How To Build a Tree Pit Snow-Shelter

If you are in a cold, snow-covered area where evergreen trees grow and have a digging
tool, you can make a tree-pit shelter. This type of shelter is temporary and is used primarily to reduce the risk of exposure in a survival situation.

Ideally, you would use an a-frame or a lean-to and build a fire with a reflecting wall.

Figure #1 Tree Pit Snow Shelter

5 Steps to Building a Tree Pit Snow Shelter

A tree pit snow shelter is a type of snow shelter built around the base of a tree. The tree pit provides extra insulation and support for the snow shelter and helps anchor it in place.

This type of shelter is ideal for situations where the occupants need a 360-degree field of view, such as in a combat situation.

Step #1

Find a Tree that is the right size for the snow shelter. Choose a tree with bushy branches that will provide overhead cover. The tree should be at least 10 feet tall and have a trunk of at least 18 inches in diameter.

Step #2

Cut or dig a hole in the snow around the tree trunk until you reach the depth and diameter you desire or until you get to the ground.

Step #3

Dig a trench around the tree trunk. The trench should be at least 2 feet deep and 3 feet wide. Pack the snow around the top and inside the hole to provide support.

Step #4

Find and cut other evergreen boughs and line them inside the bottom of the pit for insulation.


Create an overhead structure of evergreens boughs to give you extra coverage.

Drawbacks of the tree pit snow shelter

The major drawback to the tree pit snow shelter is they require a lot of digging and can be quite a labor-intensive setup.

Additionally, they are not as warm as some other types of snow shelters, so you may need to supplement with a sleeping bag and lots of natural insulation.

Warmest survival shelter for winter?

If adequately insulated, a tent is the warmest shelter for winter camping and survival. The warmest option is a double-walled tent (one layer of fabric with an inner layer of insulating material). The inner layer will keep heat in and the cold out.

Warmest winter shelter from natural materials

The quinzhee is the warmest winter survival shelter built from natural materials. The shelter is made by hollowing out a large mound of snow and lining the inside with insulating materials such as furs or blankets. In a survival situation, pine boughs are the best insulation.

Check out the Ready Squirrel article, Survival Shelter: Beginner’s Guide, about survival shelters built from manufactured and natural materials.

Ideal Location For A Winter Survival Shelter

  1. Provides materials to build the type of shelter you choose
  2. Provides concealment if necessary
  3. Protects from wind and snow
  4. It is free of deadwood and leaning trees that may fall on your shelter (Widow Makers)
  5. Avoid areas that are prone to avalanches and rockslides
  6. Avoid low lying areas as cold air sinks
  7. Place shelter on the leeward side (opposite the direction wind is blowing) of hills and mountain