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Camping in the Snow
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Maia Jordan
(maia) - MLife

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Camping in the Snow on 11/27/2012 19:53:27 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Camping in the Snow

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: The Deep Frreze
Re: Camping in the Snow on 11/27/2012 20:38:09 MST Print View

Great article Roger, just in time for winter :-)

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Love it on 11/27/2012 21:27:29 MST Print View

Great article. I have not done "hard core" snow camping but this would have been a very handy resource when I was spring camping in CO (and camping in the occasionaly Virginia blizzard).

David W.
(Davidpcvsamoa) - MLife

Locale: East Bay, CA
Thanks Roger on 11/27/2012 21:46:59 MST Print View

Well written as always! This article provided nuggets of wisdom and also reinforced some techniques I have learned through experience. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

Marc Eldridge
(meld) - MLife

Locale: The here and now.
Re: Camping in the Snow on 11/27/2012 22:36:48 MST Print View

Great article Roger. By the way when can we expect to see your tents on the market.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: Camping in the Snow on 11/28/2012 04:06:36 MST Print View

Thanks, Roger. Good article!

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: Camping in the Snow on 11/28/2012 04:06:36 MST Print View

Dual Post

Edited by jamesdmarco on 11/28/2012 04:23:11 MST.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Camping in the Snow on 11/28/2012 06:19:35 MST Print View

If you like books, don't forget Mike C!'s winter classic.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: Camping in the Snow on 11/28/2012 08:48:58 MST Print View

Great article, as I've only faced snow on the ground (never flurries). An ultralight, yet truly winter storm-worthy tent would be a good project for gear makers.

Edited by hknewman on 11/28/2012 08:49:41 MST.

Erik Basil

Locale: Atzlan
Camping in the Snow on 11/28/2012 10:14:34 MST Print View

Ditto above: nice job on this article. It will be useful!

Aaron Divine
Shelter Anchors... Natural??? on 11/28/2012 10:59:37 MST Print View

I did not see much attention to Natural Anchors.
What about using a good old stick or rock?
I have gone for several month-long snow camping trips without any specifically designed man-made shelter anchors and been quite fine - so long as there is a sufficient rock or stick source available and an ample snowpack to bury them.

All that one needs is a small object to bury or "dead-man" in the snow...even a flat rock the size of a standard compass or a stick the diameter of your thumb can provide a very secure anchoring if well placed and utilized in a balanced method with several varied tie-downs surrounding the shelter.

I guess the "trick" is to not use them as pictured above in the article, but rather, dig a hole of sufficient depth (6 - 12 inches?), place the rock/stick horizontal to ground surface with the tie down cord running under the anchor object and back up out for creating a half hitch or trucker's hitch, then bury it back over with snow and stomp the snow down work hardening the medium and tightening the cords all around. (Ice Lenses uncovered from diggin your tent platform can work too if thick enough!).

The joy here in using this method is that in the morning when your anchors are frozen beneath the work-hardend snow, you simply release your half-hitch, pull the cord and leave behind the little rock/stick that you found on site. Very light weight, secure, and quick.

Try it!

Edited by aarondivine on 11/28/2012 11:12:12 MST.

Ralph B Alcorn
(backpack45scb) - M
Cooking in vestibule if it has a floor on 11/28/2012 12:14:45 MST Print View

I've got a Stephenson's Warmlite which is a good winter tent other than it has a floor in the vestibule. I've considered cooking with my canister stove during some dire circumstances but haven't done it. Is there a relatively safe way to do this? My concern is mainly catching the floor on fire or melting it.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Camping in the Snow on 11/28/2012 12:23:25 MST Print View

Roger, thanks for the great primer article. You might enjoy this photo of my friend Jon getting some air on 3-pin gear on a winter outing we took two weeks ago.

