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How to Build an Emergency Snow Shelter; Quinzee Snow Shelter
Snow is a Good Thermal Insulator
Snow is an interesting substance. It appears only when it is cold outside, therefore we associate snow with cold. But actually, snow is a reasonably good insulator, meaning it can hold heat inside a confined space. Animals seem to understand this concept, since many of them create shelters out of snow. Here are some quick snow facts.
- Fresh snow is 90%-95% trapped air. This immovable air is an excellent source of insulation. As an animal lies in its snow shelter, it generates heat which is absorbed and held by the trapped air in the snow.
- The average insulating R value of snow is R-1 (one). The insulating R value of wood is R-0.75. The insulating R value of brick is R-0.2.
- In a climate where it is -40 degrees, a properly built snow shelter should be about -7°C (19.4°F). It could get considerably warmer in isolated spots of the shelter.
- New snow on top of the snow pack is exposed to the cold air. Snow nearer the ground is warmer as it extracts heat from the ground. Researchers at Rutgers University have shown that there can be a 42 degree variation between snow near the ground and snow at the surface of the snow pack. For example, if the air temperature is -14°F, and there are 9 inches of snow, then the ground temperature would be 28°F.
A Flash Fiction Story: On Our Own
My son, and I are enjoying a weekend vacation together in the wilds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I just bought a refurbished snowmobile and we are anxious to try it out on some great trails.
We’ve rented a nice cabin near the snowmobile trail head. It's already afternoon, and we're ready to try this sled out. We won’t be out long, but I think I should still bring an emergency pack of basic first aid, food, blankets and fire starters
Off we go! Wow, this is great. The trail is perfect, the sun is shining and it's a moderate 22 degrees F. We are opening this new machine up on the straight parts of the trail and putting it through some serious testing.
It's getting late, so we should head back to the cabin. We haven’t seen another sledder in quite some time. What’s that? The engine is stalling out. I'm checking the fuel tank and it’s empty. There must be a break in the fuel line.
No one seems to be out this far today. We need to make a camp and hope help comes. There's no cell phone reception, so we're on our own.
I keep a small snow shovel on the snowmobile just in case. Well, that decision is paying off now. My son and I take turns piling the snow up in a heap. We are making a quinzee, an emergency snow shelter. It is going to save our lives tonight.
What would you do?
What would you do in this situation? The bottom line is that these two needed to either be rescued or have shelter for the night. They couldn't count on immediate rescue, so shelter was a must. I am going to share with you how to make an emergency snow shelter called a quinzee, just like the one in the story. It is simple in design, and offers shelter and warmth that saved the lives of this father and son.
How to Build a Quinzee Emergency Snow Shelter
The audio for this video is very low, so turn up your volume quite a bit. I apologize for the inconvenience.
Compact 65-piece Winter Road Assistance Kit By AAA and LifeLine First Aid.
Step By Step Instructions for Building a Quinzee
- Pile up the snow. This father and son don’t have a snow shovel. Scooping with their hands will work, but finding a big piece of birch bark would help.
- Tamp the pile of snow down firmly. Pile more snow on top until you feel you have made a shelter large enough for your needs. Tamp this down just as you did the first time.
- Let the pile set for at least one hour, preferably two hours. This is known as centering. Now that the snow isn't being moved, the process of re-crystallization is taking place.
- Collect about thirty sticks that are at least the diameter of your thumb. Shorter sticks are pushed into the upper third of the dome and longer sticks into the sides. These will be guides about when to stop digging from the inside.
- Dig out the cave after allowing the structure to center or crystallize. As you do so, dig until you hit the sticks you pushed in from the outside.
- Carefully poke a hole in the center of the top of the dome. This should be about three inches in diameter. It will let out moisture as a result of respiration.
- Collect pine boughs with very small branches to be used as a floor for the shelter. They will keep you off the cold surface of snow or frozen ground. Tarp or a Thermarest would be better.
- Build a wind barrier using the snow which was dug out of the shelter so that a fire can be started. Do not build a fire inside the structure.
Thumbnails of interior of QuinzeeClick thumbnail to view full-size
Other Uses for a Quinzee
- A routine winter camping shelter.
- A shelter at a favorite sledding hill that will last all season.
- A fort in the yard for children and grandchildren.
Putting the Quinzee to the Test
The temperature on Sunday, February 3, when we made the Quinzee, was 13°F. After we made the video, Dan and I sat in the quinzee for a few minutes and it quickly warmed up. Dan slept in it Sunday night and the temperature dropped below 10°F. He was comfortable.
I believe a structure like this would have saved the lives of the father and son in the story who were stranded in the cold north woods of Michigan.