Take in the wonders of winter with our beginner’s guide to snowshoeing, from the general perks of this unique activity to getting out there on the snowy trails!
Snowshoeing opens up a whole world of winter adventure and exploration, and the best part is that unlike many outdoor activities, it doesn’t demand expensive gear or expert skills. You will learn pretty much everything you need to know by reading this article we have put together for you.
Our beginner’s guide for how to snowshoe will walk you through the benefits of the activity, how to select the right type of snowshoe, and how to master the basic techniques to embark on your breathtakingly beautiful snowy adventures.
But first, what is snowshoeing, exactly? In truth, there isn’t much to it: but let’s quickly clarify the basic premise before covering the other points.
What Is Snowshoeing?
Snowshoeing is a fun and healthy way to traverse through snow-covered terrain. If you’ve ever struggled with sinking deep into the snow while hiking, you know the frustration of something known as post-holing. But fear not! Snowshoes are your ultimate solution to reveling in the snow while remaining nimble and stable.
Basically, snowshoes are specialized footwear that you secure over (or under) your hiking boots. They consist of a wide frame with hard netting, which distributes your weight across a larger area, reducing the pressure exerted by your body and providing “flotation” on the snow. The basic physics of it owes to weight distribution.
They are by no means a new invention – humans have been using snowshoes for centuries (or possibly even millennia, in one form or another), especially in regions with heavy snowfall. You might have seen old black-and-white photos of adventurers of the past wearing the early snowshoe designs, which resembled tennis rackets. While those early versions served a purpose to some degree, they probably didn’t make walking a much less burdensome task.
Today’s snowshoes are a different proposition, however. Engineered with sporting pursuits in mind, they have evolved since the early 1970s when mountaineers pioneered their usage on a wider scale.
Technological advancements have resulted in lighter, far more compact, and highly durable snowshoes. The modern versions we are now blessed with boast aluminum frames and neoprene netting and often include a toe crampon to assist with uphill climbs by more effectively gripping into the snow.
Snowshoeing Is for Everyone!
Unlike many winter sports such as skiing or snowboarding (which may appear exclusive to the able-bodied with financial resources for equipment and lift passes), snowshoeing offers a more inclusive and accessible alternative to a wider range of people.
Snowshoeing is a recreational activity for one and all – or at least, anyone who is physically able to do so – and therein lies the beauty of it because most people can partake in the fun. Age, fitness levels, and athleticism do not pose the usual barriers. Whether you seek the camaraderie of a group or a serene solo experience, snowshoeing provides the freedom to tailor your adventure.
Let’s take a look at how to snowshoe safely (and with as little tripping over as possible!) Fortunately, you will be pleased to know it isn’t half as difficult as it might appear.
Mastering the Snowshoeing Technique
While snowshoeing shares similarities with hiking in terms of simply putting one foot in front of the other, there are a few low-key techniques to optimize your experience.
Primarily, you shouldn’t over-exert yourself too much and focus on maintaining your natural walking rhythm. Initially, you may find yourself stepping on the snowshoes until you get used to them, so be mindful of keeping your feet slightly wider apart. Avoid lifting your feet too high and focus on a smooth and “pulling” motion.
When ascending uphill, lead with your toes and utilize the crampon on your snowshoes for good traction. Plant your poles firmly (if you have them) and propel yourself upward. Descending requires a different approach entirely: place your poles slightly in front of you and lead with your heels.
In deep powder, you do not need to be too mindful of the technique, as you’ll experience something akin to a weightless glide across the surface, adding an extra layer of enjoyment to your snowshoeing experience!
Benefits of Snowshoeing
Snowshoeing isn’t just a fun activity reserved only for making the best of the deepest winter. As with many activities, it also offers a wide range of benefits for both your physical and mental well-being.
Similar to hiking, snowshoeing provides a low-impact cardiovascular workout that strengthens your legs while burning calories. For those who live with seasonal variations in weather, snowshoeing allows you to maintain your hiking routine year-round, ensuring you stay in shape and ready for new adventures without starting from scratch at the start of each new spring.
Unlike other snow sports (such as skiing), snowshoeing really only requires very basic equipment, training, and expenses to access the snowy terrain. It’s a perfect choice for beginners in winter sports and an affordable option to embrace the joys of the season.
But just how basic is snowshoeing in terms of equipment? Aside from the obvious (the actual snowshoes), what else might be required to enjoy the activity to its fullest? Let’s take a look.
Essential Gear for Snowshoeing
As noted, snowshoeing appeals as an affordable winter sport, requiring minimal gear compared to other activities. There really isn’t much to cover here – the snowshoes will get you up and running on a basic level. Aside from that, there are a few other considerations to take into account.
For example, poles are helpful – and we recommend getting a pair – but they are not vitally essential. Especially if you are new to the fun and just hitting the snow in your immediate local neighborhood. However, they are a good option for people who enjoy snowshoeing regularly or if the terrain is outside of your local area and even slightly challenging.
Poles basically help you balance better and remain stable for your own safety so if you can afford to grab a set, go for it – they certainly do help, regardless of your level – and they are easily affordable.
