When I have just started camping, I thought that setting up a tent in the snow is an impossible task. The conditions seemed too harsh, and I’ve tried to avoid camping this way as hard as I could. Nevertheless, I’ve learned that there are a few techniques that will allow you to pitch a tent in the snow successfully.
Here is how to pitch a tent in the snow:
- Choose the right spot; make sure it features sufficient sunlight exposure without any trees. Also, ensure that the ground is steady to avoid sinking.
- Prepare the pitch spot by removing excessive snow.
- Make sure that your tent is stable by using proper snow stakes.
- Start working early while there is sufficient daylight.
- Essure that your camp features wind protection (avoid boulders).
- Make proper follow-ups and maintenance to prevent snow accumulation.
1. Choose the Right Spot
The process of pitching a tent in the snow, just as with regular ground, requires that you choose the ideal location. It is not enough that you find a plain place where your tent can rest on.
You also need to consider the safety of that location. For instance, you have to stay away from an avalanche zone to avoid the risk of getting buried under the snow. Generally, an area with a slope of more than 20 degrees offers some avalanche risk, and it is to be avoided for your own safety.
Additionally, with the use of an axe, you should try to find out what lies just below the snow. For instance, there could be holes beneath the snow, and the last thing you need is the ground sinking in after you have pitched your tent, which would leave you with more work on your hands.
In fact, such snow can collapse as you sleep, and that could get fatally dangerous if it happens to be a deep void. Generally, you should camp above solid ground if you can help it.
It is also a good idea to make sure that your tent is not below tree branches. Areas with heavy snowfalls can often experience broken branches as snow piles up on the trees.
Obviously, heavy falling branches can cause quite some damage to your tent, and even hurt you if you are inside. So, set up your tent in an area that is free from such hazards.
In addition to tree branches, you should also avoid boughs with heavy snow, especially when it’s wet. Such snow can snap, and if it falls on your tent, that can be disastrous.
If you have no choice but to camp in such areas, I suggest that you put a tarp over your tent for protection – here is an article that I’ve written on that topic. You could also take advantage of some camping knots which I’ve described in this article.
Another thing to consider is the sunlight. Since you are camping in the snow, sunlight can be quite a luxury. Consequently, you should pitch your tent in a manner that allows you to enjoy the sun throughout the day easily.
The sunlight can also keep the tent warmer so that it is a cozier place for you to stay when you get back in the evening to sleep.
You would benefit even more from the sun when you camp in a dark-colored tent. In fact, I’ve written an in-depth article which describes all the efficient ways to make your tent darker, in a case you already own a bright one.
I highly suggest that you read it – you could also benefit from the information if your tent tends to get too hot during summer time. You may also find a few handful techniques on a different article I’ve written on how to heat your tent fast and safely.
2. Prepare Your Spot
After you have found the right spot on the snow to pitch your tent, the next step is preparing the place so that your tent can rest on a plain and solid surface. Some surfaces have a thin layer of snow, while others can have several feet of snow.
Dig Through The Snow
The best option is to dig through the snow on the place where you want your tent to go using a shovel and put the snow on the sides. Obviously, you cannot shovel away many feet of snow to reach the solid ground.
In that case, you can pack in the snow to create a more stable and plain surface. Fortunately, you do not need any special tools to achieve this.
Using your shoes or boots, you can stomp on the ground until it becomes level. However, you should wait for about half an hour before you start to pitch your tent.
After packing the snow, make sure you also smooth out the surface so that you can enjoy enhanced comfort when you finally start using the tent.
Clear The Area
Additionally, you should clear an area that is larger than your tent so that you also get space to walk around and do other activities such as cooking.
While at it, you can also clear the paths you will be using to areas that you will be going to regularly such as the restroom. This might seem like a lot of extra effort, but the work is worth it.
For instance, you will not have to keep wearing snowshoes all the time, and you will not have to stumble on top of loose snow when moving around the tent.
Stick to Compact Snow
You should not set up your shelter on regular snow, as that can result in several problems. For instance, when you start using the tent, the snow will start going down, and the shelter will have an uneven surface.
Additionally, when you sleep, your body can melt the snow, and then afterward, it will freeze again. This will result in your tent having many bumps that will make you have a less than ideal camping experience.
On the other hand, compacted snow does not melt as quickly. Additionally, this surface will give you a much more comfortable place to sleep and live in.
3. Make Sure The Tent Holds Firmly
If you have a tent that has to be staked down, then you will have a little challenge setting up your tent on the snow. A free-standing tent offers a less demanding pitching experience.
However, in case it gets too windy, this can also be easily blown away. But with a canvas that needs stakes, the problem is that they will not hold as firmly in the snow as they would on regular ground.
Use Snow Steaks
But this problem can be fixed with the use of snow stakes. These stakes can be laid horizontally in the snow and then covered in snow so that they provide firm support for your tent.
