How to Build a Quinzee Snow Shelter in 7 Easy Steps

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When winter camping, it can get quite cold outside, so it helps to stay warm. A quinzee snow shelter will help you with that. In this article, you will learn how to build one, so you can stay warm despite the cold weather. Read on to find out everything you need to know and how to build one in 7 easy steps.

For the advanced reader, in a previous article, I discussed the basics of camping. While it is not specifically for winter camping, it will help you out if you want to build a quinzee snow shelter. Even if you are an experienced camper, it is always worthwhile to have a refresher. You will find the information there to be helpful. Otherwise, enjoy learning how to build a snow shelter.

1. Select Your Spot

The location of your shelter is the key to its success. It determines whether you are sleeping well or waking up in the middle of night. You want to build it in a sheltered area on level land. This will keep the heat in your shelter. If you choose a place like a frozen lake, then it will draw the heat away from you. In an area with trees, be wary of branches that could fall from overhead.

Start by digging all the snow out from below. The denser layers of snow are at the bottom, giving your shelter a much stronger base. Dig close to the ground, but not so much so that the floor of your shelter is dirt or ice.

2. Shovel Snow into a Pile

Consider how big you want shelter to be. If it is for two people, then aim for a pile of 8-10 feet. If only one person, then 6-8 feet. The diameter is up to you, but, with a bigger pile of snow, the more people you can fit in your shelter. Also, make a pile for your half cylinder entrance.

3. Shape the Snow into a Half Dome and let it Harden

Begin this step by using your shovel to shape your pile of snow into a half dome. Pat down areas that look loose and add more snow as need be. Round it out to make it look nice and smooth. This will give your shelter the good look it deserves.

Next let it sinter for at least an hour while you gather plenty of straight 12 inch sticks. Leaving your shelter for an hour solidifies the snow and makes it stronger, giving it a higher quality structure. The longer you wait, the harder it will become, giving your shelter a sturdier frame.

4. Insert Sticks into Your Dome to a 12-Inch Depth

Before hollowing it out, put sticks into your dome and space them 12 inches away from one another. These will be used to give your dome some framework and let you know the thickness of your dome when hollowing out. Otherwise, you could be running into problems. You do not want a thin layer of dome. It will not keep you as warm.

5. Hollow out Your Shelter

Dig an entrance on the downhill side of your shelter. This makes it easy to come out once you are inside and will cause the cold air to sink out of your shelter. You can also point your entrance away from the wind, so that you do not have a breeze rush in, but I prefer to point my entrance down hill. Keep it as small as possible. This will minimize heat escape from the shelter. You can always enlarge it later.

Otherwise, remove snow until you reach a stick. Then you know that you have reached the thickness you want. If it gets too thin, then that is okay. Just grab some more snow to strengthen it from the inside and outside. You can only really have one person shoveling, so it helps if you have someone on the outside to collect the snow as it comes out.

Smooth the inside of your shelter with your hands to make it look professional and remove the digging marks. If you want to, then you can also create a small hole for ventilation.

6. Build indoor Sleeping Platforms

Once you have hollowed out the inside of your shelter, create level sleeping platforms. Construct an inner trench for the cold air to sink down to and out of your shelter. This will help you keep warm despite the cold weather outside. You can make further barriers around the entrance if you want to keep warmer.

7. Take Pride in What you Built

Congratulations! You have built a wonderful snow shelter. It is well-designed and durable, so be sure to pat yourself on the back. You put in a lot of time and effort to make it work. Now you can enjoy the fruits of your labor. Grab your sleeping bag and lay down for a well-deserved rest.

Top Tips for Building a Great Shelter

There are some elaborations and ways you can make building a shelter better if need be. Some of these are extra work, while others are helpful tips.

