Before you can learn how to build shelter for winter camping, you should first think about the location of your campsite. It's critical to choose a place that allows some sunlight to hit your tent or bivouac, so you can get as much heat as you can through the day. Tents or bivouacs used in winter conditions must be specially designed for such purpose. Even though you can survive a night in the snow with just a backpacking tent, that's not recommended. Sealed seams, waterproof and breathable fabrics and stable structures are present in most four seasons tents. Those are the tents to choose for winter camping.
Usually in winter, wind is a major threat. A trench in the side where the wind comes from is highly recommended. To build a trench, you'll need:
- Snow saw
- Thick wire
- Bright colored fabric strips
- Choose a safe placement. When placing a tent in a snow field, always have in mind that avalanches can occur not only on the foothills, but also near creeks or shoals.
- Pack snow to form bricks. Those bricks should be compact and wide enough to stand without breaking.
- Pile the bricks to a height of one and a half that of your tent. This way you will prevent the direct hit of the wind without totally blocking the sun. A horseshoe is preferable, but a simple wall will do. The distance between the tent and the snow wall should not be less than the wall's height. This is for two reasons: first, blowing snow tends to accumulate in right angles, such as the one formed by the wall and the surface. You don't want your tent being covered by snow; and second, should the wall collapse, there's no chance it will fall on your tent.
During a snow storm, check periodically for snow accumulation in your tent or bivouac roof because the tent can collapse, causing injuries and damage to your equipment. Intervals between inspections will vary with the snowfall's intensity, but should not be more than four hours.
- Depending on how long are you planning to stay in the same campsite, you can improve it by digging holes in the snow were food and hardware can be stored. A good way to avoid losing materials or food is to place sticks with small strips of fabric tied to them.
- Remember to start your fire away from trees because the heat can melt snow accumulated in the leaves, causing them to fall onto your campsite.
- Building a shelter for winter camping is always fun, but remember that safety is key.