It's easy: As the saying goes, "If you can walk, you can snowshoe." The learning curve is much shorter than that of skiing or snowboarding. A few techniques worth practicing: widening your stance (to avoid stepping on snowshoe frames), going up and down hills, traversing slopes and pole usage.
It's inexpensive: Required gear includes snowshoes, appropriate footwear and clothing, and (maybe) a pair of poles. That's it! No lift ticket is required.
It's a good workout: Snowshoeing offers low-impact, aerobic exercise that helps you stay in shape during the winter.
It's versatile: You can go easy or go hard. Plus, you can snowshoe many trails that you can't ski due to trees or low-snow conditions.
While snowshoe styles are pretty versatile, manufacturers divide them into 3 activity categories to help you get the best performance and value.
For details about snowshoe shopping, read the REI Expert Advice article, Snowshoes: How to Choose.
Always wear suitable boots and moisture-wicking clothing layers for snowshoeing. Our suggestions:
One exception to the above: Trail-running snowshoes should be worn with lightweight running shoes or cross-trainers.
Layer your clothing so it can be adjusted to your activity level and the weather. Avoid cotton.
Keep your head and hands covered to prevent loss of body heat and to protect from sunburn.
See our complete snowshoeing day hiking checklist.
Walking on flat or rolling ground is fairly intuitive when you first start out. Most snowshoes have simple "strap and go" bindings that fit a wide range of boot styles and sizes. Your stance should be wider than normal when you're on snowshoes (in order to keep from stepping on the insides of the frames), so you may feel your hips and groin muscles ache after the first few times out.
Backcountry snowshoers will often be sharing the trail with cross-country skiers. Try to make your own trail whenever possible, staying out of the tracks skiers have worked so hard to set. Skiers have the right-of-way on 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. Always be polite to the folks you meet along the trail.
As you ascend hills, you use your toe or instep crampons for traction. Always place your feet firmly on snow, poles in front of you. Several techniques can come into play, depending on the conditions.
On descents, keep your poles planted in front of you, knees bent and relaxed, and your body weight slightly back. Walk smoothly and plant heel first, then toe. A few considerations:
Traversing or "side-hilling" is a common method of travel and can be used to avoid overly steep or difficult terrain. Keeping your balance is key.
While optional on flat terrain, poles come in handy on many snowshoeing outings. They not only provide you better balance, they also help give your upper body a workout.
It doesn't happen a lot, but you can fall down when snowshoeing. This occurs most often on descents. When you feel yourself starting to fall, try to lie back or on your side. To get back up, take your pole straps off and move your poles and hands so they are sideways to the hill. Roll your body to get your knees underneath you and pointed towards the slope. Use your poles as a brace to help you stand up.
For steep, mountainous terrain, an ice axe is an essential piece of snowshoeing gear. Self-belay involves planting the shaft of the axe into the snow to guard against falling in the first place. If you should slip and fall, the self-arrest technique is used to stop you before you slide too far. Proper instruction and practice are necessary to learn these techniques.
It is possible to run with snowshoes if you wear running-specific snowshoes, which are narrower and lighter than traditional snowshoes. Learn the basics from this video:
For safe snowshoeing, stay within the limits set by your physical abilities, the environment and your gear. Stick to established trails at first. Many ski areas have cross-country ski trails that snowshoers can share. (Just be sure to follow trail etiquette and stay off the ski tracks.) That way, you're never too far from other people, and you're not likely to encounter avalanche hazards. Do not snowshoe alone.
Backcountry travel has certain hazards you need to be able to recognize. Creek crossings, changing weather, avalanche conditions, and tree or rock wells can be difficult or downright dangerous. Learn about these hazards before you go into the backcountry. It is your personal responsibility to be aware of your surroundings.
If you plan to venture away from a patrolled ski area, be sure you and your companions are prepared. Carry a topographic map of the area, a compass and possibly an altimeter or a GPS to help you navigate. Know how to use them, because the backcountry in winter is not the best place to learn. In addition to the helpful navigation books you can find at REI, consider taking an REI Outdoor School class on map & compass navigation and GPS usage. Before heading out, leave your trip plans with a responsible person and let them know whom to contact in case you don't return on time.
Be sure to carry extra layers for warmth, particularly an extra base layer (long underwear) top in case the one you're wearing gets wet from exertion or the weather. Know the signs of hypothermia so you can recognize them in members of your party.
It's as important to drink during cold-weather exercise as it is in summer. Not only does water keep your muscles functioning, it also helps your body fend off hypothermia. Keep your water from freezing by using an insulating cover for your water bottle. A vacuum bottle with hot drinks will keep you hydrated and warm. (And you'll make friends if you share.) See our info on Hydration and Hydration Packs: How to Choose, or shop our selection of hydration items.
If you plan to go into the backcountry, make sure every member of your party carries an avalanche beacon, probe and a shovel. Check snow conditions before you head out and plan your trip to avoid avalanche-prone slopes. Pay attention to signs of unstable snow and either reroute your trip or turn back if necessary. Many REI stores and other groups offer courses in winter travel and avalanche safety.
Below are a few suggestions to get you started. REI offers many books on where to snowshoe locally, plus you should consider local clubs or the taking a class with the REI Outdoor School.
By Steve Tischler
Read Author Bio
Last updated: 02/18/2014
In This Article
Videos In This Article
How are we doing? Give us feedback on this page.