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Igloo Building for Fun and Shelter, Part 2 - Using an Igloo as a Backcountry Shelter
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Benjamin Smith
(bugbomb) - F - M

Locale: South Texas
Igloo Building for Fun and Shelter, Part 2 - Using an Igloo as a Backcountry Shelter on 02/13/2007 22:16:11 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Igloo Building for Fun and Shelter, Part 2 - Using an Igloo as a Backcountry Shelter

Chris Townsend
(Christownsend) - MLife

Locale: Cairngorms National Park
Igloo Living on 02/14/2007 18:38:51 MST Print View

I've just returned from spending 8 nights in igloos - 5 nights in 2 igloos in Yellowstone National Park and 3 nights in 1 igloo in Rocky Mountain National Park. I built the Yellowstone igloos with Ed Huesers and learnt a great deal. Your review is excellent and my experience of igloos is much the same. However I didn't find the humidity as high as you did and had no need to protect my down bag from damp. Ed suggested keeping stove flames low and taking time over snow melting and cooking. We did this and although we did all our snow melting and cooking in the igloo the humidity level never reached more than 87.4% and was mostly in the lower 80s. I slept in a Rab Quantum 600 down bag, which has a Pertex Quantum outer, and never used the bivy bag I'd brought in case of high humidity. After both trips my bag was perfectly dry. I was impressed by how dry the igloos were compared with snow holes - much of this was probably due to keeping the stove flame low and the interior heat in the mid 30s. The lowest temperature I recorded in the igloo was +16F at sleeping platform level early in the morning before the stove was lit. Most mornings the temperature at sleeping platform level was below +32F. The evening temperatures never rose above +40F. Overall I think igloos are superb for winter bases. I'm now hoping there will be enough snow in the Scottish Highlands over the next month or so for me to build one here.

Ed Huesers
(iglooed) - MLife
Re: Igloo Living on 02/15/2007 20:54:53 MST Print View

I'll have to agree with Chris that you have done a bang up job on the ICEBOX® igloo tool reveiw and everything else you've written about the igloos.
I see by your temp graphs that you are used to taking a leak around 4 or 5ish. ;)
As Chris said, I run my stove on a low setting, mostly so I get to enjoy the heat for a longer time, but I'd never realized the lower humidity. I also like to have my heat sources as close to the floor as possible so the rising heat dries me more. Some times I'll even put my canister lantern down on the floor in the trench between my feet if they happen to get cold.
I try to keep the vent hole smaller than 1 1/2 inch diameter or to much heat escapes. Because the vent melts bigger over time I put the vent above the trench so snow doesn't drop on my gear when I work on the vent to make it smaller.
I like your pictures of the old/melted igloos and how a couple show just how thin the igloo can melt before they collapse. The sagging igloos look as if though the door was built on the sunny side. In shallow snow conditions where the door needs to be put up into the wall it slows the sagging if one puts the door on the shady side. Also a couple wing walls extending out on each side of the door will brace the walls and slow the sagging. It you have deep enough snow to put the door below the floor of the igloo it will not sag so bad when the door is in the sun.
I'm glad you had so much fun testing the ICEBOX® and it sounds like we have a new convert.
On the trip with Chris in Yellowstone the park reported -32f. one night. I think that was the morning that it was +16f. in the igloo.
Happy trails,

James Pitts
(jjpitts) - F

Locale: Midwest US
ICEBOX® igloo tool on 02/16/2007 08:48:49 MST Print View

I love my ICEBOX® igloo tool and every once in a while build a "secret" igloo for winter camping. Logistically it's a great thing. Also, I am crazy-popular with the kiddies in the neighborhood... the ultimate snow fort for an 8 year old.

Edited by jjpitts on 02/16/2007 08:49:22 MST.

Will Rietveld
(WilliWabbit) - MLife

Locale: Southwest Colorado
Re: Igloo Living on 02/17/2007 06:42:41 MST Print View

Hey, thanks for the comments and compliments guys. It's really special to get compliments for you guys.

Yeah, igloo building and camping has really raised my interest in winter camping. I winter camped a lot when I was younger, but frankly it was an ordeal when temperatures were brutal or it was windy. Camping in an igloo makes winter camping easy, pleasant, and fun. I'm not nearly as affected by brutal temps, storms, and wind.

Best, Will

(RobertM2S) - M

Locale: Lake Tahoe
Igloo living on 02/17/2007 13:41:43 MST Print View

Is it possible to build 2 igloos smack next to one another, then break a doorway through between them, making one big igloo? How about 20 of them right next to one another, making one bowling alley?

Will Rietveld
(WilliWabbit) - MLife

Locale: Southwest Colorado
Two or More Connecting Igloos on 02/17/2007 14:36:58 MST Print View

Connecting two or three igloos is a great idea for a group; I don't see why not. (Ed, any comments?) But connecting 20 - you have to be kidding!

Edited by WilliWabbit on 02/18/2007 06:01:09 MST.

(RobertM2S) - M

Locale: Lake Tahoe
Two or more igloos on 02/17/2007 18:26:03 MST Print View

OK, I admit it, I was kidding. But with 2 or 3, once they are built next to one another, I would think you could dump a bunch of snow between them, let that stuff harden, then that would form an arch to protect the passageway between the igloos.

