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Dead Men in Winter

One very important skill you need in winter is how to stake out a tent or shelter. You can do this with skis, ice axes, and hiking poles, but people also use a special type of stake called a snow stake or snow anchor for anchoring your shelter to a snow-covered surface.

Snow Stake

Before you can set up a shelter for the night on snow, the first thing you have to do is to pack down the area around it. You do this by walking back and forth over the area in order to compact the snow. This starts a process called sintering, where snow and water molecules bond more tightly together to form a rigid surface. Make sure you pack down the surface of the snow where you’ll be placing your stakes, as well.

After about 30-60 minutes you can pitch your tent and stake it out. Tie each guy line on your tent to a snow stake and dig a narrow trench in the snow that you can lay the stake in horizontally. A depth of 8 to 12 inches is usually sufficient. Next, fill the top of your stake trenches with snow and pack it down hard by pressing down on it with your boots. Do the same for all of the guy points, raise your shelter, and then tighten out the pitch.

The snow will soon harden up around the dead men and provide a very firm anchor point for shelter. To remove, simply lever out the stakes using an ice axe or a shovel. Cool, huh?

4 comments

  1. Thank you. That's really useful.

  2. You brought a wry smile to my face with that last line – many's the morning I've cursed the gods for the concrete-like sintering properties of snow :-)

    I'd also recommend leaving the stakes at home and taking half a dozen plastic bags with you instead. Filled with snow, tied to the guylines and buried in the snow, they are absolutely bomber. Alternatively, "borrow" your buddy's stuff sacks, or spare socks…

  3. I think those plastic carryall bags should do the trick. I will give it a try when it snows again. God I miss it!

  4. The stick trick also worked fairly well in sand on a trip we took to Baja. We didn't have rocks on one particular beach so resorted to burying the lines and large pieces of driftwood. Large empty bottles worked as well. Certainly easier to dig out the tent corners in the morning then packed snow.

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