Raymond Estrella
(rayestrella) - MLife

Locale: Northern Minnesota
Camping in the Snow on 11/28/2012 12:52:32 MST Print View

I'm inspired and can't wait to try it out. ;-)

Great article, Roger.

peter vacco

Locale: no. california
fantastic article. on 11/28/2012 18:34:06 MST Print View

all i can add is that the smallest cord grips OWC sells are not glove compatible, you'll need the "next to smallest" ones for that.
great article.
let us not dismiss rogers spindrift concerns. i seen that stuff fill up 8 full inches level across the inside my tent once. it was not at all fun.

Michael Martin
(MikeMartin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: North Idaho
Re: Cooking in vestibule if it has a floor on 11/28/2012 18:34:41 MST Print View

@Ralph: I also use a Warmlite tent a lot in the winter. I have cooked successfully inside the tent with a canister stove, but it's very tricky. Yes, you must be careful not to melt or ignite surroundings. But, the biggest challenge I found was creating a stable, non-slip platform for the stove. I suppose you could bring a piece of...something...for the task, but I've made do with prepping the snow under the tent floor near the stove to be compacted, uniform, and perfectly level. Any imperfections under the snow send it sliding around on the slick floor, or tipping over.

You just have to be hyper-meticulous during cooking -- move slowly, avoid spills, etc. (Sometimes easier said, than done.)

It also helps greatly to cook alone in the tent. I have a "2C" Warmlite, and there just isn't enough space for two persons, their gear, and a cook setup at the same time. YMMV.


Foo Bar
(schassey) - F - MLife

Locale: Bay Area
Source for hard aluminum sheet? on 11/28/2012 19:02:41 MST Print View

Great article, thanks very much. I'm especially intrigued by the 70 gram scrapers. Where did you source the aluminum stock? You've got me thinking about some IKEA book ends I have laying about, but I think they're a bit too small. Definitely going to try my hand at making some.

Mark Schultz
Igloo Camping on 11/28/2012 23:59:07 MST Print View

Been building and camping in an igloo with my son for several winters. We pull MYOG pulk sleds and use an igloo maker by Grand Shelters. Very comfy shelter, but as you mention, it's a lot of work and takes way too long - not practical after a day of backpacking in short winter days. We build the igloo within a couple miles and then snowboard the next day. The upside is that it can last all winter so you can go back. This year we're going farther with the old sturdy 3-4 season Mountain Hardware Glacier tent - I think it was the first tent MH ever made. It's held up well in moderate snow storms and wind. Some tips we've learned: cut an old mouse pad to fit under your upright canister stove to keep it insulated and prevent it from sinking in the snow. A closed-cell foam pad under a thermarest is just right. Before you spend hundreds on that -20deg down bag, try your 3-season bag with a quilt on top or an opened-up rectangular bag on top. Bring a pee bottle (wide-mouth lid WELL labeled) so you stay in your tent for a long long great night of rest.

Steven Nelson
(slnsf) - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Pictures, comments on 11/29/2012 17:20:51 MST Print View

Hi Roger - a fine article, as always.

Several of the photos are mine (perhaps ones I sent to you for a previous tent article I edited or for other past work). It would be nice to get the credits added in case the article is shared, but more usefully to the discussion, I thought I'd identify what they show and expand on a couple of your points.

The 2nd picture, the large one of the blue Brawny Tacoma tarptent with the snowshoes, is in late winter/early spring at Lassen Volcanic National Park. In the series of four tents in good weather, the top left is my Hilleberg Saivo at Lassen National Forest in February, bottom left my Tarptent Cloudburst at Yosemite National Park at New Year's, and bottom right an Equinox poncho tarp with a Backpackinglight Vapr Bivy, in the Tahoe National Forest in Spring.

All of those were in mostly mild conditions, as stated, with the tarptents in particular being realistic only for good conditions like that (more on that in a moment).

