Sub-pound, floor-less pyramids are very lightweight, but free-standing tents pitch in minutes. Which is the right choice for winter backpacking and mountaineering, when pack weight and space are at a premium?
Pitching a floorless pyramid on snow takes time. Start by finding a fairly flat pitch and stomp down the snow with my snowshoes to form a platform. If the platform isn’t completely level you can pile more snow on top of it with an avalanche shovel and dig some anchors around it while the platform area started to harden. This is one nice thing about winter camping; weather permitting, you can alter the landscape, but still conform to LNT principles, because your structures will simply melt away.
The problem with anchors is that they can take up to an hour to firm up, even after you’ve packed the snow down around them. For example, sugary snow can take an hour to harden, which is a long time to stand around in damp clothes. Once the anchors set, you can carve out a sleeping platform under the tarp, before setting up your sleeping pad and sleeping bag and changing into dry camp clothes.
Like tents, a shaped tarp like a pyramid must be ventilated to prevent internal condensation buildup at night. If weather conditions prevent this, you may want to bring a waterproof bivy sack to provide additional moisture protection for your sleep system.
Pitching a Freestanding Tent on Snow
I’ve owned a truely freestanding Black Diamond FirstLight tent, going on 9 years now. Weighing just 2 lbs 11 oz, it compresses down to the size of a loaf of bread and comes with two DAC collapsible poles. Since it’s freestanding, it doesn’t need to be staked if it’s not windy, and I can set it up in under 4 minutes in the dark with a headlamp.
If I’m in a hurry to get out of wet clothes, I can often set up the Firstlight without stomping out a platform first in the snow and letting it harden up. I just set up the tent which has a rectangular footprint, move it where I want it, and plunk it down. The snow under the tent will harden by itself.
When I go to sleep, I usually leave the front door of the tent half-way open for ventilation and this is usually enough to prevent internal condensation.
Safety vs Weight Trade-offs in Winter
These are still preliminary conclusions because I haven’t tested the mid in wind above treeline and in heavy wet snow. However, the experience of waiting around for over an hour for my anchors to harden was sub-optimal.
Further, when you factor out the added weight of a bivy bag required to sleep under a tarp in winter (17 oz mid and nylon anchors + 18.5 oz bivy) vs. a freestanding lightweight tent (43 oz tent only), the weight advantage of a floor-less pyramid doesn’t obviously trump the delay associated with pitching it on snow.
Food for thought.
Especially when you consider that using a flat tarp under similar snow conditions, above treeline, takes the same time to pitch.
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