Reap the Health Benefits of Snowshoeing

Winter can be intimidating. The cold weather can easily prompt us to want to stay indoors, as far away from outside as possible. But, whether we like it or not, our health status doesn’t take a break during winter, and neither should we. For beginners and experts alike, diets, the gym, and other health tools quickly get old.

Several years ago, I lost 30 pounds (14 kg) by using the Mediterranean diet and walking on a treadmill almost every day for an extended time. The diet included healthy eating, but the treadmill was tedious. I did burn calories and lost weight. But, I gained much of the weight back over the years and found it harder to drop as time went on. Luckily, that’s where the sport of snowshoeing comes in to support me, both for the body and the mind.

For snowshoeing beginners, experts, and older adults, here are several health benefits of snowshoeing and why it’s important.

man snowshoeing alone in forest

Snowshoeing can provide a breath of fresh air along with multiple physical and emotional health benefits. Photo: Jim Joque

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Improves Cardiovascular Health

Snowshoeing may seem just like walking (and it is for the most part). However, breaking a trail in fresh snow is challenging! As an aerobic activity, snowshoeing will get your heart pumping, which speeds up blood flow to your muscles and lungs. This increase in blood flow results in more oxygen and increases your body’s efficiency. So over time, aerobic activities result in longer, healthier lives.

Just ask Dr. Ray Browning, an Associate Professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University. With his numerous publications, he mentions that snowshoeing is “an exceptional way to achieve cardiovascular fitness, expend energy, and reduce your chance of heart disease.”

Read More: Walk Your Way Into Improved Fitness With Nordic Walking Poles

Workout for Your Muscles

Along with improving cardiovascular fitness, snowshoeing provides health benefits for your muscles, especially your lower body. Similar to walking, snowshoeing primarily activates your quadriceps (front thigh), hamstrings (back thigh), glutes (booty), and calves. The extent to which your muscles are activated increases with the number of hills, namely ascents, and descents.

However, we also need to balance and stabilize ourselves as we move. In this regard, our back muscles and abdominals come in to save the day. The back muscles on both sides of the spine and the abdominal six-pack all work to control the trunk area while you’re snowshoeing.

Read More:  7 Exercises You Can Do To Support Your Snowshoeing

snowshoeing health benefits: students going up hill in snowshoes

Snowshoeing is great for our cardiovascular health and muscles, especially when ascending hills. Photo: Jim Joque

Keeps Our Mind Healthy

The winter blues are real. Depression, anxiety, seasonal affective disorder, and other mental health concerns can wreak havoc during the wintertime when nights are long, temperatures are cold, and the weather has a mind of its own. However, getting outdoors in the winter can tremendously impact one’s mental health and state of mind. The outdoors offers a fresh perspective and a chance to breathe after life’s difficult moments.

Snowshoeing provides an opportunity to relax or challenge our minds. We have the decision-making power to choose whether our snowshoe outing is a short stroll or a strenuous, day-long hike. If your mind needs a break, a quick snowshoe around the block or near home after a snowstorm might be just what you need. However, if you’re feeling stuck or in a rut, a challenging hike may provide that confidence and self-esteem boost required to take care of your mental health.

We can also choose whether to snowshoe alone for some quiet or use it as a bonding experience with others. The connection between others and nature that snowshoeing provides can significantly impact us.

Furthermore, “Throughout evolution, sunlight-produced vitamin D in the skin has been critically important for health,” writes the vitamin D specialist and author Dr. Michael D. Holick. Winter sunlight not only provides us with this vitamin D, but it also has positive effects on serotonin levels, both of which affect our mood and physical health.

Read More: Snowshoeing Saved My Life: The Impact on Depression

group on traditional snowshoe hike

Getting outdoors in the winter can help us keep our minds healthy, too! Photo: Jim Joque

Burns Calories

Without a doubt, snowshoeing helps people keep fit and burn calories. Snowshoeing burns more calories than walking at the same pace and duration for those concerned about weight management. The weight of snowshoes and winter clothing, combined with resistance against the snow, results in more exertion. Thus, it leads to more calories burned.

