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Camping in the Snow
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Gordon Bedford
(gbedford) - MLife

Locale: Victoria, Australia
camping in the snow on 11/30/2012 04:19:41 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 04:27:32 MST.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Cooking in vestibule if it has a floor on 11/30/2012 13:27:36 MST Print View

Strange tent, the Stephenson's Warmlite. I have to say I would prefer to not try to cook inside it myself.
If you must, I would start with a good square of something like plywood as a base, on the floor. Great stuff - light, stiff and insulating.


Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Source for hard aluminum sheet? on 11/30/2012 14:02:03 MST Print View

Hi Scott

A by-the-way before I answer: the delay in answering is because Sue and I were up in those mountains for a week, and have only just got back. 4 days of HOT weather and 1 day of bad weather - our seasons are of course reversed.

OK, the aluminium. The ideal for this is a 7000-series aluminium alloy. 7075 alloy, as used in Easton tent poles, would be perfect. Something about 0.8 mm thick would be fine. Getting a small bit of it is more difficult however as it is a bit 'industrial' and not normally available in suburban hardware stores.

A 5000-series alloy such as 5054 is far more suited to bending and folding tasks, and it would be a bit weak for this unless you used some a bit thicker. To be sure, 1.6 mm (1/16") would work fine.

What we call CP or commercially pure aluminium, typically a 1000-series alloy, would be hopeless imho. It is far too soft. Avoid it.

An interesting alternative if you are keen would be some 0.5 mm Ti alloy, preferably 6Al4V. You can get this in small bits (offcuts) from Titanium Joe. But do not try to make any sharp bends in this alloy! (And the same goes for 7075 Al alloy too.) Instead either bend it with heat or around a bit of 1/2" pipe, to get a gentle curve. You can also use some round-edged wodden decking as a former.


Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Camping in the snow on 11/30/2012 14:44:36 MST Print View

Hi Gordon

The snapped poles in the photo were indeed CF tubing, but don't hold that against them. The tent had a huge snow load on it before it was really thumped by a savage vortex from above. Al poles would have collapsed just as well - and I have had Al ones fail too. Basically, I had pitched the tent in a really BAD spot! But we were not expecting that much snow in autumn. (Excuses, excuses...)

> If you are skiing use the skis to smooth the site
Yes, I have tried doing that, but the skis were too long for me to handle easily. The far smaller Al scraper lets me dig and scrape much more easily. Extra weight, yes, but at the end of the day we all have limited energy left. :-)

> Dig a foot well in each vestibule
Some do, some don't. I have never found it useful myself. But as noted, I do NOT like white gas stoves!

> problem with trees is snow falling off onto the tent
I agree totally. We never camp UNDER the trees for that reason and because of the risk of branches breaking off and falling down.


Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Igloo Camping on 11/30/2012 14:47:32 MST Print View

Hi Mark

Too hot in Australia for igloos. Sad! The snow gets wet and seals the igloo and people die inside - it has happened here.

The other points - all good ones. I use 3-ply rather than a mouse pad as it is really solid.
Pee bottles - OK I guess but we never need them anyhow.


Michael Gillenwater
(mwgillenwater) - M

Locale: Seattle area
Aluminum sheet on 11/30/2012 15:35:29 MST Print View

Just found these guys online for Al sheet. Not sure if it will work for what Roger describes, but worth a few dollars to try. And after filling out the shipping info, it turns out they are only a short bike ride from my house.

Edited by mwgillenwater on 11/30/2012 15:36:57 MST.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Aluminum sheet on 11/30/2012 15:54:58 MST Print View


Regarding your aluminum scraper ... yes shovels are heavier but after using a scraper tool without a handle (SnowClaw) I'm sticking with a shovel.

But I'm wondering about the consistency of the snow in your location. Relatively dense perhaps?

In my locale, mid winter snow might average 10% water content. That's not fluffy by northern rocky mountain standards but very fluffy by Sierra Nevada standards (from what I hear).

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Aluminum sheet on 11/30/2012 19:17:27 MST Print View

Hi Michael

OnLineMetals - yes indeed. One of the more available sources, but HORRIBLY expensive. Never mind: a single 12x12" bit for $7.62 will make two very fine scrapers.

