Every now and then, an adventurer, or just an average hiker/camper, may end up being in a situation in which building a proper overnight camp requires too much time or energy, or is downright impossible due to a broken tent, lack of firewood, or some other, afterwards hilarious event.
In those kind of situations, it is good to know how to build a snow shelter, preferably rather quickly. The internet is full of instructions of how to build real snow shelters, good for several nights in miserable weather. This is not one of those. Here I describe a building process of a very simple and quick shelter for one relatively comfortable night at temperatures above -10 C. Of course, in an emergency, anything is better than nothing, and this kind of shelter may save your life even at a lot colder temperature, but the comfort zone of this “quick and easy” ends at around -10 C.
The necessary warnings told, it is time to go to the construction:
1. If there is more than 70 cm of snow, pick any flat spot that looks good to you, preferably not at a place which may begin to collect water in case of warming weather, though. If the amount of snow is limited, try to find a dry ditch like place.
2. dig a ditch. About 70-80 X 200-250 cm size should be OK. To increase the height of the “walls”, pile the snow evenly on both sides of the ditch.
3. Build a supporting structure for the roof from any available material. Thick spruce tree branches are the best, but an empty sled, skis, ski poles, and any random sticks will do the job.
4. Cover the roof with a piece tarp.
5. Cover the whole thing with a 30-40 cm thick layer of snow, leaving a ventilation hole at the end of the shelter.
6. Place a camping matress and/or spruce tree branches to the floor of the shelter.
7. Organize your gear: Backpack as a main part of the rear door, boots inside the shelter, flashlight close to your body (it will get dark).
8. Crawl into your sleeping bag and drag yourself into the shelter.
9. Use your feet through the sleeping bag to cover the rear door with overhanging piece of the roof tarp.
10 Have a good night!
Based on my experience, this kind of 30 minute building project provides pretty good shelter for comfortable one night sleep at relatively warm weather (above -10 C). With decent ventilation arrangements, condensation of moisture is not a problem, and the temperature in the shelter stays at reasonable level.
I strongly recommend that you build, and test sleep, one of these in a safe environment. The experience is fun, and in the same time you learn about possible flaws in your building project. Trust me, screwing up your shelter project in your back yard is a funny story you can share with your friends. Screw up a similar project in a real SHTF situation, and your friends may read about it from tabloids, after someone finds your body in the spring.