Snowy woods

Emergency Snow Shelters: How to Build a Snow Coffin

Our friends at NOLS have put together some great safety tips for snow activities. In this second article, Casey Pikla demonstrates to us how to make a snow coffin if you get caught unexpectedly outside and need to bunker down for a while. You can read the first article on how to build a snow trench here

Walking, skiing, or snowshoeing in a winter wonderland can provide some of the most serene and enjoyable of backcountry ventures. But what happens when that leisurely outing turns into an unexpected night out?

Luckily, the winter environment comes with its own building material: snow! Here’s the quick and easy on a few emergency snow shelters that can protect you from old man winter in a pinch.
Building a snow coffin

How to Build a Snow Coffin

Despite its somber name, this is an excellent shelter in a pinch, and one I’ve utilized. It’s made by carving out a horizontal section in a snow bank.

Before you start building your coffin, make sure you’ve taken both safety and speed into account, as well as prepped your quarry. Refer to our first post for how to do this. Once you’ve done that, follow the steps below.

  1. First, locate a snowdrift with fairly consolidated snow. The more snow the better.
  2. Shave out a flat, vertical surface five to six feet in height.
  3. Then, begin hollowing out a section of snow that’s about seven feet long, two feet tall, and three feet deep. Take some time to angle or dome the ceiling to give more wiggle room, especially around the feet and shoulders.
  4. Cover the two thirds of the opening with snow blocks (cut from your quarry), filling in any gaps with loose snow.
  5. Hop on in and use you pack to cover the opening by your head.

In addition to being prepared with the right tools for staying warm, hydrated, and fed in an emergency, preparation includes what you carry under your hat. Familiarity with snow shelters and being able to build one in a stressful or frightening moment is a tool that may prove invaluable. Take some time on your next snow adventure to practice and prepare for the unexpected.