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floorless shelter techique
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Greyson Howard

Locale: Sierra Nevada
floorless shelter techique on 11/18/2009 20:50:45 MST Print View

Hello folks,

I'm considering a Golite Shangri-la or similar shelter for winter snow camping.

I've never been winter camping, but I live in the Sierra, so it's time to start taking advantage.

So far I have wrapped my mind around snow stakes/ anchoring in theory, but how do floorless shelters work in snow?

How do the trekking polls not slowly sink, even slightly reducing the tension in the shelter.

I'm sure there's a simple answer, but I'm just trying to understand how using a pyramid shelter would work in the snow.


Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: floorless shelter techique on 11/18/2009 22:27:34 MST Print View

> how do floorless shelters work in snow?
Not very well.

> How do the trekking polls not slowly sink,
They do sink.

But ... experiment (close to home).


Edit: the above advice is for someone who is new to snow camping. If you are experienced, like some of the following posters, then it is all possible. Hence the suggestion to experiment - carefully.

Edited by rcaffin on 11/19/2009 14:14:56 MST.

Rod Lawlor
(Rod_Lawlor) - MLife

Locale: Australia
Have to disagree. on 11/19/2009 04:22:17 MST Print View

See, I have o disagree with Roger on this one, although I'm happy to concede that he has more experience than me.

I like my MegaLight a lot in the snow, if it's set up properly.

Anchor it to the ground, build an eight inch INTERNAL show wall, and it's great. Heaps of room for two, a palace for one, or adequate for three.

Dig a footwell for sitting to cook (use the snow for the internal wall), hang your light on the pole, pee into the bottom corner of the footwell in the middle of the night if you need to. I hate using a floored shelter in the snow any more.

A six inch disc of ply with a centre hole works well as a bottom support for your pole if you use lashed poles. If you use the supplied pole, you'll need a raised ring in the centre of the disc. Dual use as a cooking platform.

Jim MacDiarmid
(jrmacd) - MLife
Re: floorless shelter techique on 11/19/2009 05:39:39 MST Print View

You could use something flat underneath the pole to spread out the pressure a bit. Perhaps whatever non-heat conducting mat you bring to put under your stove to make sure it doesn't sink into the snow.

Also, they call the snow in the Sierra's 'cement' for a reason; it packs down pretty solid with some boot stomping.

Another method would be to string guyline between two trees and hang your tent off it. I did this last last with a Megalight. Retensioning is a bit more tedious than just extending your pole further, as you need to loosed, pull tight, retie.

Make sure you use either some kind of pole jack, or build a little snow platform for your pole to sit on so it's not fully extended. If your pole is fully extended to start, it's not possible to retension by extending it.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
ice on 11/19/2009 12:16:28 MST Print View

The key is to stomp out a platform with your skis/showshoes, the go do something else for a bit. Get to work on the shelter once the snow has set up. For the pole area, pouring a little water into the snow beforehand makes it even more solid.

Greyson Howard

Locale: Sierra Nevada
Re: ice on 11/19/2009 16:18:53 MST Print View

Thanks everybody. I was tempted by the Golite Shangri-la 2 or 3 on sale at the REI outlet, but I think I'll stick to picking up 0 degree sleeping bag and renting 4 season tents as a newbie to winter camping. That way I can learn winter backpacking basics first, then later add more complicated shelter techniques as I become more competent in the cold.

Kathleen B

Locale: Pacific Northwest
floorless shelter techique on 11/19/2009 16:27:24 MST Print View

Greyson - one of the advantages I've found using a floorless tent on snow - I use a Gatewood Cape - is that I can dig a platform about a foot down and be below "ground level." The trench acts as an insulator. I've been much warmer doing that than setting a tent with a floor right on top of the snow. And as others have said, I use something under the pole to keep it from sinking, usually whatever is around, like a 3 or 4 inch piece of bark after stomping on the snow to firm it up.

Open Space
(OpenSpace) - F

Locale: Upstate New York
Shangri-La 3 for Winter Camping on 11/19/2009 17:38:37 MST Print View

I just bought a Shangri-La 3 for winter camping last night (I just couldn't resist a 29 oz shelter with room for 3 people).

