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  1. #1
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    Default Winter tent site selection

    I'm trying to gain a better understanding of tent site location when there is snow on the ground.

    IF the snow is of a depth that can be easily removed, is it better to camp ON the snow or to remove the snow and camp on the bare ground?

    My limited experience indicates that's it's warmer to be on the snow.

    I suppose that a determining factor would also be wether or not the uncovered ground was frozen before the snow fell.

    Also, does humidity inside the tent have any bearing on the tent being on the snow or the bare ground?

    A Google search didn't yield much info.

    Thanks

    4r

  2. #2
    Registered User colorado_rob's Avatar
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    Camping on snow is relatively luxurious, we seek this out all the time vs. bare, frozen ground in the winter out here in the Colorado mountains. It is warmer than bare ground. If shallow enough to remove, I wouldn't, I'd just pack it down evenly and use it for insulation from the frozen ground. Having bare ground around the rest of the camp is sometimes convenient though.

    When it's deeper, say about 2-3 feet deep, we do a nice pack-down with snowshoes of tent site first, this gets the snow to consolidate nicely. Then we set up the tent and dig a pit in the vestibule area, ideally to bare ground right there. If too deep to get to bare ground in the vestibule, we try to pack this area nice and firm. Save the snow from this digging in a nice pile right next to the vestibule to use as handy source of snow for melting for water. We have at least two more trips coming up soon! We love it (camping in the snow). We sure are getting lots of it this year... another 2 feet fell in our favorite spots the last couple of days.

  3. #3

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    Here in the Southeast mountains of TN and NC backpackers as a rule do not carry snowshoes and so when snow levels get to two feet on the ridges we have a tough time using our boots to flatten the snow down to an acceptable level platform without bumps or clumps or ruts etc. Therefore I usually carry a lightweight Voile snow shovel to remove any snow to ground level for my tent. I like to sleep on a flat surface which the ground provides but which I cannot get on any prepared snow.

    The main reason I can dig to ground here is because we do not have 6 to 8 feet of packed snow below us and bare ground is always easily reached even with 2 feet of snow.

    Plus, setting up in the "warm" Southeast on snow usually means the snow is in the process of melting or is a slushy mess best removed before tent setup onto pooling pockets of cold water and . . . uh . . . slush.

    One time I was traversing a 5,000 NC ridge in 2-3 feet of snow (I know, it took me 3 hours to go one mile), and reached an adequate open camping spot but I didn't then have my Voile shovel. So I tried to stomp down a big level campsite for my big Hilleberg tent and ended up with a thousand boot holes and still no place to put my tent. It would've taken me 2 hours to prepare a level packed snow platform with my boots so I bailed off the mountain and lost 3,000 feet and got to a camp with just 6 inches of the stuff. Home sweet home.

    Had I had the shovel I would've gone into gopher mode and had something dug out in about 20 minutes.


    The winter kit with the Voile XLM shovel.

  4. #4

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    While I've been too wimpy and unprepared to do any winter backpacking previously, I just have to say that threads and advice like this are really helpful. Just learning some of these techniques makes me revise my opinion on winter backpacking/camping. Maybe ... next winter.

  5. #5

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    Winter is so much easier than Summer...

    1 Find spot with less danger of falling trees
    2 Drop pack
    3 Use shuffle steps to stomp a flat spot

    I use my shovel to dig out a fire pit, but never my tent site. It can be really useful for building a wind wall too. Definitely worth carrying one for snow camping.
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  6. #6
    Registered User Venchka's Avatar
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    Where is the other thread? A member from Toronto explained the scientific background supporting Walter's remove the snow to bare ground practice.
    The Cliff Notes version: If the snow is deep enough, or the temperatures vary a lot like in the Southeast, the ground under the snow is at, or above, freezing. More comfortable and easier to get your stakes to penetrate the ground. This really is a common sense solution as snow is an excellent insulator. Many climbers and explorers survived their adventures thanks to snow caves and igloos.

    Wayne
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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tipi Walter View Post
    Here in the Southeast mountains of TN and NC backpackers as a rule do not carry snowshoes and so ...

    The winter kit with the Voile XLM shovel.
    Well, there ya go, different MO's for different parts of the country. I wonder what the winter snow conditions are up in NJ? Probably drier than the SE, but don't know compared to Colorado.

    BTW: I have that same shovel. Or, I did, at least, until my wife let it slide into a crevasse on Rainier.

  8. #8
    Registered User Venchka's Avatar
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  9. #9
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    Two thoughts:
    1) I prefer setting up my tent on the snow, as it is lots cleaner and flatter than bare ground with mud (if it is warm) and sticks and stones.
    2) If I don't have skies or snowshoes to pack the snow down with, I find my desired tent site and then I avoid walking on it. I put on my rain gear if it is warm (I don't bother with rain-gear if the snow is not wet), and I roll around on the snow to flatten the area where the tent will be. Works great. And, I always have my body with me when I'm winter backpacking, regardless of the snow depth.
    3) I also always bring a shovel that is very handy (when the snow has adequate depth) for carving the chaise lounge, dinning room table, and cooking areas.

