How to Build a Tree Pit Shelter

Tree well shelter diagram

If you find yourself below the treeline in snowcountry and needing to take shelter as some hikers and off piste skiers do, a tree pit or tree well shelter may be an option. This type of shelter demands a lot of energy to make, however, so if you are running out of strength you may need to build a simpler shelter to get you through your situation. But if you have the energy and time, the steps are quite straightforward. Bear in mind that this is for emergencies only and not a suitable shelter for leisure camping.

Steps to building a tree pit shelter

1) Select a tree with low-hanging branches.

2) Without disturbing the snow on the branches, start to dig down into the snow in the natural well that forms around the base of the tree. You may need to enlarge it a bit so that you can fit in comfortably, but try to stay within the width of the overhanging tree branches as they will help to protect you and your shelter. Be careful not to fall in, head-first, as tree wells can be dangerous. In deep snow situations, the snow under a tree is often very soft and may not be enough to support you. It is possible to suffer from snow immersion which is essentially “drowning” in snow. Be especially cautious if you are alone and watch your partner at all times if you are with someone. If you feel the well is too deep or the snow too soft to support your weight, move on to another tree.

3) When you’ve dug deeply enough to fit inside comfortably, line the bottom of the pit with branches for insulation.

4) Lean long branches from the edge of the pit to the trunk of the tree to form the roof of your shelter. Fill this in as thickly as you can to keep out wind and snow.

Have you ever built a snow shelter of any kind? We’d love to hear about it!

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