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, you can be off and running or hiking pretty quickly. But like any other recreation, there are other items besides your snowshoes that you’ll need to bring to have a successful snowshoeing outing.
Please note that the accessories listed below (outside of the basics) are my personal preference, and each person is different in their needs. These accessories are meant for backcountry trails outside of the city. If you’re not interested or ready to snowshoe in the backcountry, you can always stay close to home and snowshoe in your local park, golf course, or within the town.
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First, let’s start with the basics and those essential for any snowshoeing day trip.
1. Appropriate Clothing
Appropriate clothing is essential on the list of what to bring snowshoeing. Like many others, I sweat when I hike. So I dress in layers to adjust for keeping cool when moving and for staying warm when sitting. Layers and clothing items might include:
- merino wool or polyester base layer top
- polyester, fleece, or down mid-layer top for insulation
- a hardshell outer layer jacket that can withstand the elements
- merino wool long underwear for cold days
- hiking pants that are waterproof or water-resistant
- non-cotton socks
- waterproof hiking boots or shoes
- warm wool cap
- waterproof gloves (with glove liners for cold days)
Besides what I’m actually wearing, I always pack some extra dry clothing, too, including a spare 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.
Staying hydrated is also extremely important, even in the wintertime. I carry a tin cup (like this one) in my pack, so I can heat water or purify melted snow or ice into water if needed.
I also carry two water bottles and do not fill them to the top, allowing space for the water to splash about as I hike. Not filling the bottles to the top helps keep the water bottles from freezing in frigid temperatures.
And in my pack, I’ll take some food to keep me nourished. Snacks should be those least likely to freeze, but that can also provide some fuel on a strenuous hike. Some examples could include beef jerky, dried fruit, or trail mix. I may also carry hot chocolate or soup mix for a warm refresher along the trail.
In addition to the basics, there are always those little extra things 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.
These accessories are optional but depending on the conditions and type of trail, can be an incredibly useful addition to your snowshoes.
1. Hiking Staff or Poles
At the top of my list is my hiking staff. Some snowshoers use a pair of trekking poles or Nordic-walking poles for aerobic purposes. I prefer using a single staff for helping with my balance on varying terrain, assisting with momentum when ascending, and breaking my gait when descending.
A pole reduces stress on my knees and back and comes in handy for measuring the depth of snow. I use a lightweight, collapsible aluminum staff with a carbide tip and plastic snow basket at the staff’s end (this MSR pole also works).
Whether you choose to use poles or not is a matter of preference. Many snowshoers will go without poles for their outing, and that’s perfectly fine too. For those snowshoers that do use poles, they tend to be especially helpful for steep snowshoe climbs.
Similar to poles, whether you choose to use gaiters or not is a matter of preference. They are especially helpful, though, when snowshoeing in deep snow. Since gaiters cover the gap between your shoes and pants, they can prevent snow and ice from accidentally getting into your shoes while on your outing.
There are several different sizes and features of gaiters, depending on your intent. For example, you may choose to wear a calf-length gaiter for extra warmth and to prevent snow seepage in several feet of snow, especially if wearing an all-season hiking shoe.
3. Traction Device
If snowshoeing in unpredictable terrain or on ice, bringing along a pair of crampons or other traction devices is a wise idea. The springtime is primarily known for trails with changing conditions. You may start your hike with minimal snow or ice but then progress to areas of deep and sinking snow. By bringing your snowshoes and a traction device, you’re prepared for whatever the trail may throw at you.
You may be thinking, why not just use my snowshoes for all conditions? The crampons/teeth underneath the snowshoe are intended for extra grip, but the crampons are not the primary purpose of the snowshoe. Snowshoes are intended to provide floatation and thrive in deep snow conditions.
Using snowshoes on pure ice or shallow slippery snow can cause unnecessary wear and tear on the snowshoe teeth. However, a traction device such as Kahtoola Microspikes or Yaktrax Ascent is built specifically for navigating icy and slippery conditions where deep snow is not present.
