Wind break / snow wall

10:53 a.m. on December 30, 2012 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
606 forum posts

Im going out solo tonite and expecting 45 mph winds. My tent has seen worse and im not really worried about it failing. That said, I wanna build a wind break to avoid as much wind as possible. A shaking or worse flapping tent keeps me awake. Ive got more than a foot of fresh snow to work with. Im curious how far from my tent to build it and how high it needs to be in relation to my tent height. I know some of you have built many of these and any help will be appreciated. I remember some pics someone posted of a wall and a couple of tents but I cant remember the thread or the poster. I cant wait im gonna get to use my new snow shoes, finally! Not really enough snow to need them but ive had them since last xmas and im dyin to try them.

12:15 p.m. on December 30, 2012 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
606 forum posts

Second question. I have never used my silnylon tarp in this much wind. How durable is your typical silnylon tarp? Its a decent brand, cant remember who made it. I would pitch it lean to style, back to the wind. Im gonna sleep in my tent but I always carry both. Im not tryin to open that debate again, I tarp camp, tent camp and hang in my hammock too. They are all enjoyable for diff reasons. Anyway will my light tarp hold up or shoul I go with a cheap poly tarp?

12:35 p.m. on December 30, 2012 (EST)
102 reviewer rep
2,285 forum posts

I build my walls about ¾ the height of the tent.  I try to place them around a foot from the tent.  The closer to the tent you place the walls the less distance a leeward eddy has to develop and allow spindrift to settle on the leeward side of the wall.  But walls that are right next to your tent provide no room for the snow that does find your tent wall, and subsequently slides off to the ground next to your tent.  In any case you will probably need to shovel snow off your tent at some point.  A snow wall will lessen the wind’s affect on your tent, but I still find tents in the wind a noisy affair, regardless if snow walls are built or not.  When it is windy I prefer a cave or igloo, but with only a foot of snow these are not options.


12:43 p.m. on December 30, 2012 (EST)
21 reviewer rep
1,106 forum posts


I would be careful about the location you chose to set up camp.  The best windbreak is a bunch of large rocks, but a dense forest is a close second.  If the snow is the right consisency it can be cut into blocks to build a wall.  Usually it is too light and fluffy.  You can build a loose walll with a shovel.  The closer the better.

I would much rather be in a gulch or low spot than a ridge under those conditions.  Watch for the potential for falling trees and branches in that much wind.

I watched a film about some Aleut hunters out seal hunting on the pack ice.  They were traveling by sled and set up camp on a flat horizon with no topography.  They didn't bother with a shelter, but they built a low fence out of canvas and poles about three high.  They were in the sun and out of the wind enjoying the conditions in a temperature about zero.


2:52 p.m. on December 30, 2012 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
606 forum posts

Im gonna be in my back yard. Ive got about an acre cleared, with medium sized trees around. Im playing in the yard with the kids so I can camp in a hut tmrw night. Im gonna try to camp in my tent with them as a trade off with the wife. Its gonna be around five degrees, ive got plenty of gear and we will be fifty feet from my back door. Im gonna place a wall then my tent then my tarp and last a metal fireplace. Im gonna try to keep them happy all night, so ive gotta keep them comfortable. The snow will pack for blocks, I have a homemade jig made from cardboard covered with duct tape. It works great and makes blocks slightly bigger that a cinder block. It weighs almost nothing, I carry it all winter. With the right snow I can build a two foot tall wall long enough to lay behind out of the wind in about ten mins. I modeled it after a smaller commercial one I found at wally world. If we get enough snow im gonna attempt a full igloo this winter. Thanks for the advice guys, you two weresome of the ones I was hopon to hear from. Nothing beats experience.

4:51 p.m. on December 30, 2012 (EST)
1,699 reviewer rep
1,307 forum posts

Your tarp should be fine provided the tieouts or grommets were installed well/correctly. One tip I highly recommend is to use cordage with a relatively low breaking strength that way worst case your break a guy line and don't rip a tie out or grommet off/ out of your tarp.

I use a silnylon tarp made by Warbonnet year round, and have also used it in high winds on quite a few occasions. I have never once Ben thought the tarp was any where close to failing. That being said I also try to rig it somewhere with some natural cover and not on an exposed ridge line/ summit/ etc.

6:58 p.m. on December 30, 2012 (EST)
2,329 reviewer rep
5,272 forum posts


You may be thinking about various photos I have posted. An excellent resource for all things outdoors is the Princeton University mountaineering club's Outdoor Action web pages. For your winter camping, their winter pages are excellent. The Yale mountaineering club also has some good pages. I did not go to either Princeton or Yale, but a far better school. However, I have some good friends at both who are very experienced in all aspects of mountaineering.