In the stormy series of photos, that's the Saivo again, after a snowstorm in Lassen Volcanic NP. At top right is a Bibler Tempest in a strong gale near Carson Pass in the Eldorado National Forest. I did want to note that it's a single-walled tent, and to make that point that there are conditions where those work well, especially when the fabric is somewhat breathable like that used for the main body of the Tempest, and when conditions are on the dry side. As a side note, on that particular trip I set the Bibler up in the midst of a blizzard the night before that picture, and it was quite a struggle to get the poles (internal, with pockets and twist ties inside to hold them in place) situated; one of them ended up bent, though the tent held up! That area routinely gets winds over 60 mph, with gusts of 100+ mph on ridgelines. I'd only use the Hilleberg, Bibler or similar tents in that area if there were even a remote chance of a winter storm.

The bottom right picture in that series is the Tacoma tarptent again, in February near Dewey Point at Yosemite NP. I was seeing just how light I could go, and certainly exceeded the limits of the gear (a tarptent with only open mesh on one side, though I did use a bivy sack inside; an alcohol stove; lightweight but sufficient clothing). I did that knowing my skills, having friends just down the trail camping in more appropriate shelters, and being within a couple hours snowshoe of the trailhead and car. Circling back to the use of tarptents or light bivies with tarps, and noting that I've occasionally been caught in unforecast storms, I would not make those a first choice in the mountains in winter. In shoulder season, especially spring in the Sierra Nevada, they can be airy and comfortable, but using them in winter in the mountains carries more risk in my opinion than using even a bivy sack and tarp. And, regardless of the shelter, I now bring SMS snow anchors and snow stakes, the anchors being the most reliable choice.

The picture of the folks in the snow kitchen is from Yosemite as well (that's blogger Calipidder and her husband, backpacking buddies of mine for many years). When we go in larger groups like that, we always take time to dig out a snow kitchen table, seats, and trench, and sometimes niches for cooking and storage; otherwise, we tend to cook individually in vestibules, with all the cautions you recommend. In the fairly mild conditions in the picture, you can see we were using both remote canister and canister-top stoves, but for more serious conditions, I always bring a remote canister stove now (in preference to gasoline/diesel/kerosene stoves, which can be reliable and powerful, but no longer seem worth the trouble and mess for our conditions here). If I'm using a pulk, I usually bring a heat exchanger or heat exchanger pot in addition to the remote canister stove and windscreen, to increase efficiency.

The orange Golite Hex with the snow block wall belongs to Calipidder and her husband as well. On that trip, we stomped down a snow quarry, let it sinter, then used a snow saw to carve out the blocks and place them around the Hex. Conditions didn't actually call for this - it's the same trip where I slept under the tarp pictured earlier - but it was good practice to do it. We saw that it is certainly something better done before a storm hits, not once it's under way, and would offer only a modicum of additional protection. (I would more likely bury the perimeter of the Hex with snow and live with the limited airflow from the top vent - and resulting condensation - if I were trying to keep a raging storm out).

Thanks for helping get more people out in a wonderful, but sometimes underutilized, season.

A last pic, showing my wife very happy to be in a "real" tent, at Crater Lake National Park in mid-winter (sorry I can't remember how to embed pics):


Edited by slnsf on 11/29/2012 18:09:58 MST.

Gordon Bedford
(gbedford) - MLife

Locale: Victoria, Australia
Camping in the snow on 11/30/2012 04:19:40 MST Print View

Good material Roger.
Were the snapped poles carbon fibre? Could be pushing their limits. Compare to the single pole tents with alloy poles. Nothing against carbon poles. Just have to work with in the limits of gear.

If you are skiing use the skis to smooth the site. The scraper is good but just another bit of gear.

Dig a foot well in each vestibule. Easier to enter and exit. Safer to cook, especially with liquid fuel stoves. Thirty years ago I blew the insect netting from an early Macpac Olympus tent plus my eyebrows. Since then about 300 days of snow camping in tents using liquid fuel stoves(MSR) in the vestibule without a hitch.

Another problem with trees is snow falling off onto the tent. A large dollop can have an impact. I suspect it could be more of an impact with carbon fibre poles.

Some great tips in the article and from other people.


Edited by gbedford on 11/30/2012 04:25:08 MST.