Accessories for Your Daypack
Now that you’ve decided what accessories to bring to help with your snowshoeing activities let’s discuss the accessories to put in your pack. For any day outing, you’ll always want to bring a backpack with you. It will help you store food, water, and other safety and convenience items you may need along the trail.
I use a 2,100 cubic-inch pack with elastic bottle holders on both sides and a nylon hip belt for my daypack. Each person has varying needs for a backpack, but the size and comfort are typically at the top of the list.
In my pack goes a variety of items that I bring on my snowshoeing outings, including the following:
1. First Aid Kit
For safety, I always pack a first aid kit. I know the contents of my kit and how to use it.
Basic first aid kits will want to include an antibacterial gel such as Neosporin, adhesive bandages, wraps for more significant wounds or fractures, pain and allergy medications, and medical tape. You never know when you might need it, so it’s always best to pack a first aid kit just in case.
2. Emergency Blanket
Also in my pack is an emergency blanket. The blanket is a NASA-like aluminum foil material that helps hold in body heat when wrapped around you. You may invest a little more in a larger blanket, as it can also serve as an emergency tarp or shelter.
You may not think you need an emergency blanket for a day hike, but you never know what could happen while out on the trail.
3. Ice Grips
Also, along the line of safety, I carry a set of ice-grips or an ice axe. 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. For example, if traveling in avalanche areas, you’ll want to complete the proper training and bring the appropriate gear (like a probe, transceiver, and snow shovel) and possibly an ice axe.
4. Gear for Fire
As I dig a little further into my pack, I have a few items to start a fire. These include:
- a box of waterproof matches
- a fire starter
5. Protection from Sun and Wind
There are three items you’ll want to bring with you while snowshoeing to help protect you from the sun and wind. These include:
- sunglasses (ideally polarized)
Even when hiking on cloudy days, sun prevention is essential. The mountains can pose an even greater need for prevention from the elements since it is at a higher elevation. The handy thing, though, about winter accessories is that you don’t need bug spray.
Read More: 8 Reasons Why Winter Hiking Rocks
For hygiene, it’s best to follow the Leave No Trace principles. I pack the following items for hygiene:
- a small amount of toilet paper
- double duty plastic bag for packing it out (doggie bags will also work)
- hand sanitizer
If the ground is not frozen, you can also pack a small shovel for doing your business instead.
Read More: Leave No Trace Principles for Snowshoers
In a side compartment of my daypack, I stuff a map and compass. Of course, being able to read a map and compass is just as important as having one. A GPS could also be used for navigation if needed.
Even if you are on a marked trail, always have a park map just in case. These items are all useful for finding your way if you get lost.
Also, in that same compartment is a whistle (like this one). If lost, it makes a useful signaling device. Three blasts on the whistle or three signals of any type are international signs of distress.
9. Pocket Knife
While snowshoeing, a small pocket knife with a few useful tools on it (such as these 5 options or these self-defense knives) could become incredibly helpful. The knife blade could be a cooking tool, protection, or for any emergency cutting.
Finally, an LED headlamp (like this one) fills the remainder of the side compartment in my pack. The light is useful if I run a little late as dark comes early in winter.
11. Snowshoe Repair Kit
A final accessory is my homemade snowshoe repair kit. In the kit are the following:
- small needle nose pliers (or carry a multi-tool and eliminate the knife)
- about five feet of wire
- plastic cable ties
- boot laces
- 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.
If anything, at least bringing along a piece of rope with you while on the trail will help the emergency that your snowshoe breaks.
Read More: The Homemade Snowshoe Repair Kit
Bring What You Need While Snowshoeing
Well, that’s about it for accessories that you’ll need to bring when snowshoeing on the trail; for me, that is. I know of people who take much less. And I know of people who take more with them. Some folks might add to their pack a GPS, cell phone, radio, binoculars, and the list can go on.
What you bring with you snowshoeing is all a matter of individual preference related to comfort and safety. Use this list as a starting point to make your choices of accessories and enjoy a day snowshoeing out on the trail.
What about you? What accessories do you bring with you out on the trail? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
This article was originally published on November 21, 2005. Susan Wowk updated it to include relevant and additional information on February 15, 2021.