Winter is upon us. We’ve all had to adapt. Here at Get Outside our fall Hiking for Fitness series became a winter fitness series. Everyone handled the swift temperature changes and we had some spectacular hikes!
With the snow accumulating we are no longer able to walk with ease along the trails. But no need to hang it up for the season. There are so many options for adventure in the winter. Snowshoeing is a great way to stay in shape during the winter. If you can walk, you can snowshoe!
It only requires a few simple techniques. You’ll need to learn the best snowshoes for you, the best way to wear them, how to go up and down hills, traverse slopes, use your poles, and how to get up after you fall in deep snow. Join our Snowshoe for Fitness series to learn these essential skills or continue to read below.
How to Choose Snowshoes?
There are many options out there. When you are getting started we recommend renting. This allows you to try various styles to see what meets your needs. There are three key things to consider when choosing the best snowshoes:
- Largest recommended load (remember to include your weight + your pack weight).
- The type of snow you’ll be moving across
- The type of terrain you plan to explore
Snowshoes are designed for different loads. You’ll want to have a pair designed to support your weight + your pack weight and a buffer. The amount of buffer will depend on the type of snow you’ll be moving across.
If you plan to explore a less popular area, off trail, or in dry, fluffy snow you’ll want a larger (longer) pair of snowshoes. Choose a pair rated for a higher load than your weight + your pack weight to ensure the right amount of flotation. But, if you’ll be on hard-packed snowshoe trails you can go with a smaller size.
Now that you’ve decided on the size of snowshoe you need to decide what terrain you want to explore. Flat terrain snowshoes will have a simple binding system and less traction features. The frame is typically made from a tube. These are great choices for Hogarth Lakes or Troll Falls. If you plan to explore rolling terrain, like Chester Lake or Rawson Lake, a snowshoe with an aggressive crampon for traction is essential. The bindings will also accept beefier boots. The frame of this style of snowshoe will also provide more traction.
Using snowshoes designed for flat terrain in rolling terrain will be frustrating. Flat terrain snowshoes will slide on hills, acting more like skis, providing minimal traction. This will make it challenging to travel up or down hill in a safe manner.
Snowshoe bindings work with a variety of footwear. To keep those toes toasty, you’ll want insulated winter boots that are well fitted. Loose fitting winter boots will slide up and down on your heel, leading to blisters. Waterproof winter boots with thick soles are ideal but sturdy waterproof hiking boots can also work. Wool or synthetic socks that wick sweat are a must. Gaiters are a great add on. They help keep snow out of your boots and; therefore, your feet dry.
Pro tip: Carry an extra pair of socks that you can change into at lunch
For more tips and tricks on how to prepare for snowshoeing including layering, hydration, and navigation check out our other blog post
Basic Snowshoeing Technique
Snowshoeing on Flat Terrain
This will be intuitive. The main tip is to walk like you’re riding a horse. Your stride will be wider than normal. This will prevent you from stepping on the side of your snowshoes. Expect your hip and groin muscles to be a little sore the first couple times you snowshoe.
Pro Trip: Don’t stress if the snowshoes strike against one another as you walk. You want to avoid stepping on your snowshoe so you don’t trip yourself.
Snowshoeing Up Hill
There are two main techniques dependent on the snow conditions:
In soft snow kick your toes into the snow. This will create a staircase. In “powder” or fluffy snow kick multiple times to build a solid enough surface to stand on.
On hard pack snow, stomp your foot onto the snow like your squishing ants. This will plant the crampon firmly into the snow, providing the traction you need.
When going downhill, bend your knees, keeping them relaxed. Stick your butt out with your weight centered on your feet. Take small steps, plating your heel first. If you start to slip let your body go with it. If you get nervous you can always sit down.
Pro Trip: Sticking your butt out will also help take the pressure off your knees!
Traversing on Snowshoes
This is a common technique to avoid travelling on an overly steep section of terrain. It is also called “side-hilling.” In fluffy snow push the uphill side of your snowshoe into the slope creating a slope as you move. The hardest part is keeping your balance. Weighting the uphill pole will help keep your balance.
If the snow is hard packed, let your ankles roll with the terrain allowing the entire bottom of the snowshoe contact the slope. This will ensure the crampons are able to “bite” into the snow, keeping you upright.
Want to learn these techniques under the guidance of a professional? Sign up for our Snowshoe Fitness Series
Getting Back Up After a Snowshoeing Fall
It is inevitable that you will fall at some point while snowshoeing. We’ve all been there! Set yourself up for success
If you fall when travelling downhill
- Take your wrist out of the wrist straps on your poles
- Shift yourself around so your head is uphill
- Bring your knees close to your chest
- Press off the slope to stand up
Pro Tip: If you’re struggling face the slope and push yourself up on your knees. Then shift your weight onto your snowshoes and stand tall
If you fall in deep snow
- Take your wrists out of the wrist straps on the poles
- Place them under your chest in an “x” formation
- Press up on the middle of the “X” to push yourself upright
If you fall without poles
- Using the largest surface area, press your hands down into the snow
- You will have created two holes
- Fill the holes with snow
- Press into the holes again
- Repeat until you’ve created a solid platform
Pro Trip: Brush the snow off of your mitts and clothes as soon as your upright. This will prevent the snow melting from your body heat and will keep you dry!
Be Avalanche Aware
Snowshoeing is not like hiking, you need to be more aware of the terrain around you. Many of the summer hiking trails pass through avalanche terrain. Sometimes the danger is obvious. Other times, hidden, the danger comes from the terrain overhead.
Avalanches are a real risk when snowshoeing! Know before you go! Take courses, read forecasts, educate yourself! Don’t become a statistic!