Megamid for Snow Camping

By Matt Pritchard

The Megamid is an odd bird, indeed. It's sort of a tent. It's sort of a tarp. It only has one pole. And it's conspicuously missing a floor. Despite it's quirkiness, the Megamid is an excellent, lightweight, spacious and very versatile shelter. And it is especially well suited for winter camping. The Megamid has been around for a number of years and is made by Black Diamond. A few years back, BD acquired Bibler tents and because of Bibler's sterling pedigree in the tent category, the tent is now sold as the Bibler Megamid. It's the same damn tent it's always been.

So why are we writing instructions for pitching a tent? Well, I had slept in a Megamid a few times before on summer trips but we thought the snow would present some unique challenges. When we looked online for some suggestions, we came up short. What we've put together here is our approach to using the Megamid for snow camping. It's not brain surgery, but there are some tips and tricks that I think we would have appreciated before our first time out. We hope you find it helpful.

If you're looking for more general information on snow camping, check out our guide to the Fundamentals of Snow Camping.

  1. One of the single most important steps when pitching your tent in the snow is packing down a firm base to set up camp. This is called work hardening the snow. Do yourself a favor and don't take shortcuts on this step. After you have found your campsite for the night, resist the temptation to drop your pack. The added weight will help with packing the snow down. Keep your snowshoes or skis on and stomp out a perimeter. We usually make a space that is about 15 feet square. After you have a perimeter, work on the area in the center. We generally spend about 10 - 15 minutes clomping around with our packs on. Then we drop our packs and keep going for another 15 - 20 minutes with the snowshoes still on. Depending on the consistency of the snow, the time will vary. If the snow is extraspecially soft, you will need to increase this time. You may also want to consider taking off your skis or snowshoes and boot packing the snow while simultaneously beating the hell out of it with a shovel. Overall, the process takes us about 30 - 45 minutes. Once you're done stomping, give the snow some time to set up firm - another 45 minutes or so. The picture above tries to illustrate this, but it's a bit shadowy.

    There are a number of ways to set up the Megamid - each with their own advantages. Because we're usually in a hurry and only staying for one night at a time, we opt to pitch the tent directly onto the flat platform that we've stomped out. If you have some time or you're staying for a few days, a great way to take advantage of the Megamid's absent floor is to dig out a pit beneath the tent. If you want to go for this approach, skip ahead to the bottom of this page for our suggestions. The remainder of the steps listed here will work with either approach.

  2. Flake out the tent on the platform that you've stomped out. Give yourself some room around the edges to stake the tent down in the firm snow. Make sure that the corners are square. Choose which way you want to orient the door.

    There are a few things to consider when staking down the tent. Since there is no floor, the only thing holding the tent to the ground is the stakes - something to keep in mind if there is any chance of wind. Just pushing a normal stake down into the snow, as you would with dirt, isn't going to work - it's going to pop right back out. The best way to securely stake down your tent in the snow is by using deadman anchors. Pretty much anything with some surface area can be improvised as a deadman - a bulky tent stake, a stuff sack or spare sock filled with snow, an empty water bottle or mug, a small piece of deadwood, or even a whiny tent mate. We use snow stakes made by SMC - it's just a glorified tent stake with a lot of surface area.

  3. Start at the corners and dig a small trench for your anchor. Also dig a perpendicular trench for the loop on the tent. These should be about 8 inches deep.

  4. Tie a half hitch around the anchor, as shown above.

  5. Bury the anchor horizontally in the trench, as shown above.

  6. Fill the trench in with snow and...

  7. ...give it a good stomp to pack it in there really good.

  8. Continue around the tent, staking it out as described above. There are 8 stake-out points on the tent - one at each corner and one at the center of each side. When continuing with the other stakes, try to keep the tent as square as possible. Also, be sure to leave some slack in the tent. If you stake the tent out very taught, it won't pitch correctly when you insert the pole. Try to leave an even amount of slack all around the tent. Yes, there will be a gap between the tent and the ground - we'll address this later.

  9. After the tent is fully staked out, it's time to put up the pole. The Megamid only has one pole and it works kind of like a compression pole to create tension in the tent fabric. It has a rubber foot on the bottom to keep it from slipping around, but the pole is going to sink into the snow if you don't set it on some type of platform. We usually fill the tent's stuff sack with snow and set the bottom of the pole on that. If the pole is too long, you can carve out a shallow depression to set the pole in. If the pole is too short, it can be extended at the top. You may have to play with this a bit to get it just right. You're looking for a pretty taught tent - this will keep it from flapping around in the wind and allow condensation and precipitation to easily shed itself down the sides of the tent.

  10. If the tent is pitched correctly, there will be a gap between the tent and the ground that runs around the perimeter of the tent. If there is no wind, you can leave it alone. If there is a chance of wind, you can take one of two approaches. If you have the time and inclination, build a windbreak around your entire campsite using blocks of snow. If you have slightly less time but still want some protection from the wind, pack a little bit of snow around the perimeter of the tent to "seal" the edges, as shown above. This is probably going to decrease your interior space, but it is worth it on a windy night. We didn't do this during one of our earlier trips and we had a very uncomfortable night as spindrift pelted us in the face all night long.

  11. Voila! A perfectly pitched tent. Yes, it does take some time and effort, but only a fraction of what is required to build a snow cave, quinzhee, or igloo.

  12. If you have some time, take advantage of the Megamid's versatility. Without a floor, the Megamid can be pitched over a pit for a shelter that you can stand up in. There are countless variations on this same theme, but the diagram above shows our recommendation for a two-person setup. It basically involves digging out a pit that is shaped like a squared off letter U. The wall of snow in between the campers serves a dual purpose. First, it gives you a ground level surface to set the pole on. Second, it's a great place to set gear. Orient the door opposite the wall and build a set of steps if you like. The area in between the campers can be used for storing your packs at night. A pit that is dug 3 to 4 feet deep should provide ample clearance for standing up.

You can also undercut the sides of the pit to provide additional room at the sleeping surface. If you're camped in an area with a bunch of trees, you can try pitching the tent without the pole by stringing a line between two trees and using the loop at the top of the tent. This will eliminate the need for the wall and really open up the space inside. We haven't tried this yet, but it should work.

Questions or comments about this article? Let us know.