Friday, January 24, 2014

How to build a snow shelter that’ll save your life

If caught in a freak snowstorm, you always can build a snow shelter
to stay alive. Be sure to carry a shovel in your vehicle.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Burrow to stay
dry, warm during
an emergency

If forced to stay a winter night in the wilds – perhaps you got lost, maybe a mountain blizzard took you by surprise – your survival in large part will depend on finding shelter. You need to get out of the cold and wet because you’ll freeze to death before you do from dehydration. But what can you do if there’s no shelter – even a ramshackle old cabin – nearby?

The answer is build a snow shelter.

Animals' example
Also known as a snow cave, this shelter isn’t perfect, but it’ll certainly keep you warmer and dryer than if you expose yourself to wind and snowfall. Burrowing is, after all, how smaller mammals stay warm in winter.

The first step to building a snow shelter is location. As you need to dig straight into the snow rather than dig down, locate a sloped hillside with deep snow.

Next, dig out an entrance. This just needs to be large enough for you to crawl and should go about two feet deep.

After that, begin excavating upward to create a domed room that is about five feet high and six feet wide.

Once the room is created, use a stick to poke a hole upward through the domed roof. This one- to two-inch diameter hole serves as an air vent and should be located next to the entry hole.

Pine bough mattress
Following that, create a sleeping bench against the back wall. This can be done by taking snow from the half of the room closest to the entry and piling it up about two feet from the floor. Add some pine boughs to it as a mattress to keep you off the ground.

You’ll want to close up the entry to keep out wind, blowing snow, and curious animals. Do that by rolling a snowball that is large enough to cover the entrance; use snow from outside of the dome room.

Finally, should you have a small candle, you may use to provide light and a modicum of warmth. Don’t start a larger fire, though, as it will melt the snow (and cause the shelter to collapse upon it) or will use up much of the oxygen in the shelter.

Stay in the snow shelter until the storm clears or daylight arrives so that you can set back out on foot to your vehicle.

Read more useful day hiking tips in my Hikes with Tykes guidebooks.