything needs to be established before hand.
It is important to remember, that in cold weather you can still build up a sweat, which can put your at risk of hypothermia.