14 tips to help you start snowshoeing this winter

Nov 25 2019, 10:25 pm

This article was written by Taryn Eyton, founder of HappiestOutdoors.ca. Taryn is a hiker and volunteer educator with Leave No Trace Canada. She is passionate about promoting outdoor education to help us all learn to keep the wilderness wild.

Snowshoeing is one of the simplest winter sports you can try.

Unlike skiing or snowboarding, there aren’t many special skills that you need to learn. If you can walk, you can snowshoe. And snowshoes are pretty cheap when compared to skis.

Here are some tips for beginner snowshoers that will help you stay safe, warm, and happy on the trails this winter.

Get some snowshoes

This is a pretty obvious first step. You can buy snowshoes at outdoor stores, but if you’re just starting out, you might want to rent them instead. Make sure the snowshoes you pick have comfortable bindings that fit your boots, because size is important. Snowshoes come in different lengths designed to support people of different weights. That’s what helps you “float” on top of the snow. Heavier people will need larger snowshoes. You’ll also need bigger snowshoes for deep powder than the ones you’d use for hard-packed and icy snow.

Learn snowshoeing techniques

Walking in snowshoes takes a little getting used to, but it’s pretty simple. The only trick is keeping your balance when the ground gets a little uneven. In general, keep your stance a little wider than usual and make sure the sharp crampons under the snowshoes bite into the snow, especially on hills. Oh, and don’t try walking backwards — you’ll likely trip yourself with the back of your snowshoes! A pair of ski poles can help a lot with balance.


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Pick a trail

Snowshoeing uses more energy than walking, so start with less challenging trails. Short and flat trails are great to begin with. If you need ideas for places to snowshoe, head to your local ski hill or cross-country ski area, as many have snowshoe trails, too. You can also check out provincial and regional parks.

Stay found

Snow can cover up trail markers, making navigation more difficult. Bring a trail map or use a GPS app so you don’t get lost. (If you use your phone as a GPS, bring a battery pack just in case.) The great thing about snowshoeing is that, unless the weather is terrible, you can just turn around and follow your footprints in the snow to get back to the trailhead.

Bundle up… in layers

Baby, it’s cold outside — but you’ll warm up once you start snowshoeing. Dress in layers for snowshoeing so you can take something off when you get warm or add something if you feel chilly. If possible, try not to get too sweaty. When you stop, the sweat will chill you quickly. The best strategy is to wear as few layers a possible while you are moving, then add another layer when you stop for a break.

Choose the right fabrics for your clothing

With all kinds of high tech outdoor clothing on the market, deciding what to wear can be complicated. In general, fabrics differ for each layer of your clothing. Moisture-wicking fabrics next to your skin are best. On the outside, choose waterproof and wind-resistant fabrics. And cozy fabrics like fleece or wool along with a puffy jacket works well as a middle layer to add warmth. Whatever you do, avoid cotton. It sucks up moisture, which will chill you in no time.


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Warm-up your hands and head

Remember to bring a toque and gloves too. A fleece or wool toque that covers your ears is a good choice. In warmer weather, simple fleece gloves are fine, but if it’s really chilly, bring waterproof and insulated ski gloves. Hand warmers can help a lot too. It can be handy to have a spare toque and gloves in your bag in case the first ones get wet from sweat or snow.

Keep your feet warm and dry

Your feet are going to spend lots of time in the snow, so wear warm and waterproof boots. Winter boots with ankle support or insulated hiking boots are ideal. You can also wear regular hiking boots with a pair of warm wool socks. To keep snow from leaking into the tops of your boots, layer a pair of gaiters over top.

Bring a backpack with emergency supplies

Nobody plans to get hurt or lost, but it can happen. Tuck a headlamp or flashlight into your pack in case you get caught in the dark. A first aid kit is always a great idea, as well as a foil emergency blanket.

Pack snacks and warm drinks

Everything is better with snacks. Bring your favourite granola bars or trail mix because you’re definitely going to work up an appetite. Don’t forget to keep yourself hydrated. Regular water bottles will freeze, so bring a thermos instead.

Leave a trip plan

Before you head out into the wilderness, always leave a trip plan with a friend. Include information on where you are going and when you will be back. If anything goes wrong, search and rescue will know where to look for you. AdventureSmart has great trip planning tools on their website, and they have a great app too.


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Be avalanche safe

Avalanches are no joke. According to Avalanche Canada, they kill about 12 people in Canada every year. Check the avalanche forecast before you go snowshoeing. Unless the rating is “low,” it’s safer for beginners to stay home. If you plan to do more snowshoeing, consider taking an avalanche safety course.

Share the trail

Snowshoeing is one of the fastest-growing winter sports, so there are bound to be lots of people out on the trails. Make sure everyone can have a good time by sharing the trail. Move aside to let other snowshoers pass. And if you share the trail with skiers, make sure you don’t walk in the ski tracks.

Leave no trace

Make sure you leave the wilderness as beautiful as you found it. Pack out your garbage including organic material like nut shells and apple cores. When the snow melts in the spring, they will be left behind as litter for hikers to see. Don’t be tempted to feed the birds and squirrels — no matter how cute they are. They have their own winter food sources and ours can make them sick.


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