Snowshoeing is an easy way to break out of hibernation, get outside, burn some calories, and explore new places during the winter months. Follow these tips and you’ll be showing your friends around like a pro without landing on your face.
Layer Your Clothes
Let’s get prepared. When you go outside, your clothing keeps you warm, dry, and alive.
Dress in layers, because you’ll heat up quickly. Snowshoeing is tiring and you’ll sweat if you’re wearing a thick jacket. Wear thin base layers that wick away moisture, like merino wool or polyester, against your skin. Stay away from cotton because it absorbs a lot of water from you and the snow, sucking away your body heat in the process.
Merino or fleece work well as insulation in the middle. The top layer will be your waterproof jacket and pants to keep you dry and help break the wind.
Pack the Essentials
Trips into the backcountry can change your life for the better. They can also be nightmares if something goes wrong. Having the 10 essentials — navigation, sun protection, insulation, illumination, first aid, fire repair tools, food, water, and emergency shelter — in your backpack is useful for small problems and could save your life when things go really sideways.
Snowy slopes raise the risk of avalanche. Take avalanche-specific gear (a beacon, probe, and shovel) if you have them. If not, the local ski or outdoor shop should be able to help you out. Most snowshoe areas have great guided tours that will let you relax and enjoy views of trees, mountains, and friends falling in the snow.
Tame the Sun
Skiing or snowshoeing on a sunny day with no sunscreen can leave you looking like a squinty lobster. The sun’s rays bounce off the snow, doubling your exposure. Grab your favourite sunscreen and sunglasses, and you won’t have a problem showing your face at work come Monday.
Pick the Right Snowshoes
Every snowshoe has a recommended weight for each type of snow, which needs to accommodate the combined weight of you and your gear. Stay in line with the weight guidelines or you’ll be plowing through snow rather than gracefully bounding above it.
Choose the smallest, lightest snowshoe you can that will support your weight. Bigger snowshoes will sink less and let you carry more gear. Powdery snow requires larger snowshoes than packed snow. You can also add tails on to some snowshoes to make them larger.
Use Poles with Snow Baskets
Ski poles are your best friend when snowshoeing. Telescoping hiking poles work well as well. Either way, make sure they have big snow baskets (the flat disk at the bottom) so they don’t sink too far. You’ll rely on the poles to keep you upright — these need to stay on top of the snow, not buried in it!
Walk normally with the poles in your hands, swinging your arms just like you do when you run. Plant them in the snow about a foot in front of you then bring it forward again the next step, alternating with your feet. Does the snow over that creek look like it’s going to collapse, sending you face-first into the frozen water? Test it with your pole first.
Put One Foot in Front of the Other
Walking on snowshoes takes a bit of getting used to. You’ll feel a bit like a fish with large flippers out of water.
Widen your stance a little bit so the inside edges of the snowshoes don’t catch. When heading up or down the hills, press the teeth under the snowshoe into the snow. These give you the traction to stay on your feet.
Backing up can be tricky as the tails of the snowshoes will catch in the snow. Turn around if you can, or lift your feet high and then move them back.
Share the Trail
You may have the trail to yourself on your trip. If you don’t, be courteous to other trail users. Many snowshoe areas share the space with cross-country skiers. They’ll have the right-of-way at intersections, so remember what your mom said and look both ways.