Scouting magazine

How to build winter camping shelters in the snow

You don’t have to be an expert to build your own snow structure during your next winter camping trip. Learn more about the various structures below and try your hand at constructing one of your own.

WIND BREAK: Scoop a two- to three-foot snow bank (perpendicular to the wind direction) and grab your sleeping bag. All you need is a shovel. This structure blocks the wind and some snowfall, while providing a wide view of the stars above. Cons: It does not trap any body heat and cannot provide shelter from heavy overnight snowfall.

QUINZEE: This igloo-like structure requires a lot of snow and a lot of manpower. Get your friends to help shovel snow into a large pile—a diameter of about 8 feet and height of about 6 feet. Let the snow settle for several hours. Then, after collecting downed wood of similar length, poke the sticks into several rings around the outside of the dome. Then, start digging out the dome, watching carefully for the wood markers from the inside of the hollow dome. This shelter blocks wind and overnight snowfall; plus, larger shelters sleep up to five people. The hollow snow dome of a quinzee traps body heat, too. Cons: you’ll sure work up a sweat digging out a shelter like this one.

POLAR DOME: This tarp contraption creates a round outer cover to help structure an igloo-like dome that’s built in a similar fashion as a quinzee. Shovel snow into the dome tarp, let it settle, and dig out a hollow interior. The kit creates a streamlined design, compared to the sometimes-lumpy appearance of a quinzee. A Polar Dome blocks wind, snow, traps body heat, and sleeps up to three people. Cons: You need a specially designed kit to create the shelter, and they’re tough to find outside of Northern Tier.

FOUR-SEASON TENT: Not enough snow to build one of the structures above? Or maybe you’re camping at high elevations during a mountaineering trip. Leave your large snow shovel at home: try a sturdy tent built specifically for the cold season. A four-season tent is typically equipped with extra structural support beams to help block strong winds and prevent collapse beneath snowfall. These tents also help trap body heat inside; they typically fit two to four people. Cons: The tents can be heavy and cumbersome to carry to campsite.