Since you will be digging in snow (normal part of any snow camping), you need to give some thought to your shovel. WARNING- DO NOT GET A METAL SHOVEL ANYWHERE NEAR YOUR NYLON/other synthetic TENT! Metal shovels get nicks in them, and a taut nylon fly or tent body will develop amazingly large rips when they encounter such nicks. Same precautions for ice tools, metal ski edges, and anything else that is metal and might get a burr or have a sharp point or edge. Take a small plastic shovel for use in digging out the tent.

Before the Heavy Metal brigade leaps in, yes, plastic shovels are worthless for digging in icy stuff and hard-pack. So you also need a metal shovel that has a pointed blade. Just don't get it close to any taut tent fabric.

The height of your windwall and surrounding extent depend on the local wind conditions. Ed said he uses 3/4 the tent height. I have been places where half-height was adequate, and I have been in conditions where 1.5 times the tent height was desirable. A common recommendation is to make the wall the height of the tent. In the following image (at 12,000 ft on Vinson), we were just fine with the wall on one side and the tents in a line downwind. Note that both walls are taller than the sleeping tents, though the cook tent does stick up taller than the wall. I would also note that on day 4 of the storm, we moved one tent and added another wall. The wind at that saddle was pretty constantly in one direction straight through the saddle. Note the scoured trough that extends from the space between the windwalls toward the camera.

Ed says he puts his walls a foot from the tent. In my experience, this is way too close. To some extent it depends on your shaping the windward side of the wall. I was with an aeronautical engineer on one expedition who spent some time analyzing the aerodynamics of windwalls and tents. According to him, a flat face on the wall will give a vortex just behind the wall that tends to deposit the snow over a distance approximately the height of the wall. A properly shaped facing slope can make the air flow over the top of the tent. Somehow, I have never managed to achieve the correct contour, with the result that I find that having the windwall about the height of the wall from the tent works best. Shaping the wall on the upwind direction as a streamlined "ship's prow" does seem to direct the snow around the tent fairly well. You can see that in the photo above.

The following photo shows a different campsite (17,000 ft on Denali). In this case, we surrounded the tents with the windwall. You can see that we also sloped the walls a bit. The wind direction was very changeable in this case. And we had to repair the wall several times, since the wind was fairly rapidly eroding it away.

Here is a case where we built a "prow" snow wall on the upwind side, then added a back wall on one side to help stop the vortex formed by the edge of the wall from whipping the snow around the end and piling it against the tents.

Unfortunately, this tiny bird, apparently blown in on the winds, didn't survive (we saw a number of these birds' dead bodies).

Here is another campsite on the same climb. We just moved into an already existing set of walls.

If the snow is firm, as noted by previous posters, you can cut blocks - best with a snow saw (an arborists saw works just fine), though a snow shovel will do with a little care and skill. If the snow is soft (either soggy or dry), you can pile it up and walk on it with your skis or snowshows to consolidate it. If the temperature is not too low, you will be amazed at how solid it becomes after you pile the snow more than a couple feet high. Just keep packing it down as you pile it up.

7:29 p.m. on December 30, 2012 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
606 forum posts

That first pic was the one I was thinking of and I thought it was you, but I wasnt sure and didnt wanna say your name if I was wrong. Im really just experimenting, I camp in nh mostly and there is no shortage of dips or trees for wind relief. Weve been outside all day building a little wall , getting set up and just playing in the snow. Ive still got a couple of pretty young kids and my wife wont let me take them camping in the woods during winter. So we are in the back yard, its pretty rural here, we wont hear a car after eleven. With all the experience you guys have ill def try what you guys have suggested. I have shaped the wall a little and it seems to be working well. The snow is a little heavy so its not blowing too bad and its pretty steady from the nw so I think were good with one wall. Im gonna have three and ten year old girls in my tent, with my seventeen yr old son and his fourteen yr old sister in another tent. We were gonna get in a four man but its a lot taller than the two man tents. We were lazy and didnt wanna scalp the whole yard for a huge wall.

10:52 a.m. on January 21, 2013 (EST)
22 reviewer rep
2 forum posts

Hotdogman- If you do use your tarp (which I would suggest) be sure to tie down using deadman anchors in the snow.

August 21, 2014
Quick Reply

Please sign in to reply

More Topics
This forum: Older: Walrus tents Newer: Please give me tent advice (issues with 2 tents--do I need a different one?)
All forums: Older: OR- Hiking The Wallowas Newer: 18 Winter Days in the Big Frog