How to build an emergency snow cave

Survival Skills

If you find yourself in the worst possible situation in the dead of winter, understanding how to build a snow cave may be the difference between life and death. A snow cave is a winter wilderness survival shelter that will provide you and your party shelter in a survival situation.

How to build a snow cave

Step 1:  Find an area with deep snow or a large drift. You can pile snow if need be. It’s best to avoid powdery/dry snow.

Step 2:  Make sure the area is level and not susceptible to rockfalls, avalanches or getting blasted by wind.

Step 3:  If you’ve piled snow, allow a couple of hours for the snow to settle. You can dampen down if you like. After the snow has settled you are ready to start to digging.

Step 4:  Plan on two to four hours to dig your snow cave. It may be smart to remove a base layer or two in order to ensure you have dry clothing once the cave is finished.  Dig methodically, but try and not work to the point of sweating profusely. Plan for the base of the snow cave to be 2 to 3 feet thick.

Step 5:  Dig an entrance tunnel sloping upward. Remember hot air rises and cold air sinks, you want to take every advantage you can to stay warm .

Step 6:  Next start hollowing out the snow cave dome. You want it to be tall enough you can sit upright. Then smooth out the roof of snow cave in order to prevent drips on your sleeping bag.

Step 7:  If time, weather and snow conditions permits as you further hollow out your snow cave you may consider building a snow bench. This helps with staying warm, as warm air rises in your snow cave.

Step 8:  Avoid making the cave too wide, as you don’t want to risk the roof collapsing.

Step 9:  This step is a very important one. Make sure you make a ventilation hole slightly smaller than a common nalgene. You can enlarge if needed. This ventilation is crucial to avoid suffocation.

Step 10:  Attempt to waterproof the floor to the best of your ability. This can be a waterproof tarp, your tent rain fly for example. It also may be a good idea to insulate the bottom with tree branches or other available flora.

Step 11:  Mark the edges of your snow cave on the outside. You don’t want to exit in the middle of the night and fall through.

Step 12:  Make sure you keep a snow shovel or something similar available to dig yourself out in the event of a roof collapse.

Step 13: Keep the cave warmer by partially covering the entrance with a backpack or something else bulky. Remember, to keep the door accessible however.