Introduction: How to Build a Snow Cave for Winter Survival

In this Instructable, I will give you the steps to build a snow cave that can protect you for many nights in a winter environment.

Items needed include:

Snow - If you live in Costa Rica, you probably wont be building a snow cave in your back yard.

Snow mobile - or some sort of transportation to get you to a good area. Snow Cat, snow shoes and ski's are all good options too.

Shovel - I like the small aluminum shovels that are collapsible.

Saw - The kind that works best is an old wood handled hand saw. The ones we use are about 36" long. Shorter ones would work but these long ones work great. Lightly coating it with oil before you leave will help.

Ski poles - Sticks and branches will work too but you really need something straight and smooth.

Tarp - We just used a light blue one that you can get anywhere.

Disclaimer: As always, common sense must be used in this or anything you do. This is a SNOW cave. Snow melts!. If the cave starts to collapse, crack or melt at any time during or after the build, abandon it immediately. This is just a guide on how to build a snow cave that has worked for me on two different occasions. I cannot be responsible for the way you build your cave.

OK, lets get started.

Step 1: Get Out There

I am a volunteer on Search and Rescue (SAR), Fire Fighting and Dive Rescue teams in Colorado. All year, we train on a large variety of topics. In the winters, we train on winter (surprise) survival techniques. I have successfully built and spent nights in two snow caves in different years. We have also built other types of field expedient shelters that are usually less work and can work just as well. The snow cave is my favorite.

My team has a fleet of snowmobiles. This is how we get to our overnight location.

We like to wait until about February or March depending on the snow fall that year. Usually, it takes most of a winter to get a good drift built up. I have been to other areas where drifts build up quickly.

Step 2: Find a Nice Snow Drift

Find a nice drift.

The drift that I like is at the edge of a large open area and the snow piles up real nice every year. This drift gets to be about 20' high, 40' wide and about 100' long. You see how small my partner looks in the pic. A "mature" drift like this is great because the snow is nice and packed. A mound of light fluffy snow that is not packed will not work. Even if you were able to get something built into it there is chance it could collapse. This would be really bad for anyone inside.

Step 3: Start Digging

We always build our caves on the "back" side of the drift. This is the side away from the oncoming wind. This way, when the wind blows, it doesn't blow into the cave. A light accumulation of new snow is usually easy to manage.

I start by digging a path into the mound until my cut is about as tall as me. Once I get close to where I want my front door to be, I use the hand saw and cut my snow into blocks. I like to make them about 16" each way and as square as possible. Set these aside. They will be used later to build your front wall.

Once you have about 8 or 10 pieces (enough to enclose your front wall), you can go back to using the shovel. The cave will have a mushroom shape. Don't over excavate the floor. You want your sleeping area to be raised to about bench height. This will make being in and moving around in the cave easy. It will also allow the cold air to fall to the floor which needs to have a slight slope down to the outside.

Build a bench wide enough to lay comfortably on both sides and across the back. The sides will be the bed and the back will be your storage / table area. The cave needs to be deep enough so that the side benches are long enough for you to sleep flat on your back plus about 18" for your gear. I like to dig deep enough so that there is enough room for all of this plus the thickness of the front wall and a small bench outside the cave. My total length of bench was about 12 feet. Another small alcove shelf can be built about 12" above this platform. Here you can place a small candle. You would be surprised how much a candle can raise the temperature in a well insulated enclosure like a cave. DO NOT bring in a heater. You don't want to melt your cave from the inside.

Your gear should be kept inside. Searching for and digging your personal gear out of 6" of new snow is not fun.

Build the walls on a slope but tall enough so you can sit upright. The ceiling needs to have a nice arc in it to carry the load of the snow. DO NOT build straight up walls and a flat ceiling. They will not support near as much load and more than likely will collapse.

Use your ski pole (or stick) to make a small (1" to 1 1/2") air hole at the highest point in the ceiling. This hole needs to go straight up, all of the way to the outside and must be maintained while anyone is in the cave. This will let in fresh air and keep heat from accumulating at the top and melting your cave.

Now is a good time to move all of your gear in.

Step 4: Enclose the Cave

Now, we need those blocks that we set aside earlier. These will be the front wall of your cave.

Stack the blocks up on the bench sides until they are almost as high as the ceiling (not the roof). Use the saw to clean them up and make sure the door is as narrow as is comfortable for you to get through. Pack all holes, cracks and joints with snow.

Lay your ski poles or some long sticks wrapped in the tarp across the top of this new wall. Spread the poles about 8" apart and cover this with snow. This is the header for your doorway.

There you go!. One super cozy snow cave for two.

