Why Do We Snowshoe? A Psycho-Social Analysis or Just Because

Have you ever wondered why we snowshoe? While in psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud may have said something to the snowshoe enthusiast like, “Due to possible repression of your early fixation manifestations, you resolved your subconscious conflicts by simply taking up snowshoeing.”

There you have it….a supposedly psychoanalytical rationale for why people snowshoe. However, I guess that Freud most likely had no interest in why people snowshoe, much less interest in snowshoeing at all. So, although I am a little facetious here, the question remains: why do people snowshoe?  Is it a thirst for adventure, a need to experience the outdoors in winter, or a need for keeping physically active?

In a non-scientific study that I conducted over a six-year period by surveying college students who completed my snowshoeing courses, I found some interesting results indicating why people snowshoe.

The top reason why these students snowshoe (with a 39 percent response rate) was for “serenity, silence, and appreciation of nature.” Then, the second reason, at 34 percent responding, was for “adventure, exploration, and fun.”

The other response categories that followed included “exercise, fitness and/or competition” at 12 percent; “camaraderie, fellowship and sharing experiences” at 8 percent; and “convenience, inexpensive and easy to master” at 7 percent.

The responses in my survey are only just a handful of reasons why people snowshoe. For example, people may snowshoe as a secondary sport (ex: use snowshoes for hunting), for their job, or transportation in inclement weather conditions.


The author, unsure why he snowshoes. Photo: Jim Joque

With a few options on the table, let’s dive deeper to discover the true reason why. Shall we?

Serenity, Silence, & Appreciation of Nature

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” –William Shakespeare

Some people snowshoe for simplicity, peace, solitude, serenity, positive mental health, stress reduction, fresh air, and appreciating nature. I have to admit. I enjoy snowshoeing for the sheer pleasure of appreciating all that Mother Nature has to offer when out on the trail. It becomes a connection with nature for me.

I find many people who enjoy the simple pleasures of being outdoors to escape the fast pace of a competitive society and the complexity of advanced communication technology. Some enjoy hiking along a scenic winter snowshoe trail, taking in the ambiance of a forest or a relaxing meadow. And, the solo snowshoe hike has much to offer one’s search for solitude, providing an opportunity to relax, reflect, and renew. Just remember to prepare if you head out on your own.

man snowshoeing along in forest

Snowshoeing can provide solitude, a breath of fresh air, and an appreciation for nature. Photo: Jim Joque

Adventure, Exploration, & Fun

“Life is either a great adventure or nothing.” –Helen Keller

Some enthusiasts snowshoe for the sole purpose of adventure, exploration, excitement, and fun. I also need to travel in the backcountry in search of an adventure. I occasionally enjoy a short backpacking trip on snowshoes to where I can set up camp and spend the night in the snow. Furthermore, I know others who have this need as well. They enjoy the challenge. To get to their destination, they may travel on snowshoes while others travel on cross-country skis.

I have also enjoyed backpacking on snowshoes to a rustic cabin that friends and I have rented from state and national parks. These cabins are equipped with only bunks, a wood stove, and an outhouse. There are no amenities like electricity or running water. However, the challenge of roughing-it is most enjoyable and fulfills an adventure-seeking need for us during the winter months.

Read More: 8 Reasons Why Winter Hiking Rocks

Trekking to a cabin in the backcountry provides a sense of adventure. Here is one of the author’s rustic cabin adventures. Photo: Jim Joque

Exercise, Fitness, & Competition

“Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.” –Plato

Some enthusiasts enjoy snowshoeing for exercise, conditioning, competition, and recreation purposes. This past February, I enjoyed watching snowshoeing athletes advance toward the finish line when covering the last checkpoint at a regional snowshoe race in Wisconsin. I am always amazed at the tenacity of a racer on snowshoes, especially when they pick up speed in the final stretch of the competition.

Some snowshoers satisfy their need to gain aerobic exercise through running.  During the other three seasons, joggers and runners often continue their activities during winter, taking to cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Many snowshoe companies sell snowshoes designed for runners that are smaller, lighter, and asymmetrically designed for a more natural stride.

Some of these runners with a competitive need will get involved in snowshoe racing, participating in organized events such as community or regional competitions or the United States Snowshoe Association racing series. And sometimes, snowshoe racers are cross-training for three-season running events such as half-marathons and marathons.  What better way to stay in shape than keeping running skills fresh year-round.

Read More:
Burn, Baby, Burn: Reap The Health Benefits of Snowshoeing
Readying For The Challenge Of Snowshoe Racing

snowshoe racer crossing the finish line

Many people choose to snowshoe for the competition, like this racer crossing the finish line at the USSSA National Championships. Photo: Susan Wowk

Camaraderie, Fellowship, & Shared Experiences

“Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies.” –Aristotle

Others snowshoe for fellowship, friendship, camaraderie, and sharing experiences with others. I like sharing my adventures with others like my family and close friends.