The Shangri-La 3 has a loop at the top that you can tie a rope to and then suspend it with the help of an overhanging tree branch (unless you are above treeline).

As for the pole sinking, if there is enough snow that the pole would sink enough to compromise the pitch, then you'll likely have snowshoes with you. Snowshoes are great in camp for tent tie downs, but you could also place one under the pole to keep it from sinking.

I haven't purchased snow stakes for any of my shelters, and prefer more homemade/organic solutions. I've made my own snow bags out of sil-nylon that I packed with snow and then buried and I've also used grocery store bags (double bagged) the same way (just remember to take the bags with you). The latter only works if the wind won't be an issue, like in a heavily forested area; they weigh next to nothing and can still be recycled after you use them! Just be sure to bring extras. The 3rd stake solution is to bury a stick in the snow to act as a deadman anchor.

Regardless of your shelter, I hope you like winter camping as much as I do!

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: floorless shelter techique on 11/19/2009 21:34:43 MST Print View

I much prefer floorless shelters in the snow. I've used pyramids, a homemade dome, and and MSR twin peaks. Once you've stomped out a platform, I find that my ski poles don't sink into the snow much if at all - and since they are adjustable, I can just adjust them up if they do sink. I find I can get the Twin peaks drum-tight by adjusting the poles up after things have stretched out a bit. I sewed snow flaps to the bottom edge of my twin peaks, so I can pile snow on those to seal out the wind. works great. My dome has the same arrangement. Lots of people use a megamid in the snow, and dig down a foot or more for more headroom. you need a longer pole than the standard one for this - some folks use a couple avalanche probes as poles.

Greyson Howard

Locale: Sierra Nevada
Re: Re: floorless shelter techique on 11/19/2009 21:52:41 MST Print View

We'll I guess an advantage of living up here is the ability to experiment and practice...

Alright, I'm back thinking about a floorless shelter again (you guys aren't any good for my decision making disorder).

So on the Shangri-la 2 vs. 3, the 2 seems appealing for a smaller footprint and rectangular shape (just pull out the four corners then go in and put up the polls) vs. what seems like a more finicky shape of a hexagon. The 2 is also cheaper, which is no small consideration. But obviously the 3 has more room, and would seem to be less effected by changing wind directions.

What do you guys think?

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: Re: Re: floorless shelter techique on 11/19/2009 22:21:41 MST Print View

How many people is a key question. The 2 is similar in size to my MSR twin Peaks - and that is snug for 2 with gear - but doable if you're looking to save weight on a long mileage ski tour. Spacious for one, and a smaller footprint so less work getting the site ready. also more solid in the wind in my opinion, due to the 2 poles and less surface area.
The 3 will have more room and be more comfy for 2 with gear and can squeeze 3 probably. So, if you're planning long spring ski tours by yourself or with one companion, and traveling light is of primary importance, go with the 2. If your planning more relaxed tours, and maybe deeper in the winter than spring (thus more time indoors and more chance of waiting out storms), or if you just like more room, get the 3 - or go lighter with a BD megalight or Oware pyramid or Mountain Laurel supermid.

Open Space
(OpenSpace) - F

Locale: Upstate New York
Re: floorless shelter techique on 11/20/2009 02:05:58 MST Print View

Another point to consider is the type of area you will be camping in. The Shangri-La 3 has a very large footprint that may limit your camping spots, such as in thick underbrush or heavily forested areas. As Paul said, it will also depend on how many people will be sharing it, but I can share with you how I decided on the 3-person version as my solo winter shelter:
1. In the winter, I spend a lot more time inside of my tarp (potentially from sunset ~5 pm until sunrise) and wanted the extra floor space and headroom of the 3 person version. The 2 person version is only 57" wide and the pole in the center cuts the width in half, making it too cramped for me. The additional headroom for the 3 person version also gives more flexibility in moving around, sitting up to read, etc.
2. If you were to suspend the top of the tarp from a tree, the Shangri-La 3 is simpler in that it only has one attachment point, compared to the 2 person version that has two attachment points.
3. There is enough room that I can invite others in to play cards, eat dinner, etc to pass the time between dinner and bedtime. I find that staying awake in camp until a reasonable bedtime is the hardest part of winter camping. The combination of the temperature dropping, your activity level dropping, and darkness make it difficult to stay awake during this time. Unless you can sleep for 14 hours straight, you'll need to keep yourself awake/entertained during this time.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: floorless shelter techique on 11/20/2009 02:23:48 MST Print View

> Unless you can sleep for 14 hours straight,
Walk (ski) hard all day, have a large hot dinner, have a nice comfy mat and bag ... no problem!


