Winter Camping Shelter Alternatives

Winter camping shelter options are numerous to include:

  • snow shelters such as quinzees, snow caves and igloos,
  • pre-existing structures such as lean-tos,
  • tents such as hot/cold tents, hammocks, four season tents, tipis, tarps and bivy sacks,

each with their own tradeoffs.





Lean-To Three sided roofed enclosure with a plank floor usually made of logs It’s already there! Spacious: room to change clothes, room for cooking, can sleep 6+. Up off the ground Limited to specific areas, expensive to build, large open face makes it susceptible to wind. Not particularly warm. Usually situated in high-use areas. May have to share
Tent Solo or multi-person tent Readily available, wide variety Must be carried and set up.
Hammock A fabric sling suspended between two points, used for sleeping Light weight, easy to pitch in wooded areas, no level ground necessary Accessories needed to “winterize” otherwise a hammock can be cold, no space for sitting
Hot Tenting The main features of this approach are a canvas tent with a woodstove, breathable cotton outerwear, wool clothing insulating layers, traditional snowshoes and mukluks, and sleds (usually toboggans) to haul the extra gear. Warm. Stove provides cooking and enables drying of clothing. Heavy. Stove & stove pipes are an additional item (and weight) to transport. Most fireboxes are limited and require constant attention
Bivy A waterproof shell over a sleeping bag providing insulation and a wind and moisture barrier Light weight, camp anywhere, easy to set up Can be constricting, no shelter for gear, not easy to enter/exit
Tarp a sheet of flexible, water-resistant material with attachment points allowing it to be tied down or suspended Light weight, easy to set up. Multiple configurations possible Not wind proof or particularly warm, no ground protection
Snow Cave A shelter dug into the snow to protection from wind as well as low temperatures. Relatively warm Construction takes time, you can get wet in the construction, requires deep snow drifts
Quinzee A shelter made by hollowing out a pile of settled snow. Easily constructed in less than ideal snow conditions Construction takes time, you can get wet in the construction. Less sturdy than an igloo.
Igloo A shelter constructed from blocks of compacted snow in the form of a dome. Relatively warm, long lasting and durable Construction takes time, skill or experience is needed. You can get wet in the construction.

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