Getting around during the winter isn’t the easiest task, and planning any sort of outdoor excursion gets a little iffy when the temperatures drop. But if you're looking for a way to take in a bit of nature, get some exercise, and also get around, snowshoeing is the perfect activity—and it’s not as hard as you’d think. Plus, it's easier to pick up than skiing or snowboarding, and you can snowshoe through many trails that aren’t accessible on a snowboard or skis.
But before you take off on your first hike, here are a few tips to know.
There are 3 Types of Snowshoes
Do a little bit of research before you hit the stores. You’ll want to purchase these in person—not only to try them on, but also to ask questions around how to adjust the bindings and what to expect in terms of traction.
According to the experts at REI, these are the best type of snowshoes for beginners. The most appealing factor is the easy-to-understand binding systems. Flat terrain snowshoes are best for—you guessed it—flat surfaces and are great for casual snowshoers.
If you plan on hiking or backpacking, it’s worth checking out rolling terrain snowshoes. The biggest differences between rolling terrain and flat terrain snowshoes are the binding structure and traction. Rolling terrain snowshoes feature tighter binding range and more crampons for traction on steeper trails.
If you’re an experienced snowshoer, chances are you already know about mountain terrain snowshoes. These shoes are made specifically for taking on very steep, very icy conditions. Both the traction and binding structures are far more involved than the flat and rolling terrain snowshoes.
What to Wear
If there’s one thing you take away from this guide, it’s to wear waterproof boots with your snowshoes. There’s nothing worse then getting all bundled up only to realize three steps in that your feet are soaking wet.
Wool socks will keep your feet toasty in those waterproof boots. Remember your three layers when thinking about what to wear: base, insulation, and outer. For your base layer, start with briefs or underwear, a pair of long underwear, and then your socks. For your insulation layer, look to fleece or wool for your jacket and fleece-lined pants. Your outer layer should be a waterproof jacket or shell with vented waterproof pants. It might sound like a lot, but you can take layers off as you warm up. Better to be too warm than freezing cold.
How to Put on Showshoes
Depending on which type of snowshoes you get, this process will vary. But at the most basic level, every pair of snowshoes comes with bindings and a place to put your foot in. Practice putting on your snowshoes before your hike to get comfortable. There’s usually a small marking on the shoes that will indicate which one is for your right foot and which one is for your left foot. After identifying that, step into one of the shoes, placing the ball of your foot over the center of the shoe bindings. Really aim for the center, as getting your foot too far forward or back in the shoe could cause discomfort for your legs out on the trails.
As mentioned, each type of snowshoe is different, but they will all come with a varying amount of straps. Pull the straps you have tight across your foot—they should feel snug, like the shoe is an extension of your foot, but not too tight. Repeat with your second foot and you’re good to go.
How to Walk Uphill in Snowshoes
Trails.com is not only a great resource for finding places to hike, but it also has a lot of great information around snowshoeing. One standout tip: Make sure to only walk in areas covered in snow. This helps decrease the amount of wear on your traction crampons.
When you’re walking uphill, make sure and stomp a bit as you bring your foot down. This will help plant your shoe as you walk up. You want to make sure your foot is parallel to the slope itself. Keep your feet a little further apart than your usual stride.
How to Walk Downhill in Showshoes
Like with uphill walking, you’ll want to make sure and include that crampon-securing stomp as you walk downhill. Take it slow, keep your feet wide and parallel to the slope, and you’ll do just fine. If you’re navigating icy terrain, the stomp is extra important. You want to make sure your crampon is firmly attached to the ice before moving on to your next step.
Bring Poles for Steadier Walking
If you’re worried about uphill, downhill, or flat terrain walking, snowshoe poles are a great option. They offer additional support for beginners and experts alike. Retailer and sport outfitter Eastern Mountain Sports suggests looking for adjustable poles. You’ll want to range of height to easily adjust for the places your hiking—and for easier storage. One thing to note is the basket size. The basket is the wafer-like section above the point of your pole. Larger baskets are better for snowshoeing in that they keep your pole from sinking too far into the snow.
Share the Trail-Breaking Responsibilities
Head to a popular destination and it’s likely you’ll find pre-broken trails just waiting for snowshoers. But if you’re lazing your own trail, remember that you’ll want to share the trail-breaking with your snowshoeing partner. Just like a lead cyclist will break the wind draft for the following cyclists, you’ve got to pound some of that snow down as you walk through it—and it’s a more grueling activity than you’d think. Set up a system with your hiking group to avoid over-working anyone.
All of these notes are important, but don’t get lost in the details. Once you’re all set, remember to take some time to enjoy the scenery—that what it’s all about, after all.