Updated: 16/12/2011 16:30 | By Alf Alderson, contributor, MSN Travel

How to build an igloo

Our author may have trekked all the way to Canada to learn how to build one of these snowy structures, but you could just as easily do it in your own backyard.


A boy and his igloo in Brandshatch, Kent (© Mark St George_Rex Features)

A boy and his igloo in Brandshatch, Kent

Step 1: Choosing the site and checking the snow for depth
Choose a site that has deep enough snow (at least a metre or more), with enough space and not prone to natural hazards such as avalanches. An igloo big enough for two or three people should have a radius of about 130cm. Measure this accurately by planting a ski pole in what will be the middle of your igloo, then place the wrist strap of your other pole over it and use it to mark out an accurate circle in the snow.

Step 2: Preparing the site
The snow needs to be firm, so that you can cut it into blocks. You'll need to stamp around the site in your boots, skis or snowshoes for up to 20 minutes to pack it down densely enough. After 'boot packing', the snow must then be left to 'set' for an hour or so.

Igloo building (© Alf Alderson)

Cutting blocks out of snow

Step 3: Cutting the blocks
The two essential tools are a snow saw and a shovel. Make a 'quarry' by digging two trenches in the boot packed snow, smoothing off the sides. Cut the building blocks from these trenches - ideally they should be the width of the saw handle, the depth of the saw blade and the length of the entire saw.

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Cut the back first, then the side, and finally along the bottom, in smooth, clean strokes - you may need to gently prise the blocks away from the surrounding snow, 'gently' being the operative word as you don't want to break them. Those that do break should be saved for filling gaps.

Laying the first blocks (© Alf Alderson)

Laying the first blocks

Step 4: Laying the first blocks
The first two blocks should be cut into uneven halves with a slightly angled slope on the top side (you'll see why in a minute). Then cut the rest of your blocks to a standard rectangular shape and lay them around the circle you've marked out for your igloo.

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You'll need to hold the blocks firmly in place until they're self-supporting, and they should lean inwards at quite a steep angle - don't worry about them falling over (one or two will inevitably do so), you'll be surprised at just how much they'll lean without toppling. Cut one longer block to mark the space where the door will go.

Step 5: Wall goes up
When you start on the second row you'll initially be laying the blocks on top of the first two blocks you cut with an angled upper slope. This ensures your igloo's wall spirals upwards as it increases in height. Each row should lean inwards at a steeper angle than the one below, and you'll find that there are obvious gaps between blocks, but these can be easily filled with bits of broken blocks or lumps of snow.

The wall goes up (© Alf Alderson)

The wall goes up

Step 6: Making the entrance
This involves digging down to create a tunnel in the snow, with the entrance emerging outside the wall of the igloo. When you're sleeping in the igloo, cold air will sink down and be trapped in this space.

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Step 7: Last few blocks
Ensure you keep some snow blocks inside the igloo to cap the roof - ideally a partner on the outside can help with this.

Smoothing the walls of the igloo (© Alf Alderson)

Smoothing the walls of the igloo

Step 8: Smoothing the walls
When the igloo is finished, crawl inside and build sleeping shelves using the snow you dug out of the floor - this ensures you sleep above the cold air welling up in the lower points of the igloo.

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Also smooth the walls to prevent any melting snow dripping off protrusions in the wall. A properly built igloo can take the weight of a man on the roof, will stay up all winter and will withstand hurricane force winds.

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Step 9: Break it down
For safety reasons when leaving your igloo for the last time, you should destroy it. If heavy snowfall covers it, other travellers may inadvertently fall through the roof, or someone may be tempted to use an old igloo, which could collapse on them. You'll probably be surprised just how much effort it takes.

Alf learned how to build an igloo near Vancouver, Canada, with West Coast Adventures which offers various igloo-building courses.

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12Comments
18/12/2011 13:01
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How to build an igloo, well, that'll be very helpful for all of those who live in Huddersfield. Smile
19/12/2011 13:39
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Fabulous article.. and I'm reading it from the Gulf! It's like watching Ray Mears... unlikely to ever use it, but want to know anyway...!
19/12/2011 01:47
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One meter deep snow - now where am I likely to find that?  As for Skis and Snowshoes - where are they - the Tundra?
19/12/2011 13:21
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I just hope we get enough snow to try it out this winter.
19/12/2011 12:09
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how are we going to build an igloo with rain water? Unless you're writing this article for anyone going to live in the Antarctic - in which case its rather niche for front page news.
19/12/2011 09:19
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what a ridiculous article. For one thing you need the right kind of snow, freshly fallen snow will not suffice. As snow does not usually stay for long in most of England you will need to be in hilly parts of Scotland or Wales,

Snow is rarely founnd in such large depths except in drifts.

At least trying to build it will get you some exercise. Don't forget to apply for building permits.

Igloos are not premanent houses but used as temporary camps while on hunting trips.

27/12/2011 02:09
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WHY WOULD BRITISH PEOPLE WANT TO KNOW THIS SH-T?

WHAT MSN SHOULD BE SAYING, TO CAMERON, IS= HOW TO BUILD A STRONG GREAT BRITIAN AGAIN!!   NEVER HAPPEN!

19/12/2011 19:13
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Been, there done that and slept very soundly in Norway
19/12/2011 16:51
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It is a shanme that the inuits disgarded the lifestyle they had to persue the wonderful (wonderful western lifestyle of drunkedness ansd living in boxes. They lost their whole culture and shamanic faith which made them a distinct race, what are they now but a shadow of their former selves the culture of the inuit was destroyed by so called civilisation.
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Nina ad, put "brain" and "less" together and you get what you are,with your useless spam adverts.
19/12/2011 17:00
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Oh and by the way the igloo was inhabited all through the winter by the inuits and maybe two or three families lived inside. The igloo in the photograph hardly deserves the name igloo as it would only suffice for a tempory shelter. Thank God I don't see MS N as the repository of all knowledge -more like the suppository!
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