Walk into almost any outdoor equipment store and ask a salesperson to see the latest snowshoe clothing, and you will be probable be met with a blank stare.
There just are not very many, if any, garments specifically designed with snowshoeing in mind. Manufacturers have been slow to target the snowshoe crowd. Do they not see the potential new growth market? Are they afraid to take the risk? Are they looking for an expert in the field because they do not snowshoe? (Note: you can contact Tom via firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Perhaps the lack of snowshoe clothing is due to the misconception that snowshoeing is a fringe activity and there are no true snowshoe enthusiasts. Thus, it is assumed that everyone will just buy and wear clothing designed for another sport for their “occasional” snowshoeing adventure. Therefore, this is what you must do. Fortunately, there are many garments designed for other sports that work well for snowshoeing. How do you know which ones to wear?
Ideal snowshoe clothing should be:
*Unrestrictive, allowing freedom of movement
*Waterproof or water-resistant
*Easily adjusted to permit ventilation
*Warm, when required
*Compressible and packable
*Thin and non-bulky
*Resistant to odor retention
*Easy to care for
*Slick on the outside, so snow does not adhere to it.
As you can imagine, the ideal snowshoe garments do not exist (yet). The clothing you wear should meet as many of these criteria as possible. You want an interchangeable system where each piece can function on its own and as a layer.
Ideal snowshoe clothing will generally be synthetic. Look for slick garments that absorb little moisture with nylon, microfibers and/or similar properties. You generally want to avoid cotton, pile, fleece, wool and garments that absorb moisture and have a fuzzy surface.
You also need to consider a number of other factors when deciding what to wear. These include your expected activity intensity level, the weather, the duration of your outing, your risk and exposure if things go wrong, your own basic metabolic rate and the type of snow (groomed to powder).
In general with less intensity, worse weather, more time out, more risk, a lower metabolism and more ungroomed snow, you will need to have better clothing. In other words, someone going out for quick 15-minute snowshoe on a warm sunny day in a park next to their house on groomed snow could be comfortable in jeans and a T-shirt.
As a base layer, which may sometimes function as the outer layer in the system, you generally want a close fitting stretchy garment that will wick moisture off your skin instead of trapping it. Consider a pair of slick lycra/nylon tights and top, preferably a zip T-neck top. For high intensity outings of short duration on groomed snow, this is all you may need. This first layer should offer minimal insulation and should vent well as you may strip down to it on any type of snowshoe on very warm days.
The next layer is generally an insulating layer. It may not be necessary for some, or it may become the outer layer in certain conditions. This layer might be very similar to the base layer, or in extreme cold or low activity snowshoeing it may be a thick layer that retains heat well. The final outer layer is generally a thinner wind and water resistant nylon shell layer. This is the layer that protects the other layers from getting soaked with wet or melting snow and prevents wind from penetrating into your insulation. In many situations, this layer does not have to be waterproof but it should be water-resistant and permit ventilation.
Some situations require a shell layer with some type of coating, lining or membrane that is impervious to liquid water while others do not. During a long day, a good outer layer that has adjustable ventilation and is easy to remove and put on again is valuable. Usually the more zippers (on pockets, in the armpit area, and/or as full side-zip pants) the better. Snowshoeing can be a highly aerobic activity that creates loads of extra heat; thus, most new snowshoers tend to overdress. Remember that when you are actually snowshoeing (as opposed to standing there) you are generating heat, and it is this heat that keeps you warm. The clothing you wear merely helps keep the layers of air close to your skin somewhat warm. It does not take much trapped dead air space between clothing layers to hold this heat in.
Most people tend to wear more and thicker layers on their upper body while snowshoeing than they do on their legs. The leg muscles are creating most of the heat, and as long as they are protected from losing heat too quickly, they do well with less. It is more important to protect and maintain core and torso temperature, so an extra layer on top works well. It is also generally easier to add or remove layers to your torso than those layers on your legs. Recent trends in the outdoor garment industry include combining layers into one fabric.
Another trend is creating clothing with specific fabric properties in one area and other fabrics with different properties in another. The idea is to simplify layering and to permit better direct moisture transfer and venting. These new garments sometimes use high tech fabrics like a stretchy waterproof/windproof/breathable membrane to replace a layer, or combine it with another. Many of these new “soft shell” type garments can work very well for certain types of snowshoeing, although few are designed for snowshoeing. They are worth investigating, although their high cost and unnecessary features designed for use in another sport can limit their usefulness for snowshoers.
What would a decent set of clothes that could be suitable for snowshoeing cost? As a starter, you would be able to go into any discount department store and get a somewhat functional and layerable system of snowshoe pants and tops for about $100. No you will not get a “name” brand and you may not get the color you want, but it will work. As a plus it might be sewn in the same third world country as the name brand. I know you can drop nearly that much on just one base layer top designed for some other sport, but is it worth it? I am not convinced that spending $2,000 on new clothing designed for some other sport to snowshoe in will make a noticeable difference in your snowshoeing. I would suggest limiting your big expenditures on snowshoe specific clothing until some actually appears on the market.
Take the money you save and do two things. First, get yourself an additional simple nylon shell jacket with a hood and carry it with you at all times when snowshoeing. This will be your insurance when things go bad or your other clothing does not function as you would like. The second thing you should do with all the money you save on clothing is to take some time off work and go snowshoeing. The experience you gain will prove invaluable the next time you go shopping for snowshoe clothing.