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Beginner Skills

15 Uses for Snow

Use snow to build furniture, survive a storm, or make better pancakes (seriously).

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Nervous about winter camping? Don’t be. Sure, snow can slow your progress, but it can also save your life, improve your cooking, and take your camp experience to the next level. Cozy up to the cold stuff with these 15 uses for snow.

Survive a storm. The fluffy stuff’s high air content (up to 95 percent by volume) makes it an excellent insulator. Dig a trench to escape high winds or carve a snow cave into a deep drift by tunneling parallel to the ground. Use branches, your backpack, or a sleeping pad to insulate your body from the frozen tunnel floor.

Build furniture. Want lawn chairs on your lunch break? A dinner table in your cook tent? With a little creativity and a good avalanche shovel, your dream home is just a little digging away.

Do your business. Trust us; it’s refreshing. And, unlike a dead leaf or smooth stone, snow is moldable, and the white color makes it easy to, uh, monitor progress.

Store gear. Dig out your vestibule floor until it’s about a foot lower than the level of your tent for more storage. Not enough? Dig a garage into a snowbank to keep fresh-fallen snow off your pack.

Stay warm. Layer snow and wood for a long-lasting fire that conserves wood and stays warm for hours (ideal for drying wet gear). Dig a 3-by-3-foot pit about a foot deep. Gather sticks about half the width of your wrist. Line the bottom of the pit with sticks, then pack a layer of snow over them until the sticks are just hidden. Add another layer of wood perpendicular to the first, then cover with another layer of snow. Repeat until the stack is level with the ground, then use dry tinder to build fire on the top level.

Keep water from freezing. Bury a Nalgene or covered pot full of water in the snow before bed to avoid wasting fuel at breakfast. Make sure there’s at least two feet of snow around the pot on every side. (Use a stick to mark your pots’ hiding place.)

Stay hydrated. To top off water during the day, put a few handfuls of packed, fresh snow (gather from tree branches to ensure it’s not contaminated) in your water bottle whenever it’s half empty. Keep the bottle close to your body or on the sun-catching side of your pack to keep it from freezing.

Make candy. Boil honey or maple syrup in a pot and pour it onto fresh, packed snow and wait for it to freeze into a chewy, toffee-like treat.

Do dishes. Pack out food particles, then use a handful of fresh snow to scrub pots and pans clean.

Lighten your pancakes. Fold a cup of snow into pancake batter directly before adding it to the pan. The water and air content will give your flapjacks a lighter texture.

Stake out your tent. Tie guylines to tent stakes, trekking poles, sticks, or ice axes, and bury them under a foot or more of well-packed snow to create deadman anchors.

Send a message. Carve SOS into the snow on an open hillside to signal rescuers. Make sure letters are at least 20 feet in length for maximum visibility from the air. Fill the letter-shaped pits with branches for better contrast.

Reduce swelling. Compress snow and apply it to injuries to calm inflammation. Wrap the snow in a towel or bandana to prevent direct contact with the cold, which could damage tissues.

Reflect heat. Build a snow wall on the windward side of a fire to block wind and hold in warmth. (Build it about 4 feet high and 4 feet from the flames to maximize protection and minimize melting). A snow wall can also shelter your tent for a better night’s sleep on windy nights.

Keep your beer cold. Set the cans in the snow, but don’t bury them completely—the only thing worse than warm beer is missing beer.   

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