Healthy Outdoor Living

Tips and Techniques to Have a Fun Time Snowshoeing

More from Outdoor Living Newsletter December Outdoor Living Newsletter

You've decided to pack up the car, truck, or RV and head out on a winter expedition - to brave the elements and enjoy the colder weather. Even if you haven't traveled far to get to your campsite, you will be surprised by how vastly altered everyday scenery becomes when enveloped in snow. And, this same snow presents a host of fun outdoor activities for the young and experienced alike. One such activity is snowshoeing.

You may not have heard of snowshoeing before. Surprisingly it is a winter activity that has been around for centuries. Though it was once a technique used mainly by fur trappers and hunters for moving around in deep snow, now it is a thriving winter sport that has a growing following throughout the world - or at least in parts where there is snow in the winter.

In the most basic of terms, snowshoeing is simply traveling by foot in the outdoors while wearing snowshoes. That definition may sound bland, but snowshoeing brings a lot of fun and excitement that words can't easily describe. You can't help but notice how different the often-familiar landscapes look when covered in snow. Seeing nature in a whole new perspective gives you an appreciation for how beautiful our world is. To know just how wonderful snowshoeing is, you have to experience it for yourself and it is something you should do at least once in your life, whether you are an avid hiker or not. It's affordable and a great way to get some exercise too!

Buying the Right Snowshoes

Snowshoeing sounds fun, doesn't it? Half the fun of snowshoeing lies in having the right pair of snowshoes on when you go out there and stride in the snow. There are two major factors that you have to consider when shopping for snowshoes. First is the activity you have in mind for buying snowshoes. The other is your size.

Man snowshoeing
Snowshoeing can bring you to some amazing vistas

All snowshoes have three basic elements, namely: the frame, the decking, and the bindings. The frame is the skeleton of the snowshoe; it is the part that keeps your feet from sinking deep in the snow. The decking is the part that gives you traction over a snowy or icy surface; this part has metal teeth called crampons. The bindings keep your feet in place while walking in your snowshoes. You will bind you shoes or boots to the snowshoes.

Just because snowshoes have all these basic elements doesn't mean that all snowshoes are the same. There are, in fact, three basic types of snowshoes: recreational snowshoes, backcountry snowshoes, and racing snowshoes.

  1. Recreational snowshoes.  Recreational snowshoes are best for snowshoeing on flat and even surfaces, such as a city park, an open space in your neighborhood, a golf course or your own backyard. Their frames are smaller and lighter, and the crampons on its deckare smaller as well. Recreational snowshoes are the ones you should buy if you are just making your first attempts at snowshoeing.
  2. Backcountry snowshoes.  If you are trekking or hiking in the wilderness this winter, the snowshoes you should get are the backcountry type. Backcountry snowshoes are lightweight but are made from highly durable materials. They have a bigger frame for better flotation, and its crampons are larger and more aggressive-looking so they will have more bite in the snow.
  3. Racing snowshoes.  If you want snowshoes for jogging or running in the snow, you should buy a pair of racing snowshoes. Racing snowshoes are very light and have narrower frames. The tail end of the frame is also tapered and raised slightly to give you more speed.

Aside from getting the type of snowshoe most suitable for the winter activities you have in mind, you should also consider your size when buying a pair of snowshoes. Unlike regular footwear, the snowshoe size you need to have depends on your body weight. Youalso need to factor in the weight of the pack you will be carrying (if you will be carrying any) when getting sized for your snowshoes.

The common formula used in figuring out the right size of snowshoes is one square-inch for every pound of body weight and pack weight. For instance, if you weigh 150 lbs and your pack weighs 10 lbs, you need to have a pair of snowshoes that can support 160 lbs of weight. That would be a 26-inch pair.

You can buy snowshoes at various outdoor stores such as Dicks Sporting Goods, Eastern Mountain Sports, LL Bean and REI.

"Accessorizing" Your Snowshoes

Snowshoes are definitely the most important gear you must possess if you are going to be traipsing in the snow. But you will want to get a few other things as well to make your snowshoeing safer and more comfortable. Among these things are:

  1. Appropriate footwear.  The right footwear will protect and support your feet while moving across snowy terrain. For recreational snowshoeing or racing, a pair of good running shoes is sufficient. For backcountry trekking, you need to have a sturdy pair of hiking boots.
  2. A pair of trekking poles.  Trekking poles will help you keep your balance while snowshoeing. They also distribute some of your weight to your back and shoulders so your legs won't be too stressed during long treks. You can also use your trekking poles to feel out the trail ahead of you and see if it is safe to use.
  3. Gaiters.  Gaiters are leg garments for covering from your knees to the top of your boots. These garments will keep the snow out of your boots while you are walking in the snow.

Also, when you go snowshoeing, you have to be dressed appropriately for the winter cold. So, your outerwear should have the ability to keep you warm and dry. In addition, snowshoeing means you get to sweat some, so your clothes should be able to let moisture out and allow your body to breathe.

Many snowshoe manufacturers package their snowshoes with their very own tote bags. If your trek won't be done entirely on snowshoes, it would be a good idea to take a tote bag along. This bag will not just make carrying your snowshoes around a lot easier but will protect them as well.

You can buy accessories at various outdoor stores such as Dicks Sporting Goods, Eastern Mountain Sports, LL Bean and REI.

Moving in Your Snowshoes

As a popular saying goes, you can snowshoe if you can walk. Snowshoeing may look intimidating if you have never tried it before, but it is actually quite easy once you get the hang of it.

When snowshoeing, just walk in your natural gait. You only need to keep your legs wider apart while walking so you won't trip over your snowshoes. In some ways, walking in snowshoes is like marching. You lift your knee a little as you stride along and then dig your cleats in the snow as you put your feet down. This will help you gain traction over the surface. Never drag your feet or you'll get snow in your shoes.

On an uphill trail, you'll need to bend your knees a little and keep your stride shorter as you climb up. Remember to dig your cleats in the snow as you bring your feet down. When going downhill, bring your body to a slight crouch and keep your knees bent while striding.

You may find turning while wearing snowshoes a bit tricky to do, but it is definitely possible. One way to do it is to face the direction you want to turn to and then place your right foot towards that direction, with your right heel close to the toes of yourleft foot. And then, step your left foot parallel to your right foot and continue your stride.

Staying Safe While Snowshoeing

A few pointers:

  1. Make sure that your feet are secure in the hinge of your snowshoes.  Adjust the bindings of your shoes so that your feet are firmly in place without cutting blood circulation.
  2. Never wear snowshoes with cracks in the frames or fraying bindings.  As harmless as these nicks and frays look like, they can compromise your safety out there in the snow.
  3. Practice your moves over flat terrain first.  In this way, you won't find longer treks on more uneven terrain too tiring. You will also be less prone to accidents this way.
  4. Never snowshoe alone if you are a beginner.  Always go with someone more experienced at snowshoeing to give you support and break trail if necessary. Always follow your trailbreaker's lead and try not to lag behind.
  5. Always be alert and aware of your surroundings.  If the trail is too icy or bumpy, don't force yourself to take it. Snowshoes are designed for walking on snow, not on ice. Never attempt to cross slushy snow, especially on frozen ponds; it means there is a break in the snow into which you can fall.
  6. Don't be afraid to take breaks if you need it.  Snowshoeing can be tiring even for veteran snowshoers. Pack enough water and energy snacks to keep you going along your trek.

Snowshoeing can sound intimidating if you have never tried it before. However, it is a great way to have some physical activity and enjoy the great outdoors even during winter. Snowshoeing is easier than it looks and once you get the hang of it, you'll be running in your snowshoes in no time.

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