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  10. #10
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    not mentioned: if your pad is not adequate to prevent melting the snow under you then getting to the ground will help

  11. #11

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    Thanks for the vid links.

    First vid: Wow, so much work for such a large tent. Imagine repeating this set up every day at different spots for the next 15 days. You'd need another person just to help. And I always seem to make the dug spot inevitably smaller than the size I need.

    Second vid: We don't carry skis or snowshoes in the Southeast for snow prep. And I never tried Nelson's idea of rolling in the snow with my body. I think as soon as my pointy butt sits in the tent after such a procedure I'd be a foot down in the snow along with my tent floor. I guess snow conditions are different everywhere.

    Fourth vid is interesting with a Tarptent Scarp. Luckily the Scarp has an inner tent which is mandatory for winter camping.

  12. #12
    AT 4000+, LT, FHT, ALT Blissful's Avatar
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    I've camped on snow. Did fine. But another hiker did warn that once you get up, to make sure you take down your tent fairly soon afterwards so it doesn't freeze to the ground. I thought that was a good tip.







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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    not mentioned: if your pad is not adequate to prevent melting the snow under you then getting to the ground will help
    If your pad is not adequate enough for that you're going to have a miserable time whether you dig to the ground or not.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Venchka View Post
    That footwell idea is interesting. Not so interesting that I would want to have a GT vestibule in addition to a second vestibule, but it definitely has interesting possibilities... Even in a regular vestibule I can see value in digging one of them out.

    This is exactly why I won't spend money on or bear the weight of snow pegs. So many other good options for guying out the tent in the snow. Interesting that they suggest shoveling snow against the sides - I usually am more focused on getting it away from the sides. But I guess if high winds are more of a concern than snowfall... I am definitely going to have to get one of these small snow shovels, though my inclination would be to camp on top of snow rather than digging to the ground under the whole tent.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tipi Walter View Post
    . . . And I never tried Nelson's idea of rolling in the snow with my body. I think as soon as my pointy butt sits in the tent after such a procedure I'd be a foot down in the snow along with my tent floor. . .
    Tipi, you actually raise a good point. It's often more of a progressive roll around with rolling followed by pounding with my forearms and then wriggling my hips and shoulders where I want the dents for them, etc. It's kind of a custom carving process in a way I guess.

    That, or maybe you should just add another 50 lbs or so of smooth padding to your pointy butt to solve the problem?
    I'm not lost. I'm exploring.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Venchka View Post
    Where is the other thread? A member from Toronto explained the scientific background supporting Walter's remove the snow to bare ground practice.
    The Cliff Notes version: If the snow is deep enough, or the temperatures vary a lot like in the Southeast, the ground under the snow is at, or above, freezing. More comfortable and easier to get your stakes to penetrate the ground. This really is a common sense solution as snow is an excellent insulator. Many climbers and explorers survived their adventures thanks to snow caves and igloos.

    Wayne
    Nice summary, Venchka. (I'm an hour and more from Toronto, but close enough!)

    Slight clarification: under deep snow, the ground level temperature is around/near the freezing mark. It can be below freezing but often only just below, even though that freezing can go a metre and more into the ground. Open ground can be solid frozen up to 3 metres down as it was here a couple of years ago. In deep 'bush' (forest), soil can be frozen down half a metre or so, even under a metre or more of snow. But its temperature is close to the freezing mark even if frozen. I have often seen ground unfrozen (still at the freezing mark) under deep snow.

    (Sideline comment — but important to me as a sometime maple syrup maker — maple sap doesn't really flow until the soil temperature rises to the point that liquid water can flow within the roots. That's why sap can run early in the season if the snow came early and deep, allowing the ground to stay relatively warm. Conversely, during an open cold winter in which the frost line is deep, maple sap often doesn't run until late in the season and only when the ground thaws.)

    To me, the point for pitching on snow versus on bare ground relates to whether the ground is dry or wet. Dry ground under deep snow would be usable (ΰ la the inimitable Tipi Walter). Wet ground under deep snow would suck heat away at a wicked rate. Dry snow loosely packed with snowshoes would retain a lot of air that would make it a reasonable insulator. Wet snow — or any snow excessively packed (especially with boots) — would be approaching as poor an insulator as ice.


    Bruce Traillium

  17. #17

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    Thanks Bruce for the explanation. It must also be remembered that experienced winter backpackers carry the necessary sleeping pad(s) to use on wet ground, frozen ground, snow or ice. "Necessary" meaning whatever works when push comes to shove. My desire isn't to move snow in order to be atop bare ground for a possible warmth advantage, but to have a level sleeping area with no inordinate ruts, lumps or bumps---and to have a tent set up in reasonable fashion with a flat expansive floor.

    With the proper high Rvalue pads, a winter backpacker can sleep warm on a sheet of ice at -10F---the true test of insulation.

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