Every new sport can be intimidating if you’ve never tried it, but you have to start somewhere. That’s why we’ve compiled the top 10 tips for snowshoe first-timers. With these handy morsels of advice, the trail to becoming an experienced snowshoer just got easier.
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1. Start Small
For your first time out, it’s best to start with a short distance. Snowshoeing can be tough work! Not only do you have extra weight on your feet, but breaking your own trail in freshly fallen snow will get your heart pumping even harder.
If you regularly hike in the summer, we recommend halving the distance you normally hike for your first snowshoe outing. If you’re new to outdoor activities, start with an area close to your homes for a first outing, like a park or natural area. By starting close to home, you can get a feel of the activity and what workout intensity is best for you.
Read More: Reap the Health Benefits of Snowshoeing
2. Bring a friend
Snowshoeing is a social sport and it’s easy to stay socially distant. So, bring a friend or family member with you. Also, as with most outdoor sports, it a good idea to bring a friend with you to stay safe. Weather conditions can change quickly, and going with a friend ensures that you have someone with you should something happen.
If you can’t convince someone to join you, check out local groups or clubs or online groups on Facebook (try this group) and Meetup. It’s a great way to meet new people and find others that enjoy the same things you do.
Remember, cell phones are not always 100 percent reliable when you’re out exploring, so always make sure to tell someone where you are going and when you will be returning.
3. Dress the part
Snowshoeing is one of the most exciting and fun ways to explore the winter, but it’s cold out there! Make sure you are prepared with the correct clothing for your outing.
First, always dress in (or bring) multiple layers: a base layer, a mid-layer, and an outer layer. You can mix and match which layers you wear depending on temperature. You can always take off layers if you get too warm, but don’t get caught in a situation where you might be wishing for a heavier jacket.
- The base layer is the layer closest to you and wicks moisture away from your body. Here are examples:
- A mid-layer is worn over your base layer and is your insulating layer. Here are examples:
- An outer layer is needed to protect you from the elements (wind, rain, snow). It can be worn over your mid-layer or your base layer.
Also, always have a pair of gloves or mittens, wool socks, waterproof boots, a hat that covers your ears, and sunglasses as snow in the sunlight is intensely bright.
Tips for Choosing your Clothing
If you don’t have these items above, ask a friend if you can borrow the appropriate clothing. Or, look through your closet for items that are workout-friendly and ideally, not made of cotton.
There’s a reason the boy scouts say, “cotton kills.” When cotton gets wet, any cotton clothing touching your skin will absorb your sweat like a sponge. If the air is colder than your body temperature, you’ll feel cold because your cotton clothing is saturated and no longer provides insulation. For long periods, feeling cold can lead to disorientation, hypothermia, and even death. Your best bet is to stick to wicking fabrics. These move water from wet areas to dry ones, something that cotton does not do.
However, if you are snowshoeing close to home, there is more wiggle room in what you can wear since you can quickly get home if you are feeling cold. Whereas, if you are hiking in areas that are far from home and require a drive, you’ll want to be extra careful to dress appropriately to stay safe.
4. Get/rent the gear
So you’re dressed the part, now you need the equipment. Choosing the right snowshoes and finding the gear can be overwhelming. As with most sports, there are different brands and price levels for just about everything.
Don’t be overwhelmed. Your first pair of snowshoes can be hand-me-downs, rentals, brand new gear, or borrowed from a friend or family member.
However, the most important tip for choosing your snowshoes is to ensure the snowshoes are the right size. Snowshoes make your feet wider and longer, and maneuvering them takes some getting used to, so avoid getting a pair that is too large for your feet as it could make your first trek a comedy of errors.
The best way to get started is to rent a pair from a local sporting goods store or resort rental shop. Rentals can start for as little as $10 a day, and they will outfit you with snowshoes and poles.
If the rental includes poles, make sure to take them. These help your balance, act as a brake when you are descending a hill, help you climb over logs, streams, etc., and help you pull out of powder should you fall over or lose your footing.
A few common snowshoes for flat and rolling terrain, and typically a great starting point for beginners, are:
Please note that men and women may wear men’s style snowshoes. If you’re interested in mountaineering, learn why to use snowshoes on your mountaineering adventure, along with technical snowshoe recommendations.