Ed Huesers
(iglooed) - MLife
Re: Two or more igloos on 02/17/2007 20:09:50 MST Print View

I've connected two igloo once before and it worked quite well with my experience at building the igloos.
I planted the center stake of the igloo tool close enough to the first igloo built so they would intersect at what I condidered to be a nice openning between the two igloos.
I then butted the open end of the tool against the wall of the existing igloo and built around until I ran into the wall again. This left a gap between the tool and igloo wall when first starting the course but we had sticky snow and just packed globs of it into the cracks by hand. When I came around and hit the existing igloo, I had to press in one of the pole adjusting buttons so I could shorten the pole enough to raise it up off the wall.
This left a gap between the end of the new course and the existing igloo wall. We again took some of that nice sticky snow and patched the crack.
With sugar snow, shortening the pole like that would likely end with a fractured block and packing the cracks with the sugar snow would require golden hands.
Eventually when I got high enough on the wall the new igloo left the wall of the old igloo and I sarted a ramp so I could go on build in the mormal fashion the tool is mean to be used.
Although I've never put snow between two igloo like Robert mentions, I'm sure it would work just fine. The igloos can be built with 4 inches or a bit less between them. It wouldn't take much snow to fill it in.
The connecting igloos that I did build had a very high archway between them and it made it fell like one large room. The arch the overlapping igloos made looked to be a catenary curve but we didn't measure or model it.
Yeah Will, I'm glad to hear that I've rekindled a fire in your heart for winter camping. I haven't camped in a tent when there was snow about since 84 or so but some of those snowcaves were hard work.
Brave the elements:Brave the elements

John Hines
Re: Igloo Living on 02/19/2007 12:00:19 MST Print View

I am a summer hiker but I have to admit that your post (and the others) on igloo building / living makes me want to try the winter. Questions: What part of YNP were you in? Trail? Where did you park? Do you have any trouble staying on a trail in the snow? Thanks in advance.

Ed Huesers
(iglooed) - MLife
Yellowstone on 02/19/2007 12:37:29 MST Print View

We did our backcountry trip from Upper Geyser Basin [Old Faithful] and went west to Little Firehole Meadows then south from there up onto the Madison Plateau to Smoke Jumpers Hot Springs. We returned to UGB at the end of the backcountry trip.
We caught a snowcoach ride in from the south gate and stayed the first night in a cabin [the coach arrives at O.F. at 4:30ish, to late to build an igloo and hit the trail the next day]. We stayed in a cabin again on our return and caught the snowcoach ride out of the park the next morning. We also got a snowcoach ride to the trailhead the first morning of the b.c. trip. That was a sceduled ride. At the end of the b.c. trip, we flagged down a snowcoach when we got back to the trailhead and got a ride back to O.F. and our room.
Xantera Parks is the outfitter that runs it all, easily searchable.
Although the trails were reasonably easy to follow, we mostly took our own route. I'd been on part of this route a couple years ago and was able to follow most of it then but the orange trail markers were a bit faded and hard to spot. There were also those that were missing.
Unlike most areas I've been in, Yellowstones rivers remain ice free through the winter. This makes it impossible to travel up the rivers as the canyons are steep down to the river and there are plenty of fallen logs.
We chose this route because it was the less traveled. There are trails that do get used every day like the loop to Lone Star Geyser and the trail to Mallard Lake.
Traveling off trail and not seeing anyone has it's rewards but it does require navigational skills.

James Pitts
(jjpitts) - F

Locale: Midwest US
Practice Run on 02/19/2007 12:52:34 MST Print View

Jut for fun I built this 7-footer in my front yard this morning. I can "solo-build" the 7-footer but not the 8-footer (at least not easily). It takes me just under two hours. This one was actually a little faster than usual because the snow was so wet. It's warm here today. With soft snow that won't pack it takes a lot longer because of how the snow has to be prepped before loading into the form.

Still a lot of fun and a great skill to practice.

7-Foot Igloo

Edited by jjpitts on 02/19/2007 16:29:25 MST.

Ed Huesers
(iglooed) - MLife
Re: Practice Run on 02/19/2007 15:48:55 MST Print View

Well, looks like you are enjoying the ICEBOX® James. Two hours is the fastest I've ever built the seven footer. Course, you look a bit younger than I.
We've updated the manual per Will's advice and it is now available as a pdf on our web page. We haven't updated the html version yet. The change was mostly concerning the changing of the pole length but there are other updates as well.

James Pitts
(jjpitts) - F

Locale: Midwest US
Re: Re: Practice Run on 02/19/2007 16:27:22 MST Print View

Heck yeah I am enjoying it! This is my second year with the ICEBOX and it is so much fun on many levels. Just when you get something figured out there is another challenge. I bought it for a Boy Scout project initially and wound up addicted to building the things.

