Snowshoeing Education 301: Up for the Season?

Gearing up for the season by a downhill skier implies that they not only have to get out their skis, poles, boots, goggles, special clothing and ski rack for their car, but they also have to purchase their season ski lift pass. The winter camper has a list an arm-length long that involves lots of gear, food and other supplies, much less a backpack or sled to carry it all.

But for those of us who snowshoe, gearing up for the season merely means that we take out our snowshoes from the closet. There are a few more things to consider in preparation for the snowshoeing season as you will soon see. But the list is relatively short compared to most other winter sports. So, are you “up” for this coming snowshoeing season?

Gear up

Gear up for the winter snowshoeing season by getting out your snowshoes and snowshoeing accessories.  If you have traditional snowshoes and did nothing to them at the end of last season, you may need to care for them by giving the frame a wood preservative coating and touching up the rawhide deck with a waterproofing agent. If your deck is made of synthetic neoprene webbing, than it is just a matter of cleaning it with a damp rag.

As far as your aluminum-frame or plastic-molded snowshoes go, your merely need to wipe off the dust and debris with a rag and check them over to see if there are any repairs that need to be made. But if all checks out, your shoes are ready for the snow.

Other gear to get ready could include a single hiking staff or a set of dual hiking poles (with a snow basket and carbide tip on the end). I prefer using my Komperdell anti-shock, collapsible aluminum hiker staff.  I never hit the trails without it…spring, summer, fall or winter. This tool helps with balance and stability, as well as with momentum going up a hill and easing the impact on knees when descending.

I also get my daypack ready with the following items: compass, knife, whistle, matches in a waterproof container, small stove and gas canister, metal cup, first aid kit, a chemical-activated body warmer and a NASA space blanket, pair of ice-fishing grips, rope, extra socks, mittens, cap and shirt, sun glasses, sunscreen, chap-stick, water in Nalgenes, and some food.  I also take a homemade snowshoe repair-kit made up of a multi-tool with small pliers, wire, plastic cable ties and Red Green’s “handyman’s secret weapon”…duct tape.

I then take stock of my winter clothing to be sure I have what I need for the season. This would include layers with polypropylene undies for an inner layer, fleece or wool-blend wicking middle layer, and waterproof, windproof and breathable outer layer. It’s important to keep the extremities covered as well. I make sure I have wool-blend winter socks and nylon sock-liners, boots and gaiters for the lower extremities, and mittens or gloves for the upper extremities. As for my head, I take what we use to call in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where I grew up…a “chook” (a stocking cap).

Ante up

In poker, you ante up at the start of the game by putting money on the table. Before heading out on the trail, snowshoe enthusiasts may need to put money on the table and invest in some new gear now and then. When it comes to buying new snowshoes, I always recommend paying more for a quality pair. Research the market by checking out reputable snowshoe brands on the internet. Shop around comparing prices both in stores and online, especially at the end of a winter season or at the start of the season when there are promotional sales.  You may find a good deal.

However, most likely the gear that will wear out the quickest would be clothing. Purchase any needed clothing at sale prices.  And, look for clothing that meets your winter wicking needs.

Pump up

In the early years of Saturday Night Live, I used to laugh watching Hans and Franz say, “We’re going to pump you up” as they tried to motivate their listeners to get in shape. Their comedic satire aside, they made a very important point…to work on getting your body in shape. Keeping in shape throughout the year is important, even if it means a daily walk or cardiovascular workout to maintain a healthy physical equilibrium. The idea of going on your first snowshoe hike after sitting idle during the off-season is like trying to start your car in the spring after it has sat in the garage all winter.

Diet is also important when preparing for the snowshoeing season. And try to maintain an appropriate BMI weight. Keep in shape all year round is the answer…with exercise, diet and weight management.

Check up

For those folks 50 and over, consider having a check-up by your family physician. We are not spring chickens anymore once we hit what McDonald’s calls, folks who qualify for senior coffee. Your doctor can let you know if you have any health concerns that may interfere with your snowshoeing plans. And your doctor may be able to help set some realistic physical limits for you so that you do not overdo it.

Psych up

When a season approaches, such as canoeing and backpacking for spring, summer and fall, and of course snowshoeing for winter, I get enthused by reading about the activity. For pre-snowshoeing season read articles in Snowshoe Magazine for example, purchase a book on the topic, or rent a newly released documentary DVD on the sport. Attending sports shows, conferences and seminars on winter related recreation is another motivator. Also, some retail stores sponsor snowshoeing clinics.

Look up

Look up other folks to go snowshoeing with you. Going alone now and then is okay and can be most serene. But backcountry travel is safest in pairs and numbers. Email your friends and family members and invite them to be part of your winter snowshoe trip plans.

Consider participating in snowshoeing events like hikes, races or other activities often sponsored by nature centers, parks and recreation, community programs and schools. I always enjoyed the occasion candlelight events sponsored by a nearby Wisconsin state park.

Set up

Set up a snowshoe plan for the season. Select locations and dates to go on snowshoe hikes.  Mark them in your calendar and commit to using those days for snowshoeing. Choose from a county, state or national park, or other public land that has established snowshoe trails, and get information about them on the Internet.

Also go online or look in your local newspapers for sponsored snowshoeing events…and again, mark your calendar. Once you attend one event, it is highly likely you will get hooked and want to do more.

Shoe up

Whenever I tell my snowshoeing students to put on their snowshoes in preparation for heading out on a trail, I always say “shoe up.”  I’m not sure where that expression came from. But I’ve been using it for years.  It involves strapping on your snowshoes, grabbing your daypack and hiking poles, and heading out on the trail. It’s that simple.

Now that you assessed your “ups” for snowshoeing this coming season, and you have your gear ready to hit the trails, shoe-up as soon as the snow begins to fall.

About the author

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.

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