Snowshoeing is a great way to stay in shape and enjoy the trails in the off season. Even though spring is just around the corner there’s still plenty of snow in the mountains and snow parks. Some Pacific Northwest forests even have fresh snow well into late April. If you haven’t been snowshoeing before here are some tips:
1. Most snowshoes are labeled for left and right, make sure you get the right one on the right foot. In addition, there are technical snowshoes (which include crampon-like grips on the bottoms) and regular snowshoes. Most of these tips for elevation assume you have technical snowshoes.
2. The main technique for flat level ground is to walk as you normally would. If you have to turn, avoid crossing your legs. If you want to go right, step with your right leg first in that direction and same for turning left.
3. The techniques for hills depend on the hardness and amount of snow. My recommendation is to experiment and find what works best for you. If the snow is hard you can sometimes go straight up. To go up hill you can cut switchbacks climbing the hill at an angle in zig zag pattern. You can also go straight up with both toes pointing out in a duck walk. Kick stepping is another technique for working up a steep incline.
4. If you feel yourself falling it’s best to sit back on your butt. If you have a pack this can act as a cushion. Plan on taking small falls, usually not a big deal. If you fall get back up.
5. To go down you can switchback cutting from side to side or go straight down bending your knees and digging in your heals. At times you might slide a bit which can be fun. Sometimes it’s easier to walk down faster, and then slow yourself down on a flatter section of the hill. Use your poles for support and to slow down.
6. It’s easier to travel on established snowshoe paths if they exist. If you’re in a group, which I recommend, and want to conserve energy travel in a straight line stepping in the leaders snowshoe prints. Take turns being the leader. The leader is often referred to as the person “breaking trail”.
What to bring:
1. Good breathable base layers. I favor the quick drying materials most. Snowshoeing can be physically demanding and you can expect to break a sweat. If you feel yourself getting hot, stop to take off a layer.
2. Top and bottom shells. I recommend a good Gore-tex jacket and pants with zippers down the side so you can easily remove and put them back on.
3. Hat. Since most heat loss occurs from our heads, I use it as my first line of defense to regulate my temperature, taking it off when I start to get hot. Gloves are also a must in snow.
4. Extra dry top in your pack. I usually change into this at the top of the mountain or midway through if the one I’m wearing is soaked in sweat. This keeps you from chilling when you stop.
5. Gaiters. These are good for preventing snow from getting in your boots.
6. Managing water in the cold can be a challenge. I go through 3-4 liters per day is a safe amount depending on how hard I’m working. Take frequent breaks to drink water and eat something. Don’t assume if you are not perspiring you are not getting dehydrated.
7. Thermos with hot beverage. A hot beverage can warm you up from the inside and I find that it’s a good motivator. Here’s a good article on winter drinks to warm you up.
8. Food. I bring the same types of foods that I would on a hiking trip. Occasionally I might bring a stove and instant soup to have something warm.
9. Emergency essentials. See some of my prior articles on what to bring on a snowshoe day hike and select items based on your environment, skill level, the remoteness of the trail and personal needs.
10. Hiking Poles. These will help with balance, especially up and down hill and help take weight off your legs. If this is your first snowshoe experience I recommend them, if you can’t afford them don’t let not having poles stop you from getting out, you can still have a safe and fun experience.
11. Thermarest or insulated sleeping pad. This has two purposes: when you stop for breaks and lunch you don’t want to sit with your body directly on the snow, and in the event of an emergency to help keep a person warm.
1. Be aware of avalanche danger in hilly terrain, take precautions against avalanches by sticking to flat land where possible. Check the latest avalanche forecast and read up on avalanche safety and consider taking an avalanche course.
2. Always let someone know where you’re going, when you’re expected back, and your plan. Read 10 tips for getting rescued for more hints.
3. Carry the essential equipment, know how to use it, and learn some basic winter survival skills like building a snow cave and starting a fire in the snow.
4. Take a friend or partner along. The more experience I gain in the wilderness the more I’ve realized how quick accidents can happen. Having a partner along can increase your chances of survival.
5. Pay attention to your surroundings and where you are. Don’t assume that you can always follow your tracks back, especially if it’s snowing. Plan to be back at least a few hours before dark.
6. Watch out for and avoid cornices in hilly or mountainous areas.