Do you love to hike but hate the short season? This winter, try strapping on a pair of snowshoes to play outside all year round.
Rent Before You Buy
There are a variety of makes and models available, and most snowshoes will work for most people. But because they’re often so cheap to rent—in some places, less than $10/day—it’s worth testing out a couple of different models. Broadly speaking, you’ll want to experiment with plastic versus aluminum materials, different kinds of bindings, a variety of sizes, and snowshoes with different intended uses (some are made for aerobic/fitness; others are made more for backpacking).
Don’t forget the poles
Poles aren’t required, of course, but they’re extraordinarily handy on most terrain—and they’ll let you get an upper body workout, too. Look for models with adjustable lengths, large/interchangeable baskets, and easy-to-use hand straps that work with gloves or mittens. Shorten poles when you’re traveling uphill, and lengthen them for descents. If you’re sidehilling—crossing slopes—make the downhill pole longer.
Dress in layers
Remember: no matter how lighthearted the activity, planning a day in the mountains in the winter requires planning. Avoid cotton, and dress in layers so that you can adjust as the weather and your activity level change. Synthetic and wool base layers wick moisture away from your body and retain heat even when they’re damp, and fleece breathes well with aerobic activities. Hats, gloves, socks, and face shields should all be made of materials that insulate when wet. Always carry a waterproof shell and pants, and carry an extra layer or two in case anything unexpected happens. Know the signs and symptoms of hypothermia, and keep a close eye on all members of your party.
Be considerate of other users
Often snowshoers will find themselves traveling on or overlapping with cross-country skiers or backcountry boarders. Many of those users will be traveling in a man—or machine-made track, and it’s considered good etiquette for snowshoers to put in their own trail whenever possible. Skiers have the right of way on most trail systems, since it’s easier for a snowshoer to to step off the trail safely than it is for a skier to stop or go around. Uphill travelers usually have the right of way too, though be aware of whether a downhill skier is capable of avoiding you. Always be polite to fellow backcountry users, and don’t be shy about asking about local regulations and customs.
Interested in hitting the trails, but don’t know where to start? Look for local classes through outdoor stores or hiking/mountaineering clubs, and consider investing in a book about snowshoe trails in your area. Many cross-country ski resorts welcome snowshoers for a small fee, and some states maintain public sno-parks that are plowed and close to trails. Once you’re more confident, venture out to any trail you’d hike the summer. Look for mapped routes, national forests and state parks, and snowshoe-specific destinations.