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How To Build an Actual Igloo

Since we know that people used to live in igloos at one time, we know that they must be good shelters. But in order for it to be sturdy and warm, you have to know how to build it properly. Whether you’re using it as a snow fort to play in or as an emergency winter shelter, knowing how to build a real igloo can come in handy.

What Igloos Were Really Used For

Many people assume that the Inuit people lived in igloos full time, but this isn't correct. Igloos were actually used as temporary shelters when the men would head out to go hunting. They would typically have to travel a long distance from their cold environment to an even colder destination to hunt one of the only food sources around--seals that lived near the icy water. Because of this long distance, they couldn’t exactly turn around and head home for the evening when they were done. At times they had to spend days or even weeks hunting to ensure they had enough food to bring home to last until they ventured back out to the frigid area for another hunt. So they built igloos as a place to get out of the wind and snow while they were out on their hunt. For the most part, igloos aren’t used anymore, but a few hunters still enjoy staying in them so they can get back out there as quickly as possible.

How Igloos Were Originally Built

When you see an igloo on TV, it’s usually made out of perfect rectangles of snow or ice. You can even buy brick-making molds to help you make a perfect-looking igloo. But back when igloos were widely used, the natives didn’t make them out of perfectly shaped bricks. They had to work with the snow on the ground that was already tightly packed, and they used their saws to cut it into shapes. This actually resulted in a much sturdier structure than what we could make with store-bought brick molds. This is because the snow they used had been compacting upon itself for a while and was much denser than what we would make by simply pressing snow into a mold by hand.

Building an Igloo

If you want to "rough-it" on a hunting trip, or just want to make a sweet fort for the kids (or kids-at-heart!), building an igloo is the way to go! Follow these steps and you’ll have your own temporary shelter in no time!!

What You Need:

  • A saw to cut the snow/ice

  • A shovel or two

  • Gloves to protect your hands

How To Make It:

  1. Find yourself a pretty big area with lots of tightly packed snow.

  2. Using the saw, cut blocks from the packed snow. You want these blocks to be around 3’ x 15” x 8” to ensure they are sturdy enough for the first layer of blocks.

  3. Now it’s time to start building. You want the area you build on to be packed snow, a few feet deep.

  4. Begin laying the blocks in a circle and ensure that they meet all the way around. You’re actually going to dig the entrance out from under it, so there’s no need for a gap anywhere.

  5. As you add layers, you want to not only reduce the size of the blocks slightly, but shave the top and bottom just slightly so they lean inward. But don’t take off so much that they fall in. They still need to support each other.

  6. When you get to the top, you want to make a block that is just larger than the opening. You’re going to move it back and forth to wedge it into the hole.

  7. Start taking loose snow and packing it around the outside, using it as a kind of mortar in between the blocks. This will help to make the wall more solid, but also fill in any gaps in between the blocks.

  8. Dig down into the snow from the outside and under the wall, then back up to create the entrance. This method helps to keep the warm air in the igloo since heat rises and the exit dips down.

  9. Using smaller blocks, create a cover for your entrance hole so that if it begins to snow, it’s not going to get filled in.

  10. The final step is to cut some small vent holes in the wall so you won’t suffocate.

Now you have your own real igloo! If you feel your air supply getting short when you’re inside, just punch out a few more vent holes.

The Quinzee: An Igloo Alternative

The quinzee is a type of igloo. It’s a temporary snow shelter that possibly originated in the colder parts of Canada since the name is Athabaskan, a native language in the sub arctic and northern area of Canada. Our guess is that this shelter came about because people either didn't have saws to cut blocks out of the snow and ice, or because there wasn't any previously compacted snow to use. Give this quinzee a try!

Building a Quinzee

If you find yourself in a situation where an igloo isn't doable due to lack of tools or packed snow, try building a quinzee. These are pretty quick to make and are just as much fun to play in as an igloo!

What You Need:

  • Lots of snow

  • A shovel if possible

  • Some sticks that are about a foot long, but not really thick

  • Gloves

How To Make It:

  1. Using your shovel or hands, start building a mound of snow. You’ll want it to be around 7-9 feet tall, so it may take a lot of snow. It also needs to be a bit bigger in diameter than what you want the shelter to be on the inside.

  2. Once you have your snow mound, you need to let it sit for a while. This will let gravity pack the snow for you. The longer you wait the better, but it’s recommended to wait at least an hour and a half. Go get yourself some hot chocolate and warm up a bit while you wait. You’re going to need it before beginning the next phase.

  3. After your pile has sat for at least 1 ½ hours, start to punch your sticks in through the top and down the sides. Make sure they stick out of the snow mound by about 2” and leave them there.

  4. Begin digging a few feet away from the mound, down under the side of the mound, then back up. If you don’t have enough snow on the ground to do this, you can simply dig straight in at the bottom to form a door. It just won’t hold in the heat as well.

  5. As you dig up into the mound, you’ll use the sticks as guides for where to stop digging. Once you reach the ends of the sticks, you don’t want to dig out any farther, as the wall won’t be thick enough.

  6. Create some vent holes just like you did with the igloo. You can do this by removing the sticks, or punching holes into the wall. Just ensure you spend some time in there before going to sleep so you can gauge whether or not you have enough air holes.

From a fun winter activity to needing emergency shelter, an igloo can be your best friend. While it may seem counterproductive to create a snow fort to stay warm, it’s actually a great way to trap body heat and block yourself from the wind. Whether you build an igloo or a quinzee, each one can really get you through a bind!

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