The day after Christmas yielded our first significant snowfall. About six inches fell overnight and blanketed the northern Detroit suburbs. We were playing host to four college age young men and two senior high boys who were sick of playing video games. The chatter and talk of the evening was focused on the fun time when they were young and the snow shelters that they made hiking the Chief Pontiac Trail. It was to practice winter survival skills. As they got older the size of these shelters grew and sometimes they dragged sleeping bags and candles to spend the winter night. Later that evening the older boys trooped out to the back yard and started mounding snow. It was dark and getting late so I went off to bed while this group worked away in the snow storm.
A True Winter Survival Shelter
The next morning showed the results of their work. A ten foot mound of snow was settling in the bright morning sun. It was an impressive site. The boys built the start of a quinzee. It’s a basic shelter made by hollowing out a big pile of snow that has been allowed to settle and harden. They can take several hours to build, but are an effective way to stay warm when camping in the winter. A quinzee shelter is warmer than any four season tent.
All the Comforts of Home
In the late afternoon Evan, Peter, Matt, Tim, Ian and Austin finished their winter survival shelter. They ran power out to the snow dome quinzee for music, Christmas lights and laptop access from the multitude of unsecured Wi-Fi networks in our neighborhood. They lined the base of the shelter with tarp then wool blankets and sleeping bags. It was comfortable and warm. The entrance was blocked with a couple of sleds.
The Scouting Magazine Boys Life offers a great outline of how to build winter survival shelter.
5 Simple Winter Survival Tips
Besides building a simple quinzee there are a couple a easy tips to keep in mind when camping out in the winter months.
Layer Your Clothing – Start with at least three layers of clothing. You can help to regulate your body’s temperature by adding or removing different layers of clothing. Avoid cotton if at all possible. Use wool or material that wicks moisture away from your body. Loosen or remove layers if you begin to sweat. Moisture will cause heat radiate away from the body, eventually making you colder.
Take Care of Your Feet – There is nothing more miserable then cold wet feet. Select cold weather boots that are comfortable and allow at least two layers of socks. Wair an inner liner sock that will wick moisture away. Wear a thick wool or smart wool sock for warmth. If you feet get wet because of sweat, loosen your boots and change your socks.
Drink Water – When hiking or skiing its vitally important to keep hydrated. Don’t eat snow. Keep a nalgene full of water next to your body to keep it warm. I have witnessed a man pass out from drinking ice cold water as it hit is vagus nerve. At night keep your insulated water bottle with you in your sleeping bag.
Bring a Supply of Pocket Warmers – Pocket warmers are excellent to have with you when sleeping in the snow. Toss one of two at the bottom of your sleeping back to keep your feet warm and toasty all through the night. I swear by them.
Sleep on Layers – Another overlooked winter survival tip is to sleep on layers. While it’s kind of heavy to hike with, having a wool blanket folded over a couple of time under your sleeping bag or on top of an air mattress is worth its weight in gold. It acts as a comfortable insulator. A layer of leaves, or pine boughs also work to keep you off the clod frozen ground.
Related Reading for Winter Survival
- Brave Souls Shrug Off Sub-Zero Temps at Shanty Days
- Survive Falling Through the Ice
- How Lake Effect Snow Affects the Great Lakes
- Do We Have a Great Lakes Stonehenge?