We build a real igloo!

What a fitting end to a wilderness education! Survival in spring, summer or autumn is one thing, but in winter..?

I am tired of the cold

Half with anticipation, half with disgust I packed for this course weekend. The cold in the neck, the eternal minus degrees… For me it was already borderline. And at the moment I also live in a house that doesn’t want to get really warm.

So I am forgiven for not only looking forward to spending five days outdoors, especially since the temperatures were not supposed to rise.

Sunshine – that’s how it should be!

Well, what can we say, on the way there – still through a thick soup of fog and highway gray – the sky opened up right in the morning and the sun made the surrounding mountains of the beautiful Bad Ischl just glow! This time we were back with Hans (and Sandra)!) at the nature learning center Dachscamp (as already at the Flintknapping)

An emergency bivouac made of snow

In the center of all our anticipation was the building of an igloo! However: First things first… Lost alone in the snow and so much snow that I can not build an emergency dwelling from branches and the like? Well, at least there is snow!

Snow insulates very well because it has a lot of air in its layers (ice, for example, is very dense and would not insulate as well in comparison) and that’s exactly what you take advantage of!

Bivouac building with a filled garbage bag!
Bivouac building with filled garbage bag!
Bivouac construction with the self-burying method

In an emergency situation, however, not with an igloo, since that firstly takes much too long (let alone, without the right tools does not even really work) and secondly for one person also does not make much sense at all. After all, we want to use our body heat sparingly and only have to heat up as little surrounding air as possible ;)

How we built an emergency shelter without snow, you can read here by the way.

Shoveling what the stuff holds

After a theoretical introduction we started to build our bivouacs. In principle, it is a narrow tube of snow, into which one fits as closely as possible. The walls should not be touched, otherwise it will be cold. And enough space to move the upper body is also recommended (you must then close the bivouac from the inside, otherwise it pulls in!). Some filled up their backpack and used it as a "form", some used a garbage bag filled with snow (works best, so better always have it with you ;D) and I used my bent legs as a "filling form": Definitely the most exhausting variant! It only worked halay, because I got higher and higher due to the unergonomic position and in the end I had to shovel my tube completely to hollow it out again ^^ (by the way, this is also a variant)!) In the end it is still finished – I wanted to give up already!

My "night" in the emergency bivouac

Well, night is a bit exaggerated. One hour I have held out. Armed with a sleeping pad (I didn’t want to try it without and I didn’t build a mattress with branches) I hid in my bivouac and closed the entrance with a backpack. Unfortunately, the was much too small and I had big holes. Wet shoes, cold feet… uaaahh… it sent a shiver across my body several times – I’ve never felt it so blatantly and clearly before. At some point I actually managed to fall asleep… only to wake up after a short time with the cold in my bones again. It was clear that I would not get a wink of sleep this night. So I got out of the thing shivering and trudged into our heated wigwam, where my sleeping bags and umpteen extra blankets were waiting for me. Heated, by the way, does not mean that the tea in my cup was not still frozen the next day ;D

The next night I tried it in another bivouac. But unfortunately it was too tight and so I touched the snow directly. Since one of the "door bricks" broke while I was closing it, the bivouac was again not tightly closed and so the fun was over after one hour of sleep… The illusion that such a night would be cozy was then taken away from me anyway. It only serves the survival ;D

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More detailed info and instructions for the emergency bivouac can be found on Hans’ website.

Making fire under time pressure

A once again very incisive experience was a fire challenge. "You have 1 match and 10 minutes time, then everyone has a fire that burns at least 10 minutes."Goes clear. Tinder material we all already had in our pockets. So only brushwood and small wood search. In the knee-deep snow and a steep forest area with few small spruces, it was not so fast to accomplish. Until I have my stuff together, let alone finally found a protected, flat place, passed quite a lot of time! Then still the thing with the cold fingers. My first match flame was immediately "blown away by the wind" and my second attempt was also nipped in the bud… darn it! But a match behaves also damn different than a bowdrill glut ^^

It’s really not to be underestimated how it is to do something like this in this bad cold. Hence the time pressure thing: Imagine you fell into the water and urgently need a fire to warm up. It does not even have to be deepest winter. At some point, fine motor skills just won’t play along if you can’t do it fast enough. This opened my eyes – again… practice, practice, practice… and under different possible – and impossible – conditions..

Tracking the animals of the forest

Plaster footprints
Animal track in the snow
Hoof or paw? Animal tracks

Reading tracks was also a topic again. In the snow truly a pleasure. Read about my first track reading course here for details, otherwise it will be too long here… after all, the best comes at the end:

Building a real igloo!

WOW! I was looking forward to building an igloo, but I never imagined that it would take me like this..

At minus 15 (. ) Grad we crawled out of our sleeping bags in the morning. On the way to the loo it has me breathing the snot in the nose froze… Accordingly I was afraid to sleep the next night in an igloo in the mountains… However, on the same morning it was already minus four degrees on the mountain – what a luck!

Snow mountain landscape at sunrise
Digging the snow profile
Saw for igloo building

In the morning the sun finally came to us, which had risen behind the summit. Hell yeah!

