The Complete Snowshoeing Guide: Beginner’s How-To

If you are looking for a winter sport that is fun, easy, and inexpensive and you want to go for something other than ice skating, then opting for snowshoeing is the way to go. Much like hiking, snowshoeing is an activity that is accessible easily, provided that you have a few key gear items.

Definition: What is Snowshoeing?

To put it simply, snowshoeing is a simplified way to go for a winter hike in heavy snowy conditions. The activity involves snowshoes that prevent you from sinking and slipping in the snow by keeping you afloat on the surface. The shoes also have an effortless gliding ability that allows you to stay on top of the snow.

History of Snowshoeing

While snowshoeing has gained popularity recently, it is believed to have originated more than 6000 years ago in Central Asia. However, back then, snowshoes were worn not for recreational means; instead, they were used to survive and move from one hunting ground to the next.

snowshoeing beginner guide

Why is Snowshoeing Fun?

What started plenty of years back as a mode of simple transportation in winter has now evolved and become a popular recreational activity. However, if you have never done it before, then you might ask, how is simply walking on snow fun? Well, here’s why:

Great Exercise

If you want to stay in shape even when winter arrives and the snow starts to fall, then this activity is what you need. Snowshoeing is an excellent low-impact aerobic exercise that you can enjoy by roaming around with your partner in the cold. This lets you extend your running and hiking season and allows you to enjoy solitude in famous areas crowded in the summertime.

Good Social Activity

Another great thing about snowshoeing is that it is an excellent social activity. All ages can have fun in the snow with the right kind of snowshoes strapped on. This exercise is designed for all ability levels, making it a great family activity to enjoy.

Not Expensive

If the hefty prices and gear for snowboarding and skiing make you pause and rethink, then you’ll be glad to know that snowshoeing is very affordable. It requires gear such as snowshoes and the right kind of attire, but that is all. You can go snowshoeing any time of the day without a worry.

Requires Basic Techniques Only

The best part about this activity is that it is beginner-friendly. If you like to enjoy easy activities that do not require a lot of learning, then this is the one for you. All you need to learn is how to walk on hills up and down using your poles and traverse slopes, how to avoid avalanches and prepare for them, and how to get back up if you fall down.

It is better to take a class or go on a tour to learn these concepts with everyone else before you carry them out on your own.

How Hard is Snowshoeing?

To answer this question simply, snowshoeing is the most simple snow activity you can take part in. All you need to learn is how to stretch your legs wider in order to accommodate the large composite decks of your snowshoes. Everything else in this activity is very intuitive, and you can depend on your instincts for it.

Still, you must know that snowshoeing is a very tough workout. If your body is not conditioned properly for intensive exercise, then you’ll find yourself catching your breath every 15-20 minutes. It is also important for new snowshoers to remember their limits and not exert themselves on their first time snowshoeing.

Moreover, even though snowshoes are made to keep you afloat on the snow, you are bound to sink 1-3 inches deep. It is important for you to strengthen your leg muscles so that it doesn’t become too hard for you to take your legs out of the snow.

Snowshoeing Equipment and Clothing Guide

The only thing needed for a successful snowshoeing adventure is the right kind of clothing and gear. When choosing the right snowshoe, you need to keep in mind your terrain, ability, and experience level. It is important for you to consider these factors before buying the equipment.

snowshoes

Read on below to know more about snowshoeing gear before you invest in anything.

Overall Cost of Snowshoeing

Snowshoeing is an inexpensive sport to take part in. Whether you are purchasing snowshoeing gear or simply renting it out, you don’t have to empty your pockets. Renting snowshoeing gear costs you as low as $10, whereas purchasing it will cost you under $100 as well.

When renting or purchasing gear, it is crucial for you to know the type of terrain you want to explore and choose the snowshoe according to that.

Snowshoeing Gear

For the right kind of gear, you need to focus on the three main components of snowshoes. These components include frames and decking, bindings, and traction. Read on below to find out more about these three factors.

Frame and Decking

These two are the basis behind every snowshoe since these give the shoes the glide and floatation they need on snow. The frame is the shoe’s outer part and gives the shape, whereas the decking is the snowshoes material. It is usually nylon, which makes it incredibly lightweight.

