These winter backpacking tips focus on surviving inside a snow cave. Snow caves are the warmest, fastest types of snow shelters available.
A snow cave, properly built, gives you the power to use 3 season gear to remain warm, which can save a tremendous amount of weight. However, this approach requires an exceptional skill level in properly building and locating a site for a snow cave. If you are using a down sleeping bag, snow caves can be wet enough to warrant the use of a highly water resistant sleeping bag shell or bivy sack. Digging a snow cave is wet stuff: all synthetic insulating clothing, or waterproof rain gear, is essential.
A Snow Cave
Important disclaimer: You will subject yourself to severe risk of hypothermia, if you are unable to build a snow cave, or you build one wrong. It is important to know what defines an improperly built snow cave. A properly built snow cave is one that has thick enough walls for good insulation (2 feet), is just big enough for the number of people, has a correctly located entrance below the level of the ground surface so warmed air doesn't leak out, and proper blocking of the entrance with backpacks, jacket, etc. to minimize cold air coming into the cave.
Conditions are very damp in a snow cave. Dripping walls tend to get sleeping gear wet, gear has no ability to dry, and caves tend to be quite humid. Add a water resistant bivy sack to shed some of the moisture, select synthetic insulation in your clothing and sleeping bag, to counter the wet. If a snow cave can't be built, you must have an insulated sleep and clothing system that will allow you to survive a night outside.
Outside a tent, this system has been used to comfortably sleep at temperatures down to minus ten degrees. I recommend that the user save further weight with a lighter sleeping bag, if the risk of spending a night in the open is very small, and the user is a good snow cave builder. Using Integral Designs Andromeda Strain as an example, you can spend nights down to 0 degrees using the clothing specified in this list in combination with a two pound synthetic bag rated to forty degrees F.
For the improved efficiency in melting snow, bring a white gas stove over an alcohol or canister stove. Snow caves are normally warm enough that alcohol and white gas stoves work well. You will appreciate the power of a white gas stove, because it has the power to melt several liters of snow fast, if you need to melt snow while still traveling mid-day, and conditions are cold.
Carry wide mouth water bottles since they resist freezing at the opening. Have a hybrid LED headlamp with a high power one watt LED to give you the ability to navigate when dark.
Wide Mouth Water Bottle
Other essential items along with food, cooking, and this list should get you through the cold backpacking weekend. Have fun and now you know how to stay warm backpacking!
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