We have good days and bad days when we head out for a winter hike as a family. Fortunately I’ve learned to predict what kind of outing we’re looking at and I’ve figured out the key steps to planning a successful outing snowshoeing with children.
Below are my top ten tips for making snowshoeing FUN with kids. Each one has been tried and tested with my own family and friends on both day hikes and overnight trips.
One. Choose the best gear for success
We’re testing out a pair of MSR Shift snowshoes this winter on my 8 year old son and have found that he’s able to run down steep trails without falling on his face, that he’s comfortable hiking up a trail, and that he stays dry without snow flicking up at his back side.
While you can certainly get out for an easy walk in any pair of department store snowshoes, your children will enjoy outings more if they are using good equipment. For more on how to choose a pair of snowshoes for your kids, refer to Phillip’s great story for Snowshoe Magazine here: Start em Young! Snowshoes for Kids Two to Teens.
Two. Dress for success
It won’t matter how good your gear is if your children have frozen toes or hands.Nobody is happy if they are freezing to death.
Below are a few of my personal favourites when it comes to keeping kids warm
Stonz Winter Bootz – the lightest winter boots on the market and definitely warm enough in temperatures down to -20F (or colder) while hiking.
Ducks Day one-piece Ski Suits – One-piece suits ensure that snow stays away from your child’s skin. There’s no jacket/pant gap which means there’s no snow to get inside the child’s jacket when you shake a snowy tree on them, and there’s no snow to get inside their pants while making snow angels. My son’s ski suit is fleece lined and he’s never cold if we use good base/mid layers underneath.
Helly Hansen Base Layers for Kids – My son is currently wearing the Helly Hansen Warm Set and has been toasty warm on all of our outings. We also like Ella’s Wool for mid layering in cozy warm wool pants.
Stonz Mittz – Most children hate getting snow inside their mittens and parents hate it when gloves or mitts fall off on the trail. Avoid this with a pair of over-the-jacket mitts that pull tight at both the elbow and the wrist to ensure that snow stays out, and that the mitts stay on. We’ve had great success with Stonz Wear and swear by their boots and mitts.
Three. The Early Bird Gets the Worm
Don’t start your hike late in the afternoon when you’re rushing to reach your destination and to get back to your vehicle by dark. I’ve done this (recently I’m ashamed to say) and it’s not a lot of fun. Get an early start and make sure you’ll have the time to really enjoy your hike. Allow for many breaks, time to play at your destination (and on the journey itself,) and for wiggle room in case the hike takes longer than you had expected.
Four. Weather Matters
You know the saying: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing?” Well, it needs to be taken with a grain of salt when planning a winter hike with kids. While yes you could go for a hike in -20F weather, It might not be the smartest move if planning a long hike, heading out for more than an hour, or if traveling with novice hikers (which includes children.) Choose a mild day for an easy fun outing. Save the arctic days for your solo adventures when the kids are with the grandparents. I’ve also found that most people (children included) will have more fun hiking in winter if they can see something. Heading out in a snow storm isn’t a lot of fun. Save the big hikes for those bluebird days when you’ll be in awe of the mountains or scenery around you.
Five. Choose an appropriate trail
Hiking uphill with snowshoes is hard for kids. Choose flat trails when possible or bring a sled for the way down as an incentive (read: bribe.) “If you make it up to the lake, we’ll pull you down with the sled…”
Six. Choose an appropriate distance
Take the distance your child could hike in summer. Cut that distance in half. That’s the distance you want to focus on for snowshoeing or winter hiking. I’m not sure if it’s the extra weight of the snowshoes, the extra effort required to walk in them, or the fact that your body is working hard to just stay warm but whatever the reason, snowshoeing is hard work and kids will tire quickly. (So will adults for that matter!)
Seven. Focus on PLAY
We’ve done two big hikes with snowshoes in the last month and had a similar experience both times. We, the adults, had the destination in mind. My son however was all about the journey and having a good time. He wanted to shake every tree we passed under, causing tree-a-lanches every five feet. He wanted to stop and make snow angels, to jump off of every stump or rock he could find into waist deep powder, and to just PLAY. He wasn’t as interested in the actual destination at all.
On our most successful winter hikes or outings we’ve made snow caves, climbed around on frozen waterfalls, played games of tag, enjoyed backcountry sledding, made snowmen and snow angels, had snow ball fights, and spent tons of time jumping into deep mounds of powder.
Choose trails with something FUN to see. Kids love frozen waterfalls and icy canyons for example.
Make sure the best part of the trip, the descent, is fun. Kids love running down hills. Make sure they can run in their snowshoes or take them off if the trail is packed. Also, bring a sled for ultimate fun.
Bring friends. Kids love running down the trail with other children.
Look for trails that will have lots of fresh powder to play in. There’s nothing fun about just trudging along a packed trail where you don’t even need snowshoes.
To read about why we like hiking with sleds, check out my previous Snowshoe Magazine story: Snowshoeing is Boring (and other myths I once believed).
Eight. Stay where you want to play
Most of our best winter outings have happened when we’ve chosen to spend the night near the trails we wanted to explore. We recently spent a weekend at Emerald Lake Lodge in Canada’s Yoho National Park. We literally hiked out the door of our cabin, toured the beautiful lake on our snowshoes, hiked up to a set of frozen waterfalls, and even got some skiing in the next day.
On other trips we’ve snowshoed into backcountry cabins where we built giant snow fortresses, crazy luge tracks for our sleds, and spent hours playing in the snow right outside our cabin door. For some inspiration, check out these previous stories for Snowshoe Magazine:
This will be the shortest paragraph in this story. Bring candy. Hand it out often. And if you don’t understand the importance of this one, you haven’t hiked with children yet.
Ten. Don’t forget the après-snowshoe
Sometimes motivating the family to hike can be as simple as “if you make it all the way to the lake and back, we’ll go out after for hot chocolate and cookies…” Last weekend we spent a day snowshoeing at a mountain lodge and headed to the resort lounge after. We each ordered a drink (Irish coffee for me,) my son got a custom-made apple cider, and we played a board game we’d brought with us. It was paradise! (And did I mention that we were sitting in front of a warm fireplace?)
Many resorts have common areas with fire places, lounges or cafes where visitors are allowed to come hang out and warm up. We look for these places when we plan out our hike. For me, the après-snowshoe experience is just as important as the hike itself.
Disclaimer: We have been given gear and clothing to test from companies mentioned in this story. Helly Hansen long underwear were provided by Canadian company, Altitude Sports, and the MSR snowshoes were provided by Canadian company, All Out Kids Gear. All opinions are my own and the companies have not sponsored or paid for this post.