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Learn a winter survival skill – book review: ‘Snow Caves For Fun and Survival’

I was able to quickly excavate this snow cave, using a piece of plexiglass and a small shovel. There was plenty of room for another person to work at the same time.
533 400 Survival Common Sense Blog | Emergency Preparedness

I have helped build snow caves as emergency shelters in the past, and didn’t think they were particularly effective. But that was before I read “Snow Caves For Fun and Survival” and tried out the book’s techniques.

by Leon Pantenburg

A group of Boy Scouts and volunteers were on our annual winter survival skills training day in the foothills of the Cascades in Central Oregon. When it comes to snow caves, the conventional wisdom from most survival manuals, is that the builder tunnels sideways and up into a snow bank, shoveling the snow out through the entrance hole.

A trench tarp shelter might be the best and easiest snow shelter to make.

Naturally skeptical (because of my newspaper training) I asked my 17-year-old son, Dan, to construct one such shelter by himself, using  a small shovel and trowel. More than two hours later, his cave was finished, but Dan was wet, tired and cold. Despite working hard, his cave was not a particularly effective survival shelter. Dan would have had a rough night ahead of him if he had to stay in that cave.

Based on that and other experiences, my opinion of snow caves as emergency shelters was lukewarm at best. Then a friend recommended “Snow Caves For Fun and Survival” by Ernest Wilkinson, and I’ve changed my mind. (Read my story on building a snow cave using Wilkinson’s techniques.)

Most people with some basic tools, and using the techniques Wilkinson writes about, could successfully make a snow cave survival shelter.

Author Wilkinson is a former Search and Rescue member, and an  experienced Colorado mountain guide, specializing in snowshoe treks and winter camping, according to the book liner notes. This backcountry experience lead Wilkinson to develop his own shelter-making techniques that save time and energy and increase comfort and safety.

Taking a break from making a snow cave. I had to try out Wilkinson's techniques!

Taking a break from making a snow cave. I had to try out Wilkinson’s techniques!

Wilkinson’s snow cave technique is simple: cut out blocks from the front of the drift to the width of the cave. Excavate.  Dig a cold well, and carve out benches on the sides for sleeping. When all this work is done, use the removed snow blocks to create a front wall.

There is plenty of room for two people to work simultaneously, and you don’t need to get wet during construction. Best of all, the cave is quick to make, which places it in the effective survival shelter category.

This simple technique is just one of the practical winter camping/survival tips you’ll get from reading “Snow Caves.” Igloo and lean-to construction are also discussed, as well as avalanche danger and how to avoid it.

While the book’s main focus is shelters, there is a wealth of information on all aspects of  winter camping in deep snow. Other sections deal with the proper clothing to wear, what kind of insulation a winter sleeping bag should have; firestarting tips; and equipment to take along for added comfort.

If you recreate in areas that have deep snow, or are looking for a winter camping reference book,  “Snow Caves” would be a top choice. If you don’t know anything about deep snow survival techniques, reading this book would be a great place to start. Then, check out your local community college, or parks and recreation district, and see if someone offers classes in winter survival.

Ready, study, and then, practice what you’ve learned.

Check out “Snow Caves For Fun and Survival” here.

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2 comments
  • Leon

    I haven’t had a problem with getting snowed in. Take a shovel inside with you, and you can dig you way out if necessary.

  • Signal survival

    Hi its a great post. I have heard about the snow caves and various facets of it. These caves are good to live in case you don’t find any other place in snow areas, but also there is risk that in snow areas with heavy snow falls while we are sleeping can close all doors for us and it can be impossible to come out of the cave. Besides, I have followed the link you have given. It is good to read methods for preparing snow caves. I hope if any, time I will have any tour of snow areas, then these tips would be helpful.

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