Binding

The other component is the binding; this is the part that connects the frame and decking to your boot. There are two kinds of snowshoe bindings that you can pick from; one is rotating binding (also known as floating binding), and the other is fixed binding.

Both the styles depend more on what you prefer, so there’s no wrong or right option. For rotating bindings, you fasten the toe of your boot on to the snowshoe, which frees your heel from the tail. As a result, you can maneuver easily through deep snow and steep slopes. Rotating bindings also make your feet pivot when needed. Most snowshoes belong in this category.

On the other hand, fixed bindings press your entire feet to the snowshoe and prevent the heel from being lifted. Fixed bindings are good for people who prefer a little more control when walking since you can easily step over obstacles and back yourself up. However, these shoes do not allow a lot of freedom to pivot as rotating bindings do.

Traction

Besides the weight of your body, the traction added under your snowshoes is what makes you grounded. Most models come with crampons, which are also called spikes, that provide you with a stronger grip in the snow. If you are snowshoeing on flat terrain, then the spikes will be flat, whereas snowshoes for steep climbs have spikes with wider and bigger teeth.

Snowshoes

Along with focusing on the top three components of snowshoes, you also need to focus on a few other things. You must get a snowshoe with a large deck or surface area that will make you float easily on top of the snow. Snowshoes with a small deck will sink more, so you must opt for a larger deck size if you are a heavy person.

snowshoeing equipment

There are also heel lifts present in snowshoes that keep your feet at a level when going uphill. This feature makes ascents easy and reduces calf fatigue by keeping your weight distributed evenly over your shoe.

Furthermore, there are shoes specifically designed for women’s feet; they have a narrower deck for small shoe sizes. If you are still not sure about which kind of shoe to get, you can always use the guide present online on the manufacturer’s website and find the perfect fit.

Boots

Another thing to focus on is the boots you are planning on wearing. Your boots must be very warm, comfortable, and waterproof. Even though you will strap snowshoes over your boots, they will be covered in snow since the front side of the snowshoes is open. This hole present in the deck will give you the movement and flexibility you need on your boots when you walk.

Poles

Snowshoe poles help you in staying balanced and help your upper body muscles take pressure away from your legs. These poles also give you a good rhythm when you are snowshoeing in deep snow.

However, snowshoe poles are different from trail running poles since they are adjustable in terms of length. They also come with a large snowflake basket on their tips, which prevents them from sinking in the snow.

The adjustable pole length on these poles is very important when going above hilly terrain. For example, if you are going up the hill, then a shorter pole is needed, whereas you will need a longer pole length when going down. On the other hand, when going on flat terrain, the sizing rule states that your pole length should keep your forearm and elbow parallel to the ground.

When buying the right pole, you must buy one in a z-folding design so that you can pack it down. This makes it easy to carry out. Also, try to get poles with hand straps since they allow you to reduce the strain on your wrist.

Layered Winter Outfit For Snowshoeing

Another thing you need to focus on when going snowshoeing is the outfit that you wear. Your entire snowshoeing activity depends on appropriate clothing, and if you are not wearing them, then the outing can be ruined. This clothing depends on the snow and weather conditions and on the length and difficulty of the trek.

It is important that you dress in layers, particularly because that allows you to control the change in climate and temperature during your outing. With layers, you can take some off when you feel less cold, like at midday when it is relatively warm due to the overhead sun. Snowshoeing is also a heavy aerobic activity that produces body heat, so you need to consider that, too.

Some things to know about the different clothing layers you can wear and how to overdress in the winters are:

Base Layer

There are three main layers to consider when layering your winter outfit. The first layer is the base layer. This is the layer closest to your body and has the ability to wick away any moisture from your body. It comes in the form of a fitted shirt or tights, and the main aim of this layer is to keep you dry and warm. Some common materials for this layer are silk, polyester, and wool.

Keep in mind that the fabric you choose depends on your body requirements. Some people have a cold body, so merino wool is a good option since it is an insulator that can naturally regulate temperature and is not itchy.

