Building an igloo – the quintessential snow camping experience

Building an igloo – the quintessential snow camping experience
Just when the onset of spring seemed inevitable, Sweden was hit by a fresh bout of snow last week. Rather than mourn the brevity of the season, however, Amanda Henke found an unusual way to enhance the experience of late winter. Armed with only a snow saw and a tarpaulin, she and her husband headed for the hills to build an igloo.

When cold-induced lethargy creeps in, and Sweden’s spring has not yet fully sprung, inhabitants of more northerly climes are left with only a couple of options – give in to hibernation or fully embrace whatever the season hurls at us.

It was the lure of the unusual that convinced my husband and me to leave behind the cozy warmth of home and venture off into the unknown to sleep outside in the wintertime.

Some may have considered us crazy, but we were not to be deterred by such murmurings. I cannot remember exactly what put it into our heads but once the idea took hold it was impossible to ignore.

What would it be like? How hard could it be? Would we be cold? Would it be fun? This last question I was able to answer without hesitation. Of course it would be fun. How could it not be fun to construct our own lodgings out of snow?

The activity beckoned irresistibly while I was still living in Canada, as my husband and I were intrigued by this traditional shelter of the Inuit. Our first attempt was such a success that the desire was re-kindled to try this distinctive camping excursion again.

So it was that we found ourselves heading northward in the car on a sunny and early winter morning, bound for snowier landscapes than could be found in Gothenburg.

Norway was our destination, as we could get to deep snow sooner there than in Sweden. Upon arrival in Lillehammer, we made our way up the ski hill past the town and headed towards Nordseter.

Along the way we happened upon a pullout close to a logging road where we could park our car. Since we neglected to bring snowshoes with us, this was a perfect spot to explore and discover the right location to construct our igloo.

We slung our packs on our backs and began the trek along the deserted road. The snow on either side was pristine and untouched, save for the animal tracks here and there. It was quiet and beautiful. We found a good place to build in a small clearing and set to work.

On our previous excursion, the snow was ideal for packing and we made the blocks by packing snow into a rectangular container. This time, our hope was to have the right conditions to carve the blocks straight out of the snow.

Much to our delight, the snow proved perfect for cutting. While I cut the blocks and passed them to my husband, he shaped them and carefully put them in place. Soon the beehive formation of the igloo began to grow, and we were delighted to see the fruits of our labour.

As the sun began to fade, we hurried to finish the last few rows. The clear sky turned to dusk, and the brilliant stars began to shine as the last two blocks were set in place to seal the top. Our shelter was complete.

Unloading our gear inside, we placed a tarp on the snowy floor with our sleeping pads resting on top. Armed with two sleeping bags each, we were confident we’d wake up warm and cozy despite the wintry cold outside.

What makes being in an igloo so amazing is the incredible silence produced by the snow – all sounds are completely muted. In this peaceful atmosphere, we comfortably settled into our beds, closed off the entrance with our packs, extinguished the candles, and snuggled in for our well-deserved rest.

The white light of morning permeating the blocks of snow woke us to the happy discovery that all our extremities were toasty warm. On removing our packs from the entrance, we saw that a 10cm snowfall had gently blanketed the landscape during the night.

Impressed by the serenity of our surroundings, we took a few moments to enjoy the quiet peacefulness that fresh snow brings. Mindful of the long drive ahead, we reluctantly packed up our gear, took one last look at our handiwork, and headed back – leaving behind one last seasonal salute to our wintry escapades.

Tips for packing:

– bring two sets of warm clothes – one for building the igloo and one for sleeping

– waterproof gloves and outerwear

– tent – just in case!

– snow shoes

– snow shovel

-snow saw/machete to cut snow

– container to pack snow as a back-up method

– water, food, camping stove

– good sleeping pads

– warm sleeping bags

– tarp

– first aid kit

– candles

Tips for igloo construction:

– build where snow is deep – at least 1metre

– carefully trim blocks for a tight fit to ensure strength of the igloo

– cut a vent hole for fresh air

– cover the entrance for added warmth

Check out the following websites for more detailed igloo-building instructions:


Ben Meadows

US Antarctic Program (pdf)