Tent in snow

Winter Camping: Anchoring in Snow

One of the hardest aspects of winter camping is the ground itself! Frozen soil can be as hard as cement and often so dense that it can’t even be broken up enough to get a stake to hold. Here’s a rundown of the most common anchoring methods used for pitching/securing a tent when cold-weather camping.

Stakes come in various sizes, lengths and strengths, affecting weigh and how well they will work in different (frozen?) ground conditions. Trying to pound a stake into frozen ground is like trying to penetrate concrete with a soda straw.

Basic utility stakes, typically plastic or metal, are generally way too weak for winter use. Heavier metal or molded stakes with a “V” or “Y” cross-section can have more material substance. Depending upon their length and width are pretty tough, and can often be used to hammer down through most frozen ground.

Spikes are long nails with a cap and possibly a loop attached to the head. The tops on cheaper ones often crack if being used in cold weather, or if pounded too hard. There’s not much surface area to the shaft, so they work well in firm, frozen soil.

Hooks and loops are large gauge wire that’s been formed into a stake with a hook or loop on top for easily connecting your guy line – a basic utility stake for a variety of campsite uses.

Augers screw into crusty, compacted, dense snow for a secure anchor point. Larger, broader bladed augers often work well in snow. They have an eyelet at the top of the auger shaft for aid in screwing into the ground and for securing lines.

Flanges and sand/snow anchors are wide, broad-based or flanged stakes that use their large surface area to resist the pull of the guyline in the snow. They typically have a small cable loop, or something similar that extends above ground for securing an adjustable guyline.

Deadman Anchor is arguably the best system for securing a tent or tarp lines in deep snow, Basically, your anchoring point is a moderately heavy item buried in the snow, then packed and covered with more snow to create a strong, stationary base around which you can tie off your guyline.
There are commercial pouch-like slings you can fill with rocks or logs to provide the weighted base. An even more basic approach is to simply bury and then tie off around a big rock or section of log, chunk of ice – or even a huge, compacted snowball (as if you are starting to build a snowman) – and bury or position it relative to the direction/angle of the line you need to secure.
One extension of burying a log as a guyline anchor point is to bury a log as long as the wall of your tent, placing it along the base of your tent so the entire floor/wall edge is buried and held in place by this extended deadman. Compacting the snow over the log and even wetting it down so it freezes in place is a common method used to secure larger wall tents at winter hunting camps.
Since the anchor is buried, a deadman has to have a loop extension accessible above ground through which a tent or tarp guy line can be attached and adjusted.

Securing your tent by a variety of means and methods is a preventative way to be prepared for changing conditions that take the challenge of winter camping to a whole new level.

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One Response to “Winter Camping: Anchoring in Snow”

  1. Tom Watson

    One more option I forgot to include in the article…you can also pack snow around a stake and pour water over it to form a solid ice chuck to secure your guy line. It’s a firm fix but also can take some effort to free stake/line from block of ice.