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Winter Shelter: Quinzhee Tutorial

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  • Winter Shelter: Quinzhee Tutorial

    Quinzhee Tutorial by Bruce P

    The quinzhee is a winter structure similar to the igloo. Where it differs is that the quinzhee is made for piled snow and tends to be built in a much more expedient fashion that the block-based igloo. The quinzhee is not a permanent structure, whereas the igloo is often used winter long.

    Snow makes an excellent insulator so long as one doesn’t touch it. When properly constructed and with proper ventilation, the ambient air temperature of the quinzhee can reach temperatures as high as 40 degrees!

    The only tool needed for this structure is a shovel. If one were to find one’s self without a shovel, then a snowshoe may be implemented or even a plank torn from a downed cedar will work. The important part with using a tool is to minimize contact with the snow to further prevent exposure to risk of hypothermia and frostbite.

    Quinzhees do have a risk of collapsing. In this tutorial from my winter camping trip, there was always another person outside the quinzhee with a shovel ready to dig me out in case of collapse. One must pile the snow up one’s self and not use hollowed out snow drifts as it will decrease the chance of collapse. There is always a risk of a collapse with a snow structure. The use of proper technique, temperatures, and snow types can greatly reduce this risk. Another thing is to never stand on the quinzhee.

    It is advised, while working in cold environments, to only do so at 50% efficiency. One does not want to work their hardest so to prevent sweating which puts one at a higher risk of hypothermia due to increased cooling from sweating.

    To make a quinzhee, one piles enough snow up for however large a shelter is required and then left to sit for a period of time which is an excellent time to gather more firewood. Some suggest packing the snow with one’s shovel while doing this to gain more time while I have read in other sources that it is not advised. Placing sticks about a foot long around the sides and top of the quinzhee will help act as a guide during excavation.

    The smaller the shelter, the easier one will stay warm as it is one’s own body heat that is heating the dead air space. In the case of this quinzhee that fit two people, the snow was piled up perhaps 5 feet long and 4 feet high.

    After the snow has hardened and settled, excavation is possible. Begin by creating the small entrance at the base of the quinzhee. I try to put the entrance on the side where the wind is not blowing and then block the entrance off with a backpack when it is time to sleep in it.

    Further dig out the quinzhee until one has reached the sticks and the walls are kept about 1 foot thick. From here, smooth the walls of the quinzhee. This helps lower surface area and helps in the prevention of melting and dripping onto its inhabitants.

    It is advisable to place a hole in the back of the quinzhee. I like to do this where my head will be so there is always sufficient air. The hole poked in this quinzhee was about 5 inches long and 3 inches tall. This provides for a nice peep hole as well as allowing enough oxygen to get into the quinzhee. This is especially important when blocking the entrance with a tarp or a backpack especially when burning candles for warmth. It is very possible to kill one's self if one does not make the proper ventilation...and that is the opposite point of survival

    Here is the finished quinzhee I built when out on a winter camping trip with my friend. The temperature dropped to -7 that night. With a few candles burning inside the quinzhee, we suspect the ambient air temperature reached 30 degrees. His bag was under rated for the conditions, but due to the ingenuity of the quinzhee, was entirely fine the night through.

    Video inside the Quinzhee

    Safer methods to digging out a quinzhee if alone include staying on one’s knees while excavating. It is much easier to dig out of a collapse this way. If lying flat, it may be impossible to move. Another method is, in the event of collapse, cover one’s mouth with one’s hands so that an air pocket is formed. This may give one more time to try and wiggle out. The safest method is to always build one with a partner.
    Last edited by Rucksack Nation; 02-28-2012, 09:08 PM.

  • #2
    We used to make those when we were kids in Northern Lower Michigan! We just called them snow forts, but we used to go camping in the Huron National Forrest in the winter time, sleeping in those things for an entire weekend. They are awesome if they are made correctly, if made incorrectly,... NOT so awesome.


    • #3
      Great post Rucksack

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