Some people enjoy community snowshoeing events where they share the experience with a larger group of people and perhaps making some new friends. Popular moonlight or candlelight hikes offered by parks, nature centers, and community programs epitomizes the concept of community camaraderie.

Snowshoeing can also enrich relationships. Snowshoeing together can help couples enhance bonding, sharing, caring, growing, and keeping healthy. Families can bond by sharing time on snowshoes too.  I recall an enjoyable snowshoe hike through the woods with my daughter’s family, taking my grandchildren on a winter adventure through fresh snow.  The hike enriched our relationships.

Read More:
Snowshoeing: The Ultimate Female Bonding Experience
Take Your Friends Snowshoeing (Really, They’ll Love It)
Choosing Snowshoeing & Outings With Toddlers & Kids

grandfather with grandchildren while snowshoeing

Snowshoeing with the family is a great bonding experience. Here, the author is with his granddaughters. Photo: Jim Joque

Convenience, Inexpensive, & Easy To Master

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” –Leonardo da Vinci

Some people snowshoe because the sport is convenient, inexpensive, easy to master, and gives them something to do in the winter. Skiing and snowboarding involve the cost of expensive equipment and lift tickets. Snowshoeing involves the cost of snowshoes (and maybe some other daypack accessories for longer adventures).

Skiing and snowboarding involve skills, thrills, and risks, while snowshoeing can be easily mastered in one simple lesson and is quite safe in comparison. Some people prefer the simplicity and cost-effectiveness snowshoeing has to offer.

Read More: Definitive Guide: How To Choose The Perfect Snowshoes For Your Needs

Snowshoeing As Secondary Sport

“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” –Henry David Thoreau 

Some people use snowshoes as a secondary sport. For example, someone may enjoy hunting, trapping, and fishing in the winter and use snowshoes to get them to and from where they seek their game.

Some snowboarding and skiing enthusiasts enjoy hiking up a hill or mountain on snowshoes, only to travel down on a board or skis. In addition, those involved in quadrathlons and adventure racing sometimes use snowshoes as a means of travel for their events.

And those folks who enjoy wildlife observation, such as bird watchers, animal trackers, and nature photographers, will often use snowshoes as their means of travel when enjoying their nature-related activity.

Read More: Why You Should Use Snowshoes on Your Next Mountaineering Adventure

animal tracks on a snowshoe outing

Some people may snowshoe while doing other activities, like looking for animal tracks. Can you name these? Photo: Susan Wowk

For Work Or Transportation

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” –Confucius

One other reason for some people to use snowshoes is for their job. Occasionally, park workers rely on snowshoes for getting to and from a specific destination when in the backcountry. Those involved in search and rescue sometimes rely on snowshoes as well. In addition to county, state, and national parks, nature centers may hire naturalists in winter and use snowshoes to teach snowshoeing and lead groups on nature hikes.

I have known of foresters using snowshoes when the need arises and other natural resource-related employees that work in the outdoors during winter. And, some military personnel are trained on using snowshoes too.

I recall my father telling me that when he was a real estate agent in Upper Michigan many years ago, he would on occasion wear wood-frame traditional snowshoes to appraise or show a farmhouse buried in deep snow. I’m not sure if realtors do that today….but if they want to sell a farmhouse in Upper Michigan, they most likely will need to put on their snowshoes.

Read More: The Future Of Traditional Snowshoes: We Value Our 6,000 Year Tradition


The leader of this group may be wearing snowshoes as part of his job while on a nature hike. Photo: Jim Joque

Why do YOU snowshoe?

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” –Socrates

So, there are many reasons why people snowshoe.  And many needs are met through snowshoeing.

Ask yourself…what is your reason for snowshoeing?  Consider the aforementioned options. Then ask yourself, what are your needs that are being met through snowshoeing? Once you have a handle on these two variables, snowshoeing will make more sense to you. And should you realize someone else may have other reasons why they snowshoe and other needs to be met, you will have a better understanding of other snowshoers you meet on the trail.

Freud says, “Symbolism is perhaps the most remarkable part of our theory of dreams.” When I dream of a peaceful space filled with snow, is it symbolic of my craving for snowshoeing?  Or, is it some subconscious conflict relative to my need for winter? Or, could it not have any relevance at all? Either way, I believe I enjoy snowshoeing just because I fulfill some needs that I have and for some specific reason that I prefer.

Why do you snowshoe? Let us know in the comments below!

This article was originally published on March 11, 2013, and Susan Wowk recently updated it on June 14, 2021. 

Read Next:
Snowshoeing For Seniors: Into Your 70s and Beyond
Snowshoeing For Beginners: The First-Timer’s Guide
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  • 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. In 2021, Jim and his wife Liz moved from Wisconsin to Colorado in their retirement.

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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. In 2021, Jim and his wife Liz moved from Wisconsin to Colorado in their retirement.

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