So You Want to Start Snowshoeing

snowshoeingDo 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.

6djde6movxm-alec-mooreDress 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 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.

Get cre­ative
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.