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.
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):
–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.