Arctic and Alpine Shelters

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When traveling into cold regions, you should always have a general understanding of how to construct shelters. Most cold climates, have the potential to turn nasty within a matter of minutes and if that happens, they can become pretty inhospitable places. Thankfully snow is a great insulator and a very pliable material for construction; as it is usually soft enough to dig and mold but can then set as hard as a rock. These qualities make an excellent shelter building material from what is likely be your most abundant resource.

Constructed Shelters

Snow Trench

These shelters are not the most comfortable but they are easy to build and require minimal effort.

First you will need to dig a trench about 8ft long, 3 ft wide and about 2ft deep. Make sure that you dig the trench with its side to the wind.
Carve a gutter about 20cm (17inch) deep, lengthwise along the bottom of the trench at each side. Extend these out through the feet end of the trench for about 1 to 2 ft. These gutters are important as they will keep the shelter warmer. Any warm air which is generated from your body heat will rise and the cold air will sink into these gutters and be directed out of the trench.

Now for the insulation; collect a load of soft pine or fir branches, strip the shoots off the main stems and lay them in the bottom of the trench. Make this layer fairly thick as it will serve as both an insulator and a mattress.

The next step is to build the roof. Take a load of large sticks and start laying them across the trench to form a stable platform with which you will lay branches and then cover the whole thing with snow.

Hop in, feet first, and use your pack or some large chunks of snow to loosely cover the entrance and try for a good nights sleep.

Cold Weather Emergency Shelters

Sometimes when things turn awry, the need for an immediate shelter moves to the top of the priority list. Emergency shelters can generally be constructed very fast with little effort. They are often rough but they can quite literally be the difference between life and death.

Snow Hole

This is essentially a hole dug into the leeward side of a slope at about a 45 deg angle. It should be deep enough to fit your whole body in snugly and any larger chunks of snow removed during digging should be stacked loosely across the front to give further protection from the wind. These shelters have saved many lives before as they can be constructed within about 10 – 15 min and are effective in protection from wind chill.

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