People who do not want much insulation can opt for polyester material or any other synthetic blend. Base layers also have different weights such as heavyweight, lightweight, and mid-weight. Lightweight is the thinnest fabric, whereas the midweight base layer is neither too heavy nor too light and can be worn for snowshoeing.

You should also opt for long underwear for icy temperature and avoid choosing anything cotton-made as a base layer.

Middle Layer

A mid-layer is worn above your base layer that also acts as the insulating layer. This is a very important layer, and even if you do not have any plans of hiking and the day is warm, you must bring a mid-layer along with you just in case.

Some common fabrics for this layer include polyester, fleece, and synthetic insulation or down. Like your base layer, the mid-layer fabric also depends on your personal preference and the temperature of your body. For example, you can use synthetic material on freezing days, fleece on moderate days, and polyester layers on warm days.

Outer Jacket

An outer layer or outer jacket is the last layer and helps provide protection from rain, snow, and wind. It is ideal for wearing in the freezing temperature. This layer needs to be waterproof and have windbreaker qualities since its main purpose is to fend off outer elements.

Usually, these outer jackets come with Gore-Tex to enhance breathability and DWR, which is durable and water-repellent. If you are going snowshoeing in warmer climates, then a breathable and softshell jacket is what you need, whereas if you are going out in a colder climate, then a hard shell outer layer will provide you the protection you need.

Moreover, if the day is predicted to be very cold and you need extra insulation along with the outer layer, you can go for a down jacket as well.

Hats And Gloves

Apart from putting on all the layers of clothes, you also need to cover your hands and head. This allows you to prevent loss of heat from the body and also protects you from sunburn. It is ideal to choose the right material for your headband or hat. Wool or synthetic material is a good option.

Also, a wide-brimmed hat or a simple ball cap can protect your eyes when it is sunny and shady. You should also get waterproof mittens or ski gloves since they help keep your hands dry and warm. For warmer days, you can go for light fleece gloves, wool liners, or simple glove liners as well. It’s also a good idea to keep a backup waterproof pair with you just in case.

Gaiters

Gaiters are another important clothing item that you should keep with you. These allow you to keep snow out of your boot. For deep and heavy snow, you need gaiters with a high style that have breathable and waterproof fabric as well.

All gaiters have the same purpose and help keep things out of your boots. However, the length is what matters; for deeper and heavier snow conditions, you must have longer gaiters, whereas, for low snow, you can go for normal-sized gaiters.

Wool Socks

Never forget socks when going snowshoeing in the winter. Woolen socks help keep your toes warm and make your activity fun. If you do not wear the right kind of socks, then moving from one spot to another will become a task for you rather than a fun activity. Make sure you avoid cotton socks since they’ll absorb moisture and make your feet incredibly wet. It is also smart to keep an extra sock pair with you so that in case of heavy snowfall, you can change your socks if they are wet.

What Accessories to Pack for a Snowshoeing Trip?

Some other things to keep in mind when snowshoeing include knowing where you are going and having things to eat and drink. Other accessories that you will need include:

Navigation Equipment

If you are snowshoeing on your own, then having GPS with you is a smart idea. You must know how to navigate your way around the compass, or if you are using a map, then you should know where you are on it. Even if you are traveling with a guide or group, having your own navigation system is a very smart idea.

Food and Water

Having something to eat and drink is essential. Walking can be tiresome, and you may need energy after a couple of hours. However, this does not mean you keep fast foods like pizza in your bag. Instead, opt for snacks such as fruits, chips, chocolates for low sugar levels, nuts to munch on, and biscuits.
Moreover, you should keep water and other liquids with you, such as milkshakes and juices.

Daypack

Regardless of the length of your trip, it is a smart idea to carry around a daypack with you. Make sure it is comfortable and lightweight to roam around with, and it must have all your essentials. Some things to keep in your pack include snacks, water, an emergency blanket, a first aid kit, good sunscreen, a map, pocket knife, fire starter, and some hygiene products.

Basic Snowshoeing Technique

Before you put on your snowshoes and head towards adventures, it is important to know how to navigate the terrain with your new purchase. As a beginner, some basic techniques you must know are:

Stride

This is the most basic thing to do with your snowshoes. You can walk as you do without snowshoes and allow some straddling, depending on how wide your snowshoes are. You should stride on level and flat surfaces easily.

