Introduction: Quinzee Building

Picture of Quinzee Building

Quinzees are much faster & much easier to build than igloos. We built this one just for fun, but we've also made them for sleeping in while winter camping.

Step 1: Find a Spot & Start Shoveling

Picture of Find a Spot & Start Shoveling

Where you build your quinzee is pretty important. If we had needed quinzee to sleep in, we would have found a nice sheltered spot, on level land. We opted to build ours on a lake instead. Now, frozen ice conducts heat much better than frozen ground, so sleeping on a lake will draw your body heat away much faster. That really sucks. Not a good choice for over-night campouts, but were just building this one just for fun, so it wasn't an issue.

Where ever you choose to build yours, start by digging out all the snow from the area that your quinzee will sit. Then shovel it all right back. Moving the snow like this will cause it to settle out and give your quinzee a good solid base.

Step 2: Build Up a Big Pile of Snow

Picture of Build Up a Big Pile of Snow

Figure out just how big your quinzee needs to be: get everyone that you want to fit in it, to lie down in the area you've just cleared out & make sure everyone fits! Add a foot or two all the way around and that'll be the diameter of your quinzee. Easy.

Keep shoveling on snow until the base of the pile is as big as you need it to be. Once you're done, it'll look pretty conical (perhaps even comical), so feel free to use your shovels to round it into a nice dome shape.

Step 3: Hollow It Out

Picture of Hollow It Out

Now comes the fun part.

After about a half hour or so (depends on the temperature) you can begin hollowing out your snow pile. Find a spot on the down-wind side, and cut in your entrance. Try to keep it as small as possible; just big enough to crawl through. If you make it big to begin with, some idiot (usually yourself) will invariably bump into it with a shovel handle, making it a gapping mess. It's easier to start small & enlarge it later, rather than trying to add snow to make it smaller when it's too big.

This hollowing process takes a lot longer than the piling process, because you can only have one person tunneling at a time. It really helps though, to have someone on the outside removing the snow that gets pushed out of the quinzee.

Step 4: Check the Thickness of the Walls

Picture of Check the Thickness of the Walls

Keep digging until you can see light coming through the snow of the walls. Snow is translucent enough that even when it is about a foot thick, you'll be able to see sunlight coming through. A thickness of one foot is good for the walls & ceiling. If you want to be more precise about it, you can poke foot-long twigs into the snow pile before you begin to hollow it out. Then, when you dig up to the twigs, you know the quinzee's walls are as thick as you want them to be.

Step 5: Make In-floor Lighting

Picture of Make In-floor Lighting

Now the main reason we chose to build our quinzee on a lake was so that we could give it in-floor lighting. To achieve the desired effect, we built a second quinzee beside our first one, and joined them together with a tunnel to reduce the light reaching it from the entrance. We also kept the walls of the second quinzee thicker to make it even darker inside.

With both quinzees finished, we scraped down to lake ice & cleared a patch on the south side of the second quinzee, creating a window. We also scraped down to lake ice inside the second quinzee. And when I say "we", I really mean Eric. He was our diligent scraper.

To help clear the ice even more I flooded the outside window & the floor of the second quinzee with twenty liters (4.3 gallons) of hot water each.

What was the result of all this extra work? Sunlight shone down through the ice window outside the quinzee & was transmitted up through the ice in the floor, giving off a wonderful green light.

Step 6: Since We're Having So Much Fun, Let's Add a Wall!

Picture of Since We're Having So Much Fun, Let's Add a Wall!

While the rest of us were busy hollowing out the two quinzees, Carl was looking for something to do. So he took it upon himself to incorporate into our design, a little wall - complete with seating - to shield us from the wind. This proved to be a most welcome addition when later that night, we built a fire within the walls, and sat around star gazing!

Step 7: Snow Is Very Strong

Picture of Snow Is Very Strong

You can see just how solid the walls of these quinzees are. The next morning our friends' kids clambered all over them with out causing any damage. They'd even support the weight an average adult. Just don't try jumping on them.

Step 8: The Horror... the Horror... (I Loathe the Smell of Quinzees in the Morning)

One last thought: If you ever sleep in a quinzee (or igloo for that matter), I highly recommend that when you wake up in the morning, the first thing you do is pack up all your gear, shove it out the hole ahead of you, then get out yourself and never go back in again. I once made the mistake of waking up, crawling out of the quinzee to take a pee, and then going back in to pack up. You would not believe the STENCH in there! Granted, perhaps our choice of chili for supper the night before was not the best planning, but I guess that over the course of the night one gets used to the little odors as they accumulate inside the quinzee. Be warned though, stepping out & getting a breath of fresh air in the morning only primes your olfactory sense to receive the full brunt of that special horror on one mind-numbing shot.

