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Winter Survival: How To Build 3 Life-Saving Snow Shelters

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You have no tarp, no poncho, no rope and very little supplies. Only the winter attire on your back, some everyday carry items, possibly a knife and maybe a shovel. You’re stranded out in the wild in the middle of winter, and your vehicle has broken down.

In the winter time, the most essential thing you can do for protection is to build a fire. Fire will bring you warmth, comfort, light and security.

Fire comes first, but shelter comes second. You will need both to pull through the elements, yet without the help of usual shelter building materials, it can be quite difficult to construct an effective shelter in the snow.

Fortunately, there are three very simple and effective winter shelters you can build. It may be difficult to build them at first, and you may want to practice at home before you really do find yourself in a situation where you would have to build them.

1. Quinzee. The first type of shelter is the quinzee, which is essentially a “snow cave,” meaning that you hollow out a pile of snow. Quinzees are very simple to construct but also very time-consuming. Nonetheless, they are quite effective at keeping people protected from the elements. If you have plenty of hours of sunlight left, and the energy to build one, the quinzee is the shelter that you should construct.

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First of all, you’ll need a large pile of snow. If none are in your vicinity, you can build a pile yourself. The dome-shaped pile should be at least eight feet in both height and width, and you should use different types of snow so that the mound is hard. Letting it sit for an hour or even 90 minutes is a good idea, too. Once you have a pile, dig your entrance on the downhill side of the mound. Dig into the pile and smooth out the walls and the ceiling, which should be at least a foot or two thick in order to make the shelter truly protective. In order to know how far you should hollow out the inside, poke sticks at various points into the mound from the outside. This is one of the trademarks of the quinzee, and it allows you to know when to stop shaping it from the inside. (When you see a stick on the inside, move to another area.)

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You may sweat vigorously from constructing the quinzee, so take 10-15 minute breaks often. The breaks aren’t just good for you; they are for the shelter as well so that the walls and ceiling can thicken. If you have extra clothes with you, keep them dry and change into them once the quinzee is complete in order to prevent hypothermia.

Inside the quinzee, poke a hole with a stick from your position all the way up to the outside.  This will allow air to ventilate in and out of the quinzee, because you may choose to block off the entrance with your backpack, branches or something else. The quinzee should be complete at this point, but keep a shovel inside with you at all times in the unfortunate event that you would need to dig yourself out.

2. Snow trench. The basic idea behind this one is to get you under the wind level so that the snow’s insulation can reach its maximum effect. Building the snow trench, like the quinzee, is simple but can also be time-consuming. First, you’ll want to find an area below the wind level, and then dig into the snow to create the trench. The trench should be at least two or three feet deep, three or four feet wide, and at least six feet long (depending on your width and height). In essence, you’re making a long hole in the snow.

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One end of the trench should be open to serve as an entrance, and the other should be closed off.  Next, assemble snow and stack it one to two feet high up on the perimeter edges of the trench (remember, one end of the trench has to be open to serve as an entrance). The edges of the trench should stand at least four-feet high with all things considered. That will give you lots of buffer against the wind.

For the last step, collect branches, logs and leaves and run them across the shelter on top. You also may want to pad the bottom of the inside of the trench to form a makeshift bed.

3. Tree pit. The third and last type of snow shelter that we’ll discuss is the tree pit. For this shelter, find a conifer tree that has plenty of green leaves and branches hanging down toward the ground. Next, dig a deep trench around the base of the tree, all the way to the ground if beneficial. This will give you protection from both above and around you, since the branches will shield you from above, and the snow on your side. Place tree branches at the bottom for bedding and above you for a roof. A major downside to the tree pit is that you’ll have a big log standing up in the middle of your shelter, but all in all, the tree pit should take much less time to construct than the quinzee or the snow trench. If you need a quick, short-term snow shelter, the tree pit is your best option.

What is your favorite survival snow shelter? Share your tips in the section below:

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