Remember to bend around a curve rather than trying to make a sharp bend.

(And a photo would be nice)

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Aluminum sheet scrapers on 11/30/2012 19:29:52 MST Print View

Hi Jim

> the consistency of the snow in your location. Relatively dense perhaps?
What do you expect when the daily temperature oscillates between 5 C and -5 C?

Yes, a small scraper like the photo showed might be a bit too small for dry powder snow. I still wouldn't go to a shovel myself; I would just make a bigger scraper. I tried something like a Snow Claw once and didn't like it. That may be a function of the snow consistency of course.

But what I did not mention in the article is something else you can do with my simple scraper. You can easily cut snow blocks. By holding the scraper sideways and plunging it into the snow (fold is now vertical), I can chop out blocks from quite hard icy snow very fast. Doing this with a shovel or a Snow Claw is much harder.

And when I have finished making camp, I can use the scraper as a stove base too.

Ah well, to each his own snow patch!


Michael Gillenwater
(mwgillenwater) - M

Locale: Seattle area
RE: alumimun scrapper on 11/30/2012 19:35:53 MST Print View

Thanks for the reminder Roger. Bend around a curve.

And I the idea of triple use. cutting blocks of snow as well as a stove platform. Sounds like the shovel is off my gear list for sure.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
snowpack on 12/01/2012 16:28:28 MST Print View

Slightly OT, but just out of curiosity: Roger, how thick is the typical snowpack that you are traveling over in Oz?

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: alumimun scrapper on 12/01/2012 16:56:23 MST Print View

Great article Roger, good replies

I don't do a lot of snow camping but I sometimes take this folding saw, Corona, from the big box store, blade maybe 8 inches long, maybe 12 ounces weight.

Mostly I use it for cutting branches that have grown across the trail

This also works as a snow saw. I can cut blocks that are 8 inches x 8 inches x whatever. Just lift them with my hands.

Mostly I just remove snow from the ground to make a bare spot to pitch tent, which shows my normal extreme of snow camping. You could make an igloo or whatever I suppose.

Maybe a saw is a better tool than a shovel for snow.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: snowpack on 12/01/2012 21:06:42 MST Print View

Hi Paul

> how thick is the typical snowpack that you are traveling over in Oz?
Variable, very variable. It depends on the season, the time of year, and the position. But in general we would regard 1 metre thickness out on the windswept plains as being quite good.
That said, there have been years when anything that covers the grass is considered good!

On the other hand, the option of clearing the snow away to the grass is never a good one. The snow is far too heavy and consolidated.


Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: Re: snowpack on 12/01/2012 21:41:07 MST Print View

Roger - interesting. For comparison, in the Sierra we usually see about 4-6 feet in most areas where the touring is good, though 8-10 feet is not uncommon, and on one trip I took during a big snow year, we happened to pass very close to a snow survey location, where the snowpack was measured at just over 14 feet a day or so after we passed by. I can see that some strategies would be different depending on depth of snowpack. For instance, it is very rare that we can dig down to find a stream unless it pretty late in the spring, when it may be exposed despite still having 4-6 feet of snow adjacent. So one of our tricks is knowing how to get water from an exposed stream that has 6 foot high , vertical (or overhanging) banks without going for an icy swim.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Re: snowpack on 12/02/2012 01:57:36 MST Print View

Hi Paul

> 8-10 feet is not uncommon
snark, snark, snark ... sigh.
Terrible thing, jealosy! :-)

> knowing how to get water from an exposed stream that has 6 foot high , vertical (or
> overhanging) banks without going for an icy swim.
Oh, we do get that as well where there is a lot of water. The Snowy River can have snow banks several metres high (drift snow), it is fast, and if you fall in you are not likely to survive. It has happened. So we seek elsewhere.


Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
A New Winter Tent... on 12/05/2012 19:14:44 MST Print View


Thanks for the excellent winter camping photo/word essay. Lots of good pointers.

As a backcountry skier I'm thinking of buying and modding a Tarptent Scarp 2 just because I like the basic design. (Ripstop nylon interior, natch.)

1. I'll cut down the "crossing poles" and run them inside the fly, sewing in small Cordura in pockets at the apex of the CF corner struts to recieve the pole ends. Velcro cable ties hold the poles in place at the center top. Much better canopy support for wind and snow load with the poles inside the fly.

