How to Build a Quinzee

How to Build a Quinzee

A quinzee is basically a hollowed out pile of snow that you can use for a survival shelter in the winter, or as a sweet fort in your backyard. It is not nearly as complicated as building an igloo, and can be completed with a solid afternoon’s work with two people. I have slept overnight in these structures while winter camping in northern Minnesota, and they can keep you relatively warm, especially if the temperatures outside are well below freezing. How to Build a Quinzee Step by Step 1) Determine the location of your quinzee. It will have an entrance hole, so it’s helpful to make sure that’s not facing directly into the wind. If, for example, you are going to build it on an island in the Boundary Waters like we did, you probably wouldn’t choose to build it on the edge of the island with the hole facing the frozen water. Find a nice sheltered area for your little hut. 2) Determine the size of your quinzee. This may depend on the area you have found, or you may have a larger area to work with. Stomp out the perimeter of your quinzee, then stomp down the center as well to make a sturdy base. 3) Pile up a heck of a lot of snow! You can build a quinzee with any kind of snow as long as you can pile up enough of it. The weight of the snow piled up will compact it into a structure that you can hollow out. This will be the most time consuming task, especially since eventually you may need to start carrying shovelfuls of snow over to your developing pile to make it large enough. Remove layers as necessary to avoid soaking through your clothes with sweat, especially if you do not have a change of clothes. Sleeping outside, even in the shelter of a quinzee, in the winter with wet clothes will bring you no good. 4) Once your pile of snow is satisfactory, take a break. Seriously! The snow needs time to settle, and you need a rest before hollowing it out. Try to give the pile at least a couple of hours. The process the snow goes through is called sintering, in which the points of the snowflakes are broken off through pressure, and the resultant rounded grains can fuse together into larger crystals. This is what allows you to build a shelter out of any type of snow, even light fluff. 5) After the snow has had a good chance to sinter, and you’ve gotten in a good meal or perhaps a short bout of ice fishing, it’s nearly time to hollow out the structure. Before you do, gather a quantity of sticks and break them into pieces that are roughly 1 foot long each. Jab these all over into your pile to use as guides. As you are hollowing out the pile, you keep scraping away at the snow until you reach these sticks, which are your indication to stop. 6) It’s finally time to hollow out the pile. If you haven’t already done so, choose where the entrance hole is going to be. Rather than having your entrance go straight into the hole, have it travel down first and then in. This may result in a somewhat snakelike movement on your part to get in and out of the structure, which really only makes things more fun. This will also allow cold air to gather in this little downward facing hole, and let the inside of the quinzee stay nice and cozy once it’s hollowed out. It’s best to do this process with two people – one person hollowing out the structure with a smaller shovel, and the other person removing the snow from the entrance with another shovel. This is also helpful in case the structure collapses while the hollower is inside. This is unlikely to happen, but if it does, you have a rescuer immediately available. Stop scraping at the walls once you are able to see your guide sticks. You will likely be able to see a bit of daylight through the walls as well. The thickness should be about 10 – 12 inches. 7) Once your quinzee is hollowed out to your liking, dig out a couple of small holes for air exchange. These should be about 1/3 of the way down from the top, and about large enough to fit your fist through. Time to enjoy your fort…ahem…quinzee survival structure. We had added the tarp the next morning to provide a shelter from the snow while we were eating breakfast. Spending the night in the...

Grand Trunk Ultralight Hammock Review

Grand Trunk Ultralight Hammock Review

The Grand Trunk Ultralight Hammock is a great inexpensive option for a lightweight travel hammock, and is also useful if you are just looking for something that packs up small for convenient storage. Grand Trunk Ultralight Hammock (Forrest Green) It’s important to note that this is an inexpensive hammock, so it is not the highest quality you will find out there. For the price though, and if you pay attention to the weight limits, it is a decent option. As with any fabric hammock, I would caution against leaving this out in the sun and rain for extended periods of time, as this will weaken the fabric. This hammock comes with ropes and hooks on the ends. I’m personally not a big fan of hooks, and would rather use good knots or carabiners. The ropes that it comes with are rather short, but I have purchased more expensive hammocks that didn’t have ropes on the ends at all. I have done backpacking trips where packing light was absolutely essential, so for those bringing a hammock and rainfly would be a better use of space than carrying along a tent, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag. The Grand Trunk Ultralight hammock does pack down to a weight of 12 ounces. The fabric is machine washable (as it should be), which is helpful when bringing home a hammock that smells strongly of campfire smoke (or sweat). It does dry quickly as well. I have left it up in the rain, and probably due to the lightweight fabric and the fact that it was still hanging up, it did not take terribly long to dry out. I have used this tent several times over the course of a year, and have not had any issues with it. This hammock does only support up to 250 pounds though, and I wouldn’t push it based on some of the other reviews I have read. Neither my husband or I come close to this weight limit, but I did read a review from one woman who had the fabric of her hammock rip right down the middle. On the other hand, I read reviews from people in the 250 pound range who had no issues at all. My conclusion from this is that the hammock will probably be fine if properly cared for and your weight is less than 250, but if you want to be safe I would purchase a hammock made of stronger fabric that is meant to support a heavier person. As with everything, you get what you pay...

