Snowshoeing is one of my favorite winter sports. It’s a fun way to stay in shape in the winter, continue to hone one’s outdoor skills in cold weather conditions, and an opportunity to experience some of my favorite trails that would otherwise be inaccessible. There also isn’t much to learning how to snowshoe the techniques are very close to walking and come natural to most people. If you already hike you probably have most of the clothing and gear needed, the main cost is renting ($10-$20) or purchasing a pair ($90-$250). Snowshoeing can be a cheap alternative winter sport to skiing.
Snowshoeing can also be a great way to lose weight and stay in shape. The snowshoe calorie chart below shows how many you can burn per hour in different terrain.
1. Some snowshoes are labeled for left and right, make sure you get the right one on the right foot. If they’re not labeled you want the ends of the ankle straps on the outside of each leg so they’re not rubbing against your other leg.
2. The main technique for flat level ground is to walk as you normally would. If you have to turn avoid crossing your legs, if you want to go right step with your right leg first in that direction and vs. for turning left.
3. The techniques for hills depend on the hardness and amount of snow. My recommendation is to experiment and find what works best for you. If the snow is hard you can sometimes go straight up. To go up hill you can cut switch backs climbing the hill at an angle in zig zag pattern. You can also go straight up with both toes pointing out in a duck walk fashion, or you can kick step straight into the hill. Most new models of snowshoes allow you to move your foot up and down so your foot can kick straight into the hill while the snowshoe stays parallel to the ground allowing for greater traction. I also recommend getting a pair with cleats that you can kick into snow and ice to get better traction for climbing. If you have polls use them for support to take off some weight off your legs.
4. If you feel yourself falling it’s best to sit back on your butt. If you have a pack this can act as a cushion. Plan on taking small falls, usually not a big deal. If you fall get back up.
5. To go down you can switch back cutting from side to side or go straight down bending your knees and digging in your heals. At times you might slide a bit which can be fun. Sometimes it’s easier to walk down faster, and then slow yourself down on a flatter section of the hill. Use your polls for support and to slow down.
6. It’s easier to travel on established snowshoe paths if they exist. If you’re in a group and want to conserve energy travel in a straight line stepping in the leaders snowshoe prints. Take turns being the leader and breaking trail so one person doesn’t get exhausted. If you’re the leader consider the pace of the slowest person and adjust your speed so you don’t separate the group.
7. If you’re training for mountaineering I recommend you break trail, aim for deep snow. Don’t shy away from carrying a pack. I try to keep my snowshoe trips between 4-6 hours and include some elevation.
What to bring:
1. Good Breathable base top and bottom layers, I favor the quick drying materials most. Snowshoeing can be physically demanding and you can expect to break a sweat. If you feel yourself getting hot, stop to take off a layer.
2. Top and bottom shells. I recommend a good Gortex jacket and pants with zippers down the side so you can easily remove and put them back on.
3. Gloves and Hat- since most heat loss occurs from our heads, I use it as my first line of defense to regulate my temperature, taking it off when I start to get hot.
4. Extra dry top in your pack (I usually change into this at the top of the mountain or midway through if the one I’m wearing is soaked in sweat)
5. Gaiters- These are good for preventing snow from getting in your boots.
6. Water – Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you don’t need water. I go through 3-4 liters per day is a safe amount depending on how hard I’m working. Take frequent breaks to drink water and eat something. Don’t assume if you are not perspiring you are not getting dehydrated, in the cold you lose water through breathing also.
7. Thermos w/hot beverage. A hot beverage can warm you up from the inside and I find that it’s a good motivator. My favorites are hot coco and coffee, and the caffeine gives me energy. Just realize caffeine is a diuretic and to prevent dehydration you still have to drink water.
8. Food I bring the same types of foods that I would on a hiking trip. Occasionally I might bring a stove and instant soup to have something warm.
9. Emergency essentials- See some of my prior articles on what to bring on a snowshoe dayhike
and select items based on your environment, skill level, the remoteness of the trail and personal needs.
10. Hiking Poles- These will help with balance, especially up and down hill and help take weight off your legs. If this is your first snowshoe experience I recommend them, if you can’t afford them don’t let not having poles stop you from getting out, you can still have a safe and fun experience.
11. Terma rest or insulated sleeping pad- This has two purposes when you stop for breaks and lunch you don’t want to sit with your body directly on the snow. The second purpose is in the event of an emergency to help keep a person warm.
1. Be aware of avalanche danger in hilly mountainous terrain, take precautions against avalanches. Check the latest avalanche forecast and read up on avalanche safety and consider taking an avalanche course.
2. Always let someone know where you’re going, when you’re expected back, and your plan. Read 10 tips for getting rescued for more hints.
3. Carry the essential equipment, know how to use it, and learn some basic winter survival skills.
4. Take a friend or partner along. The more experience I gain in the wilderness the more I’ve realized how quick accidents can happen. Having a partner along can increase your chances of survival.
5. Pay attention to your surroundings and where you are. Don’t assume that you can always follow your tracks back, especially if it’s snowing. Plan to be back at least a few hours before dark.
6. Watch out for and avoid cornices in hilly or mountainous areas.
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