Whether you’re a member of the indigenous peoples that inhabit the cold, northern regions of the world, or just someone who lives in a snowy climate and also happens to be curious about snow shelters, knowing how to construct an igloo or snow cave may come handy some day. These humble structures made of packed snow are in many snowy, survival situations, the only viable means of shelter.
Snow is a natural insulator due to air pockets, and is responsible for a significant difference in temperature – even by as much as 50 degrees! While there may be a -45 degree Celsius blizzard outside the igloo, inside it can be as warm as 15 or 16 degrees, heated by body heat alone. There are two main options in terms of viable snow shelters:
– The igloo. This is the widely known snow shelter made of compacted blocks of snow, often constructed in the shape of a dome. When made properly, they can hold the weight of a man standing on top of the roof – pretty darn strong for something like snow huh! Blocks of packed snow are laid end-to-end with a grade in a circular pattern the desired igloo size.
Being that there is a grade, it allows you to continue laying blocks of snow around and around in a staggered spiral fashion. The trick here is to slowly shift the blocks toward the center as they spiral so they form a dome shape. A unique aspect of igloo construction is that it doesn’t require formwork or an additional structure to support the blocks of snow during construction.
– Snow cave. Of the two options, snow caves are – you could say – the more unrefined choice. Building a snow cave is very simple, although you’d probably need some kind of tool like a shovel. The idea is to dig straight into a slope initially, but then curve upward and then straight again for the main “room”. This creates a higher platform that will retain the warmer air.
Ideally, you would select a location such as a slope to build a snow cave. Also, you’d need a good amount of snow depth as well. Digging through ice or dirt is difficult and no fun. Once dug, you should slope the interior ceiling to divert any melting snow and ice away from the sleeping area. Keeping the entrance blocked but not sealed is important for proper ventilation!
You can also take advantage of low-hanging branches that are covered in snow by simply digging underneath them. There will undoubtedly be a large air pocket right there, waiting for you. Of course, these “quick fixes” won’t provide as much insulation and comfort, but is an option if you don’t have time, the terrain isn’t suitable, or lack the tools.