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, you’ll need to know what to bring when snowshoeing.
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. Some of those accessories are for convenience, and some are essential to safety.
Hiking Staff or Poles
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 my 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 the depth of snow. I use a lightweight, collapsible aluminum staff with a carbide tip and plastic snow basket at the end of the staff.
Appropriate clothing is essential on the list of what to bring snowshoeing. I sweat when I hike. So I dress in layers to adjust for keeping cool when moving and for staying 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.
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. Each person has varying needs for a backpack, but typically the size and comfort are at the top of the list. In my pack goes a variety of items that I bring on my snowshoeing outings, including the following.
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.
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.
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 ax.
Gear For Fire
As I dig a little further into my pack, I have a candle, a box of waterproof matches, and a fire starter. For full-day trips, I carry a miniature stove and gas canister. In an emergency, being able to start a fire in winter and stay warm is critical to survival in the backcountry.
Staying hydrated is also extremely important, even in the wintertime. I carry a tin cup in my pack, so if needed I can heat water or purify melted snow or ice into water. 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. By not filling the bottles to the top, this helps to keep the water bottles from freezing in freezing 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.
Prevention from Sun and Wind
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. 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.
For hygiene, it’s best to follow the Leave No Trace principles. I pack a small amount of toilet paper and a double duty plastic bag for packing it out. I recommend packing hand sanitizer as well.
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. All are useful for finding your way if you get lost.
Also, in that same compartment is a whistle. If lost, it makes a useful signaling device. Three blasts on the whistle or three signals of any type are international signs for distress.
While snowshoeing, a small pocket knife with a few useful tools on it could become incredibly helpful. The knife blade could be a cooking tool, protection, or for any emergency cutting.
Finally, an LED headlamp fills the remainder of the side compartment. The light is useful if I run a little late as dark comes early in winter.
Snowshoe Repair Kit
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.
Additional Items To Bring 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, 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. Use this list as a starting point to make your choices of accessories and enjoy a day snowshoeing out on the trail.