A study by Declan Connolly at the University of Vermont shows that snowshoers can burn from 420-1000 calories per hour depending on pace and snow conditions. For example, walking in snowshoes at 3 miles (5 km) per hour can burn about 350 calories in one hour. Furthermore, a brisker pace can increase calories burned to about 500/hr. Add poles for an upper-body workout or go running on snowshoes, and the calories continue to rise.

However, keep in mind that the calories you burn depend on many variables, no matter what the research or studies report. For example, a person’s weight and the gear they’re carrying, the pace they are moving, their metabolism rate, and the amount of exertion expended on the outing will all impact calories burned. Furthermore, the depth, density, and weight of the snow, terrain, outdoor temperature, wind speed, and elevation play a part in calories burned. Thus, it may be almost impossible to take all variables into account for a precise rate. But an approximation is close enough to know how many calories you burn when snowshoeing.

As a starting point, Health Research Funding provides charts of calories burned while snowshoeing, categorized by body weight and time. Similar to the statistics listed above, they point out that snowshoeing burns about 45% more calories than walking or running at the same speed. But again, the full health benefits of calories burned while snowshoeing depend on the other factors mentioned. For further clarification, though, they state that “All calorie calculations are based on a mid-intensity workout and normal speed.”

As a second option, a calorie rating system that I enjoy playing with is through the University of Rochester’s Medical Center. They provide a “Calorie Burn Rate Calculator” whereby you can type in your weight (be honest now), and the results are estimated calories burned per hour for a person of your approximate weight. Unique to their calculator is that it provides estimated calories burned for an impressive list of physical activities, including snowshoeing and shoveling snow by hand. And in warmer seasons, you can even find rates for mowing the lawn with a power mower, raking your yard, and gardening.

Read More: Burn Calories Snowshoeing This Winter

snowshoeing health benefits: students running on snowshoes

Running on snowshoes increases the number of calories burned compared to walking. Photo: Jim Joque


Snowshoeing is an excellent low-impact winter activity for someone with an injury or joint concerns. Unlike hiking on hard ground, the snow provides a soft buffer for joints when out on the trail. Snowshoeing also provides less pressure on your joints overall, especially compared to other winter activities such as skiing and snowboarding. Thus, your knees, ankles, and hips will thank you for feeling less strained.

Please remember, though, that injury varies. Even though the activity is low-impact, it may not fit your specific injury, and you should always talk to your doctor beforehand.

Even though snowshoeing is low-impact, it isn’t necessarily a low-intensity sport. You can alter your route and pace to meet your intensity preference for the day. For strenuous workouts, a faster pace, longer route, or route with hills and elevation gains might fill your need. However, if you prefer a less strenuous outing or if you’re a newcomer to snowshoeing, you may snowshoe at your local park, take a shorter route, or stick to a relatively flat trail.

Namely, this flexibility suits a wide variety of lifestyles. Plus, it’s a lifesaver for those who like to change workouts based on moods or external factors.

Read More: Snowshoeing With a Knee Injury: One Journey Back to the Outdoors

It’s All About the Benefits

Overall, if you are trying to find something to do in winter or have never snowshoed before, consider the benefits of starting snowshoeing. Besides being a low-cost outdoor winter sport with a short learning curve, snowshoeing is a low-impact activity that provides an excellent cardiovascular workout while burning away those calories. All you have to do is adjust it to your pace and intensity level. Choose which snowshoes to use, then rent, borrow, or purchase a pair of snowshoes and give it a try.

This article was originally published on April 16, 2020. It was updated on August 17, 2023.

Read Next: Building and Maintaining Endurance All Year Long for Snowshoeing

About the author

Jim Joque, contributions by Susan Wowk

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  • It’s September but we’re still uncertain if our vacation plans will push through. Planning to go on a trip with my kids and some friends in December. I’m still upgrading some parts and installed a few ATV accessories. After snowshoeing, we’re planning to use the ATV to ride around Estes Park.

    • Hi Jon, Snowshoeing & riding your ATV sounds like a great vacation and a healthy outing! I hope that your plans work out this December. Estes Park is also an absolutely gorgeous location. If you’re looking for other activities to add to your trip, we have an article on Estes as well: 11 Reasons To Visit Estes Park, CO Thanks for sharing! -Susan, Snowshoe Mag Editor

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