Snowshoeing Solo in the Wilderness—What You Should Know

©istockphoto/Onfokus
©istockphoto/Onfokus

It’s the mid­dle of win­ter in a part of the world where the snow can cov­er your car, pos­si­bly your home. But it’s a whole dif­fer­ent beast when you’re plan­ning on tak­ing a trek out in a wilder­ness cov­ered in snow—solo. Trav­el­ing in the snow can be tricky. Your weight com­pared to the sur­face area of your foot­gear will deter­mine whether you stay on top of the snow or sink in up to your hip. This is where snow­shoes come in, great­ly expand­ing your foot­print, keep­ing you from sink­ing in.

Wilder­ness Expe­ri­ence and Snow
If the wilder­ness in win­ter is out­side of your norm, you might rethink whether to go solo or not. It’s not that you can’t, but it would depend a great deal on how much you’ve back­packed, how much time you’ve spent in the back­coun­try in the win­ter. An option is to snow­shoe no more than a short dis­tance. Then, if things get rough, you can back out, even in the mid­dle of the night.

Tell Some­one Reli­able
It’s impor­tant that some­one who cares about you knows where you are head­ed, when you will head in, and when you will return. Choose a day, date, and time that begins the process of hav­ing pro­fes­sion­als search for you if you’re not back in touch by then. Don’t—do not—forget to make that call when you are safe­ly out of the woods.

Snow­shoes and Asso­ci­at­ed Gear
We’ll get to the rest of the gear in a moment, but if snow­shoe­ing is your thing, which kind will you choose? There are numer­ous styles, and the ones right for you will depend on what the snow is like, the ter­rain, and whether you are cov­er­ing much dis­tance. Here are some considerations:

The greater your weight, includ­ing that of your back­pack, the more sur­face area your snow­shoes will need to encom­pass. This is also true if the snow is light and eas­i­ly com­pressed or penetrated.

Snow­shoes are built to match up with the ter­rain you are trav­el­ing in. Is the land rel­a­tive­ly flat or hilly, or is it moun­tain­ous? The cram­pons (the toothy grid that bites into ice and slip­pery snow) and the boot har­ness­ing become increas­ing­ly aggres­sive the steep­er you go.

Size? Gen­er­al­ly, they are between twen­ty and thir­ty-six inch­es in length. Keep in mind that attempt­ing to set up camp and cook might be cum­ber­some if your snow­shoes are long. You may need a trav­el pair for the miles you cov­er, and a small pair for maneu­ver­ing around your camp­site. Alter­na­tive­ly, some snow­shoes have a remov­able tail that makes the shoe short­er, or longer, as needed.

If you are cov­er­ing long dis­tances, there’s a longer snowshoe—five to six feet long—that is some­what nar­row with a long tail. These allow a near glide, some­what like a ski.

Don’t for­get your trekking poles, like ski poles.

Gaiters—you know, like short leg­gings that clip over your boots to keep the snow out. You’ll real­ly regret for­get­ting these.

Bind­ings come in dif­fer­ent fla­vors. If the ter­rain is steep, you might want bind­ings that are loose at the heels, allow­ing an eas­i­er uphill-walk­ing motion. Fixed heels make it eas­i­er to lift the entire snow­shoe up and out of the snow.

Oth­er Gear
Ensure that you have at least the fol­low­ing, all of which are in good work­ing order (it’s a good idea to cre­ate your own list, one you keep on hand when prepar­ing for sub­se­quent trips; include the below items, but tai­lor the list to suit your par­tic­u­lar needs):

–Four-sea­son tent
–Sleep­ing bag tru­ly warm enough for the freez­ing tem­per­a­tures (don’t cut cor­ners here)
–Boots (water­proofed; ensure they fit with the snow­shoe bind­ings)
–Plen­ty of warm cloth­ing lay­ers (most­ly tops, but include bot­toms, socks, spares)
–Jack­et (and vest if you need to move your arms, as in long dis­tance ‘shoe­ing or ski­ing)
–Hats (knit for warmth; cap and bill for sun pro­tec­tion on the face)
–Warm gloves (pos­si­bly two pair, one of which allows manip­u­lat­ing with your fin­gers)
–Back­pack­ing stove (and extra fuel), one that is hap­py in freez­ing tem­per­a­tures
–Light­weight pot(s) and pan(s)—keep it sim­ple
–Uten­sils (knife, spoon, fork)
–Match­es (water­proof or oth­er­wise kept dry)
–Flash­light (light­weight, durable, with spare bat­ter­ies and bulbs)
–First aid kit (keep it light but inclu­sive)
–Per­mit (for enter­ing man­aged wilder­ness areas)

Nev­er bring food odors into your tent asit will attract crit­ters, and some can be rather large. If you’ve gone into Denali Nation­al Park in ear­ly Spring, you just might be there when the griz­zly bears are yawn­ing and stretch­ing, head­ing into the sun­light. They will be hun­gry, and pos­si­bly cranky.