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Pitching a Duomid on Snow – Practice Session

Snow Claw, Duomid, and an Exped Sand and Snow Anchor

I'm a pretty conservative guy when it comes to winter backpacking, camping, and mountaineering, in that I won't use gear on overnights without extensive testing and practice. There are just too many bad things that can happen in winter if you're not well prepared.

Before this winter started, I decided to use my Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid as my primary winter shelter. This is a floorless pyramid made out of cuben fiber that weighs about 14 oz with guylines. It is a lot lighter than my former go-to winter tent, a Black Diamond Firstlight Tent made about of Epic Fabric, and chops another two lbs off my winter gear list. But using it instead of a tent requires a lot more expertise, which is the key trade-off you make when you go ultralight and reduce your safety margin.

I'm planning to camp for 2 or 3 nights under the Duomid in Crawford Notch this weekend (behind a cabin in case I need to bail), but with the recent blizzard we had in Boston, I decided to get a head start and practice setting up the Duomid in my front yard. We got 15 inches of snow at my house and I just couldn't pass up the opportunity!

Pitching a Camping Shelter on Snow

I started by stomping out a flat spot using my snowshoes and let that firm up overnight. The next morning, I laid the tarp out on the ground and piled snow on top to keep it from blowing away. This didn't work that well because it was windy, so I'll pile my gear on top of it next time, to keep it in place while I prep the anchor positions.

Once the tarp was laid out, I guestimated where to put my tent anchors. I plan on using Exped Sand and Snow anchors, which weigh almost nothing when compared to an SMC snow stake. In fact, 8 of the Expeds weigh just 3.6 oz.. They're just a square of nylon with cord running around the top that you bury in a snow hole and then cover. After a while, the packed snow hardens though a process called sintering and you get a rock solid anchor.

When I bury the Expeds, I leave a little loop of the cord showing above the surface of the snow. When the anchors have hardened  and can take weight, I run the tarp guyline through a Nightize Figure 9 guyline tensioner and through the loop on the snow anchor, lashing it down taughtly again on the figure 9. It's not going anywhere. These figure 9's are going to work great.

Center Pole

The Duomid is pitched using a hiking pole in the center and requires a short pole extender. Left alone, the extender would sink into the snow and lower the peak. To counter this, I put a Snowclaw under the pole extender as a rigid platform to keep it from sinking. This works great. Alternatively, I could place my pack under the pole to achieve the same effect.

Lessons Learned

This first pitch on snow wasn't that good, so I didn't bother finishing it. I did note a few things for next time though:

  1. Dig the anchors farther out in winter than normal to ensure a taught pitch.  You can always bury any gaps between the tarp wall and the ground with snow to block the wind from blowing through.
  2. Don't forget to add guylines to the upper side tie-outs. These create more interior room. I just forgot this when I replaced the old guylines last night.
  3. Face the door away from the wind. I'm going to sleep with the door cracked open to control internal condensation, so this is important. Otherwise the tarp can fill with air and blow away when you open the door at night.
  4. When you lay out the tarp for set up, pile your gear on top so the tarp doesn't blow away in the wind. Piling snow on top is not heavy enough.

Making it up

Despite the fact that I've never pitched a tarp on snow before, I have a pretty good track record of figuring out such things.

However, if you are already an expert, I'm sure I could use some pointers. Do you have any advice to share with me?

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15 comments

  1. Generally, any wind pressure on the down wind side of the tent will only be slightly less than in the upwind side. Sideways to the air flow will make things a bit easier.

    Digging out the snow anchors can be a wwitch. Bury a stick and loop a short lenght of cord around it(a big loop.) When you break camp, simply pull the cord free, leaving the stick.

  2. Here's an idea. Dig out a space to pitch the tarp in first and them compact it down. This would provide snow for wind breaks and if deep enough the bottom edge of the tarp will be below surface level. You may find that there will be sufficient wind prevention with the advantage of some ventilation to help with condensation if you dont pile the snow to the tarp.

  3. I often use SMC T-Anchors with my DuoMid. With four of them at 1 oz each the weight is offset by their strength and usefulness. http://www.rei.com/product/701779

  4. Quoddy – I own a few of these and after my experiences of the weekend with very dry, sugar snow, I think they'd be more useful than nylon anchors.

  5. I was planning to test pitch my DuoMid this week also. I also have some snow parachute 'stakes' from REI, and was planning to compare them to MSR snow stakes (which I suspect will be totally inadequate).

    It would be good to try suspending the top of the DuoMid between a couple of branches in winter. It frees up a lot of space inside, and allows you to dig down inside the shelter, creating masses of room.

  6. id love to see how the duomid handles winds and snow on one of those eastern mountains above the tree line … (hint hint for a review)

    im thinking of getting one myself

  7. Eric – As long as you get good anchors, the pyramid shape should deflect the wind fine. I had a pretty significant snow load on my duomid over the weekend, without any issues. But the big crux in my opinion is set up time. It takes me a while to pitch the duomid with the sintering required to set the anchors. This can be a drag in the dark and in the wind. In contrast, I can set a 3 lb Black Diamond Firstlight tent up in 5 minutes in the dark and wind, since it's free standing. It's a quandary I'm pondering at the moment.

  8. Digging out those snow anchors is another use for your ice axe. That packed snow can get really hard.

    In a wind, anchor the windward side first, tie off a downwind corner to your pack so it doesn't flap too much, then put in the pole and/or stake the sides, depending on how it is going.

    The SMC snow stakes are nice because it allows you to move the stakes to get a really taught pitch. You can anchor to the middle of them through the holes and use them as a deadman or staked in vertically. Just make the tension at right angles to the body of the stake. You still might want to stomp the snow afterwards to let it harden.

    California snow may be a bit different from what you get.

  9. You might want to scrape out a shallow trough in the snow for your sleep pad; nothing slicker than a ground tarp with a little snow powder on it and even a good sneeze would get me sliding.

  10. I did that up in the Whites and it worked great. Kept me under the tarp at night despite my normal thrashing…

  11. Rather than digging a low spot and pitching the tent there, dig a space smaller than the tent so you get extra headroom. Build a wind break with what you dig out.

    This can be as elaborate as you want to bother with:

    http://www.owareusa.com/images/Pyramidsnow1.jpg

    http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpacki

  12. I used a variety of anchors with my Duomid this winter in Scotland with varying success. I had it pitched right to the ground with the door closed and had no problems with condensation. Photos and details here:

    http://www.outdoorsmagic.com/forum/forummessages/

  13. You are a mind reader – I am writing a post this very moment about alternative snow anchors. I used the two halves of an avy shovel, an ice axe, two hiking poles, and two snow shoes as alternative anchors today with a flat tarp to avoid the wait time associated with nylon snow anchors.

  14. Just saw a report on Toughstakes from the Outdoor Retailer show. They come in three sizes. Smallest one is 1.5 oz each, $20 for 4. Could be a good option for deep snow.

    http://www.toughstake.com/

    http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpacki

  15. I had good luck with the smc snow stake in 3 feet of Iowa ground snow. I compact the snow with my snow shoes, drive the stake in at a 45 deg angle, stomping with my foot. I have 24" of guyline attached to the stake, and then I just cinch it up. 5 stakes at 1 oz each (1 each corner and the middle zipper stake). I use a superlight 24" aluminum shaft for a pole extender that weighs 1.5oz, so I can set the shelter several inches off the ground if need be for air flow

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