How to Make an Igloo
Why sleep in a comfortable bed inside a nice warm house when you can sleep in a frozen dome outside in the mountains? The answer is simple, you must be a Boy Scout. Only Scouts would think that spending the night away from the comforts of civilization in an igloo is fun. Yet, that is exactly what we did. Family traveling is always an adventure! Bear Grylls has nothing on us!
Our two boys, Aaron and Elijah, 24 other eager Scouts, and five intrepid dads, all trekked up Stevens Pass in the North Cascade Mountains area of Washington to build and sleep in igloos. Things like this always sound fun, until you are actually there questioning your sanity. Despite the cold, wet, and intense labor involved in constructing our temporary habitats, the experience was definitely one that our boys will always remember. It was a great father-son adventure! Notice no mothers were involved in the making of this post. I would say that my wife is not as rugged as her three men, but I think that it more came down to brains. She knew what we were in for and wanted no part of it. Smart.
Let me say, if you have never built a real igloo, then you do not understand the enormous amount of work that goes into their construction. We have built igloos every year on this annual outing. (Yes, we have done this before and willing went again; you think that we would learn.) We are not igloo experts, but we have experience at least (and enthusiasm!). Despite knowing what we are doing (maybe) an igloo for four still takes about six hours to build from snow. That is a lot of manual labor. Here is a great book on the science of igloo construction.
First, you need to make a foundation. You do that by digging a 6 foot diameter circle down to a depth of about 1 to 2 feet. Second, you make blocks from snow or ice. Ideally, you cut the blocks with a saw from a packed snow area or ice. If you cannot do that, then you make the blocks by packing snow in a form, like this one. About 18 to 24 inches cubed seems to work best. Third, start laying the blocks around your foundation in a ring and work upwards. As you work up, you need to shape the blocks with a saw so that they are angled (trapezoidal for you math types). This way, the blocks will fit tighter together and lean inwards to form the dome. You can check out our video for a better look at the process. Icebox makes a cool tool to make igloo building easier and faster.
Tip: Bring a sturdy snow block making mold, like a Rubbermaid storage container.
By the third or fourth ring of the igloo, our scouts start to get tired and bored with the whole building idea. Snowball fights invariably break out. About this time, the dads’ patience starts to wear thin. The race is to see if you can get your igloo built before the scouts tire, the dads lose it, and darkness sets in. If you succeed, then you get to sleep in your igloo! If you don’t, then you beg for shelter! (Actually, we had a back-up cabin reserved just in case.)
Tip: Bring a large plastic tarp. If you do not finish the igloo, you can at least cover the top with the tarp for shelter.
Now it is time to fill all those cracks with snow. (The really big cracks are filled with small blocks of snow.) Then the inside of the igloo must be smoothed. This is done by hand (your gloves get very wet, bring an extra pair!). If the inside of the dome is one, smooth surface, there will be no dripping of water at all (right!). When the smoothing of the inside is done and all the snow has been shoveled out, it is time to finish the entrance.
We were all famished by dinner time. Since you cannot cook inside an igloo for obvious reasons (I hope). We ate in the nearby cabin. Warm spaghetti and meatballs never tasted as good.
The igloos stay surprisingly warm inside (or at least warmer than the outside). They will usually stay above 40 degrees even on a sub-zero night. We hung our lantern from the top, climbed into our sleeping bags, and settled in for evening. Within a few minutes, most of us were fast asleep. I felt like a polar bear during hibernation.
Tip: Bring another tarp to sleep on or plastic garbage bags to slide your sleeping bag into. Water tends to pool on the igloo floor despite our best efforts. Waking up in a giant slushy is no fun.
Fun Tip: Spray bottles filled with colored water make cool graffiti sprayers to tag your igloo!
Go Troop 600!