We have good 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 has been tried and tested with my family and friends on both day hikes and overnight trips.
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1. Choose the Best Gear for Success
We tested a pair of MSR Shift snowshoes several years ago on my 8-year-old son. We found that he could run down steep trails without falling on his face, was comfortable hiking up a trail, and stayed dry without snow flicking up at his backside.
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 suitable equipment. Make sure that your child’s snowshoes fit correctly before use. You may want to go for a short outing locally to test them out before heading on the trails.
2. Dress for Success
It won’t matter how durable your gear is if your children have frozen toes or hands. Nobody is happy if they are freezing and uncomfortable during winter hiking.
Below are a few of my personal favorites when it comes to keeping kids warm:
Stonz Winter Boots – These are the lightest winter boots I’ve found and are definitely warm enough in temperatures down to -20F (or colder) while hiking. Also, try their Scout Reflective for older children.
Ducks Day One-Piece Snowsuits – One-piece suits ensure snow stays away from your child’s skin. There’s no jacket/pant gap, meaning 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 s suit is fleece lined, and he’s never cold if we use good base/mid layers underneath.
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 the mitts stay on. We’ve had great success with Stonz Wear and swear by their boots and mitts.
3. The Early Bird Gets the Worm
Don’t start your hike late in the afternoon when you’re rushing to reach your destination 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.
Instead, get an early start and ensure you’ll have time to enjoy your hike. Allow time for many breaks for photos and time to play at your destination (and on the journey itself). Add in wiggle room if possible if the hike takes longer than expected.
Read More: Winter Photography Tips for Snowshoers
4. 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 at -20° F. Though, it might not be the smartest move, especially if heading out for more than an hour or traveling with beginner hikers (including children.)
Instead, 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. Unfortunately, heading out in a snowstorm may not give many viewing opportunities. So, save the big hikes for those bluebird days when you’ll be in awe of the mountains or scenery around you.
Read More: Top 10 Snowshoe Tips for First Timers
5. Choose an Appropriate Trail
Hiking uphill with snowshoes can be challenging for many of us, but it is especially hard for kids.
Instead, choose flatter 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….”
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6. Choose an Appropriate Distance
Take the distance your child could hike in summer. Then, cut that distance in half. That’s the distance you want to focus on for snowshoeing or winter hiking with your kids.
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 stay warm, but whatever the reason, snowshoeing is hard work, and kids will tire quickly. (So will adults, for that matter!)
7. Focus on PLAY
Adults and kids can have different mindsets about hiking. For example, at one time, we did two big hikes with snowshoes in one 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. First, he wanted to shake every tree we passed under, causing tree-a-lanches every five feet. Then, he wanted to stop, make snow angels, and jump off every stump or rock he could find into waist-deep powder. My son wanted to 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 snowball fights, and spent tons of time jumping into deep mounds of powder.
Ideas for Play
When going for a winter hike with kids, 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. Ensure 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 trudging along a packed path where you may not need snowshoes.
8. Stay Where You Want To Play
Most of our best winter hikes with our kids happened when we’ve chosen to spend the night near the trails we wanted to explore. For example, 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, made intense luge tracks for our sleds, and spent hours playing in the snow right outside our cabin door.
9. Candy and Snacks
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.
10. Don’t Forget the Après-Snowshoe
Sometimes motivating kids to go on a winter 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.”
For example, we spent a day snowshoeing at a mountain lodge and then 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! (Did I mention that we were sitting in front of a warm fireplace?)
Many resorts have common areas with fireplaces, lounges, or cafes where visitors can hang out and warm up. We look for these places when we plan our hike. For me, the après-snowshoe experience is just as important as the hike itself.
Read More: Drinks for the Après Snowshoe Experience
So try these tips the next time you’re snowshoeing or winter hiking with kids!
This article was first published on January 31, 2017, and was most recently updated on March 16, 2023. The author was given gear and clothing to test from companies mentioned in this story. A Canadian company, Altitude Sports, provided the Helly Hansen long underwear, and the Canadian company, All Out Kids Gear, provided the MSR snowshoes. All opinions are the author’s own, and the companies have not sponsored or paid for this post.