Snow Load on Canvas Tents

Snow Management While Winter Camping

Posted on: November 30, 2023
By: Jeff Dobbs
Snow Load on Canvas Tents

How Much Snow Can a Tent Hold? 

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 of dry snow can weigh on average 10lbs.  The same volume of heavy and wet, or wind compacted snow can weigh in excess of 30lbs.  Thus a canvas of 50 yards/square with just 2 inches of average snow weighing 20lbs per square foot, would add 1,500 pounds of weight to a tent.

The pole system of a canvas tent can withstand a lot of force from wind and rain, but certainly not the weight of a smart car.  The larger the canvas, the greater the potential snow load, and thus the greater the possibility for structural collapse.  Considering the weight of the issue, keeping snow off your tent is critical when winter camping in the white stuff.

How to Remove Snow from a Canvas Tent

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.

In order to mitigate light snow 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.  Although a tent stove helps reduce the build up of snow, it may not be possible to run a tent stove constantly for the duration of a storm.  Snow can also pile up faster than the tent stove can melt it off.

The Sibley Bell Tent or tipi with its steep canopy angle and conical shape stretching to the ground will hold less snow accumulation than a wall tent 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 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 properly on a flat surface is essential to the structural integrity of any tent. For more information on how to pitch a tent in deep snow check out our blog.