Building a Snow Cave

    Snow Cave — Ah… There is nothing quite as satisfying as building your own shelter and living in it. For us, snow caves are so fun they are an annual, winter camping event. Click on the links below for more detailed info.

    Recommended Gear

    • Lightweight shovels, long and short handles
    • Sticks or a ski pole
    • Door cover (backpack, etc.)
    • Large tarp to cover the floor
    • Wear waterproof layers
    • Appropriate camping gear

    Choosing Your Snow Cave Location

    • The outside height should be at least 4 or 5 feet so decide whether to build a pile, dig in or dig down
    • Make sure the area is safe from avalanches
    • Mark the roof area with noticeable markings (ski poles, etc.)

    Piling a Snow Cave

    • Plan for 3 hours to create an adequate snow pile
    • For two adults measure a 10 foot circle (5 foot radius). For more than two people, just add 2 feet to the diameter for each adult. Stretch the shape if it will be wider than 16 ft.
    • Use a tarp for dragging snow to the pile
    • Pile 2 feet higher than you want the inside height to be
    • Let the pile sit for 2 hours before digging into it

    Digging Out a Snow Cave

    • Plan for about 3 hours to dig the snow cave.
    • Wear layers so you can shed insulation when you get hot from shoveling. Avoid sweating so you stay warm and dry.
    • Keep the door small, about 24-30 inches wide and tall
    • Depth check the wall thickness every 2-3 feet around the outside of the wall where you are digging
    • Carve from the top down
    • Leave the depth check holes for ventilation or create a vent

    Sleeping in a Snow Cave

    • Leave a few inches of snow on the floor for insulation and make sure the floor is higher than the door
    • Lay down a waterproof tarp first
    • Lay down thick padding and insulate your sleeping bag with a blanket
    • Keep the snow cave door easy to uncover
    • Properly ventilate the snow cave
    • Be prepared for a roof collapse

    Safety First

    Temperature: make sure it is 34 degrees Fahrenheit or lower (1 degree Celsius) outside or your snow cave will shrink, crack and possibly even collapse during the night.

    Top Heavy: Snow is heavy and the ceiling will collapse if the weight is not supported. The base should be the thickest part of the snow cave (2-3 feet) and the walls should be about 18 inches thick. Wide, short snow cave piles are more prone to collapse.

    On Top: The roofs of snow shelters are unpredictable. Do not stand on top of the snow cave when there are people inside. On public land, you should destroy the ceiling and upper walls of the cave if you will be leaving it unattended because other people may accidentally fall through the ceiling—so be curteous.

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