Snowshoeing is a sport, and regardless of it being your first trek or your 100th, your heart rate is bound to climb as you start moving. Just like with hiking, the level of exertion you expend is up to you, but there’s a good chance you could break a sweat. So one snowshoeing tip we have, even for outings under one hour, is to make sure to be prepared and pack a small backpack or fanny pack with the essentials:
- Water – Even though it’s cold, you still need to keep hydrated as you expend energy.
- Snacks – Whether you’re out for an hour or an afternoon, make sure to bring snacks that will boost your energy—such as apples, trail mix, almond butter, or try Clif Shot Bloks or GU chomps for an extra boost.
- Sunscreen – Light reflects off the snow, making sunburn likely, so be sure to apply sunscreen to any exposed skin.
If heading on a longer adventure of a few hours, make sure you bring a few other essentials.
6. Bring your phone or camera
No matter the trail you take, snowshoeing will open your eyes to a beautiful winter wonderland. Don’t forget to take your phone or camera and share your photos and stories with us through Facebook or Instagram. We want to hear about your experiences and see winter from your perspective.
In addition to taking photos, your phone can be useful in an emergency. However, if snowshoeing off-trail in an area that doesn’t have service, bring a map or compass (and know how to read them).
7. Select a trail
There are plenty of ways to find a trail. You can snowshoe your favorite hiking trail (be sure it’s not in an avalanche-prone area), a resort with dedicated snowshoe areas (like these top 10), a wooded area, or even a lap around your local neighborhood park.
You can break your own trail anywhere. So, as long as there’s plenty of snow, you’ll have multiple options. But, not sure where to go? Ask around your local winter gear stores or grab some maps when you rent your snowshoes. You can also call any resorts for location tips.
For those new to outdoor sports, start with a flat trail so you get familiar with walking in your snowshoes and how much energy you’ll want to expend. Starting on somewhat flat terrain will allow you to get the hang of walking with your snowshoes on your feet.
8. Check the weather forecast
Before you head out into the snow, you should also be aware of the forecast before you go out so you can be prepared. Thus, you can make sure you’re not wandering into a threatening situation (storms come fast, and it’s easy to get lost when the world turns white).
Also, snowshoeing is best in powder or freshly fallen snow, and when there’s enough snow that you’ll post-hole and sink without snowshoes. You may find that the best time to snowshoe is right after a snowstorm has cleared through, and the sun is shining, and it’s a bit warmer. However, sunny conditions and warm snow can also lead to avalanche conditions on steep slopes, so make sure you’re avalanche aware when snowshoeing in the mountains.
9. Know the basics
It may take some getting used to walking with longer and wider feet, but don’t worry if you fall or lose a snowshoe. It’s all part of the learning process and will get more comfortable with practice.
When you start climbing uphill, be sure to dig your toes in to allow for the crampons on the bottom of the snowshoes to hold onto the snow. You’ll be surprised at just how easy snowshoeing is, so what are you waiting for now? Go out and play!
*Special snowshoeing tip – Beware of backing up! It’s easy to lose your balance when trying to walk backward. If a need to backtrack arises, simply turn around in a small circle.
10. Get out, try it, and have fun!
They say the hardest part is the first step. Take the first step, break your own trail, get your snowshoes on, and get out in whatever winter wonderland is at your feet, even if it’s just your local neighborhood park. Explore, and you will soon enough be teaching your friends and family how to start.
It may be intimidating to start a new sport, but anyone can snowshoe, and it’s one of the most welcoming and friendly winter sports. Blaze your trail and have a blast doing it. Snowshoeing is a phenomenal way to not only stay active and healthy; it’s a great way to see the world. No matter where you go, you’ll meet amazing friends, see incredible things, and have memories to share for a lifetime.
For more snowshoeing tips for the beginner, check out the video below with Andreas’s recommendations, a Grouse Mountain Educator in Vancouver, BC.
What snowshoeing tips do you have for your first outing? Let us know in the comments below.
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10 Tips For Making Snowshoeing Fun With Kids
Benefits & Tips For Snowshoeing With Pets
Article originally published September 17, 2012. Susan Wowk updated the article with gear recommendations and new information on October 18, 2020, and with additional tips on March 21, 2021.