Snowshoeing Basics: Everything You Need To Get Started

The snow is falling and the pow is piling up. Lots of people are out shredding it on their skis and snowboards.

Old-Fashioned Snowshoes - ©️ Ian

Old-Fashioned Snowshoes - ©️ Ian

Which is great! They're both fun ways to work those underused winter muscles. But there's another way to enjoy those beautiful alabaster flakes of glory.  

In the past few years, snowshoeing has become popular again. 

Now you can hike in all the seasons!

Never snowshoed?

My friend, do not fret; you’re not alone. Skiing and snowboarding still take the front stage of winter sports. A lot of people don’t know much about snowshoeing. You’re missing out on a fun time, but the good news is, it’s probably the easiest (and least expensive) snow sport to start.

Why snowshoe?

Because it’s awesome! Also, it’s inexpensive, it’s great exercise, and it reduces stress. 

If you just want to try it, you can rent snowshoes at your local outfitter for next-to-nothing. Renting is usually a good idea before buying a pair. 

Buying Snowshoes

If you like it and want to buy a pair, there are a few things to consider. Gone are the days of the classic woven snowshoes (though you can still find them once in a while). Today's snowshoes are all tech and functionality.

Snowshoe Sizing Guide - ©️ Redfeather Snowshoes

Snowshoe Sizing Guide - ©️ Redfeather Snowshoes

Snowshoe sizes are measured in length. The length you buy depends on weight (your body + gear). Each brand has their own sizing table.

Depending on your variety of snowshoeing, you’ll want to get the right type of footwear.

Recreational Snowshoes –Most beginners stick to a flat/rolling terrain. Basic, entry-level snowshoes (with easy bindings) are perfect for this. They’re generally wider for better flotation and are the least expensive option.

Backcountry Snowshoes – These are for multi-day or longer day trips. They have better binding systems and include crampons. Most of these snowshoes also have flip-up clips on the back that help with climbing hills.

MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes - ©️ Nicole Atkins

MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes - ©️ Nicole Atkins

Racing Snowshoes – If you’re a speed junky (and why wouldn’t you be), these snowshoes are for you! They’re light, sleek, and tapered. Get out there speed demon, and kick up some snow!

 

Preparation

All right, you’ve got your snowshoes, and you’re ready to go tear up a good time. Whoa, hold on now. This isn’t some afternoon picnic in the city park while you frolic about the blooming tulips. You want to make sure you’re prepared.

The first thing to do is make sure you’re properly dressed. You wouldn’t go to the opera in a flannel and jeans would you? 

I’m not sure if you’ve ever noticed this, but snow is cold. Make sure you layer. Wear waterproof boots and wool socks. Consider gaiters to keep the snow at bay if you’re going to be out there for a long time. Hat, gloves, and maybe hand warmers if you’re more sensitive to cold temps. And who doesn’t look cool in sunglasses?

Carrying Board on Snowshoes - ©️ Luke Mislinski

Carrying Board on Snowshoes - ©️ Luke Mislinski

Bring poles, with snow baskets. Snowshoe poles, ski poles, trekking poles, or large sticks that you can shove snow baskets onto. It doesn’t matter. Plus, they double as a mediocre weapon should you need it.

Bring food and plenty of water. You’ll dehydrate in the cold faster than you would in warmer temps, so make sure you drink plenty of fluids. Hot cocoa is awesome. I like to reward myself with an ice-cold microbrew. Followed by more water, of course.

Check the weather. The weather can make or break your experience, so know before you go. Educate yourself about avalanches. I cannot stress this enough. Take a course, and check for warnings.

Find a trail or area to snowshoe (duh). You can snowshoe on an established trail. But, if you can navigate, one of the benefits of snowshoeing is being able to go wherever you want.

How to Snowshoe

Some people say, “if you can walk, you can snowshoe.” Well… not exactly. It’s more like, “if you can waddle, you can snowshoe.” But, honestly, who can’t waddle?

So, spread ‘em, and get to snowshoein’!

Walking in snowshoes is pretty easy. You’ll have to widen your gait a little bit. Walking on even terrain is pretty straightforward. Just waddle, and step forward.

Running in Snowshoes - ©️ Luke Mislinski

Running in Snowshoes - ©️ Luke Mislinski

Walking downhill is basically the opposite. Imagine that. Bend your knees, leaning your weight back. This time, step down heel-first, keeping your weight balanced throughout your foot. Make sure your poles are out in front of you, firmly planted. Sometimes, going down at an angle can ease the traverse if the hill is steep.

If you need to backup, you’re screwed. Ha, just kidding. Generally speaking, though, you’ll want to turn around. Backing up in snowshoes is tricky.

The most important thing is to have fun.

Note: If you’re snowshoeing in an area with ski tracks, don't snowshoe over the ski tracks. Snowshoe outside of the tracks. 

 

What’s  your favorite thing about snowshoeing? Tell us in the comments.

 

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