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How To Make And Use a Tree Pit Shelter in Snow

There are lots of survival shelters that will serve you just perfectly in the spring, summer, or fall months. You can cut trees down and use fallen wood to build an effective shelter to protect yourself from the weather in a survival situation.

However, what can you do if the world around you is covered in 4 feet of snow and howling cold wind? How will you build a shelter if all the natural materials are buried under the deep snow?

Snow storm in wilderness
Learn how to make a tree pit shelter to help survive the harsh elements

The Realities of Cold Weather Survival

Cold weather survival is no joke. We largely hide from the winter season. Most people go from their home to their car and then into their job. When you spend a long time in below-freezing temperatures you start to experience some radical things.

If you have ever attempted to spend a night in the cold without the proper shelter you know that is as much of a real-life nightmare as there can be.

Cold weather, plus wind, and precipitation can basically kill you in a matter of hours. If you are cold, wet and have no way to stop your core body temperature from going down, you are going to die from hypothermia. It doesn’t have to be freezing cold out either!

Snow as an Insulator

While it might sound very counterintuitive you can seek shelter from the cold in the snow. The igloo is a very real survival shelter and works because snow is a tremendous insulator. In other words, it will hold your body heat. It will help maintain your core body temperature and it will block the weather.

The reason we are going to talk about building this tree pit shelter is to give you an option to survive a serious cold weather wilderness survival situation. In a vast cold landscape, you do not have lots of options but if you can block the weather and wind and maybe even start a fire to survive a cold night.

How to Make a Tree Pit Shelter in Snow

Tree Pit Shelter
Tree Pit Shelter

Finding the Right Tree

The first step is to find a nice tall evergreen tree with bushy branches. In a snowy landscape, these should be easy to find. The tree must be healthy and not split, dying, or have large dying branches on it. These could fall on you and you would be trapped in your pit shelter.

Cut some of the low-hanging branches off of the tree before you start digging. These will be used later for a roof, flooring, or even some fire building.

Digging the Pit

At this point, you can begin digging down around the trunk of the tree. Dig the tree pit shelter all the way to the ground and then start to widen the pit. How wide you make the shelter is up to you. I would recommend making the shelter wide enough to create a place to sleep and a place to possibly start a small fire.

Also, be sure you do not start sweating too much while you are digging the pit portion of the shelter. Take off some layers to avoid this. Sweat can quickly cause rapid cooling and hypothermia in colder climates.

Adding the Evergreen Boughs

Once you have dug your pit shelter out completely, you are going to use evergreen boughs, leaves, and whatever else you can find to line the floor of the shelter. The boughs at the bottom of your shelter are going to assure that you do not have to touch the ground directly. You can lose a lot of heat from sitting and sleeping directly on the ground.

If you are experiencing precipitation and the tree branches above you are not enough, you might even consider layering a few more cut branches over the top of the shelter to create a little bit of a roof. Branches that partially cover the opening of the shelter with a tarp wrapped over them can be a very effective roof.

Can You Have Fire in a Tree Pit Shelter?

It's safe to have a survival fire inside of a tree pit snow shelter with caution
With cautiion, it is safe to have a survival fire inside of a tree pit shelter in snow

The good news about most snow shelters is that they can handle fire. This shelter is one of the best designed for having a fire because the top of the shelter is largely open to the air. One of the reasons snow is such a great insulator is because it is air-tight.

However, that can be a problem when we are talking about carbon monoxide. While you might be warm and toasty in your snow cave with a roaring fire, you need some ventilation, or the carbon monoxide can kill you!

With the tree pit snow shelter you are surrounded by packed snow but the top is open and the sparse pine boughs are going to easily allow for good ventilation. You are only using several bushy branches above the shelter and the branches of the evergreen tree as a roof.

Man gathering branches to aid in his survival
Man gathering branches to aid in his survival

Rely on the Insulation of the Snow

Surviving severe weather conditions in an emergency scenario can add another layer of difficulty. A simple shelter might not be enough to keep you warm and dry in the snow-covered landscape. Instead, you should rely on the excellent insulation of the snow around you to keep you warm.

This is the perfect type of shelter for dealing with these cold weather conditions. You will live and sleep in the pit for insulation and you can add overhead cover. Although having a fire in a tree pit shelter in snow is possible if you have the right clothes you may not even need one.