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.
Some of the links in this article may contain affiliate links. When you make a purchase using these links, part of the proceeds go to Snowshoe Mag at no additional cost. Additionally, as an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. Please see our disclosure for more details.
1. 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.
*Special Snowshoeing Tip: Beware 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.
2. Get 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.
Make sure to take the poles or even use your ski poles. 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. Even for outings under one hour, 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.
4. 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).
5. 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. As long as there’s plenty of snow, you’ll have multiple options. 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.
6. Check the weather forecast
Not only is it essential that there is snow on the ground, but you should also be aware of the forecast before you go out so you can be prepared. Snowshoeing is best in powder or freshly fallen snow. 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.
Checking the weather forecast. will help you be aware of what the day will bring. So, 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).
7. Know the basics
Starting on somewhat flat terrain will allow you to get the hang of walking with your snowshoes on your feet. 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.
8. Bring a friend
Snowshoeing is a social sport, so bring a friend or family member with you. As with most outdoor sports, weather conditions can change quickly. It’s a good idea to be as safe as possible, 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. 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.
9. Get out and try it
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.
10. Have fun
It may be intimidating to start a new sport, but anyone can snowshoe, and it’s one of the most welcoming and friendly of the 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.
5 Things To Do With Snowshoes That Aren’t Exactly Snowshoeing
Snowshoeing For Beginners: The Comprehensive First- Timer’s Guide
Seattle, Washington: Top 5 Daytrips for Snowshoe Beginners
10 Tips For Making Snowshoeing Fun With Kids
Benefits & Tips For Snowshoeing With Pets
Article originally published September 17, 2012, and updated with gear recommendations and new information on October 18, 2020