When the snow starts to fall and the water turns solid, what’s a paddler to do? Strap on a pair of snowshoes and take a hike! Snowshoeing is a fun wintertime activity that can be either exhilarating or relaxing (and sometimes both), depending on how you approach it and definitely worth giving a try!
Why Go Snowshoeing?
Snowshoeing is a versatile activity which people choose to take on for different reasons. For some, it’s a way to extend a hiking or running season into the colder months and can be a great workout. For others, it’s a way to keep exploring the outdoors when its usually very peaceful and quiet compared to other times of the year.
One of the best things about snowshoeing is that it’s a very simple activity. It’s not gear heavy and doesn’t have much of a learning curve at all. After all, if you can walk, you can snowshoe. If you’re contemplating going on your first snowshoeing adventure, take a look at my blog post from last year where I share my first experience.
Picking Out The Right Snowshoe
Snowshoes come in different shapes, sizes and materials and picking the right one largely depends on a your weight and the type of snowshoeing you plan on doing.
The first thing you need to determine is how much “float” you need. Float measures a snowshoe’s effectiveness at keeping you on top of the snow by spreading your weight as you walk. The heavier you (and your gear) are, the more float you need. When you don’t have enough flotation, you’ll find yourself sinking more and spending extra energy pulling your feet out of the snow. Manufacturers will list a suggested weight or load capacity so you can determine the best fit for your needs.
Keep in mind that flotation is also going to be effected by snow conditions too. Fluffy dry powder will require that you have more flotation than hard-packed stuff. Sometimes manufacturers will state that a shoe is designed to carry a certain capacity based on snow type. A good way to plan for different snow types is by investing in a flotation tail, which can add float capacity as need.
Traction will be important when considering the type of terrain you will be taking on. Toe or instep crampons are the primary source of traction for every snowshoe. Other common traction devices found in snowshoes are heel crampons, heel lifts, side rails (or traction bars) and braking bars.
As you begin to tackle more mountainous terrain or hard icy conditions, traction becomes more and more important. For those just getting started, I recommend starting with a flat area ideally after a fresh snow. This type of terrain doesn’t require more than basic traction, so you won’t need more than a snowshoe with the basic toe and instep crampon.
As with any winter time activity, snowshoeing requires that you dress warm. The best approach is to layer, usually with at least three layers. Keep in mind that sweat and snow melt will soak into cotton fabrics, so it’s best to avoid clothes made with this type of fabric. Check out our selection of outdoor apparel and keep in mind that you want to aim for the following types of layers:
- Base Layer: A moisture wicking base layer that will retain warmth even when wet (like the one you use for paddling).
- An Insulating Layer: Go with a fleece that will trap your body heat and still keep the moisture away from you.
- Outlet Layer: You’ll want a nice breathable shell to keep you dry and fend off wind.
Footwear is also important. Insulated, waterproof boots are best and surprisingly shoes good for paddling can also be good for snowshoeing, like the NRS Boundary Shoe. Coupling a good pair of hiking boots with gaiters is also a common footwear choice.
The last thing to remember when choosing your apparel is that snowshoeing is a aerobic activity and can actually be quite strenuous compared to a normal hike. As long as you’re moving around, you’ll probably be much warmer than you think!
Give it a try!
At the end of the day, snowshoeing is a very simple activity and the best way to get started is to jump right in. Find a flat, easy trail, strap on your snowshoes and give it a try!