Remember, friends don't let friends back into the quinzee in the morning.


sarahusery36 (author)2017-03-27

Wow! awesome

cady12 (author)2017-02-01

wow you guys did a very good job

antioch (author)2014-12-29

Ohmygod, they killed Henry!

JerryG1 (author)2014-12-27

RE: the smell , When ever I had made a "snow cave" a hole big enough for your fist , was made at the high point . This allowed all the flatulance (!) a way to escape

sweerek (author)2014-11-13

Much time & effort is wasted on hollowing out the center of a Quinzee. This method uses less snow too.

Instead, make a hollow area before you pile snow. Use 6-10 old fiberglass tent poles and a heavy blue or silver tarp to create a dome. Duct-tape the centers of the poles together. Do not let the tarp edges extend too far from the dome. Keeping the tarp tight is the trick — use logs/rocks/ice to roll the tarp inward. To start, a person inside helps. PIle snow >2 feet deep, using sticks to measure depth. Let solidify for >2 hours. Tunnel under dome, remove tent poles, remove tarp, add an airhole, and then create another dome. Use a backpack for a door.

If you’re packing large shovels, might as well take a tarp & poles too.

ischweetz (author)2014-02-19

I feel so angry that I have to show Instructions to someone! He/She should know that we know how to build a snow quinzee! we just don't remember how!

Magpie15 (author)2010-01-24

 I have built and slept in quigloos (same idea as quinzees) for several nights with three other people and never had a problem with the smell. Granted, we weren't very good at patching the hole on top from how we hollowed it out, and I think that could have helped air it out.

Another tunneling idea: have one person start at the top, and one at the door, and have them dig a chute until they meet. It should follow the slant of the quigloo wall, and be a good foot thick (at least). Once the top and door person's tunnels meet, the top person hollows out the quigloo from the top down, sending the snow down the chute. The door person then clears it away from the door, making new mounds that can be carved into walls (or a kitchen, if winter camping.) The top gets plugged up with snow blocks before the quigloo is too unstable, and the top person says inside hollowing out until it is big enough for someone else to come in the door and help hollow. It took us less than two hours to hollow this way, and make a space big enough for four people to sleep comfortably. 

evilmadcow (author)Magpie152014-01-20

another building tip is to put the hollowed out snow on top, then dig it out again.

sparky12345 (author)2009-12-19

you could use it for nerf 

evilmadcow (author)sparky123452014-01-20

no matter what, ANY structure can be used for nerf, as long as the owner is okay with it. saying the obvious is unnecessary. also, if you have ever tried to do nerf in cold weather, you know that it's hell on earth, so quinzees in nerf are a BAD idea.

gtothemoney (author)sparky123452010-01-24

o ya for sure.
me and my friends do it all the time. we actually got a 5 foot fall once all the way around and we were able to sit upright in are quinzee. and for fun we laid in some plywood and a tarp. we even got a torch (i dont small torch i mean this thing shoots a 4 foot flame) and made an ice layer on top and bottom.

nerd1701 (author)2013-12-29

I've made these before. A good trick to get uniform walls is to put sticks that are the same length into the snow hill. When you are digging and you hit a stick stop digging. This way all the walls are the same thickness.

emehollin (author)2011-02-06

skrubol has it right. My kids and I built a 3-man version in Michigan back in the 1980s after reading a how-to article in the local paper. We piled all the snow out of our backyard (we had 19 feet of snow that year), let it sit over night to crystalize, stuck in a bunch of twigs and started hollowing it out. As soon as we came across one of the twigs, we stopped digging and changed direction until we came to another twig. It lasted for weeks and was strong enough for my son, age 5 at the time, to climb all over the outside.

powercow244 (author)emehollin2012-01-15

sweet. Michigan isn't getting much snow over here... i tried building a quinzee this year... i tried

emehollin (author)powercow2442012-01-16

That winter we had 19 feet of snow. I shoveled my driveway twice a day from Thanksgiving until Easter. Maybe you'll have better luck next winter.