  1. Put your gear under a tarp before shoveling snow on top. Some expert builders will lay their gear in a pile under a tarp before shoveling snow onto a pile, making it easier to hollow out. If you are a beginner, then I would not recommend this. If you do it right though, then you will end up will less snow to clear once you hollow it out.
  2. When not using a shovel, stick it upright in the snow. Often times, the snow can be quite confusing and your gear can get lost, especially a snow shovel. If you keep your shovel upright in the snow, then you will save yourself a hassle.
  3. Have people lie down to give you an idea of dimensions. If you lie side by side with a friend, then you can have a rough idea how large you want your shelter to be. Sometimes it can be difficult to envision what 8 feet looks like, so it helps to have a friend.
  4. Be careful when hollowing it out. Collapses do happen and snow can be quite heavy, so be aware of that once you start removing the snow inside. If you yell while inside, it can be quite difficult for someone to hear you. Also, a bear can sneak up on if you are unaware, so keep a sharp lookout.
  5. Use a candle. Some builders like a nice and smooth inner wall, so keep a candle lit inside for a few hours. This gives a neat glaze to give your shelter a pristine look.
  6. Snow falls in layers, so each one is different. One layer may be quite packed, while another is very light. Take this into consideration when shaping your pile. Mix all the snow together, so you can have an even building material.
  7. Angle your entrance like an L-shaped V. This is another way to challenge yourself. If you orient your shelter in this manner, then you can further minimize heat escape. It prevents strong winds from blowing directly inside.

Final Thoughts

That should be all you need to know to build a wonderful quinzee snow shelter. If you are looking to have fun in the snow, then it will be sure to do just the trick. Once you have yours built, it will be a wonderful addition to any winter expedition. Have fun building it!

Otherwise, if you have any thoughts, think I missed anything, or have a question, please do comment below and share this article. Thank you for reading and I hope you make it a great day!

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24 Comments on “How to Build a Quinzee Snow Shelter in 7 Easy Steps”

  1. This is amazing. I’ve always want to know how to build one of these.
    I unfortunately don’t live near any snow but looking to do a trip to North States where there is plenty of snowfall. I will try this.

    1. Hey Vince, a snow shelter is quite the thing to build. Once you visit the snow, you will have to build one. It is very enjoyable. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  2. I really enjoyed your article about snow shelters. I enjoy hiking in the winter and being outdoors and it could come in handy one day or just for building in the backyard with kids. Take care

    1. Hey Mike, it is nice to hear that you found this article enjoyable. Hiking in the winter is quite fun. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  3. Great tips on how to build this shelter. This is important information for anyone that lives in the great white north, or travels there often. With winter upon us, it is even more pertinent. I have often wondered how these igloo type structures were built. Now I know.

    1. Hey Tom, it is wonderful to hear that you found this information helpful. They are very cool to build. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  4. Hey Alex. Neat article. I’ve lived in WI all my life and we used to do this sort of thing with piles built up by snow plows.

    I especially liked the idea of using sticks to verify where you are at when hollowing out your shelter.

    I’ve only camped in the winter once and man was it cold. We had a tent though, and I imagine a shelter like this would have been nice. Do they keep you pretty warm at night?

    1. Hey Joe, it is nice to hear that you found this article helpful. Wisconsin sounds like a great state for camping and hiking. Winter camping is quite cold. With one of these, they do keep you warm at night, much warmer than a tent. It is a great option if you want to do Winter camping for an extensive period of time.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  5. Wow, the Top Tips part was really helpful. I like to camp, but I’ve never gone in the snow. I might have to try it. Any recommendations on where to go winter camping in the US or Canada?

    1. For Winter camping in the US, Yosemite in California is your best option. It is very beautiful during the Winter. California has not gotten much snow lately, so you may be restricted. Consider Mt. Hood in Oregon if that does not work out. If you are in the Midwest, then consider Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan.

      For Canada, Mount Robinson Provincial Park in British Columbia is a good option. I have been to BC and it very stunning. Mountains tower over you. Jasper National Park in Alberta is another option. I hope this helps. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  6. Hi
    Great explanation on how to build a snow shelter. Just one problem? We don’t get enough snow in my part of the UK! I might have to book a holiday somewhere that has the desired amount of snow!

