How to Build a Snow-Cave Survival Shelter

The winter snow cave is an ideal winter shelter because it is easy to construct, well insulated, and made from natural materials.

How to Build a Snow Cave In 7 Steps

Figure #1 Snow Cave

Step #1

Find a snowdrift 10 feet deep (snow should be firm).

Step #2

Start digging the snow out from the side of the drift. Those first few shovels of snow are your doorway.

While digging out your shelter, make the roof arched for strength and allow melted snow to drain down the sides.

Step #3

Create three levels inside the shelter: create a fire on the highest level, sleep in the center and allow the lower level to trap the cold. (hot air rises and cold air sinks)

Step # 4

Poke a hole in the roof to let out smoke

Step #5

Poke a second hole for ventilation of carbon monoxide from a fire. If there is a snowstorm, make sure to keep the hole clear.

Step #6

Use a block of snow as the doorway. Make the door substantially smaller than the hole to avoid the door freezing closed.

Step #7

Smooth the interior surface to avoid drips and cut a channel around the perimeter, inside the shelter, to catch run-off and keep it off of you and your gear.

To learn more about other types of survival shelters, you can build, check out the Ready Squirrel article, Shelters for Survival: Beginner’s Guide.

The Ideal Tool

The best tool for digging a snow cave is a small shovel or an entrenching tool. In a worst-case scenario, you can use a large stick or sapling.

Ideal Snow

The best snow for building this type of shelter will hold a man’s weight without a significant depression, but the snow should be soft enough so you can push a stick evenly through it. Test this before making the shelter to avoid hitting sheet ice or building with snow too weak to hold its shape.

Winter Survival

Regardless of how cold the temperature is outside a well-made snow cave, the temperature inside will not drop below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. If you light a candle inside the shelter, the temperature will increase by 4 degrees.

If there is wood for a fire, the cave will warm.

Suppose there is no available wood. Burn a candle if you have one. If there is too much carbon monoxide in the snow cave, a candle will begin to flicker.

Another option, Eskimos, used animal fat with a wick to increase igloos’ temperature.

Safety Considerations

  • Make sure the shelter is well ventilated to avoid carbon dioxide buildup.
  • Insulate the shelter to prevent heat loss.
  • Use a stove or other heat source sparingly to avoid melting snow and causing the shelter to collapse.
  • Be aware of the risk of avalanches and take steps to minimize this risk.
  • There is the danger of getting wet as you build the snow shelter. Plan so you have a way to dry out.

Is Snow Good For Shelter Building?

Snow is an excellent insulator because it is a poor conductor of heat. Snow does not allow heat to move easily through it.

Origin of Snow Caves: quinzees

The Inuit people have used quinzees, another name for snow cave, for centuries to shelter from the cold. The first snow caves are believed to have been built in Turkey around eleven thousand years ago.

Will a Snow Shelter Melt If You Build a Fire Inside?

Build a small fire inside a snow cave, and it will slowly begin to melt. This melting factor is why you build the snow cave in three tiers, see figure #1 above. You don’t want to create a bonfire inside the shelter, but a small fire will warm the place up and allow you to dry out.

How Big Should I Make a Snow Cave?

The snow cave shelter should be big enough to fit the number of people sheltering inside of it comfortably.

How Big Should I Make a Snow Cave Door?

Make the snow cave door as small as possible but leave enough room to crawl inside.