A good campsite does not gather snow
For your winter trek, you will need a sturdy tent that can withstand tough weather conditions and provide excellent ventilation. It should be stable and spacious, even in the vestibule so you can store and adjust your equipment without pulling snow into the inner tent. Do not forget to check before you head out on your trek that your tent is in good condition and all of the guy lines are in place. It might be practical to extend the guy lines and ground loops in advance with a 30-50 cm rope (circa four mm in diameter); this will provide greater flexibility when anchoring the tent. Also, make sure that you have enough tent stakes that are suitable for snow.
When looking for a site to pitch your tent, it is often a good idea to find a spot that is a little higher so that it does not gather a lot of snow. You should not choose the bottom of a ravine, a pit or any other site where the snow will drift. Once you have found a good location, use a probe to check how deep the snow is to make sure there is sufficient depth for anchoring the snow stakes (if you are using other equipment, refer to the information further down on the page) and digging a place to sit in the vestibule. One practical method for pitching your tent is to:
• Flatten the ground where the tent will stand, preferably with your skis. Let the surface stand for half an hour so the packed snow freezes together and holds better.
• Build a V-shaped wind barrier 3-5 metres from the tent in the direction of the wind. The V-shape will lead the wind around the sides of the tent.
• Anchor the short side of the tent closest to the wind using a guy line and 2-3 ground loops.
• Fold out the tent in the direction of the wind and thread the tent poles.
• Raise the tent, pull it tight and anchor the other short end lee side.
• Anchor all of the ground loops.
A tunnel tent should be placed in the direction of the wind, so the openings are lee side (which can mean both on the far side of the wind and lee side of the wind barrier!). Self-standing dome tents are placed so the opening is lee side.
You can place a little snow on the tent wall that faces the wind to prevent snow from drifting in, but you should avoid placing snow the whole way around since this affects the ventilation. You should never dig your tent down into the snow - this will make it easier for the snow to build up on the tent and, in a worst-case scenario, bury it.
Be careful when stabilising your tent
Weather conditions can change in just a few hours, so the stability of your tent is crucial. In addition to snow stakes, you can also use trees and smaller branches or your poles (turned upside down). Skis are also a good alternative, but remember to turn the steel edge in toward the tent so that the guy line does not rub against it during the night. Another way to anchor the tent is to dig a 15-20 cm deep ditch along the edge of the tent, attach one or more guy lines around a ski, which acts as a T-anchor, and place the ski in the ditch. (This is where the extensions to the guy lines come in handy.) Cover with snow and pack it down, let it freeze for a moment and then tighten the guy lines.
If you know that you will be camping on ice or densely packed snow, it is a good idea to bring several ice screws like the ones used by ice climbers and attach the most important guy lines to them. Preferably do not use the spade as an anchor since you might need to shovel during the night if the snow starts to build up around the tent.
Make it cosy
Once the tent is in place, dig a 40-50 cm deep hold in the vestibule in front of the opening to the inner tent that you can sit in. Create a shelf for your backpack and other equipment at the far end of the vestibule. Only when your pack is under a roof should you unpack your waterproof packing bags and place them in the inner tent.
Try to arrange the inside of your tent so it is convenient and practical. For example, make sure that your water bottle is close at hand and the hot water bottle is filled so you can keep the sleeping bag warm. Many people have differing opinions about the best direction for sleeping; some prefer to have their feet next to the opening so it is easier to get in and out of the tent, but others find it more comfortable to have their head closest to the vestibule. One rule of thumb, in any case, is to keep your head and the core of your body as far away from the wind as possible in order to stay warm.
Beware of changes in the direction of the wind!
If you have a tunnel tent, you must be prepared to move the tent if the wind changes direction in the middle of the night. Hard side winds can break the poles of a tunnel tent and, if this happens, it is very easy for the tent walls to tear.