So here’s the deal: Anyone who can walk can snowshoe. True Story. If you don't consider yourself "athletic", you can still get out and have adventures on snowshoes. Winter doesn’t mean you need to be cooped-up indoors! And it is a wonderful workout.
Here are some considerations for how to get started in snowshoeing:
Choosing Your Snowshoes
Snowshoeing is all about flotation. A snowshoe distributes your body weight over a larger surface area, thus keeping you from sinking (as deep) in the snow. If you’ve ever experienced post-holing (no bueno), you’ll appreciate what a great invention snowshoes were!
When purchasing your snowshoes (or renting them from us in case you want to try them out first), remember that it goes by weight. In this case, it would behoove you not to fudge that number. It will also help to know if you plan to snowshoe on trails or if you want to "break trail". (Breaking trail is when you hike out over fresh snow, stomping the snow to make a trail for the Bold Betties behind you. You literally “break trail”.) If you think you’d love going off trail in snow, make sure your snowshoes are a bit larger for really deep powder (or for winter backpacking, if you feel so inclined.)
A really important thing to consider is the type of binding. You want bindings that are simple and easy to get in and out of. The ones we suggested above are a one-pull system- easy peasy. Since it’s likely to be cold when you snowshoe, you want bindings that don’t take very much fidgeting to adjust. Take a look at how the buckles work and get comfortable with them before you take them out in the snow.
Modern snowshoes offer many other features. There are pull bars for going up steep slopes, tail extensions for deep powder or for winter backpacking, and different types of crampons (the spiky parts on the underneath side that provide traction). Manufacturers use a variety of materials for the frame, decking, strike plate, bindings and pivot bars, depending on what type of snowshoeing you plan on trying. Most of these things are personal preference and worth checking into before you purchase your own pair.
Boots are Important
You'll want comfortable boots that are preferably waterproof. Sturdy shoes allow the straps to tighten around the boot rather than your foot.
Gaiters for Style (Not!)
Gaiters wrap around the lower part of your leg and upper parts of your boots. They keep snow from getting under your pant leg or down in your socks. If you are a gal who loves fresh powder, gaiters are a necessity. OR (Outdoor Research) makes the best gaiters on the market. They are starting to make prettier colors … but we’re not so sure gaiters will every look stylish.
These are optional but they do come in the kit we rent out. Some people love them and others would rather leave them at home, but you won’t know until you try. Use them if you’ll be breaking trail or if it might be icy. If you do choose to use trekking poles, be sure they have the wider baskets for use in snow.
Warm Clothing is All About Layers
Layer. Layer. Layer. If you want to enjoy winter sports of any kind, layering your clothing is vital. If you aren’t familiar with layering your clothing, below is a very quick overview. Layers are generally broken into 3 levels:
- An upper and lower body base layer that wicks moisture away from your skin. Don't use cotton. Popular materials are polyester, silk, Merino wool, and blends.
- An insulating layer or two for your upper body, and if it’s a very cold day, wear an insulating layer on your legs also. Materials include fleece (polyester), wool, down, and down alternatives.
- A waterproof/breathable outer layer for both top and bottom. Stay dry!
There is an old adage in mountaineering: Start cold. It is a reminder to not wear too many clothes at the start of your trek. You will warm up quickly while snowshoeing. You will also cool off quickly when you take a break. Pack an extra insulating layer at the top of your pack so you can pull it out quickly if you stop for more than a couple minutes. Also, don’t forget your snow gloves/mittens and a hat!
Sunglasses and Sunscreen (Yes, we are being your mama!)
The sun reflecting off snow is rather powerful. Make sure you have 100% UV protective sunglasses while you are out in the snow. Trust us; snow blindness is real and not fun. Neither is a winter sunburn. It is sometimes easy to forget sunscreen in the winter. Don’t do it- it ain’t pretty!
Snacks and Water for a Perfect Day
No adventure is complete without some yummy snacks! You’ll be surprised at how many calories you’ll burn while snowshoeing. It really is a great workout. You will also burn extra calories as your body works to keep you warm. If you get cold easily, pack snacks you can munch on while you snowshoe. GORP (Good Old Raisins and Peanuts), or trail mix is a great option for this.
Water is also very important, as you will likely sweat more than you realize. Drinking plenty of water also helps prevent altitude sickness if you are headed up to elevation. Try a hydration pack if you haven’t before. So easy.
If you have a backpacking stove, it is great fun to take up some hot chocolate mix for a mid-day treat. Or even a packet of soup. Be aware of how much extra weight you carry, as it will affect how your snowshoes perform. A piece of foam or a backpacking chair is a nice addition to keep your bum insulated from the snow during a hot chocolate break.
We found an awesome guide here from Snowshoe Magazine that covers the basics…and that’s all you need to get going.
Going Pee in the Snow is the Best
All that water will mean you have to go pee eventually. The good news is you don’t need to take off the snowshoes. Just duck behind a tree or snow drift and squat. Some girls around here think snow makes the best TP. It works like a (brrrr) charm!
A Plastic Tub (or tarp) and Socks for the Ride Home
It is difficult to get all the snow off your snowshoes at the end of the day, so take a tarp or plastic tub for the snowshoes and outer layers of clothing during the drive home. A dry pair of socks waiting for you in the car is also a nice treat for your feet.
Be Safe! Have Fun!
As with any adventure in the outdoors, please be safe. Pack an emergency kit and tell someone where you are headed and when you plan to be back. It’s not a bad idea to slip a cheap headlamp in your pack, as it gets dark quickly in the winter.