Both of my snow caves were very comfortable to sleep in. I never got cold in my sleeping bag. In fact, I was dreading having to go outside in the morning.

One last safety note: When we are done with our caves, we always collapse them from the outside. If someone found this cave later in the season when the snow is melting they could try to get in. We don't want anyone to get hurt or trapped. Please do the same.

Enjoy.

Step 5: Don't Forget to Vote.

If you enjoy my snow cave Instructable, please vote for it in the Survival competition. The button is in the upper right corner by the Instructable title.

Thanks, Aaron



Time is almost up for this contest. Please vote. Thank you.

Comments

author
Windex (author)2015-09-18

Very cool.

author
FlorinJ (author)Windex2015-09-20

:-D Literally.

author
CorgiCritter (author)2015-09-18

This is so cool! Keep up the good work.

Voting!

author
Bets2 (author)2015-09-18

Very interesting and helpful to anyone who lives in this type weather - with loads of snow. I've always been interested in igloos and snow caves so this instructable gave a lot of information.

Unfortunately (or not), I live in the south and for several years barely get enough snow to build a snowman or have a snow fight!

author
BonSch19 (author)2015-09-18

cool. i have to try this.

author
Alaskan Bev (author)2017-02-15

Some people are more claustrophobic than they realize. Having an MRI does not bother me at all, but sleeping in a quinzee (one type of snow cave) or a backpacking one-person tent are both impossible for me. I have slept most of one night in a two-person quinzee and vowed that it was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. I prefer a well-dug trench with a tarp on the bottom, then a couple of closed-cell foam pads, then my sleeping bag; I've slept very comfortably this way with my Scouts at -39. On another camp-out we had a warm front blow in, it began to rain, and I finally loaded my soggy sleeping bag into my pulk and trekked the mile back to my van and slept comfortably all night in my dry spare sleeping bag. We had perhaps 60 Scouts and close to two dozen adults on that camp-out and one other adult was aware that I was returning to the parking area. Be sure if you follow the excellent suggestions presented in this outstanding 'ible that you are actually capable of sleeping all night in a very confined space. All manner of snow shelters have saved lives for millennia.

author
Firedude68 (author)2016-01-06

Nice instructable. here are a few comments/ suggestions to build on this. If you are in a wooded area take footlong twigs and fully insert them in the snow prior to digging out your living area. This will indicate when you're getting too close to the outside.
Once you have dug out the inside dig an 8 inch moat around the perimeter of your living area. This is for two reasons. It acts as a cold sump...colder air will settle there as opposed to your sleeping ground. Also as your cave heats there will be some interior melting. The moat will collect the water so it doesn't get all over you and your gear.
Personal preference. I like a smaller door/ hole where you slide down then up..where the entrance is below your sleeping platform..this helps with wind and as additional cold sump....you can also use extra snow to build a wind wall to help protect you.
Last thing to consider, if you will be making once of these with some friends close by... Carve a shelf and light a candle at night. This will help you keep an eye on each other. If you wake up in the middle of the night and go outside and their candles not lit, it's time to wake them up. They may be suffocating due to bad ventilation ( that's why the ski pole hole is so important) if the candle can't burn, means there's not enough oxygen to breath.

Hope these comments/ suggestions help

If for fun or survival being able to think divergently will increase your longevity.

Cheers

Steve

author
Firedude68 (author)2016-01-06

Nice instructable. here are a few comments/ suggestions to build on this. If you are in a wooded area take footlong twigs and fully insert them in the snow prior to digging out your living area. This will indicate when you're getting too close to the outside.
Once you have dug out the inside dig an 8 inch moat around the perimeter of your living area. This is for two reasons. It acts as a cold sump...colder air will settle there as opposed to your sleeping ground. Also as your cave heats there will be some interior melting. The moat will collect the water so it doesn't get all over you and your gear.
Personal preference. I like a smaller door/ hole where you slide down then up..where the entrance is below your sleeping platform..this helps with wind and as additional cold sump....you can also use extra snow to build a wind wall to help protect you.
Last thing to consider, if you will be making once of these with some friends close by... Carve a shelf and light a candle at night. This will help you keep an eye on each other. If you wake up in the middle of the night and go outside and their candles not lit, it's time to wake them up. They may be suffocating due to bad ventilation ( that's why the ski pole hole is so important) if the candle can't burn, means there's not enough oxygen to breath.

Hope these comments/ suggestions help

If for fun or survival being able to think divergently will increase your longevity.

