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How To: Pitch a Tent on Snow

There's an art to pitching a tent on snow. Follow this step by step guide.
Photos by Jennifer Howe /
  • 1) Choose a flat spot out of the wind, with an eastern exposure for early sun.
  • 2) Mark out the area for your tent platform, with enough extra space to let you walk around it.
  • 3) Pack down the snow using skis or snowshoes.
  • 4) Take your time. Stomp firmly.
  • 5) Be thorough and systematic. First, pack back and forth one direction...
  • 6) Then go at right angles.
  • 7) Pay special attention to the platform perimeter, since it can crumble easily.
  • 8) In dry snow a platform might take 15 or 20 minutes to become level.
  • 9) Then go wander around, allowing the stomped platform 30 minutes to an hour to freeze hard.
  • 10) Use pre-rigged deadman anchors attached to tent stake-outs and guylines.
  • 11) Use pre-rigged deadman anchors attached to tent stake-outs and guylines.
  • 12)  Drive the deadman anchor into the snow using your hand or ski pole.
  • 13) Pile additional snow on top of the deadman, and stomp it in firmly. Keep guylines loose at first. Tighten them a half hour or so later.
  • 14) By now the snow platform should be firm enough to stand on without snowshoes or skis. If not, explore more or set up a kitchen.
  • 15) Move in and enjoy. The platform will be hard enough to provide you a flat bed and firm porch.
1) Choose a flat spot out of the wind, with an eastern exposure for early sun.
Image 1 of 15

1) Choose a flat spot out of the wind, with an eastern exposure for early sun.


Page 1

What about dig out a footbox under the tent door?

This looks like a great idea for ideal situations, such as in sub-freezing conditions in late winter. On most of my trips, though, daylight hours are in short supply and I rarely have that much time to wait around for the snow to freeze up. Likewise, it is often a case of soft wet snow several feet deep or deep powdery snow. The snow in the slide show is idyllic. Where I live, near Lake Superior, if I did what the backpacker in your slide show did with snowshoes I would have a 30" deep pit when the snow is powdery, and the snow on the bottom would still not be hard enough to walk on without snowshoes, even after settling for an hour or more. With wet snow, the situation is no better. I usually have to take a plastic snow shovel and dig is pit down to, or almost down to, the ground.

— Doug

This last weekend (Feb 19) I noticed the use of both a snow pit like Doug mentions and the example in the slide show along the route of the UP200 dogsled race in Upper Penninsula Michigan. In that case, a pit was dug and stabilized for the campfire area and included benches. For the tent area, it looked like the area had been prepared in a similar fashion to the instructions in the slide show. Note however, there had been a warm up lasting a couple days and then temps dropped below freezing that helped stabilize the structure of the snow. Doug's point is well taken, in that with different types of snow conditions different methods may be needed. Kids understand this - Dry powder makes terrible snow balls.
— Steve Cash

Saw that shovel in the photos. I'd dig a shallow pit right in front of the doors. It makes sitting in the treshold easier as well as getting in and out of the tent. If the tent has an alcove, the pit goes under the alcove, maybe even to standing room depth.
— Rick

Great idea and I'll try it the next time I snow-camp. The last time I snow-camped, however, I did none of the above. I simply pitched my tent right on top of the snow. This was in February in Sequoia National Park, and the snow was maybe 18" deep. Perhaps the above method is more for deeper snow. But I see the sense in it.
— Sandra

This is the way we teach the boy scouts in the Colorado rockies. This past January, with eight feet of soft snow and 12 degrees temperature it still worked fine. You have to let it set, but you'd be surprised how fast and how well it happens. Same thing when you make your kitchen and fire pit. The benches set up well. Just remember to bring something to sit on.
— Tom

The preparation of a tent platform in this manner has worked great for me. However, living adjacent to North Cascades National Park, I feel it imperative to at least mention the importance of including in site selection the risk of avalanche. Avalanche run outs can extend a considerable distance from where one might consider to be in an "at risk" location, and in the selection of a tent site one should always take this into consideration.
— Charlie

By the time I got through reading these 15 steps it was spring!
— Harold

Your site just moves too damn slowly. It's informative and entertaining, but 12 to 15 seconds between clicks is ridiculous. I think I'll stick with your magazine.
— jim


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