Building a snow cave to survive the night

Building a snow cave to survive the nightNomad shelters helped man survive in the wilderness for generations. As long as you had the proper knowledge and resources, you could build a shelter in a few hours. Making a snow cave to keep you warm at night is not complicated, but there are some tricks to it.

During this time of year, a lot of people prefer to stay indoors since it’s warm and cozy. They do not adventure in the wild and they avoid dealing with the snow and the wind. In the wild, snow is both your friend and your enemy. In white-out conditions it can disorient you and lead you astray. It can make you wet and cause you to lose vital body heat. Not to mention that an avalanche can seal your fate for good.

On the other hand, snow can also be your friend. The shelter it provides can save your life during desperate times and it can keep you warm and dry. A snow bank is basically a honeycomb of air and frozen ice and the trapped air is a good insulator against cold. Animals know this instinctively and foxes and wolves burrow into snow banks when the weather gets rough.

If you don’t have the proper shelter packed and the weather is suddenly turning, it’s time to build a snow cave. As you will see in the following lines, building a snow cave is rather easy.

How to build a snow cave

To build a suitable snow cave you need four things: a good amount of snow, a lightweight snow shovel, sufficient time/daylight and waterproof clothing. The first thing most people do when building a snow cave is go big! Rather than spending a lot of time and energy on building a large snow cave, start by making a simple first room. Later, you can add passage ways to other rooms and cubby holes.

Snow cave basicsBefore you start digging, keep in mind the following:

  • Avoid building the snow cave in rockfall areas or windy slopes
  • You need an area with deep snow for a proper cave, at least four feet deep.
  • Test the consistency of the snow
  • Plan before building (how many people it needs to accommodate, how much time or daylight do you have, past experience, etc.)

Fresh powder snow is too light and dry to use for a snow cave. Stacking the snow up in a mound will cause it to compress and settle into a harder mass. Digging time will very according to the complexity of your cave. If you need to accommodate more than one person, you should make the building process a collective effort. A one room shelter will take at least two hours to complete. More complex designs with multiple passage ways can take you all day.

Always use gloves when digging your snow cave. It will help you preserve heat and you will avoid frostbites. If you have a poncho in your bugout bag, you can use it to haul snow out once your tunnel or room starts taking shape.

Since cooler air sinks to the ground, make the entrance tunnel rise a bit so cold air flows away from you. The sleeping area should be carved in the side of the wall, a few feet higher than the floor.  When it comes to snow caves, many people avoid using them since they are afraid of collapsing roofs. In well compacted snow you’ll need only about one food of snow for a strong roof overhead. In less consolidated snow, plan on at least two feet. Make sure to poke an air vent through the ceiling once you finished digging. An air vent is a must directly above your kitchen area. Keep in mind that if it’s snowing, you need to clear the vent hole every once in a while.

Once the digging is complete you can bring in your survival gear. Ground cloths or foam pads area ideal to keep your warm and dry in the snow cave. The walls of your snow cave, protect your from the outside temperature, but they also block out all sound from outside. Use a snow block to close the entrance of your snow cave. For lighting purposes, use a small candle or a lantern. It will light up the entire room since snow reflects light.

Although a snow cave is not always warmer than a tent, it offers superior protection from the wind. Most commercial tents will rustle and rip to pieces in a sever gale, but your snow cave will keep you protected. Learning how to make a snow cave may someday become useful to save your life when winter gets rough and you are caught unprepared.

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1 thought on “Building a snow cave to survive the night

  1. Unless I find a very large snow drift I have found a survival Lean-To to be the most practical quick overnight shelter. To build one requires 3 sticks about 2 inches in diameter one at least twice to three times longer than the other. Before construction scrape all of the snow from your site down to bare earth. If in Spruce forest or Pine forest lay a good bed of branches for a mattress, next sit down at the entrance and this plus about 12 inches will be the height of your entrance. Lash the two shorter poles to this height after you have spread them wide enough to be 6 inches wider on both sides then your body. Next take the long pole which should be one and a half times as long as you are tall twice is better and prop it on top of your lashing and secure. Next place small sticks and pine boughs up from each side using your entrance gap as a guide. After you have enough pine boughs up scrape snow over your creation. The goal is 6 inches of snow. Use your poncho or piece of your parachute to make a large snow plug to plug the entrance. I have slept quite comfortably in one like this at 20 below zero.

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