We often get questions about Tarp Tenting in the snow. In fact, if you have the right gear, you can be as comfortable under a tarp in snow, than any other regular tent trip in the Winter.
I use the Equinox 10 X 12 tarp. It takes about 20 minutes to dig a 3′ deep pit and pitch the tarp above it. There are many options including burying the sides under snow to fully prevent wind vs keeping it somewhat open to help with condensation. If you use your poles to support the tarp (and choose a flat site or a slightly rougher nylon tarp–snow really slides off of silnylon) you can cover your tarp with snow for insulation much like a snow cave but without the 2 hour time needed and guaranteed wet-through gloves.
However, tarp tenting in the Winter is a bit different from just pitching it anywhere. I usually look for a place out of the wind. Under a huge pine tree. Or even next to a rock crop. If you get a heavy snowfall, the extra protection will keep your tarp from falling in. One time it started sleeting, and sleet is heavy. Understanding how your tarp reacts to different weather issues may help you when that crappy weather moves in at night.
Tarp tenting in the snow is as much fun, and enjoyable than without snow. Looking out in a panoramic view underneath your tarp worth it.
Select a area that is sheltered from exposure or strong winds if possible. I almost always hang my tarp between trees, it can help block the wind from your tarp if needed.
Try to avoid any vegetation and set your tent up on snow if possible. Snow is the ultimate “No Trace” campsite because all signs of your camp will disappear when the snow melts in the spring. Snow can also act as a insulator in some cases
Pack down the snow where you want to set up your tent before you set it up. You don’t want your body heat to cause deformation in the snow. Also, you want to make sure you have a good r-value sleeping pad. The best choice here is a “insulated pad”. Otherwise the air in the pad will make it feel like you are sleeping on a refrigerator.
If the wind is gusting, dig a hole 1-2′ deep in which to set up your tarp. This will reduce the amount of wind that blasts your tent. Digging out a 1′-2′ deep pit under the vestibule area of the tarp makes getting in and out of your tarp a little easier. Also make sure your Tarp is all the way to the snow level. You can build a small wall of snow around your tarp to block the wind.
Attach 4′ – 6′ of cord to each of your tent stake-out points so you can use rocks or logs for anchors if the ground is too frozen to drive in stakes or the snow is too soft to hold a stake. Regular tent stakes will NOT work in snow. Instead you can use snow flukes or special snow stakes or skewers for anchoring your tarp.
When camping on deep snow, you can fill 1 gallon size freezer bags with snow and tie your stake-out cords to them for deadmen anchors instead of using stakes.