Making My Own Winter Tent: the First Igloo

February 2nd, 2012

After making my first quinzhee last month, I realized two things. One, I really like snow shelters (they’re warm, quiet and just plain fun to be in). Two, I really didn’t like quinzhees. Making them was tough and an imprecise science. Getting the shape right was tough. Digging it out was wet, claustrophobic work.

So, when I saw the IceBox by Grand Shelters I knew I wanted to try it (the only tough part was the cost – $170 for the tool; it made me feel better knowing I was supporting a Colorado-based business, though). The IceBox is a tool that makes building an igloo with any quality of snow (powder, sugar snow, etc.) an easy to follow process. It does so by using a pole staked into the ground and a form at the other end of the pole that you can pack snow into to make each bring. The form and pole move in such a way that allow the construction with precise angles to create a solid, structurally correct shape.

In continued preparation for winter campouts with the troop, I purchased and went to use the IceBox with my brother recently. I wanted to make sure I fully understood how to make an entire igloo with it so that I could coach the scouts how to make it on their next campout (the troop is also bringing tents in the event that igloos don’t get completed – and for those that don’t want to sleep in the igloo).

Making the Igloo

Time: 5 hours total (including stomping down the platform, making the igloo, taking a few breaks and digging out the tunnel). I expect this would go down by a few hours with better snow conditions (we had a lot of very dry powder) and having gained experience using the tool in just the right way.

Location: We built it in Rocky Mountain National Park (about here) – on the side of a hill. The area had approximately 3 feet of base powder.

Effort: Small to Moderate – definitely some muscle fatigue from 5 hours of shoveling and packing the form, but we weren’t overly exerted. This was by FAR less work than the quinzhee.

Learning How to Use It: Using the IceBox requires two things – watching the DVD that comes with it (it’s about 30 minutes and extremely helpful) and some pratice.

How it Worked:

We decided to build the igloo about 30 yards off the trail, up a small hill. Building it on a hill requires leveling out a platform (shoveling snow from the uphill side down the hill a bit) to create a level place to build it on. Doing so, however, allowed us to more easily dig the door. The door is actually dug under the floor, popping up under a side of the igloo. Doing so allows cold air to flow out – but not back in. The result is warmth – these things get 35-40 degrees F when sleeping in them.

We proceeded to level the platform, assemble the tool and begin building. To build the igloo, a pole is staked in the center and a large plastic form attached to the pole at the other end. Snow is then packed into the form. Once packed, the form can be released in a way to move the form down while leaving the last block in tact. Angling the form just right (there are lines on the side to help) and changing the length of the pole allow the igloo walls to angle in at the appropriate times. We had a few small hiccups along the way, but were otherwise successful. The hardest part, by far, were the last few blocks. When nearing the top, the form is too big and has to be taken apart a bit and used in a way that allows snow to be packed on top. The video does a good job explaining it, but it took some extra time in practice. I almost gave up at the end but my brother kept us going and we were able to finish it. The next time I build one, it’ll go MUCH faster at the end stage.

Some pictures and a short time lapse of the igloo. Note that the time lapse only covers the first half – the camera batteries died early in the cold.


Final Impressions

This thing really works. It’s fun and a bit amazing to watch as the walls move up and slowly inward while building it. I wasn’t sure it would hold together as the walls were hanging precariously toward the center, but it did. With the final keystone block in place, the structure was strong enough to lay on. The IceBox and the igloos it makes are FANTASTIC. I would highly recommend this tool to anyone that wants to try making their own snow shelter. It’s easier, less strenuous, fun and very effective – especially with a little practice.

Every troop that goes winter camping should have at least one IceBox!


  1. Pingback: Making My Own Winter Tent: the First Quinzhee - Colorado Scouter

  2. This is very cool (no pun intended). I may invest if I ever get promoted out of 11yos, but for now, I’ll take the newbies camping in warmer weather.

    I lived in CoSprings for three years while stationed at Peterson AFB, but except for Black Canyon of th Gunnison, I never did get to RMNP or the other NPS sites in Colorado. I did take the train to the top of Pike’s Peak though. That’s the first and only time I’ve seen bighorns (alive), and to top it off, there was a pronghorn herd that lived a half-mile from my house. Man, I miss CO!

  3. That looks great. When I first saw this contraption I wondered if it would really work in dry powdery snow. I have a hard time imagining being able to actually get the snow packed to form blocks solid enough to stand up. That, and the hefty price, have kept me from seriously considering it. But after this review I might have to look into it a bit more….

    • Tory – it’s definitely slower in powder as you have to be more careful when packing. It works wonders, though. Cost should be your only reservation – this thing works in any kind of snow.

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