If you are decided on taking up snowshoeing to journey through snow country, then it’s time to check what you will need on your trip, and what you might already have.
What to Bring Snowshoeing
We have already discussed what you should wear for a snowshoe day-hiking, but the cold weather and snow conditions will also require you to have a handful of essential gear. It is also advisable to always check the weather forecast before starting.
Firstly, let’s take a look at the basic snowshoeing gear, but if you have already bought these basic items, feel free to move on to our list of accessories.
Basic Snowshoeing Gear List
The basic gear for snowshoeing covers every must-have item you essentially need to have for any kind of snowshoeing experience. This short list consist of only three pieces of equipment.
It’s only natural that you cannot go snowshoeing without proper snowshoes, but we still need to point out this one, since there are so many variations available on the market.
How you choose your snowshoes basically entirely depends on your purpose. If you are planning on snowshoeing in an enclosed ski area or a park, you are safe with most recreational snowshoes, however steeper terrain, deeper snow, and a faster pace require more professional equipment.
Also, make sure you have the right size both in terms of length and weight.
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 and cross-country ski poles since they are adjustable in terms of length. They also come with large snow baskets 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 uneven 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.
It doesn’t matter whether you are going for a snowshoe day-hiking or spending several days and traversing from hut to hut, you will definitely need a relatively large winter backpack. The only question that remains, how large should it be.
Choose a simple daypack for shorter durations, but those only have enough storage space for the most essential items: water, food, navigation equipment, emergency blanket and maybe some snacks.
On the other hand, large backpacks should provide ample capacity for every piece of gear you might want to bring. But there’s a catch: Make sure that the weight of your fully packed backpack plus your own weight doesn’t exceed the weight limit of your snowshoes.
This is where it gets interesting. It all comes down how do you plan your day(s) of snowshoeing and how many things do you want to involve (and carry).
#4 Sled for Towing Your Gear
Let’s start with a great alternative for carrying a huge backpack for a family day-trip or a several days long snowshoe hiking. A sled and a specific harness could alleviate your shoulders and hips, and redistribute the weight across your whole body.
However, I would only recommend using a sled if you already have a solid snowshoeing technique and experience.
#5 Navigation Equipment
If you are snowshoeing on your own, then having a 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. There are a couple of options, but it won’t hurt even if you have each of these:
- GPS device with extra batteries
- Map and trip plan in waterproof cover (make sure to have your pre-planned route written down)
Even if you are traveling with a guide or group, having your own navigation system is a must, in case you somehow managed to separate from the rest of the group. This compass or GPS device ensures safety and allows you to make it back to your hotel easily.
Having something to eat and drink is essential. Walking through snow can be tiresome, and you may need to refuel energy after a couple of hours. The best foods for snowshoeing include:
- Anything that doesn’t freeze;
- Provides lots of energy;
- Anything that you might be able to warm up (using a portable gas stowe), e.g. soup;
- Sandwiches, trail mix, crackers, cheese, granola bars;
#7 Insulated Water Bottle
In the cold atmosphere when you are snowshoeing, dehydration is prevalent, so you should pack yourself water to drink. The preferred minimum amount is 16 ounces per hour.
Moreover, make sure that you use an insulated water bottle to keep your water from freezing. An additional thermos flask could also serve you well on the trail. Fill it with a hot beverage of your choice and drink it at one of the longer breaks during the day.
#8 Trail Snacks
You must pack some snacks as well (up to 100 calories) since snowshoeing burns them up very quickly as well.
Energy and granola bars, various unsalted nuts should provide the basis for your snacking
#9 Matches or Fire Starter
Sometimes when snowshoeing, you may end up spending the night out on the snowshoe trails, preferably in a hut or a camping spot. However, having some kind of fire starting solution as part of your ‘Just-In Case Kit’ is essential.
Pack regular matches in a waterproof bag, or other kinds of fire starter kits, or even a lighter.
