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How-To Build A Winter Survival Shelter; The Igloo | Duluth Pack

How to Build a Winter Survival Shelter; The Igloo

It may be spring, but it is never too early to prepare for the seasons and weather changes. Once it's snows, it is hardly subtle, especially here in Minnesota. It can bring the usual concern about traveling or being unable to. If you happen to find yourself deep in the woods this winter, as we do, it's crucial to be prepared for the elements and what could come. Whether you're an experienced outdoors person or are a newcomer in the winter season, you should acquire the basics of survival including how to build a shelter, especially in the winter. Or maybe you just want to have some fun in the backyard. Here is your guide.

It's hard to imagine a winter survival shelter without thinking about an igloo, an iconic snow structure used by people in absurdly cold conditions in Canada's Arctic as well as Greenland. Usually, a basic dome shape with an open hole for an entrance, igloos are temporary and are most commonly used by the Inuit/Eskimos for hunting trips in frigid temps. These structures are incredibly efficient at blocking the wind and keeping the temperature inside more manageable. The base temp inside an igloo ranges from about 20-60 degrees Fahrenheit, while factors such as outdoor temperature and the number of people inside play a notable role in that base. 

To build an igloo, start from the ground up. Ideally, the snow should be hard and packable, allowing the building of rectangular, flat, snow "bricks." A long knife or a mold can help to streamline this process. It may be useful to draw a rough circle around the area you intend to do your building. Start with the igloo entry point as your reference and begin laying the foundation of the snow shelter. The blocks of snow traditionally should be about 3 feet long and just over a foot tall. You can use a shovel to clear the future inside of the igloo and use that snow to build upward. Consider a popular snow shelf on the interior that goes around the structure.

  Note: Make an upward, spiral-like shape for your igloo. Start with some low and flat blocks of snow, then gradually work up and inward to achieve the dome shape. The coiling will give the igloo strength to withstand the elements.

The entry point for the igloo should not be large. A hole that is big enough to crawl through is all you need and will not sacrifice the strength of the structure. Along with that, you can choose to keep a small opening at the top of the igloo for more air ventilation, allowing for a small fire inside the igloo as the smoke can flow out through the top naturally.

Igloos are extremely wind-resistant and insulating. In areas where wind speeds are consistently high, the wind actually helps to freeze the snow and further insulate the structure. Further wind prevention can be executed with a small tunnel that leads to the entrance of the igloo. Depending on weather and snow conditions an igloo’s lifetime can usually last for about a week. If the snow is able to ice up and harden, there is a higher chance for it to last 2-4 weeks, but in light fluffy snow, the days are limited to about 5-7. Keep this in mind if you decide to build one and remember this is a temporary shelter by all means.

Maybe your winters are a little less snow-dominated than the Northland of Minnesota, but you still need warmth and shelter from the elements. If you don't have enough snow to make an igloo for your winter survival shelter, you're not out of luck. An easy and functional option is a lean-to, a simply made shelter that consists of leaning logs at a 45-degree angle against a rock ledge or large trees. A fireplace can be crafted with rocks in a half-circle against your base. This structure holds warmth most efficiently when it is all covered with a tarp, while a hole through the tarp over the fire creates air ventilation. These shelters vary in size but are generally large enough to fit up to 6 people.

It is worth noting to pay mind to wind direction and slope when building a winter survival shelter. Blocking the wind is vital to shelter, and efforts to build the thickest wall facing into the wind should be made. Furthermore, if you set up your lean-to shelter on a slope, you can dig out two trenches that go around the structure to keep water from flooding your ground.

Survival shelters are an essential piece of the winter puzzle. These structures can provide safety from cold temperatures and windchills. The basic knowledge of building them presents better opportunities for survival and withstanding the elements that come with the season. Furthermore, building an igloo or a lean-to is a great way to spend some time outside on a snow day with your friends and family. 

It's time to embrace winter, don't let the cold temperatures stop you from getting outside and enjoying the beauties of the natural environment. A Duluth Pack hoodie or beanie is a perfect way to gift (or enjoy for yourself) some layering essentials to stay warm out there. Also, those links are sales: check it out!


Enjoy the weather, friends!