My one tip to a new builder: GET THE FIRST TIER CORRECT! The instructions tell you how to set the angle properly for that first tier and if you don't do it right it's nothing but headaches. You'll still get an igloo but it will take a lot more work. Take the time to get that first row of blocks spot-on and the rest will be a snap. Also, layer the snow into the form in small amounts. Avoid using heaping loads of snow. When using soft snow don't "prep" too much snow at once. It only gets stale and doesn't pack well. Only prep as much as you will be able to use in a block or two. What else? On, MSR Needle Stakes (the aluminum ones) fit the "stake-down" pivot anchor perfectly. Four of them locks the pivot anchor to the frozen ground perfectly and fits right in the notches like they were made for this.

Edited by jjpitts on 02/19/2007 16:28:42 MST.

Ed Huesers
(iglooed) - MLife
Re: Re: Re: Practice Run on 02/19/2007 21:32:36 MST Print View

An "Igloo Addict"? Shush, Will's gonna figure it out.
Yeah, finding new challanges and techniques is still happening to me. I've taught countless people and find that I still learn things when teaching.
I use the right size shovel so a heaping load is the right amount. I think it works best if it takes from 7 to 10 shovels of snow to build a block. My favorite shovel is the Life Link "Pit Boss". It has a long handle and the bucket is just the right size.
One of the things I find hardest to teach is firing the shovel full of snow into the form so it impacts the back corner and doesn't fracture the block. When doing this the snow gets packed quite a bit and requires less hand packing and big time savings can be realized.
Only rounding up enough snow to build one or two blocks is good advice so the snow sinters better but it is also less work for the person rounding it up. I guess that's one of the things that is hard to teach also, I tell em to settle down and take it easy and in a few minutes they'll be right back to it making five times the amount of snow needed.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Re: Practice Run on 02/20/2007 07:58:33 MST Print View

Then of course there is the issue of that snow mound not being built at 10,000 feet. on the side of a mountain wearing snowshoes and trying not to trip over them while building it : ).

James Pitts
(jjpitts) - F

Locale: Midwest US
Re: Re: Re: Practice Run on 02/20/2007 21:59:00 MST Print View

...well I do have to deal with the jeers of my neighbors. They already think I am nuts for not owning a snowblower and insisting on shoveling my driveway -and- my sidewalk with a shovel.

Kevin Sawchuk
(ksawchuk) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Igloo Building on 02/20/2007 23:35:47 MST Print View

My father and wife bought me an Icebox for Christmas. This weekend we finally built our first igloo. We had largely sugar snow that required some packing (the kids loved doing that!) and fractured only two blocks building the whole thing. It took 4 hours which was clearly influenced by not getting the first layer angled properly. I think in this type of snow I could probably cut it down to 3-3.5 hours. I enjoyed the experience.

HOWEVER, It would be rare that I could spare 2.5-3 hours building my sleeping structure when I'm out in the winter. (Consider less daylight, need to melt snow for water) In an hour I could build a mansion of a snow trench, stake a tarp over it, cover the tarp with a foot of snow (using ski poles to brace it) and have a shelter every bit as servicable (at least in deep Sierra snow). If you build it on a 10-15 degree hill you can have an elevated sleeping platform and it will shed snow. The ceiling will usually not be as high. Typically when building for one it takes me about 25 minutes and I can sit up in the finished product.

I'm deciding whether to keep my icebox tool--it was fun, it was cool, but for my style of winter travel, it is not very practical.Igloo--2-17-07

James Pitts
(jjpitts) - F

Locale: Midwest US
Re: Igloo Building on 02/21/2007 17:14:03 MST Print View

pffft... but that lacks STYLE... look at the photo posted earlier on this thread. That's high-style winter camping!

(just joking)

Ed Huesers
(iglooed) - MLife
Re: Igloo Building on 02/21/2007 19:22:01 MST Print View

It does depend on your style and what you are wanting to get out of your trips Kevin. It sounds like you are talking about one night trips or trips where you move every day.
I don't claim that moving and building an igloo every day is worth it because I've only done this once and don't have enough experience to say that it is possible to build an igloo every day on a long trip. On that trip we did two igloos in a row, I was tired the night of the second igloo but got recharged by bed time. The next day I felt drained just enough that I still question if it can be done.
The benifits that come with the igloos took me a couple years of using the igloos to come to a full understanding of them after years of using snowcaves.
The canister stove and lantern were the first improvements wth a +15f. bag coming quickly after that.
Building the igloo in a spot where the door could be tall enough to walk in was up there somewhere too. We usually made our snowcaves tall enough to stand up in and put our coats on, tuck our shirts in or just stretch, so that remained the same.
In our snowcaves, I always had my water and boots freeze over night if I didn't sleep with them. Now it's very seldom that my water bottle freezes.
I've found that I can count on having an igloo and that means I can bring much lighter gear.
You mentioned dark and the short days, I melt my water in the igloo through the evening between popping out side to check out the stars or do what ever else comes to mind. It makes the night go by much faster when you have the freedom to move like that. It's nice when I don't need to crawl and get my knees wet.
I also kinda like being able to hear the wind through the trees at night when it's windy compared to a snowcave where it is just dead silence.
The extra floor space is enough that I can lay out all my gear and put the pack outside. Having everything close at hand is an energy saver. It took me a couple years to settle into where I put everything, often used things close and seldom used down by my feet.