2. A heavier main pole in the sleeve is also a must for winter.

3. As with my TT Moment I'll have pre-made guylines (end clips and LineLoc tensioners) that I can quickly clip in place when winds are expected.

4.> Possibly eight to ten small grossgrain nylon loops sewn to the fly bottom hem for stakeout points if wind might be extreme.


UPDATE: (1-22-'14)

DONE! Got the Scarp 2 and modded it. (See photos and text in BPL's "Winter Hiking" page.) The main thing was to buy a heavier duty main pole and move the X-ing poles inside for excellent fly support.

Edited by Danepacker on 01/22/2014 12:06:55 MST.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Camping in the Snow on 12/05/2012 20:40:41 MST Print View

Average April 1 snow depth at the snow test site at 5400 feet (~1650 m) elevation on the south side of Mt. Hood, our local volcano, is 140 inches. That's close to 12 feet or, for you metric folks, 355 cm. or 3.6 m. Of course this can vary widely from year to year.

In some storms, the daily snowfall can be measured in feet rather than inches, and more often than not it's heavy, soggy snow (aka Cascade concrete). Could be rather hard on almost any tent unless removed frequently during the night!

Shovels are required for those venturing into avalanche territory. In a lot of places around here, avalanche safety is really important.

Edited by hikinggranny on 12/05/2012 20:45:16 MST.

Confused Newbie

Locale: Northern CO
Newbie Questions on 03/07/2013 16:07:57 MST Print View

I just found this thread...and would love to start winter or shoulder season backpacking. I hope you will pardon some novice questions:

1) Years ago I took a snowcamping class in Oregon. It was fun, but I was chilled the whole time. When you wintercamping folks are in your tent, are you chilled (not dangerously so, but just uncomfortable)? I'm wondering if I just need a warmer sleeping system, or warmer clothing.

2) Do you find bivy sacks useful to help keep warm?

3) Do you worry about gloves and shoelaces freezing? Do the tents keep them warm enough?

4) I live near the northern Colorado Rockies, and one thing that happens when a cold front comes in is that, depending on conditions, topography can cause 20F variations in temperature, so a cold front that brings in 0F (-17F) to some areas can cause -30F (-34) in certain valleys. While this might happen only once or twice a year, is this something that you experienced folks think about, ending up in conditions where cold pools in a valley (not small topographic variations like being near a tarn, but over larger regions).

5) At what temperature do you decide it isn't fun? Not that I am going to go out as a novice in really cold conditions, I'm just curious.

Thanks, Bobb.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Newbie Questions on 03/07/2013 16:25:34 MST Print View

Some of your questions might be answered with this one rule about winter camping.

If you can stay absolutely dry, it isn't that hard to stay warm. As soon as you start getting wet from rain, from snow, from sweat, or falling in the stream, you are in trouble unless you can recover and dry out in a hurry.

For some folks, that means bringing a wider variety of clothing until you understand exactly what works and what doesn't.


Eric Lundquist
(cobberman) - F - M

Locale: Northern Colorado
Re: Newbie Questions on 03/07/2013 17:39:56 MST Print View

I recently spent my first night winter camping with a few fellow BPLers. To answer a few of your questions:

1. In your tent or shelter you might be cold, it is mostly blocking some/all of the wind and precipitation. You should not be chilled when inside your sleep system, however.

2. I also tried a bivy for the first time during my winter outing, it may have been warmer (they're often stated at adding 5-15* to a sleep system), but I found it invaluable in blocking the spindrift under my tarp.

3. Keep your insulating/liner gloves dry and with you in your sleeping bag if they get a little damp during the day, they should dry out from your body head overnight. You can place a nalgene bottle of hot/boiling water in your boots in the morning to soften them up if frozen/stiff.

4/5. If I had the proper insulating equipment (-20* bag, parka, pants, etc.), I would not hesitate to go camping in such cold weather. Blowing wind, heavy snow, and whiteout conditions are my fears when winter camping. If the temperature is going to be really cold, you might consider building a snow cave or quinzee. The interior temperature in these shelters can be at or near freezing (32*).