I see a lot of videos and blogs about winter tent camping but most are short trips or cater to the enthusiast. I want to share my experience to hopefully help others in a similar situation as myself. I am going on 2 years of being homeless in Anchorage, AK. I grew up camping, fishing, hunting, and living off the land in Alaska and have always taken pride in my survival capabilities. For me to have to resort to staying at a shelter would be an all time new low. I have seen people sleep on cardboard, huddled under tarps and know too many people who have lost toes, fingers, feet, and some their lives to the winter here. I am writing this from inside my tent where I am wearing a tshirt and pajamas using only a single candle for heat. All the materials I used were either gotten from freebie listings online or salvaged from the trash.
I will start with the foundation. I have 18 pallets set up 3x3 double thick. I placed those on assorted pieces of styrofoam to achieve a level platform that is at least 24" off the ground in all places. I then filled in the gaps with more styrofoam. Then using waxed cardboard boxes and tarps(or the floor sections of old tents) I added 3 layers alternating between boxes and tarps making sure to make some small holes on top to allow ventilation and securing each layer down to prevent shifting. Then for comfort and style I put some old shag carpet on top. Then I set up my primary tent and probably biggest freebie ad score I've had. An REI Olympus II. It is no longer in production and there is limited information online about it, so I assume it is rather old. It is pyramid shaped, setup is actually fairly complex with 4 separate pole sections(a pinwheel on top and 3 n shaped sections secured to the pinwheel and frame out the door and 2 identical windows as the door. The tent body is solid with a zipper vent up top in addition to the door and windows. The rainfly covers the tent to the ground as well. Next I came across an insulated ice fishing tent that had some rips and no frame, so just the fabric. I put this over my tent then used old tent poles I'd accumulated to create a frame and keep it separated from my primary tent, then I secured the bottom of the ocean fishing tent tightly all the way around the base of my foundation. Where I chose to camp I deal with a constant wind from the north because there is very little wind break separating me from the airport runways and then the ocean. To deal with this I took pallets and cardboard boxes and made a short wall at a 45 degree angle along my north facing side. I secured a tarp to the base of the pallets then tied the opposite side to trees maintaining that 45 even above the pallets making sure to keep separation from the ice fishing tent. Then I attached rope to the bottom side corners of the tarp and ran it all the way up both sides and secured it in the same places on the trees to create a frame of sorts for the tarp. Then I took rope and attached 4 lines to the frame perpendicularly to give the tarp(my roof) some structural stability. I then ran lines to the ground in 8 places to secure the tarp down and keep it from shifting around or bunching up and potentially sagging or collecting snow and ice. So far this winter this has stayed dry and even on the windiest days inside my primary tent the candle flame isn't affected. Inside my tent I have a queen size memory foam mattress that came from an RV, standard sheets on it and a Slumberjack Ultimate 30f regular sleeping bag. I leave 1 single candle burning 24/7 and this keeps the temperature inside above freezing. Most nights I have to open all the windows to cool it off because I will wake up sweating. I have yet to require any other heat source, had any problems with ventilation or any freeze up from condensation. Granted this winter has been mild so far. Considering this structure was achieved without spending a penny, needing no previous carpentry or building experience, nor requiring a single tool to assemble. It is achievable by anyone who is resourceful enough to find and accumulate the items needed. Obviously nobody will collect identical items and everything is interchangeable. I believe using a 2 to 4 person tent as primary and a larger 6 to 10 person tent as the shell the same or close to the same result can be accomplished. So that's my story of Alaskan winter camping on a $0 budget. I hope it helps someone to save some toes or just be a little more comfortable this winter.