What is essential is appropriate winter layers for your clothing. There is absolutely no joy to be had in an overly chilly adventure, and if you are inadequately layered, it might even be dangerous, depending on where you are going.
To make your preparations even simpler, we have put together a comprehensive checklist of snowshoeing gear that will ensure you’re fully equipped for your inaugural snowshoeing adventure:
Choosing the Ideal Snowshoes
Selecting the right pair of snowshoes requires more than just your shoe size. Factors such as weight, height, and basic ability play important roles in the decision-making process. Snowshoes come in various options, including racing/trail running models that prioritize speed and more traditional ones for leisurely mountain strolls.
You should choose snowshoes that are suitable for the specific terrain you plan to traverse, of course. Some are designed for flat trails, while others are better in uphill conditions. If you anticipate venturing into deep powder-like snow, wider snowshoes will provide more of a floatation effect.
Additionally, always check the maximum load capacity of the snowshoes to ensure they can accommodate your weight and any additional backpack load that you might be carrying.
When it comes to trekking through wet and snowy terrains, a pair of well-fitting, cushioned, and moisture-wicking hiking socks are worth their weight in gold and a purchase you will never regret. At the risk of stating the obvious, your feet are the only point of contact with the cold, so you need to wrap them up ‘nice and cozy’.
Look for breathable and quick-drying options, whether you prefer natural materials like wool or synthetic alternatives – merino wool is a wonderful option for this kind of activity. You should also opt for socks that extend higher than your boots (such as mid-calf or knee-length) to prevent a nasty and deeply unpleasant boot rub.
Dressing appropriately for outdoor adventures varies for each person, while different weather and climate conditions (depending on your location) introduce additional factors to consider. Here are a few suggestions for legwear:
In dry conditions, a good pair of hiking pants are again not essential but a very definite bonus. However, in damp environments, layering waterproof trousers over your base layer becomes paramount.
If you happen to own a pair of ski pants, they will do the trick very well indeed. Keep in mind that insulated pants may generate excess warmth, which can, in turn, be almost as unpleasant as over-exposure to cold: unless you’re venturing into extremely cold temperatures, a regular pair of hiking pants will suffice.
If you do opt for insulated pants, ensure they feature venting zips on the thighs for managing temperature regulation – you can go from blisteringly cold to uncomfortably warm in a very short period of time out on the trails.
The necessity of gaiters in snowshoeing is quite subjective and depends on various factors, including the prevailing conditions and your chosen legwear. Snowshoes themselves minimize sinking, reducing the immediate need for gaiters, and If you are wearing waterproof boots and ski pants, gaiters may not be absolutely necessary.
However, if you find yourself trudging through slushy conditions, gaiters can offer valuable protection for your ankles and feet, keeping unwanted moisture at bay. As with most items on this list, gaiters are not essential but well worth grabbing, just to be safe.
The decision to wear them ultimately depends on your personal comfort level and the specific snow conditions you anticipate encountering on your snowshoeing journey. If you expect it to get a little slushy in places, grab a pair. If you are just trekking in the local area and expect ‘dry’ snow conditions, it is not a must.
We suggest lightweight, breathable, and windproof jacket options here. During an uphill trek, you might remove your jacket, so a light fleece jacket over your base layer can provide added warmth in extremely cold conditions.
For the outer layer, a softshell jacket with venting zips is a good option if you anticipate wearing it during the ascent. However, if you plan to wear your jacket for the descent, you might wish to consider an insulated option like a lightweight down jacket, but only if the temperatures are very cold.
As noted, trekking poles are an optional accessory, providing stability and support throughout your journey if you feel it is required. If you don’t typically use them for hiking, they can become more crucial in heavy snow conditions – so don’t judge your decision on your past hiking experiences, as the two endeavors are not really the same.
Obviously, this is a question of balance: with snowshoes on your feet, your stability may be slightly compromised, especially when navigating uneven snow drifts or descending slopes. Trekking poles help keep you upright and balanced in that regard.
They also engage your arms in addition to your legs, assisting you during steep inclines, while they also enable you to test the depth and stability of the snow before stepping into it. If you do choose to get a pair, think about lightweight and retractable hiking poles that can easily fit into your backpack when not in use.
This one requires very little in the way of explanation: gloves are a must, for quite obvious reasons. Cold hands can ruin your fun, and if you are going off into high trails or mountains, frostbite becomes a distinct possibility without them. A nice pair of GoreTex gloves should do the job just fine.
Snowshoeing is a wonderful pastime that anyone can enjoy, owing to its low technical proficiency and affordable equipment. The technique is really quite simple and not a whole lot different from regular trekking. Just focus on a decent rhythm, with weight on your toes going uphill and on your heels going down. That’s really all there is to it.
Above all, try not to take the technique too seriously. Just focus on a natural rhythm, and you will be perfectly adept in minutes. It isn’t as difficult as it looks, honestly!
Don’t forget to pack sunscreen – you never know when the sun might make an appearance and catch you off-guard – and stay hydrated out there!
Have fun, stay safe, and happy trekking!