#10 First Aid Kit
This should be self-explanatory. Having a first aid kit with you is a must. In case any accidents or unwanted scenarios would occur, a first aid kit should always be at hand. This is an item you shouldn’t simply disregard as unnecessary weight.
#11 Headlamp or Flashlight
Make sure you have some kind of light source with you. Remember, it’s winter and the sun goes down much more earlier. Even if you are planning on spending the night in a resort or a hut, it often happens that you run late or get lost, and you require just one or two hours of additional light to get to your destination.
My preferred light source for snowshoeing is always a headlamp, since they free both of your hands to be able to use your trekking poles. Do not forget about packing extra batteries.
#12 Emergency Shelter or Blanket
An emergency shelter or blanket doesn’t occupy neither too much space, nor does it weight you down. However, it could save your life, especially if you are snowshoeing on your own and waiting for rescue.
An emergency blanket should be available for you even for a brief snowshoeing day-hiking, since most products come in the size of a handkerchief.
It’s not summer, but the sun is still shining, and the white of snow also reflects its glare. Having polarized, UV protected sunglasses is obligatory. Not only they protect you from the harmful rays of the sun, but they also enhance your vision in the cold, dry and white winter conditions.
#14 Sunscreen and Other Sun Protection
Your skin is also particularly sensitive to the cold and dry conditions, which make it more prone to sunburns especially in higher altitudes. The most vulnerable areas are your face and nose, your lips and naturally your hands – if you are not wearing gloves.
Use sunscreen and lip balm that are made for winter conditions and mountaineering.
#15 Avalanche Safety Gear
Having an avalanche safety gear (and the lessons necessary) is only required if you are snowshoeing on avalanche hazard areas in the backcountry. Always check if your planned route might go over risky areas, and make sure you have the necessary equipment and training for snowshoeing under these circumstances.
A basic avalanche safety gear includes:
- Avalanche beacon or transceiver
- Snow shovel
- Slope meter
- Snow study kit
Snowshoeing is generally safe in groomed ski areas, parks, and other marked and controlled snowshoeing routes.
#16 Documents in Waterproof Case
You never know when you could get wet, so make sure that every important documents you might have at you is stored in a waterproof case along with your map and the planned route.
The following items are not at all necessary for snowshoeing, however they do make it more fun and comfortable. These are especially useful if you are having a sled for hauling your gear, and thu you have the space.
#17 Insulated Seat Pad
Insulated seat pads, sit pads or trail seats might be a welcome addition to your snowshoeing trip whenever you take a break for a longer duration. Some of these also have additional heating, so you could really refuel your energy and relax while eating lunch.
Even if you do not have a seat pad, never sit on the snow or any cold surface out on the trail, since it will draw away more body heat than you could possibly refuel with a hot lunch.
#18 Hand and Foot Warmers
These useful accessories are great whether any of your extremities feel cold, especially when you are taking a break and stop generating heat. Hand and foot warmers are small, lightweight items that will give you just the comfort you might need after a couple of hours of trekking through snow.
#19 Portable Backpacking Stove
Personally, this is a mandatory piece of equipment for me. Portable gas stoves come really useful for reheating your core with a hot lunch wherever you might be. These are surprisingly lightweight and last long enough to reheat soup or any other type of meal for a whole group of people.
#20 Floatation Tails
Let’s have a more technical item at the end. Floatation tails help you move more easily over deep snow even with a heavy load on your back. They redistribute your weight over a larger surface area to make sure you have the easiness a higher degree of floatation provides.
Is That All You Need for Snowshoeing?
If you have the basic gear listed above, including a proper pair of snowshoes, as well as some of the accessories and extras you might find useful, the next step is to think about what you might want to wear for your snowshoeing adventure.
With the exception of the snowshoes itself, none of these items are as important as a well-thought-out system of layered clothing, an extra pair of wool or synthetic socks, and waterproof boots.