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How to safely pitch a tent in the snow

Pitching a tent in the snow? There are a number of safety precautions to consider.

First, be aware of what’s around you. Avoid areas with tree branches and boughs heavy with snow (especially wet snow). These can snap easily. One that falls on your tent will, at the very least, damage it; at worst, it can cause injury. And, of course, rapid snowfall means there is avalanche risk to consider.

Pack down and smooth the snow by walking on the site before setting up your tent. This helps reduce the amount of sinking you’ll experience due to body heat.

When camping on snow, be sure your tent lines accommodate for a wider range of anchoring options, including tying tent lines to skis, ski poles or ice axes jammed into the snow. Or try trees or large rocks. You can even opt for a “dead-man anchor,” which is when you secure tent lines to sticks of wood and then bury the wood in a foot or so of snow.

Your tent should be pitched in an area with some wind protection but minimal danger from falling branches. Consider a rocky outcropping, but avoid any slope greater than 20 degrees, which presents an avalanche danger. If there’s snow on the ground already, build a “snow wall” a few feet high around the tent as a wind break.

Keep the roof of the tent free of snow. A winter four-season tent is typically domed with a strong aluminum frame, but even these can bend — and the nylon can rip — if enough heavy snow piles up. Make sure the interior of the tent has sufficient airflow. With, say, four feet of snow outside, you’ll need to make sure at least the tops of the windows and the skylight are clear. Remember that blizzards mean high winds, so make sure your tent is securely staked.

Pro tip: Before you depart for a snow-camping experience, replace your tent’s white cord with nylon cord of bright color. This will make it more visible against the snow.

For more information, see page 248-249 in the BSA’s Fieldbook.