Open Space
(OpenSpace) - F

Locale: Upstate New York
Re: Re: Re: floorless shelter techique on 11/20/2009 05:03:18 MST Print View

Very true, Roger!

Dondo .

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Shangri-la 2 vs. 3 on 11/20/2009 07:00:52 MST Print View

I went back and forth on this recently and ultimatey chose the 2 because of the smaller footprint and easier setup. At 21.6 oz. without the stakes my sample weighs considerably less than spec. Is it big enough? Using it by myself, it seems very spacious, but then again, I'm more accustomed to tiny solo shelters. Anyway, here's a picture (just scroll to the last photo) from a recent trip to give you an idea of the space.

Edited by Dondo on 11/20/2009 07:16:13 MST.

Ryan Tucker
(BeartoothTucker) - M
2 vs 3 on 11/20/2009 09:26:33 MST Print View

I had considered both and ultimately went with the three.

I purchased both to check out in the yard, I was concerned about the 2's ability to shed snow. The middle area between the 2 poles sagged in some form or fashion anyway I pitched it. I was concerned what might happen in a heavy snow fall. I will admit it might have been user error, but it made me keep the 3.

In retrospect the extra weight was worth the extra room as well.

Michael Skwarczek
(uberkatzen) - F

Locale: Sudamerica
2 vs 3 vs 1 vs none on 11/20/2009 12:09:09 MST Print View

I had been meaning to put this together and finally got the thread posted. It's a pictorial review of some of my snow camping trips. Sort of a Snow Camping 101 for the first-timer or just for an amusement.

Regarding floorless 2 vs 3: unless you can dig down sufficiently, maybe 1-2', the sag with a 2-man is such that, with two people, odds are the snowload will push the wall sufficiently to risk transferring moisture to a sleep system.

That said, I'm sold on floorless and would recommend it to anyone, including the initiate.

Greyson Howard

Locale: Sierra Nevada
Re: 2 vs 3 vs 1 vs none on 11/20/2009 15:45:54 MST Print View

Thanks so much for the input everyone, the blog and snow camping photos will really be helpful.

Clearly a consideration will be what kind of campsites will be available, something I don't know, not having gone yet. I'd assume in the Sierra there would be many open spots, like in the summer, but perhaps I should get some first hand experience before making a selection.

Now it just needs to keep snowing so I can get a trip in before the REI sale on Golite stuff ends.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: Re: 2 vs 3 vs 1 vs none on 11/20/2009 19:00:34 MST Print View

As far as campsites go, in general you have more choice in the snow, since you can create a level site instead of having to find one. So size of shelter is not an issue, other than it being more work to create a larger level space. Here's a shot of my twin peaks on the snow:
twin peaks in the snow

Roman Dial
(romandial) - F - M

Locale: packrafting NZ
Re: Re: Re: floorless shelter techique on 11/21/2009 12:48:09 MST Print View

On Denali, a snowy place, these style tents are standard cook shelters.

To keep the pole from sinking they use a ski basket on the pole. Other folks use their shovel as a base.

Contrary to what seems to be the conventional wisdom, single pole shelters are most stable and drift the least in wind.

As for anchors, I like skis and ice axes, but if you don't have those and the snow is deep, bury snowfilled stuff sacks or stock-purchased snow anchors. if the snow is shallow, that's the worst. Too shallow for good anchors, too frozen for stakes. Then the technique in the Parcour de Wild video of burying a stick in a trench looks good.

Anyway, I like the option of being able to get snow from inside the shelter, not worry about spills or tent fires and peeing is easy.

I think the floorless pyramid style of tents are the BEST choice for winter camping.

You don't have to worry about bringing snow in, or frosting up. It's lighter and puts you closer to the environment you have come to experience.

As for sleeping near snow, snow caves and igloos have been around a long time for good reason.