November 27, 2014
Winter 2013 - 2014

Learn how to: Survive The Night

Surviving the Night

An accident, emergency, injury, poor weather, or unstable avalanche conditions may cause you to spend the night in the backcountry
Your combination of equipment and skills determines whether your night out will be mildly uncomfortable or a brutal epic.
One of the most important skills you can have is to know how to build a snow cave. A snow cave heated with a candle from your survival kit will enable you spend the night in relative comfort.

Snow Caves

  • Find a safe spot away from potential avalanche slopes and leeward slopes where blowing snow could clog and seal the cave's air vent. Ideally, dig your cave into a small slope or bank with snow at least six feet deep. Digging a snow cave into a bank or slope is much easier than digging one on a flat surface.

  • Try to stay dry. When you dig, wear your outer hard shell clothing with as few inner layers as possible; that way when you are done you have dry inner layers to put on.  Work slowly but efficiently to avoid excessive sweating. Dig an entryway tunnel about three feet into the slope and then begin angling and excavating upward and create an expanded dwelling space.

  • The cave ceiling must be at least one foot thick to keep it from collapsing. Construct the cave floor above the top of the entry tunnel so the warmer air will be trapped inside.

  • Make the ceiling and walls smooth so melting snow water will run down the walls and not drip on occupants.

  • Cover the cave entrance with a tarp or snow block and punch a ventilation hole through the ceiling with a ski pole. Put on all your extra clothes, wrap up in your emergency blanket or bivy, sit on your pack or foam pad, fire up your stove and/or light your candle and then tell your best jokes.
  • Avoid Asphyxiation: If you have a stove and/or candle in your snow cave, make sure you have a vent hole and that it is unobstructed.

Other Options

  • A faster but less warm option is to dig a trench and then cover it with a tarp propped up by ski poles or branches.

  • You may be able to find shelter in a tree well beneath thick tree branches.

Next Section: Tools »