Building Survival Shelters

Reports on  Jan. 8 shelter building at YouthWork&Learn at Smokey House:

Robin Chesnut-Tangerman (instructor):  With the onset of real winter weather we are spending time learning about winter survival and wilderness first aid. We had talked about emergency shelters recently, and the important aspects to consider when planning them. Today we put it into practice – we bundled up warmly and headed into the woods where we split into two teams. Each team selected a site and had about an hour to design and build an emergency shelter. The hardest part for me as a teacher was NOT building or making suggestions!

IMG_7677The students did a great job and came up with very different designs and final results.  We decided not to cover the shelters with pine and hemlock boughs, which we would have done in a real emergency. Since it was not the real deal we didn’t tear the branches off living trees. One of the most reassuring things was that although it was only about 10 degrees, no one got cold until the very end when we stopped moving and conducted peer reviews of the structures.

Kieghan:   Today we learned what it is like to be stuck out in the wilderness and how we can make shelters. A friend and I made this cool looking shelter. It took us about an hour to build and it can fit up to two people in it at a time. It is made entirely out of sticks and all natural resources. I think it’s the best one I have ever constructed out of sticks.

IMG_7689Dillon:  In my group, we used a large rock and put sticks around it. In the middle, we used more taller sticks and on the side, we used smaller sized sticks. We also tried to put sticks outwards on one side to keep warmth in. The shelter is able to fit about 2 people in it. While I was it in, it was quite warm. The other group had sticks facing upward and sticks supporting the shelter. They also had green pine sticks inside as well. In the groups, we went to see the other group’s and had to make a comment on something you liked and a question or suggestion. My question was why was it built so close to a stream? The group had an interesting answer. Today was an interesting day.


Making a Quinzee at Smokey House

Piling up snow to make the quinzee

Piling up snow to make the quinzee

What do you do when the first substantial snowfall turns your world white?  You go outside!  Never mind that it’s 12 degrees outside with a wind chill factor around zero.

Prep for outdoor activities

Prep for outdoor activities



Monday, as part of our study of winter ecology and wilderness survival, we built a “quinzee”, a snow shelter carved out of piled up snow. This kind of shelter can provide well-insulated protection from arctic temperatures.  By mounding the snow and waiting for several hours, the snow has a change to sinter, or firm up, as the snow crystals bond.

Digging out the inside of the quinzee

Digging out the inside of the quinzee

We started digging out the interior Monday afternoon and finished it Wednesday, when the weather was a sultry 25 degrees.

Moving snow is hard work!  Sometimes a break is needed (and a chance to work on your tan?)

Moving snow is hard work! Sometimes a break is needed (and a chance to work on your tan?)

YouthWork and Learn – The Tutorial Center at Smokey House Center, Danby