Do people really snowshoe in 2021? And what comes to mind when you hear the word snowshoe? Perhaps big wooden frames with rawhide bindings used by indigenous people of North America? Maybe a trapper or fur trader carrying pelts to a trading post? You’d be correct if this was many years ago.
Today, snowshoeing is one of the hottest winter recreations for people of all ages and abilities.
1. Why Take Up Snowshoeing?
There is nothing better than being in snowshoes all alone in the middle of a state or national forest. The peacefulness and quiet are breathtaking. All the trails that you’ve hiked in the spring, summer, and fall look completely different covered in snow. You see the footprints of all of the forest creatures that have been in the same place. Babbling brooks surrounded by snow. Ice-covered lakes. It is magical.
In the current pandemic, outdoor activities like cross country skiing, hiking, and snowshoeing have become very popular ways to exercise. Of these three activities, snowshoeing is one of the least expensive, most accessible, and easiest to do.
If you like hiking, snowshoeing is a great way to stay in shape and expand your workout into the colder months. It is a wonderful and low-impact aerobic workout suitable for any age and fitness level. Additionally, experiencing the quiet and calm outdoors in the winter is great for your mental health. All you need is a pair of snowshoes, a park, and some snow!
2. We Love To Snowshoe
We have owned snowshoes for more than six years. We originally purchased them for walking around our property during the winter when we had heavy snowfalls. We also used them to get to the house from the car since we didn’t normally plow the driveway after a snowstorm. Now, we take them out on the trails in the state parks nearby as often as we can.
Before you “run” out and purchase a pair of snowshoes, here are some recommendations for how to get started.
3. Rent A Pair First
We recommend going to a ski area or park that rents snowshoes before you buy a pair. You might discover that snowshoeing is not for you. Or that you love it so much that you want a very high-end pair. Most ski resorts or some outdoor retailers like REI can be a good source for rentals.
4. Take It Slow In The Beginning
Snowshoeing is essentially hiking on the top of the snow. However, walking with a pair of 22-inch tennis racquets on your feet is not the same as wearing hiking boots. You need to widen and lengthen your stance so you don’t step on the frames. There are crampons underneath the shoes that grip and release the snow as you walk, thereby creating the sensation of floating over the snow.
It is more strenuous than hiking. If you like to do five-mile hikes, don’t expect to do five miles your first time on snowshoes. In our experience, snowshoeing takes twice as much energy and twice as long to walk. It is also slower. Pick a short loop trail to get your legs accustomed to the activity. There’s nothing worse than going off-trail for miles and then dragging yourself back to your starting point.
5. Buy Your Own Pair Of Snowshoes
Now that you have some experience in snowshoes, it’s time to consider buying a pair. This will give you the freedom to explore parks anywhere and at any time. Or, even make it to your front door if you’ve neglected to plow the driveway.
6. Research Before You Buy
Snowshoes are not cheap. Be prepared to spend between $100 and $300 depending on the quality and the type of snowshoeing you plan on doing. Some popular snowshoe brands are MSR, Tubbs, TSL, and Atlas -- all brands typically offer high- and low-end ranges of shoes. Aside from costs, consider category (backcountry or trails), length, frame, decking, and binding materials.
Editor’s Note: Here we review the best snowshoes, from MSR’s Evo Hiking Snowshoes to a kit complete with walking sticks to the Chinook Trekker.
7. Get The Right Gear
There are different types of shoes for the size and weight of the user and the terrain. Make sure you get the right fit for your purpose. Snowshoes are generally made with plastic or nylon decking and framed with aluminum or steel with rubber straps as bindings. There are even some shoes made with EVA foam! Choose lightweight shoes for nimbleness with good steel toe crampons for traction. You don’t want to sink into the snow while walking on it.
It can be helpful to have a pair of ski poles or walking sticks with snow baskets attached at the ends. The baskets prevent the walking sticks from going too deep into the snow. This will help with balance and moving forward. We mostly don’t use them but have seen plenty of people with them.
8. Practice Putting On Snowshoes At Home
Unfortunately, we have had the experience of putting on new snowshoes for the first time in deep snow with frozen hands. It’s not fun. Practice at home first and make sure that you are familiar with how your new snowshoes work. If you do this inside, make sure to do it over a piece of cardboard since there are sharp crampons underneath the snowshoe. You do not want to scratch your wood floors with your new snowshoes.
Pro Tip: The binding straps can be confusing. Learn how to tighten and loosen them. Make sure bindings are fastened tight so they don’t pop open and trip you up while you walk.
9. Wear Waterproof Boots
You’ll hear a lot of descriptions of snowshoeing as floating on the snow. It does feel like that. However, you will also be kicking up a lot of snow. Make sure to wear waterproof boots or you’ll risk cold and wet feet.
10. Dress Properly
Layers are the way to go. Dress just a little less than you normally would on a hike as you will be burning up energy as you walk. Bring extra layers in your backpack. Waterproof boots, fleece-lined and/or water-resistant pants, hats, and gloves or mittens complete your outfit. If you are snowshoeing in the backcountry, a pair of gaiters to wrap around your hiking boots and snowshoes may help keep out deep snow.
11. Be Prepared
Avoid ungroomed trails or trails that are popular with cross country skiers. You will be slower than those on skis and will need to move out of their way quickly if sharing the same trail. Some parks are also allowing fat tires bicycles on the trails -- be very wary of those trails. Make sure to know the trail or have a trail map handy. As a first-timer, you may want to try a short loop trail or a short part of an out-and-back trail.
12. Take Note Of The Terrain
What goes down must come up eventually. Our first snowshoe adventure this winter, we were having so much fun that we didn’t notice that we had been going downhill. On our return trip, we were huffing and puffing. Notice if the snow is soft or hard-packed as that can have an impact as well. And, if you are used to clambering across rocks to cross streams while hiking, know that’s much more difficult with snowshoes.
Some ski resorts make and groom trails. As a beginner, you may want to test these trails first.
13. Beware Of Hunters
If you decide to snowshoe in a state park or forest, be mindful of hunting seasons and parameters. Wear brightly colored outfits or, better yet, an orange vest over your clothing.
Most importantly, enjoy the experience of floating on top of the snow. You’ll be able to go some places that you’ve never reached while hiking. There’s nothing better than seeing familiar trails in new ways. For more inspiration, consider these nine reasons to try snowshoeing this winter.