    The earliest I normally start camping is early April; that’s cold enough for me! Lol!
    Keep up the interesting information.

    1. Hey Paul,

      It is wonderful to hear that you found this article helpful. You may need to travel further North in the UK if you want more snow or travel elsewhere. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  7. Hello Alex,
    How amazing to learn the process of building this shelter. I always wondered how the inside was hollowed out without it collapsing. You did a great job on showing all the steps and even tips.
    If I ever wanted to be that cold, grin, I would definitely be interested in learning this process. It was so much fun to read this. Thanks for tackling this subject. ariel

    1. Hey Ariel, it is nice to hear you enjoyed this article. It does take some time to build one. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  8. I can finally make the igloo of my dreams and never pay taxes again…
    Very helpful information Alex, you are a guru of camping and outdoor living. Always write great posts, which could potentially help many people in survival situations.

    I’ll give this one a share! thanks mate.

    1. Hey Jeremy, that was quite funny! It is wonderful to hear you plan on moving to the great white North and become a tax evader. I appreciate the compliment on the quality of my articles. I am very grateful. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  9. Hi Alex,

    Once again, fantastic article!

    Building a quinzee snow shelter has always been one of my biggest dreams. Unfortunately, I need to drive miles away and at a specific period of the year to see snow where I live. But it is worth it as it is beautiful! Since it is quite far away, I need to plan to stay for a few days. So my question is, how long will it take to build the snow shelter? It will really help me to plan my trip.

    Thank you again for this useful post.

    1. Daniella, it is wonderful to hear you found this article helpful. One of these shelters is quite fun to build. Depending on where you live, you probably have to drive to get to a decent place to build one.

      In regards to your question, it takes about 6 to 8 hours to build a good one, while a lower quality one takes 3 to 4 hours. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  10. Very valuable info. I love the outdoors and I read a lot about survival tips, like the one you have on how to build a snow shelter. The problem for me is I live in a subtropical region. It’s primed for starting a camp fire, but building a shelter is a bit more difficult. Any tips on how to build a shelter out of limbs, leaves and dirt?

    1. Hey Jenn, it is nice to hear that you found this article helpful, but it does not really help if you are in a tropical region.

      If you are looking to build a quick shelter there, then your best shot will be a teepee. It is the easiest and simplest to build. All you need is five solid and fairly straight branches all standing up towards each other like a cone. Then add any branches with leaves as needed. Use the dirt to solidify the base of your main branches. I hope this helps.

      Otherwise, thank you for your question and I hope you make it a great day!

  11. Wow this looks like tons of fun! I wish I lived somewhere with a lot of snow right now. Unfortunately all I have right now is very, very cold weather with just a dusting out. I will have to try this if I get a chance to go out to the country this year, because this looks really awesome. Either way, I’m going to be saving this guide for whenever I get a chance! How easy is it to use a shovel when making this? Should I be looking at using a smaller shovel?

    1. Hello Friend, it is wonderful to hear that you enjoyed this article. I am sorry to hear that you cannot do much in the weather you have right now. Hopefully it will pick up, so you can build one of these.

      In regards to your question, a big snow shovel will be your best bet when working on the outside of your quinzee snow shelter, but you will want a smaller one for the inside. It will be easier to work with because you are in a tight space. I appreciate your question. It was a good one.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  12. Hello Alex,
    What a fun and informative article. As a kid growing up in New York we used to make snow tunnels in the plow drifts. Who knew with a little refinement you can actually camp in something so similar. I have camped almost my whole life starting with tents (warm weather of course) and now live full-time in an RV. Reading this makes me feel like I missed out on a whole other side of camping. I would have loved to try winter camping when I was younger had I been armed with this kind of information. Thanks for bringing me back a few (quite a few…lol) years and putting a smile on my face… Dennis

    1. Hey Dennis, it is wonderful to know that you found this article helpful. New York gets a lot of snow. From what you have said, it sounds like you are an avid camper. It is nice to hear that this article brought up some fond memories for you. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make today a great day!

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