Cheers

Steve

author
quintongmail (author)2015-11-06

sweet

author
jʎɐɹ-ɾ (author)2015-10-30

Some cross-section illustrations would be helpful. Otherwise. nice job.

author
nancyjohns (author)2015-10-27

Sweeeeet! I don't have snow like that where I live... I really like the cold and I don't like when it's hot so I would love to go where you are. I also love building things out of snow, but the best I've ever done was a little snow cave kind of thing, but I used snow off the ground. Not like this snow cave. That was when I lived in Missouri...

author
TristanB3 (author)2015-09-22

the problem is in the middle of winter in a survival situation you don't what to sweat, and building these things makes you sweat... A LOT. but if your just having fun then these things are great.

author
aaron81006 (author)TristanB32015-09-28

Everything worth having is worth working for. Sure, if you expect to be rescued in the morning, building a cave might not be the best option. If you survived a plane crash and expect that you may be there a while, the snow cave is a great option.

author
nos966 (author)2015-09-22

What if people walk on top of it?

author
aaron81006 (author)nos9662015-09-28

you really want to make sure that doesn't happen. I would suggest using some sort of markings to keep anyone off. I like the pink flagging tape. It works great. A small animal would not affect it. Now if a bear was in the area, you might be wishing you hadn't survived the plane crash. lol.

author
garg11 (author)2015-09-20

Cool! I want the same snow in New Jersey!)))

author
aaron81006 (author)garg112015-09-21

hi garg. I've never been in NJ in the winter but from what I've seen on the news, you guys get some pretty good snow. You could probably build one in downtown A.C. :-)

author
Jack Rodgers (author)2015-09-20

I've lived in South Florida form almost 60 years and I found this very interesting. I had watched an Eskimo build an igloo on TV but this is the first for building a cave.

Naturally I have a lot of silly Florida questions like how do you heat it and where is the bathroom/shower... but I won't ask them.

You rescue guys are great even though the only one I've used is the tow truck guy that delivered some gasoline.

author
aaron81006 (author)Jack Rodgers2015-09-21

Hey Jack. The heater is the fat guy laying on the other side and the lavatory is in the corner by the yellow snow. Baahaa. Just kidding.

author
Laral (author)2015-09-20

That is awesome. It looks so cozy.

author
aaron81006 (author)Laral2015-09-21

Very cozy. With thick snow you'd never know if there was a storm outside. Just make sure the air hole is clear

author
טעטייה (author)2015-09-19

Cool, but the snow can't fall on you? :Z

author
aaron81006 (author)טעטייה2015-09-21

Hello n"byb. (am I close?, lol) anyway, the snow does not fall because of a few reasons. This snow has been building up all winter and is packed pretty well. The more it builds up the better it packs due to the weight building above. Also, this is pretty much a big dome. The dome and arch are naturally some of strongest structures. As long as it stays cold and does not melt or receive any kind of physical damage, it will stay for a very long time. Thanks for looking :-)

author
Bantiarna (author)2015-09-17

I live in northern Canada. My husband and I have grand plans for him to show me how to build a Quincy (give or take spelling) but somehow it's never happened. This is an awesome instructable if you are in an area where the wind builds this sort of drift but the trees here prevent that. If you have a chance this winter to make an instructable for a Quincy that would be awesome!

If you guys don't use them in Colorado let me know and maybe I'll make sure this is the year we go out...

author
EliotV (author)Bantiarna2015-09-20

If it ever snows in california again. This drought is hitting us hard.

author
danny6114 (author)Bantiarna2015-09-20

https://www.instructables.com/id/Quinzee-Building/

author
aaron81006 (author)Bantiarna2015-09-17

Hey Bastian a and bizzycrafter, I had not heard of a quinze before. That looks like a good way to make a snow structure in a drift free area.

I like it because you could bring snow from the surrounding area if needed.

Have a great winter.

author
bizzycrafter (author)Bantiarna2015-09-17

Quinzee - - this is the simplest / most
basic instructions. Even easier?? Pile up a bunch of stuff (sleeping
bags etc, if you're camping) inside a tarp, build the snow pile around
the stuff, pack it down a bit, and pull out the 'filler' through what
will be the door. This does not look snazzy and classy, but it will be
warm inside!

http://boyslife.org/outdoors/outdoorarticles/2992/how-to-build-a-quinzee-snow-shelter/

author
BoogieCat (author)2015-09-20

Looks like huge marshmallow blocks!
Great instructible!

author
gymno pro (author)2015-09-20

So cool!!

author
aaron81006 (author)2015-09-18

Thanks guys, I appreciate the positive comments.

Aaron

author
jmdushi (author)2015-09-17

I'm glad that I only have to know how to build a palapa, I'm getting cold by only watching your instructable but what a great job! Have a save winter!

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