How to Pitch a Tent in Deep Snow
For WinterCamp we set out to test our gear, knowledge, and resolve at 9000 feet (2700m) in the heart of the Rockies. Here is what the mountain taught us about pitching a Sibley Bell Tent in 3-4 feet (1m) of sugary snow:
After settling on a spot with enough tree cover to break the wind yet a spectacular view of Byers Peak across the valley, we set to work packing down camp. Walking, stomping, and dancing our way in circles and then letting the sun melt and freeze the snow we were able to create a surprisingly flat surface, an essential component of a solid pitch.
1m of fine sugar in mid-February makes staking the tents to the earth impossible so we set to work digging pits 45cm long and roughly 45cm deep, 2m away from the tent for each guy line and 30cm away from the ground sheet grommet. Burying 40cm long pieces of wood with 1m of paracord centered beneath them, we left our anchors to set up and freeze in the ground for about an hour.
Using a simple half hitch we attached ground sheet grommets to their deadman anchors and set to raising the canvas. The tension required for a proper pitch will cause the center pole to sink in snow, sand, or any soft unstable surface; we used a strong flat board about 60cm² to give the pole a solid plane to stand on.
The A-frame door pole on the 500 holds less weight and we were able to erect it without additional support. Using the same half hitch to attach the guy lines, we then applied tension and achieved a solid pitch for the 500.
In the interest of seeing how well the tent held up overtime we left the 500 standing for 2 weeks after WinterCamp came to an end. A windstorm with 90kmh winds, according to some accounts gusting to 110kmh, blew through the valley taking down trees and powerlines no more than 100m away. The 500 remained entirely intact, without a single rip, tear, pole collapse, or guy line snap.
Unsatisfied with the level of abuse we decided to see what would happen as the snow melted away in the following week of unseasonably warm weather. Although not the prettiest girl at the dance, the 500 remained standing, with half of the guylines being held with only the weight of the deadman logs lying on the ground.
How to Pitch a Tent in Deep Snow Using Dead Man Anchors
- Pack down a flat area a few feet larger than the tent’s diameter.
- Let the snow set up (about an hour depending on the temperature).
- Cut or gather anchors: sturdy sticks at least 20cm long for every groundsheet grommet and guy line.
- Cut 1 meter long lengths of paracord for each anchor.
- Unpack and roll out your tent in the center of your plot.
- Dig a hole about 30cm deep and as long as your anchor 30cm away for each groundsheet grommet, and 1.8m away for each guyline in-line with the seams.
- Lay your paracord evenly in the hole and place your anchor on top, perpendicular to the paracord and hori2zontal to the tent.
- Bury the anchor making sure that the ends of the paracord remain above the snow. Pack down and let the snow set up.
- Use a sawing motion to pull the paracord until it’s taut against the anchor.
- Tie a loop on the paracord end that’s furthest from the tent, then use a simple half hitch to attach the paracord to the groundsheet grommet making sure you’ve got firm tension.
- Insert the center pole pulling the bottom of the pole to the center of the tent. Place the pole foot on a large sturdy board about 60cm x 60cm by 5cm to prevent the pole from sinking into the snow.
- Install the A-frame door pole.
- Repeat steps 9 and 10 to attach each guy line.
- Tension each guy line until the canvas is taut.
- Retension the guy lines periodically as the tent settles on the snow.
To take down the tent, simply pull your paracord hitches knots on the guylines, remove the A-frame pole followed buy the center pole, and then pull the groundsheet knots. Remember NEVER PACK YOUR TENT WET, even a damp guy line can cause mold growth. The groundsheet will likely be wet on the snow-side so detach it fold it up separately if needed. Let your tent dry completely at home before packing it back in the bag if necessary. Throwing the tent/groundsheet over your car in a garage is a great way to dry it out if your short on space inside your home.
Love winter camping? Learn more about how much snow a tent can hold and how to keep snow off your tent on our blog. For more winter camping tips and tricks be sure to follow @CanvasCamp on social media.