How to Use an Emergency Fire Starter

How to Use an Emergency Fire Starter

Emergency fire starters are typically made with magnesium, and most have built-in blades or knives. Basically, you will first need to shave bits of magnesium off the fire starter with a knife onto some tinder. The flint from the fire starter is then used to create sparks, which should ignite the flammable magnesium as well as the tinder. From there, it’s your job to keep the fire going! Read further for more detailed instructions.   This emergency fire starter, for example, has a striker with one serrated edge rather than a knife. The serrated edge is used to shave off the bits of magnesium, and then the flint is struck with the other side of the striker. How to Use an Emergency Fire Starter – Detailed Instructions Before you even think about making your little pile of magnesium shavings, you will need to gather dry tinder and assemble it into a nice little airy pile in a location where you will want your fire to be. Your tinder could be anything from twigs to bark to fuzz from your clothing, and will be used as fuel to ignite larger pieces of burnable fuel. When you start to shave off the bits of magnesium onto the tinder, hold the starter at an angle above the tinder. Try scraping toward you rather than away to have greater control over where the shavings land. You should create a pile that is about the size of a quarter, and it should land directly on the tinder. Your emergency fire starter will also have a flint component. This may be on the same block as the magnesium, or it could be on a separate one. Use the blade portion of the fire starter to scrape down the flint in order to create sparks. Make sure you are once again holding the flint at an angle so that the sparks land on the flammable magnesium and tinder. Continue to strike the flint until the sparks have lit the fuel and started a flame. From there, it is your job to nurture the flame into a fire! Protect this little flame from strong wind, but do gently blow on it to encourage the flame to spread. Slowly add more tinder, and then progressively larger bits of fuel as the fire grows. Zippo Emergency Fire Starter Kit This fire starter kit is available at REI and includes a flint-wheel ignition and 4 waxed tinder sticks to help you get a fire going. It also helpfully floats in water and has a waterproof...

Backpacking Food Ideas – Fried Tortillas with Toppings

Backpacking Food Ideas – Fried Tortillas with Toppings

Eating oatmeal or cold granola for breakfast every day while you’re backpacking sucks, at least for me. I like a meal that’s hot! Crispy! Adaptable! Simple! Compact and lightweight! Does not have to be kept cold! And of course, produces as few dishes as possible. These criteria cut out a lot of foods, but you know what they don’t cut out? ¡Tortillas! Yes, it’s true, tortillas are a fantastic choice if you’re looking for backpacking food ideas.   It took a couple of years to conceive of the idea. In those years, we brought bagels, english muffins, or bread. Foolish! Sure, they’re fine if you’re camping out of your car with coolers, totes, and miscellaneous whatnot, but we don’t really do that. We go backpacking, for a week at a time. Space is a concern, and stuff gets squished. Backpacking Food Ideas – The Tortilla Enter tortilla. It is versatile. You can stuff it with rice and meat. You can add seasonings to bagged chicken and toss that in there (buffalo chicken wrap, anyone?), and HELLO, fish tacos! Now let’s switch gears to breakfast backpacking food ideas. The lone tortilla. Eat it cold, or eat it hot. Put stuff on it. May I suggest peanut butter? Nutella? General fixings one would spread on toast? You can heat your tortilla, it’s easy! Grab your camp stove, a pan, a utensil for flipping it, and some oil. I like canola oil, but you can use other kinds. Heat up the oil in the pan and fry your tortilla. The key is to just use a little oil so you can achieve the ultimate goal – crispy brown fry spots on the tortilla. You know what I’m talking about. Find On Sale Camping & Hiking products at...

