Snowshoeing Education 110: Accessories For the Day Hiker

A claim to fame for snowshoeing is that it is considered one of the least expensive outdoor sports, given that all you need are snowshoes. And true, for about $150 you are off and running, or hiking. But like any other recreation, there are always those little extra things you can buy and use that fall under the classification of “accessories.” As I prepare to head out for a day of snowshoeing on a backcountry trail, there are accessories that I take with me. Some of those accessories are for convenience and some are essential to safety.

At the top of my list is my hiking staff. Some snowshoers use a pair of trekking poles for aerobic purposes. I prefer using a single staff for helping with balance on varying terrain, assisting with momentum when ascending and breaking my gait when descending. It reduces stress on my knees and back and comes in handy for measuring depth of snow. I use a lightweight collapsible aluminum staff with a carbide tip and plastic snow basket on the end.

My next accessory is a daypack. I use a 2,100 cubic inch daypack with elastic bottle holders on both sides and a nylon hip belt. In my pack goes a variety of items. For safety, I always pack a first aid kit. I know the contents of my kit and how to use it. Also in my pack is an emergency blanket, a NASA-like aluminum foil material that helps hold in body heat when wrapped around you. Invest a little more in a larger blanket and it can also serve as an emergency tarp or shelter.

Also along the line of safety, I carry a set of ice-grips. The grip is a handle with a retractable plastic casing that when slammed into ice will reveal a long sharp nail. Periodically I will cross frozen water and I always have my grips handy in the event of going through the ice. I live in the Midwest, so I do not use mountain gear. But for those who snowshoe in the mountains, take the necessary accessories that will provide you a safe adventure such as avalanche gear (like a probe, transceiver and snow shovel) and possibly an ice axe.

As I dig a little further into my pack, I have a candle, a box of waterproof matches and fire starter. For full-day trips I carry a miniature stove, gas canister, and a tin cup, so if needed I can heat up water or purify melted snow or ice. I carry two water bottles and do not fill them to the top, allowing space for the water to splash about as I hike to help keep them from freezing. And in my pack I’ll take some food and I may carry hot chocolate or soup mix for a warm refresher along the trail.

Along the line of prevention comes the use of sunglasses, sunscreen and chap-stick. All three items help protect you from the sun and wind. The nice thing about winter accessories is that you don’t need bug spray. For hygiene, I pack a small amount of toilet paper and a double duty plastic bag for packing it out.

In a side compartment I stuff a map and compass. In that same compartment is a whistle. If lost, the whistle makes a good signaling device. Three blasts on the whistle or three signals of any type are international signs for distress. A small pocket knife with a few useful tools on it and a LED headlamp fill the remainder of the side compartment. The light is useful if I run a little late as dark comes early in winter.

I sweat when I hike. So I dress in layers to adjust for keeping cool when moving and warm when sitting. I always pack some extra dry clothing, including a cap, socks and gloves. I may pack an extra shirt and pants if out for a long day. I want to be sure I am dry not only for comfort reasons, but in the event of an emergency that would leave me stranded in the woods for a while.

A final accessory is my homemade snowshoe repair kit. In the kit are small needle nose pliers (or carry a multi-tool and eliminate the knife), about five feet of wire, plastic cable ties, boot laces and duct tape. Duct tape has its limitations in cold weather but can still come in handy. The wire, clips and lace can all be used to attach a broken segment of decking onto your snowshoe frame and for rigging-up a damaged binding.

Well, that’s about it for accessories on trail; for me that is. I know of people who take much less. And I know of people who take more, such as folks who may add to their pack a GPS, cell phone, radio, binoculars, and the list can go on. It is all a matter of individual preference as it relates to comfort and safety. Make your choices of accessories and enjoy a day snowshoeing out on the trail.

This entry was posted in Features, General by Jim Joque. Bookmark the permalink.
Jim Joque

About Jim Joque

Jim Joque is a Midwest writer on snowshoeing, backpacking and canoeing. He retired from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point as director of disability services and adjunct adventure education instructor, having taught snowshoeing, camping, backpacking, adventure leadership and Leave No Trace.