The greatest thing about snowshoeing is that it can be super easy, or as challenging as you want to make it. There’s very little gear you need to get going, it’s extremely easy to learn, and (my favorite aspect) it gets you outside in wintertime, but keeps you warm while you’re doing it — no freezing on windy chair lifts while you wait to get back to the action.
The trickiest thing about getting started is simply getting used to the shoes you’ll be wearing, and the hardest part about that is learning to walk, run, and climb with a slightly wider gait than normal and, to a lesser extent, getting used to the flopping of the shoe as your feet go up and down. To get the most out of the experience, you’ll want showshoes that aren’t too big — which will have you banging your newly wide “feet” together — and aren;t too small — which would mean you’d be sinking into the snow more than you should, as opposed to staying loftily on top of it.
There are basically three types of snowshoes on the market — recreational, hiking, and running. Which are right for you depends on how you’ll use them.
Recreational snowshoes are relatively simple affairs that will keep you afloat in a moderate amount of terrain on relatively easy terrain. These are perfect for first-timers who don’t require a lot of technical aspects on their shoes. Think a walk in the park on a snowy day, not climbing or descending in deep forest snowfalls.
Snowshoes built for backpacking and hiking will have a more rigid frame, be slightly more sturdy and a bit bigger, and typically have bigger “teeth” (those jagged metal jaws on the bottom of the shoe), as well as more widely adjustable boot straps to fit over a variety of boot sizes and styles. All of this will help climbers with more rugged terrain, including stability of ascents and descents, as well as load-bearing.
Running snowshoes are lighter, sleeker, and smaller, and, as their name suggests, are built for speed. Runners looking for a fast-paced winter workout can try running on the snow with these. While they aren’t designed for load-bearing, they are designed to fit snugly over a winter running shoe and will help snowshoers move quickly over terrain (partly because they’ll change your gait less than other styles).
The majority of snowshoes are made from a lightweight aluminum frame, which holds the plastic and webbing that keep the shoe afloat and attached to your feet. Some are made entirely from plastic, though this doesn’t necessarily make them a lesser choice. I use MSR’s Evo snowshoes, for example, which are made from plastic. The benefit if these, aside from being very durable (I’ve been using the same pair for about seven years), is that they pack flat due to the simple foot straps and flat foot bed design, which makes them extremely easy to strap onto a backpack or shove in a bag. Plus, the range of adjustability on the foot straps means I can wear them with a wide variety of shoe and boot types.
Aside from outdoor clothing, the gear required to begin snowhoeing is minimal — just the shoes, and, if you wish, trekking poles, which will give you extra stability as you walk or hike. Snowshoeing is extremely simple to start doing, and great exercise. It’s a fantastic way to get outdoors during wintertime, so don’t be intimidated by the new gear you’ll need, strap on a pair, and go for hike!
Photo: m.prinke via flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
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