Camping Rain Shelters – Tips for Making Shelters when Camping in the Rain

Camping Rain Shelters – Tips for Making Shelters when Camping in the Rain

If you don’t camp very often, there is a chance you may never camp in the rain. For those of us that make a frequent practice of it, it’s pretty much inevitable. Sometimes it can be a cozy experience, if you happen to be dry; playing cards in the tent, cooking under a tarp, even sipping hot chocolate in your raincoat under a rock overhang. Note how each of these cozy situations involves being dry. Sure, running out into the rain to, say, make out in a downpour is great if you have a house or car to run into afterward. However, once you’re wet when you’re out in the woods, it can be hard to get un-wet. Best try to stay dry from the get-go. Here is where camping rain shelters come in handy. Staying dry when camping isn’t necessarily that hard, unless you have a tendency to be lazy. For example, put on your rain gear, including the hood. Add some type of waterproof boots. That kind of stuff does help. We once camped in the Boundary Waters for a week, and it rained basically every day. It was also rather cold for that time of year (July), with temps generally not exceeding 65 and dipping down into the 40’s every night. When we travel to the BWCA, we don’t bring a lot of clothes: a couple pairs of pants, a couple of long-sleeved shirts, etc. Generally just an extra pair of everything, with maybe some extra socks and undies (to help me feel more human and less like a feral forest creature). Anyways, with so few clothes and so many rainy days, we didn’t have much room for error. What it comes down to in that type of situation is stay dry, or risk hypothermia. Besides putting our rain gear on whenever we were exposed to the rain, we also created camping rain shelters. A tent is great, yes, for an easy-to-set-up and effective shelter, but you can’t cook in a tent. Also, you can’t go to the Boundary Waters and spend a week in a tent, that would be ridiculous. Tools Needed to Make Camping Rain Shelters A tarp and some rope or bungee cords are all you need to bring to make great shelters (or FORTS if you want to have fun with it). Other things that come in handy are sticks, canoes, trees, rocks, and some creativity. Your goal is to use the tools you have, and tools you can find to stay dry. Helpful Tips for Making Camping Rain Shelters Helpful tip: if you use a stick to prop up the center of the shelter as shown in our photo, put some kind of cloth around it so it doesn’t wear through the tarp.  Some key things to keep in mind are which direction the wind is blowing (make sure that side is blocked off or you will be sprayed by rain while you sit in your shelter), angle of the ground (set up on a slope the wrong way and you’ll have rivulets of water snaking through your dry patch of ground), and proximity to mosquito sources. Once we set up a shelter not far from our fire, and the wind was blowing just right to fan the smoke through our sheltered area, thereby keeping the mosquitoes at bay. Choosing an area with a level spot for cooking is helpful, assuming you are cooking with a camp stove. Finally, a good view is helpful. You may be sitting there for awhile. Blue Poly Tarp – 14′ x 12′ Here’s a basic tarp available at REI. This is the type of tarp that we generally use for making rain shelters. They fold up to be fairly compact and will last for many years if well cared for. MSR E-Wing Shelter This is more of a wish list item for me, we don’t own one. You can even use this shelter as your actual tent! If weight and space are a major concern on your trip, this is the type of item you might choose to bring with you for a rain shelter, a tent, or both. It has reinforced guy points and you can use a walking pole or ski pole to help set it...

South Kawishiwi River, BWCA Entry Point

South Kawishiwi River, BWCA Entry Point

Our 2012 summer Boundary Waters trip was spent entirely on the South Kawishiwi River. The initial planning began last fall.  After last summer’s Brule Lake trip, we were looking for an entry point that allowed only a couple of groups in per day that was near the Ely area. We ended up deciding on entry point 32, South Kawishiwi River (op) because they had a limit of two groups that could enter per day. The reservation was made January 26, and a good thing I made it that early too because the entry points were booking up very quickly! Visit this page of recreation.gov to make your reservation. South Kawishiwi River Map We left for the trip early in the morning on Saturday, July 21 from the cabin, and made it to the Kawishiwi Ranger Station in Ely before 9AM. If I could, I would live in this ranger station. It is stately, massive, and exudes glorious north woods vibes. All of Ely smelled of smoke, and the rangers informed us that this was because of fires in Canada. Apparently they were getting a lot of calls from people reporting that they smelled smoke. We got the classic talk from the ranger about the rules of the BWCAW, but one of the points mentioned really caught my attention, because I had not heard it described in this way before. Of course, leave all items and sites of historic and cultural value alone, such as the rock painting sites. However, the ranger informed us that any item over 50 years old is considered historic, whether it be a tree or a coke bottle. Interesting! From the ranger station it was a 21 mile drive to entry point 32. There were quite a few spaces for parking, both right next to the entry point and a bit farther away. The portage in is 147 rods, or a bit less than half a mile (there are 320 rods in a mile, and a rod is 16.5, about the length of a canoe). There were a couple steep(ish) spots along it, and some larger rocks that you have to step up onto. At the end there is a wooden path through a wetland area near the river, two boards wide and very stable. The portage was not at all difficult, but not a cake walk either simply because there were some inclines and obstacles. The paddling on South Kawishiwi was very easy. There were very few rocks to navigate around, and we enjoyed beautiful weather on the way in so were not hampered by waves. Although this is a river, it is as wide as many lakes we have been on and certainly had more of a lake feel to it than river. It took us about four hours to paddle up the length of the southern portion of South Kawishiwi. We weren’t paddling at breakneck speed, but kept moving at a steady pace. We have been canoeing together for years, so we have a pretty good rhythm down. Stay tuned for part...