Dr MonkeyMan (author)emehollin2013-12-19

19 feet!!! That ridicules!!! You could make tunnels from your house to your freinds house! Man i wish Kansas got that much snow.

jrbout (author)powercow2442012-01-28

Isn't that the truth!

Dr MonkeyMan (author)2013-12-19

Those pics of the green and blue light is beutiful!!! Nice work! I will try this, but since i live in Kansas it might be hard.

powercow244 (author)2011-12-16

michigan and minnisota are the only US states with real snow

lazybird19 (author)powercow2442012-08-07

And Utah

What about Colorado?

farmerboyk (author)2012-04-12 only snowed TWICE in Ohio this year, and hardly any snow both times. When the year BEFORE we had like a TON my sisters built like 3 igloos with snow left for more. 

legodanny (author)2011-02-06


dont mean to be a bother but it says that he built the fire outside the quinzee. he built it within the walls. XD

ciaran54 (author)2010-12-03

Thanks for the instructable ;) I just made two quinzees IN ENGLAND with some friends and family, and connected them with a tunnel about two meters long. Great fun with our two feet of snow. Thanks, very rewarding :D

wrique (author)ciaran542010-12-03

Cool! Do you have any photos of your creation that you'd care to share?

Nice to know you're getting to enjoy some snow in the UK!

Jynx. (author)2010-11-04

About how much feet of snow is needed to make one of these?

wrique (author)Jynx.2010-11-05

For the quinzee we built here, we probably had about six to ten inches of snow on the ground. You certainly could make a quinzee with much less snow if you are willing to shovel in snow from a larger area. Typically if you can't throw your shovelful of snow onto the pile you are building, you are probably too far away.

legolass69 (author)2009-01-04

CO2 is heavier then thin air. When you breath it stays in the shelter. So holes does not not work. You should make a drainage channel both sides of quinzee. They must be gradient through the gate and if the gate is higher then the ground level CO2 will be flow outside of the quinzee. And remember it is not only the smell, lack of oxygen cause not only uncomfortable sleeping...

vermontardis (author)legolass692010-06-09

True. I have made snow shelters in which you sleep on a raised platform and that way you're warmer and you can breathe clean air.

CO2 is indeed heavier than the rest of the air, but the normal movement of air due to wind and thermal differences do not allow CO2 to settle. Trust me: I am a Chemist. The drainage channels are a great idea, especially to allow colder air to sink out a little, keeping the warm, stanky air inside. They also allow liquid water to pool away from sleeping bags if the shelter gets too warm. I still prefer igloos, but great instructible!

I never trust anyone who says "Trust me"... o.O

wrique (author)romedeiros19702009-01-14

Well stated, romedeiros1970. I agree, the convective movement of the air certainly does negate the subtle differences in the densities of the various gasses. Don't forget, there are warm bodies in the middle of the quinzee and cold ceiling & walls on the outside. The air does move around quite nicely. Now in my initial write-up, I did neglect writing about poking a small hole (1 inch or so in diameter) in the wall of the quinzee. It was an oversight on my part, but a good number of people have made comments about it already. However as I've commented elsewhere already, most people don't appreciate just how porous snow is, and much air exchange can take place through it.

vermontardis (author)2010-06-09

One idea for the stench problem is to leave a vent hole about four inches wide at roughly the halfway point on the side of the quinzee. You should have this anyway so that you can glaze the interior with a candle or something without suffocating. It actually doesn't let out that much heat, and you're at the bottom anyway. In the long run, it may make you warmer because now you can block the door and still be able to breath. Another heat-saving technique is to dig down, across, and then up to begin hollowing out the inside.

flamesami (author)2010-03-21

another version is this: make a pile of branches on the base part, cover it with a tarp, then shovel on the snow and stamp it down. This makes it a lot easier to hollow out and gives a more compact wall to your quinzee

Speedmite (author)2010-02-09

Built half of mine today. got like 5 inches with 2 more comin. Its gonna be big. And have to hollow it out. Its just that it was melting a little today, but now its dropped down to 13, -3 with windchill, so Idk if It will pack tommorow, or if we will be able to dig tommorow. May become a block of ice. Fun.

runrun265 (author)2010-01-27

 This seems very well done, but being a boy scout myself, the one problem I can see is you don't have a vent hole on the inside so that you can't suffocate while sleeping inside (I have heard stories of this happening) and you should have a rise up to the sleeping platform so that cold air can't sweep right in. Very well done having the ice window and the fire in the centre.

skrubol (author)2010-01-25

Another thing to keep in mind with snow shelters is that you want to keep the temperature below freezing inside, or else the humidity is going to go way up, the wet walls won't breathe as well, and you'll feel colder.

skrubol (author)2010-01-25

A trick I've used is to get a bunch of 1 foot long small sticks and poke them through the surface of the quincy just after you finish piling up the snow.  Then when you're shoveling out you have a good indicator as to when the wall is the right thickness.

