My thoughs on tents for tundra in winter

If the weather is benign, any tent can be used above timberline in winter. However, if the wind picks up spin drift can be dangerous. The tiny snow/ice particles swept along the the snowy ground will penetrate bug netting. For that reason I would personally never use a tent that does not have a sleep area totally enclosed in solid fabric. A place where net covered vents can be completely closed. This means either a double wall tent with a solid, non mesh, inner tent or a single skin solid fabric tent like my favorite for solo camping above timberline in winter. I would not use a tarp or a tarptent that cannot be completely closed against spindrift.

By Jörgen Johansson


In ideal circumstances, without any wind, a single skin tarptent, say a mid, could be pitched and three out of four sides could be bedded in with shoveled snow at ground level and tight against spin drift. The fourth side or opening cannot be entirely closed unless someone stands outside and shovels snow on that side after the occupant has moved in. So even under ideal circumstances spin drift will come in and settle on sleeping bag, pad and all other gear inside. The sleeping bag, warm from body heat, will become damp, lose insulation and hypothermia could follow.

If there is instead a hard wind when this tarptent is pitched, all snow shoveled on all sides of the tent will simply blow away. All sides will be open to spin drift. If you have a solid fabric, not mesh, inner tent under this mid you will be fine. An alternative that would work as well is a weather/waterproof bivy bag that should preferably also enclose your sleeping pad.

Otherwise the results will be what is beautifully (?) documented by Ryan Jordan of Backpackinglight.com in the video below.If you enter it at exactly 30.00 minutes you will see how his pad, sleeping bag and other stuff inside the tent is covered by the finely powdered snow that is spindrift. Before that he had experienced high winds and tent pegs coming loose. Something that would open one or several sides of the tent at ground level, even if snow had been shoveled on top.

Ryan is an extremely competent outdoor person and the overnighter was a test of a tent not made for this situation, so he had an exit. He was not more than a couple of hours away from his car. The route was down hill and he soon encountered tree cover. In most of North America south of the  Canadian border you are never very far from the forest when above timberline. But in Arctic regions, like the Scandinavian mountains, the forest can be very far away and roads even more so.

Stay safe!

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