Survivor School: Build a Cave Style Snow Shelter

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A cornice of snow about to fall. Cracks in the snow are visible in area (1). Area (3) fell soon after this picture was taken, leaving area (2) as the new edge. (from Wikipedia)




Although my specialty is in survival of more temperate climates, I would do you a great disservice If I did not include Artic survival techniques as well.  In this edition of survivor school, I show you how to build a cave style snow shelter.  This technique mimics that of a fox den to some extent.

A cornice of snow about to fall. Cracks in the snow are visible in area (1). Area (3) fell soon after this picture was taken, leaving area (2) as the new edge. (from Wikipedia)

First thing to do is to find a snowdrift that was formed on a slope.  A slope is not required, but it is much easier to throw the excess snow downhill.  Make sure what you find is a drift, and not a CORNICE!  A cornice is an overhanging edge of snow on a ridge or the crest of a mountain and along the sides of gullies.

Build the entrance: This should be an archway, because this is a very strong structure.  The weight of the snow will actually strengthen the arch.  Make it about 2-3 feet deep and wide enough to get through.  This stuff is much easier with a shovel, but there are other way of digging.

Build the transitional area: It will be about a 2 foot extension to the entrance, but you will end up digging up in this area to create the den area.  Keep in mind that you are only 2-3 feet from the surface and you must keep at least 18 inches of snow above any of the cave.  You must start building the arch shape of the walls here.  Dig upwards for the floor shelf until it is just above the roof of the entrance.

Build the den of the cave: The den should be dome shaped.  Like the arch, the den will strengthen under its own weight.  about a foot or two, you can dig out shelves for candles and such for lighting.  There should be several vent holes to allow two things.  It will help keep breathable air in the den, and will allow minor air flow to help heat rise to the top… which is where you are sleeping.  Coupled with a nice fire just outside of the shelter, you may be able to keep the den quite warm.  Create a bedding of pine or spruce to insulate you from the ice that forms below.  As the den warms, the snow will turn to ice, strengthen, and will insulate the area even better.

Your entrance should face AWAY from the wind.  You should place rocks and sticks around your shelter to warn you or others about it.  Even though the shelter will be strong, it may buckle under a 200 lb. person in a small area.  KEEP A SHOVEL OR DIGGING TOOL WITH YOU IN THE DEN, so you can dig yourself out… just incase.

This is actually a pretty good shelter, so if you live in cold climates, try to build this when you don’t actually need it.  You will only get better at it with practice.

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Ken is addicted to fitness and mountain biking. He is such a thrill seeker, people are starting to be concerned!He enjoys MTBing, Hiking, Climbing, Geocaching, Orienteering, Weight Lifting, and Wilderness Survival.

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