Pitching a Tent in Snow

In this epic snow year of 2017, summer backpackers may find themselves pitching their tent in snow. If that happens, they will quickly discover that regular tent pegs will pop right out of the snow. I’m no snow expert (unless I’m on skis) but this year I’ve started to acquire some snow backpacking skills. First I took a snow hiking skills class with Ned Tibbits of Mountain Education to learn how to use an ice axe, Whippet and crampons. Then I went on a two-night snow backpacking trip in Desolation Wildernss in Tahoe that was 95% on snow. It was during this trip that Karin Schwartz showed me a few tricks about how to set up a tent in snow.

Tent staked out in snow

Tent staked out in snow at Lake of the Woods in Desolation Wilderness (Tahoe)

You can buy special snow stakes, but this procedure uses twigs. When you try to dig up the stake, you’ll see the benefit of using twigs. They hold up well enough in the snow but when you’re ready to break camp, you can pull the cord out, break the twig and just leave it behind since it’s part of nature. Otherwise, you’ll be using a shovel to dig out each metal or plastic stake. Swearing might be involved as you chip away at the solid ice block encasing your stake.

When I ran out of cord for the last tie-down, I found that the bungee worked well in the same fashion. I had used a bungee cord to lash my snowshoes to my pack, so it was available at camp.  I hooked one end to the tent and slid a twig into the hook at the other end. I buried the twig in the snow. However, I found that it was harder to pull out in the morning, requiring the use of the shovel.


  • Tent
  • Thin cord, 18 inches long, one piece for each tie-down where you would normally use a tent stake
  • Twigs, 6 inches long, one for each cord
  • Shovel or trowel


  • Tie the end of each cord to a tie-down loop where you would normally use a tent stake. You can do this at home.
  • Gather enough twigs for each cord
  • Set up your tent
  • Tie the other end of the cord to the middle of the twig
  • Pull the cord out so the cord and tent is taut, as you would to stake the tent normally
  • Estimate where the end of the cord will be and use the shovel to dig a trench a few inches down in the snow, only wide enough for the twig. I was able to use the end of my snowshoe to dig this trench when the shovel wasn’t available.
  • Press the twig horizontally into the trench
  • Pack the snow on top of the twig and use your boot to solidify it
  • Wait 10-15 min for the snow to set and it should be secure
  • To remove the stake, tug on the cord. The twig may pop out or it may break. If it’s stubborn, use a trowel to dig it out.

Related Article

An Introduction to Snow Backpacking in the Sierra

Photo Essay

Tie one end of the cord to the loop of the tent

Tie the other end to a twig

Make a trench big enough for the stake to fit horizontally. I used a snowshoe here to dig the trench.

Slide the twig into the trench

Step on the snow to compress it

Wait 15 minutes and cord will be set in frozen snow

Bungee cord tent stake

A bungee cord can work in a pinch

Tent staked out at Lake of the Woods