These particular stakes can also be put in the snow vertically. They hold pretty firmly once the ice has hardened once more, and you will usually need an ice axe.
You could also use these stakes once you are done snow-camping. If you are camping in the desert, for instance, you might use these to pitch a tent in the sand – here is an elaborated guide that I’ve written on how to do so.
A Few More Tricks
However, it is not a must that you get snow stakes; you can also use poles, sticks, or even part of your gear that can be buried in the snow and provide a place where you can tie down your tent since they will freeze into place and provide strong support for your tent.
You can also anchor your snow to firm rocks, trees, and even try the ‘dead-man anchor’ in which case you tie the tent lines to a bunch of sticks then bury them in snow, one foot below. One the snow freezes over them, these sticks offer very firm support.
4. Start Early
You probably know that setting up a tent is not an easy task, especially for a beginner. Pros might have the skills to have the tent up in no time at all.
However, even for experts, setting up a tent in the snow is especially demanding. As we have seen above, you might have to shovel snow to clear the place where the tent will be pitched. Even if you don’t have to shovel the snow, you have to compact appropriately so that you can sleep comfortably.
Besides, pitching a tent that uses stakes requires that you wait for about 30 minutes before the stakes hold firmly into the snow. In other words, pitching a tent in the snow can be a time and labor-intensive activity.
So, don’t wait until evening when the time to relax to start pitching your tent. The work can get overwhelming, and you might have to work for longer than you anticipated, and this can result in your pitching your tent improperly.
This can be dangerous because a strong gust of wind can destroy a poorly pitched tent. Besides, you have to choose an excellent place to pitch your tent, and if that process is rushed, you can easily make dangerous mistakes that can cost you a good night’s sleep and even put you at risk.
Ideally, you should start making your tent early in the day, preferably in the morning before you head out to enjoy other adventures so that everything will be back in order when you come back in the evening.
5. Consider Wind Protection
The wind can get pretty intense in areas with high amounts of snow. Therefore, you should consider areas that offer some form of wind protection.
But at the same time, you have to be careful not to pitch beneath tree branches as you seek wind protection. Generally, rocky outcrops offer pretty good wind protection.
But you can also take matters into your own hands and build a now wall’ a few feet high around the tent so that it can offer some form of wind protection. Another important tip is to build up some snow around the edges of your canvas so that snow does not get under the flysheet.
Boulders Might Not Be The Right Choice
However, even while trying to pitch your tent away from strong winds, try to avoid places where snow blown about by the wind would accumulate.
For instance, although boulders can offer protection from the wind, they can also experience an accumulation of blown snow.
The snow can pile up on top and start falling. Therefore, if your tent is right below such snow, it can suffer a lot of damage, and you can get injured in the process as well.
6. Do Proper Follow-up and Maintenance
Once you have set up your tent, it is not always time to relax and start enjoying adventure; you might have to take care of other issues as well as time goes by.
For instance, snow tends to accumulate on top of the tent as time goes by, and you have to get rid of it for your own safety and the integrity of your tent.
Generally, any snow that accumulates on top of your tent should be removed at the earliest convenience. Sometimes, you might even have to get out at night to clear away the snow.
Such snow can slowly accumulate and trap you in your temporary home. Its weight can also cause the tent to give in, even when it is pretty strong. You will usually know you have this issue when it starts to get very quiet as the snow layer on top of your tent increases.
How Deep Should The Snow be to Pitch a Tent?
As I’ve mentioned, it is crucial to pick the right spot and ensure that the snow is not too deep nor to thin. From my experience, the snow shouldn’t be deeper than the length of the stakes you are using, which is approximately 12 inches.
If the snow is thinner than that, you will have to rely on the ground underneath for anchoring. In this scenario, you should hope for a solid which is neither too stiff nor too soft.
Seeking for such an area could be exhausting when you are setting up your tent in the snow, and therefore you should stick to a proper snow thickness.
Will I be Able to Pitch The Tent in a Snowstorm?
Setting up your tent in snowy areas might be even more challenging when you experience a snowstorm. The main issue in that particular scenario is the harsh wind. Nevertheless, the job could still get done when you approach it wisely.
First, make sure that you shelter yourself with a tarp so that the snow doesn’t pour upon you. I’ve written an elaborated article on how to pitch a tent in the rain, and the deal is quite similar to snowstorms.
Also, you should keep in mind that thunderstorms could appear in such conditions. Make sure that you stay inside your tent and take all the necessary precautions when that happens.
Setting up a tent in the snow is possible, although it is crucial that you approach it wisely. Your primary considerations should be spot picking and maintenance.
Keep in mind that your area should feature sufficient daylight exposure to keep you warm and that the snow is stiff and not too deep.
Also, make sure that you conduct maintenance and wipe off the snow that had been accumulated on the canvas. If you don’t, it might compromise ventilation and enhance condensation inside.
I hope my article had shed some light on how to pitch a tent in the snow. If you have any question – let me know all about them by leaving a comment below!