Breaking Trail

Another technique you should know is the broken trail. It makes a track through the snow that hasn’t been touched. The depth of the snow usually determines how difficult it will be for you to break the trail and how much effort it will require. In the start, you will have to take it slow and lift your foot higher when in deep snow.

Getting Up

If you fall down, then the simplest way to get up is to roll over on your front. Make sure you put one knee up and push up onto a half-kneel position. You can then raise yourself again onto a standing position by making use of your knees, arms, and hands. If you have poles, then you can make use of them too.

snowshoeing guide

Places for Snowshoeing

If you live in a place where you cannot find snow parks, then don’t worry. Simply download an app called AllTrails, and it will show you all the snowshoeing trails in your area. If you are situated in the US and looking for snowshoeing places, then there are plenty of places to choose from. Some of these include:

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah: This is an amazing snowshoeing destination with a high altitude that you can enjoy. For an even better adventure, make sure you plan your trip when there is a full-moon since that’ll make for an unforgettable experience.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado: this park has around 300 miles of trail to hike on. It is perfect for exploring in winter. For your first visit, head over to Estes Park and get on the Bear Lake Trailhead, which can be quite fun.

Castle Rocks State Park, Idaho: This is another excellent snowshoeing destination. It comes with a unique formation of rocks and gorgeously breathtaking sunsets that you can watch while on the trail.

Safety and Emergencies: Beware of Avalanches

Being safe while you are on a trail is a very important part of snowshoeing. It is important that you take full care of yourself with the right kind of safety gear and know how to act in case of avalanches.
Make sure you educate yourself on warning signs such as wet snow, unstable layers, gliding snow, wind-drifted snow, and new snow. Some safety tips are mentioned below for your ease; go through them before heading out for your snowshoeing adventure.

Know Your Terrain

Going snowshoeing can be dangerous, especially if you are snowshoeing backcountry where the risk of avalanches is high. It is important for you to be aware of the warning signs and danger zones in your surroundings. You should do your research before heading on a trail to have fun.

How to Deal with Avalanches

Avalanches are something you need to avoid when going snowshoeing. If active avalanche-prone areas are in your trail, make sure you are properly equipped and have the information you need.

You should keep an eye out for the following in order to keep away from avalanches:

Cornices: These are ledges that can form when wind causes snow to deposit on the side of the ridge. Cornices can get very large and are also dangerous whether they are above or below you, and care should be taken.

Convex rolls: These are slopes and triggering points for an avalanche and should be looked after as well.

Terrain traps: These refer to anything that can worsen avalanches, including gullies, creeks, cliffs, or ditches.

Furthermore, you need to keep an eye out for an avalanche path. If you see any broken trees or forest areas without trees, then that is a sign of avalanche paths. Usually, these paths are defined by the shape of the slope and their steepness.

Also, make sure you carry a shovel, beacon, and probe as a safety measure with you in case of a dangerous situation.

snowshoeing beginner fun

Tree Wells and Safety Equipment Needed

Tree wells are often overlooked when it comes to mountain hazards but are as deadly as an avalanche. You should know that tree wells are very dangerous due to SIS (Snow-Immersion Suffocation). A tree well forms when there’s snow accumulation around its base but not around its truck or lower branches.

In order to reduce the chances of undergoing a tree well incident, make sure to follow these tips:

  • It is important to ski along with a friend since that increases the chances of survival.
  • You must assume that all trees come with tree wells underneath them, even the small ones, and stay away from them.
  • Maintain verbal and visual contact with your hiking partner all the time, and if you cannot hear them or see them, you must stop and re-establish contact before moving forward.
  • It is a smart idea to have a whistle on your jacket to get their attention in case you end up in the wrong place.

Conclusion

Snowshoeing is a very fun activity to enjoy in the winters. However, you must know everything about it. Make sure you do your own research, know the danger signs, and learn the basic tricks before opting for a trail to snowshoe on. Get the best equipment and clothing gear, and have fun on a snowy day!