Snow Load on Canvas Tents

How much snow can a bell tent hold?

Posted on: October 1, 2018
By: Jeff Dobbs
Snow Load on Canvas Tents

Snow Load on Canvas Tents: Winter Camping and Structural Integrity

Snowflakes have become a widely accepted euphemism for “uniqueness”, as no two snowflakes are alike.  A single snowflake contains roughly 10 quintillion water molecules which expand at different rates and adhere to each other in an infinite array of patterns and structures.  Each flake is shaped by a number of atmospheric and environmental conditions the flake is exposed to as it falls to the ground, including temperature, humidity, and water composition. So what is a safe snowload on canvas tents?

As it relates to shelter, the diversity of snow makes it impossible to make hard and fast rules about how much snow a tent can hold.  A single cubic foot (.02 m2) of dry snow can weigh on average 10lbs (4.5kg).  The same volume of heavy and wet, or wind compacted snow can weigh in excess of 30lbs (14kg).  Thus a canvas of 50 yards/square (42m2) with just 2 inches (5cm) of average snow weighing 20lbs (9kg) per square foot, would add 1,500 pounds (690kg) of weight to a tent.

The single center pole and guy lines of a Sibley can withstand a lot of force from wind and rain, but certainly not the weight of a smart car.  Considering the weight of the issue, CanvasCamp does not specify any safe amount of accumulation of ice or snow on a Sibley.  The larger the canvas, the greater the potential snow load, and thus the greater the possibility for structural collapse.

In order to mitigate accumulation in winter conditions, CanvasCamp recommends a tent stove which will heat the tent and cause fresh snow falling on the canvas to melt and run off, given an appropriate temperature differential.  In heavy snow in which the accumulation exceeds the rate of melt, an extendable car scraper with a soft brush can be used to periodically brush snow off the canvas, or gently beat the snow off from inside so it falls down the slope of the canvas and off of the tent.

The tipi with its steep canopy angle and conical shape stretching directly to the ground will hold less accumulation than the Sibley and may be the better option for heavy snow conditions.  We’ve taken our Sibley’s into the deep stuff and find that using a custom 3-4 inch (9cm) wood dowl or pole made of hard wood or bamboo would increase the vertical load bearing capacity of the center pole; giving you some additional support and flexibility with the pace at which the snow accumulation must be removed. Ensuring the guy lines remain tensioned and the tent is pitched well on a flat surface is essential to the structural integrity of any tent.

Contact our Technical Director Jeff at 913-333-0037 or at with any questions or concerns regarding your tent and the environment you use it in.