Equipment and Know How

So the igloo building is not sooo hard, but you should know pretty well how :D Fortunately, we had in our two-person team still an igloo freak at our side with his attention to detail with us built the most beautiful igloo together! When I was sitting in the finished igloo, I just couldn’t get my head around how it was all holding up! The bricks just stick together! The dome ceiling in an almost 90° angle! Waaaas?

Build your own igloo
Woman shovels snow
Build your own igloo
Snowy landscape with 2 people building an igloo
Man looking out from behind a pile of snow bricks
Two people from the frog's perspective, piling snow bricks

In the process we went through all the ups and downs. We were very precise in building, but slower because of it. So it was a little race against time. When the sun went down, the snow changed again and the sawn bricks "stuck" worse. And that even at the part where it is more difficult anyway, because it gets steeper and steeper. But if you hold your igloo together long enough, patiently and with muscle cramps… you will be rewarded with a nice igloo! With headlamps we brought up then still exhausted the cover and then the energy shot me again – before pure joy. We plastered the inside of the igloo like savages, I shoveled like crazy, sweated… I felt like I could have built 3 more igloos..

Half built igloo

It is "warm" in the igloo

Depending on your point of view. But nevertheless it has always temperatures around the freezing point inside. The body warms it up additionally. Because of the entrance underneath there is also no air exchange (which is why you also drill a small air hole in the ceiling) and that’s why the cold doesn’t come in from outside either.

The night – this time with Sleeping bags – was good but cold. Only with additional garment, cuddling together and a rescue blanket I could warm up. But I don’t have the best sleeping bags either (yes, I already had two ;D)

The night was starry, by the way, and above all "starry bright" – do you know that?? When there is no moon and it is still kind of bright? SO many stars! The white snow, the mountain tops, the silhouettes of the trees… Dreamlike! And then you go to sleep in your self-built igloo: a house made of water… Water!!


A mad week, which I would not like to miss again. From the fascination for the statics to the peculiarity of the cold, completely instructive. And what always counts the most for me: The immediate experience! Not just "reading about it" or "hearing about it"… The experience. Yes, I have it now and it makes a huge difference :)

Small thanks

Thanks for the beautiful place and venue in Bad Ischl. Thanks Hans, Martin and Samson for your knowledge, skills and words. Thanks to our ancestors who invented so many techniques, without which we wouldn’t know how to build an igloo for example. And big thanks also to the cold. Because, as it was so beautifully put at the course: It is immediate and clear. Yes it is. Because mistakes or deficits in your skills become noticeable even faster…

And you?

Have you ever built or tried to build an igloo?? Have you ever slept outside in winter at all? For me this is still quite new..

By the way..

Do you already know my Instagram account? Even if I don’t write that much at the moment, there’s always room for a photo in between ;)

Need little, do it yourself, live contentedly and feel free – all things that occupy me. Besides I like best to be in the nature. And I write books too. You can find it here :-).

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5 thoughts about" We build a real igloo! ”

  1. Andreas Zehndorfer14. February 2018 at 20:01

Hi Lisa, I just came across your blog yesterday by chance and I like it very much. I looked on Youtube "Tiny house" contributions, because I want to build something this year, and then also entered the keyword self-sufficiency, so I found among others videos of you.
The last time I slept outdoors in winter was during the occupation of Hainburger Au. Unfortunately it was not possible to build an igloo, because there was no or only very little snow. The snow only came towards the end of the occupation. I had a very miserable sleeping bag and not even a tent. Those were pretty much the worst nights I have ever experienced. The only thing that helped was to walk around, sit by the fire and stop sleeping. I still froze like never before or afterwards. At least it made a difference, from that point of view the freezing was worth it.
Today I have a super great sleeping bag, there it is also possible without igloo to spend the night outdoors at sub-zero temperatures, as I said snow is not always available, especially in the Vienna area where I live. Once I have already tested it at temperatures around freezing in combination with a thick mat, was no problem. I am very cold resistant by nature though. Good equipment is crucial for such conditions. Your enthusiasm for igloo building I can understand. When we were kids, we used to build them out of rolled barn balls and then plaster the spaces between them with snow. That worked great when the snow had just the right consistency. That was huge fun for me too, never spent the night in it though.
Thanks for your report, I will continue to follow your blog.
Best regards

Oh, great! I used to do that when I was a kid…
…unfortunately here is not enough snow for an igloo for years…
Many greetings!

Great article! And respect, what you do for beautiful things<3

Dear Lisa,
wow kudos! Although I totally love winter, I have to say: I couldn’t do that. I am very sensitive to cold…

What I would like to know is: did any of your colleagues spend the night in the emergency bivouac and survive well??
I would be interested to know how you sleep, if at all. checks the body temperature… You can already be 15 °C below freezing and if you are asleep, you might not even notice that..?

Would be really interested me..

Dear (warm :) greetings!!

Dear Lisa, that sounds really exciting – and like good, important knowledge! Isn’t that scary constricting in an emergency bivouac, which you then also zumaurert? How se much snow protects, I always find impressive! Love greetings,

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