=SMART= (author)2008-04-14

Interesting instructable id never heard the word "quinzee" before also a clever design with the ice windows and tunnels.

wrique (author)=SMART=2008-04-14

Glad you like our quinzee "innovations"! As for the word itself, there are several different spellings: quinzee, quinzy, quinzhee.... There are even a couple ways people pronounce the word. In my opinion the correct way is kwin-zee. On the other hand my friend Carl always pronounces it kwin-see, but to me that's a 1970's medical examiner.

By the way, there's even a band called Quinzy!

=SMART= (author)wrique2008-04-15

haha yea as i was saying i have watched days worth of bear grils, ray mears and other survival programs but never seen anything like this! im going to try it next time i go skiing! ill tell you how it goes when i do.

die_dunkelheit (author)=SMART=2010-01-05

Unfortunately Bear Grylls gives quite a bit of incorrect information on his show. Les Stroud gives a much more accurate depiction of survival in "Survivorman."

I agree.  I like Survivorman much better.  Les Stroud gives more tips that just about anyone can follow, while Grylls tends to do things that look spectacular, but would be pretty stupid to try when out on your own.  I also like the fact that Les is alone and doing all of his own camera work, instead of being followed by a camera crew like Bear Grylls.

red-king (author)2010-01-24

we (me and my class-mates) had to make quinzees (in groups) for gym class last year. they all turned out good. It would have probably been easier if I had an instructable though... 

espdp2 (author)2009-05-31

I've heard that you don't actually HAVE TO leave to go pee... Just roll over sideways in your bag and when you go, it freezes solid in the corner. True, or prank advice?

Tommyhzy (author)espdp22010-01-24

Well when you do that, it remains stinky and liquid for about a minute, and then freezes as the temperature drops. Then it's nearly odorless.

Just prepare for 1 minute of horrible stenches if you try that.

big-jamie (author)2010-01-24

 i figure this could probably help with the smell, i remember watching Ray Mears one time and he was making a snow shelter for him and a friend to sleep in, and he simply punched a fist sized hole each side of the shelter to circulate air around. might help ?

universalibrarian (author)2010-01-24

Please add a note about safety. I watched a man die making one of these when I was a child.  I have made dozens myself safely since. Here are a few tips.
1. Never Ever dig into to a quiznee by yourself. Always have a friend outside helping who can dig you out.
2. While digging stay with your legs underneath you facing down, if it collapses it gives you a chance to stand up.  Snow is REALLLY HEAVY
3.  After piling up the show, let it settle for a few hours.  The books I read suggest 3-6. Pile up snow in the morning , eat lunch, then dig.
Thank you

lalunette (author)2010-01-24

This is from personal experience... the worst place to build a quinzee is on top of ice.

Having slept in quinzees built pretty much on every kind of terrain over the years, I have found that ice makes an incredibly efficient heat sink and will rob you of any warmth generated from being in an enclosed space. The only remedy to this is having a very efficient thermal break between you and the ice; such as a non-inflatable sleeping mat, pine boughs or several wool blankets.

It is much better to build a quinzee on top of ground and line the bottom of the quinzee with pine boughs.

Cheers !!

wrique (author)lalunette2010-01-24

I completely agree.  Quinzees on ice (hmm, sounds like a skating show...)  are great for an afternoon project, and for day use to get out of the wind, but sleeping on ice is not recommended.  Frozen ground isn't as thermally conductive as ice, so with a proper sleeping pad, one can greatly reduce heat loss to the ground.

Pine boughs - or preferable fir or cedar boughs which have softer needles - work well as a sleeping mat.  Wool blankets are always a great winter camping option.  They'll keep you warm even if they are wet.  I've also hauled in 1-inch rigid foam insulation cut into foot-and-a-half squares of  to sleep on.  It's a bit bulky on the toboggan, but it sure works great!

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