How to Snowshoe (A Beginners Guide)
Whether you’re just getting into winter sports or you’re looking to just have some fun outside in a winter wonderland, try snowshoeing! It’s an affordable winter activity suitable for all ages and abilities.
Starting can be a little intimidating and even confusing. In this blog post, I’m going to cover everything you need to know so you can grab a pair of snowshoes, a friend or two and get outside!
What is snowshoeing
Snowshoes are wider than your feet so it keeps you from sinking into the snow when hiking your favorite trails. It gives you an easier way to hike in the snow by keeping you floating on top of the snow.
Compared to other winter sports, it’s very affordable to get started and if you can’t buy snowshoes, you can always rent!
Snowshoeing is also a great exercise. The snowshoes add extra weight to your feet, making it an easier lower body workout.
How to start snowshoeing
Honestly, you just start! Snowshoeing is one of those things that is so easy to get started and you can choose the difficulty.
When I started snowshoeing, my first couple of times were on unplowed roads. My first time was on the Mt. Whitney Portal Road. I parked at the road closure, hiked up until the snow started then put on my snowshoes. The second time was in the Sequoia National Park and I snowshoed on an unplowed road that leads to Crescent Meadows. Unplowed roads are a great place to start. They’re not steep and they’re wide so it’s easy to follow and see where the road is.
Walking in snowshoes feels a little wonky at first, but it’s just one foot in front of the other. You do want to take more purposeful steps so you get a good grip on icy and snowy terrain.
When you first put on your snowshoes make sure you tighten the straps so they don’t come off as you’re walking. I had this issue when I first started, I kept making the straps too loose so as I walked it kept popping off. I learned I really need to secure it and tighten it so the straps stay in place and my feet are secure.
To buy or rent snowshoes
This is entirely a personal decision and depends on how often you’re going to be going. I jumped in and bought my first snowshoes before the first time I went because I knew I would love it and it gave me another winter activity to do in addition to snowboarding. I don’t live in winter conditions, but since I’m in the mountains all the time, I knew I would put mine to good use. I love hiking and I love snow, snowshoeing is a win-win for me!
Renting snowshoes is typically around $25 per day. So it’s very affordable, but if you’re going to be going a lot, it’s more cost-effective just to buy a pair. But if you’ll only be going here and there, or you want to try it a couple of times to make sure you’ll enjoy it.
What shoes do I wear with snowshoes?
I wear my Salomon X Ultra Winter Boots. They’re insulated and designed for winter conditions. If you don’t have full winter boots, depending on the conditions you can also wear waterproof hiking boots (which I’m done too in spring conditions). Or if your snowshoe is big enough, you could also wear your snowboard boots.
Whatever you choose to wear on your feet, make sure you’re comfortable and warm.
I also wear NuWool Injinji Toe Sock for both summer and winter hiking. It keeps my feet dry and in the summer helps keep them cool and in the winter helps keep them warm. Also, wear gaiters. Especially in deep snow, the last thing you want is snow inside your shoe and getting cold and wet feet mid-winter. Nothing about that sounds like fun.
Choosing the right snowshoes
Snowshoes are designed for three different types of terrain: flat, rolling and mountain. If you’re a beginner, getting snowshoes for flat terrain is a great choice.
Weight plays a factor when determining the size and snowshoe to get. Snowshoe specs list the total load that they can support. Have an estimate of how much you and your gear weigh.
If you’re going to be in powder snow, consider getting wider snowshoes, they’ll keep you from sinking in into the snow. If you’re going to be on harder more packed down snow, you can get a smaller size.
Women’s snowshoes typically are more narrow. They have narrower binding and decks to fit smaller boots. If you have a larger foot, get a men’s snowshoe.
These are the snowshoes I have. They’re designed for rolling terrain, which is why I got them. I wanted a snowshoe that was beginner-friendly but would give me some flexibility with advancement. They weigh 3lbs 7oz and can handle 180lbs.
What to wear while snowshoeing
Make sure to know what the weather will be like before going out! If it’s a beautiful sunny day, I’ll wear insulated footwear, gaiters, leggings and a puffy. But if it’s colder weather or snowing I bring out my full snow gear with my snow pants and snow jacket. Wear moisture-wicking layers regardless of the weather to keep you dry.
Wear sunscreen and sunglasses! Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you can’t burn and snow blindness is a thing. The sun’s rays bounce off of the snow and you’re actually more likely to get burned in the winter months and hurt your eyes!
Bring a backpack with all of the essentials, snacks and lots of water!
And I always recommend bringing some sort of communication device if you’ll be somewhere without cell reception. I have a Garmin In Reach Explorer + and I love it!
Finding snowshoeing trails
How to find trails? Pretty much any of the trails you love in the summer can be snowshoeing trails in the winter! I suggest sticking to the easier trails with less elevation gain if you’re just getting started so you get used to walking around with the extra 4 lbs on your feet.
I also started snowshoeing on unplowed roads. During the winter months, national parks and national forests have so many roads they don’t plow. As long as there are no safety concerns such as rock falls or avalanches, go snowshoeing on those!
As you build up experience and start venturing out more, be careful of water that’s covered by snow, tree and rock wells and other winter hazards. If you’re in an avalanche-prone area, know the signs and be careful. Things like new snow, wind-drifted snow, unstable base layer, wet snow, and gliding snow. Checking the weather forecast for with NOAA Weather Radar app or Mountain Hub, or contact your local avalanche center.
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