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Survival Skills

How to stake down a tent securely in deep snow

How to stake down a tent securely in deep snow


How do you keep your tent from blowing down in heavy winds, when you’re on top of deep snow? This simple technique works really, really well.

by Leon Pantenburg

The Boy Scout winter campout that night  looked like something from the Russian Front in World War II. The wind blew steadily, causing horizontal gusts of snow and whiteout conditions. The wind caught the tent fabric, so it took several of us to handle the billowing material.

If there is several feet of snow on the ground, securing tent stakes can be really difficult. A deadhead may be your best option.

Securing tent stakes can be really difficult if there is a lot of snow on the ground. A deadhead may be your best option.

There was several feet of snow on the ground, so driving a tent stake into the frozen dirt wasn’t going to happen. But a simple technique allowed us to put up and secure the tents without extreme effort. We used “deadheads.”

Deadheads are music groupie-types. And it is a way to fasten tent stakes or other anchors in deep snow. We’re going to discuss the snow anchors.

Here’s how they work and how to use one:

  • Dig a hole in the snow, a foot or so down, about 2-3 feet from the tent corner.
  • Take a stick or branch and loop a piece of paracord around it.
  • Tie a sliding, locking knot in the paracord. I use a tautline hitch most of the time. (Here’s how to tie one.)
  • Line up the object in the hole so it is parallel to the object being secured. Cover up the object, and stomp down snow on it until it is securely buried.

The snow will set up fairly quickly, depending on the temperatures, and the deadhead will be as solid as if it was poured in concrete.

If you really want to create a solid anchor, pour some water on the area. That will create a chunk of ice, though, and

This tent is completely anchored with deadheads on top of about eight feet of snow.

This tent is completely anchored with deadheads on top of about eight feet of snow.

you’ll have to chop it out. If your knot is soaked with the water, it will also freeze into immobility, so be careful.

Deadheads (the anchors) can be used in virtually any scenario where something needs to be anchored. The technique works well on canopies and wall tents, as well as lighter backpacking tents and tarps. At a recent winter campout, we made deadheads out of five-gallon buckets, filled with snow and buried in a drift. The wind didn’t turn out to be a problem.

This tip is so simple that every snow camper should be aware of it. This is another one of those “nice-to-know” winter camping tips you might not appreciate until you need it!
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Survival Skills

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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