Snowshoeing Basics

What are snowshoes? What is a hut? And what is wilderness?

A young man from California I met while traveling, learned that I live in Colorado and asked what I like to do there. I replied that in the winter, I enjoy snowshoeing to huts in the wilderness. I was met with a puzzled look. Then he asked, What are snowshoes? What is a hut? And what is wilderness? My traveling companion grew up in California and replied, Remember those cartoon characters with things on their feet that looked like tennis rackets? The man nodded his head. She said those are snowshoes. Then she said a hut is a cabin; and wilderness is a place where there are no cities, towns or roads. He smiled and nodded, indicating that he understood, but he was mystified that anyone would like to do that kind of thing. I was interested that he had never experienced—was not even aware of the possibility of experiencing—the wintry outdoors in this way.

The trail

The trail

If you fantasize about vacationing in a resort, cabin, or yurt  surrounded by pine forests with twinkling, newly-fallen snow, go ahead and imagine moving through your sparkling scene. Tromping though the snow with your boots, however, you may end up stomping hip deep into the snow. This is called post holing, which is exhausting after even a few steps. With snowshoes, though, you sort of float on the snow as you walk. It is an easy skill to learn and a great way to get exercise.

Winter is a time of getting outside to play. Some absolutely delightful possibilities are: skiing¸ sledding, going on a sleigh ride, throwing snowballs at each other, making snowmen, lying down in the snow to make snow angels, and sitting in hot springs pools looking at the winter sky. Snowshoeing, however, is one of my favorite activities. Try running down a hill in your snowshoes. It is really fun! And if you want aerobic exercise, try running up a hill. All you need is a pair of snowshoes and snow. The cool thing is snowshoes is they let you explore around, whether you are at the resort, or in a wilderness area.

Snowshoes

Snowshoes

You can borrow or rent equipment, but when it snows, I am eager to get going. I live where the winters are snowy. Therefore, I simply strap on my snowshoes; and head out my front door. If you live in a warm part of the world and are traveling to a snowy destination, however, renting is the way to go.

For a ridiculously brief history of the sport, people have been snowshoeing for thousands of years. People have been snowshoeing in central Asia about 6,000 years ago and in Europe and the Americas for about 4,000 years. According to Jim Tucker, It is believed that as these ancestors to the Inuits and Native Americans, migrated from Asia to North America, they brought the snowshoes with them, which were modified slabs of wood. It was not too long before this evolved into the white ash framed snowshoes with the raw hide lacing… These were long, wide and clumsy.

As recreational snowshoeing increased in popularity, snowshoes began being built with new, light materials. They are much sleeker and very easy to put on, use and take off. The size you need is based on what you will be doing and the weight the snowshoes will carry. If you plan on recreational use, the standard size should suffice. If you plan on long-distance running or racing, be sure to get small, sleek, but sturdy snowshoes. Look at the tag attached to the snowshoes to read about how much weight it is designed to bear. For day hikes, use your body weight to determine the size of the snowshoes you will need.

If you expect to backpack to spend a night or two at hut or yurt, add the weight of the packed backpack you plan to carry to your body weight. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds; and you plan to carry a 35-pound backpack, you will want snowshoes big enough to carry 185 pounds. Longer snowshoes are for bigger people carrying heavier packs. The ones shown in the picture are good for day hikes; but can accommodate about 200 pounds so they may work for short backpacking trips, too.

Poles are essential. They steady you while maneuvering on uneven terrain and on steep slopes. Poles are especially helpful when carrying a backpack for an overnight stay at a hut or yurt. Some hiking poles come with cups that can be attached to the bottom of the poles. Although these work well in snow, some people prefer to use their cross-country ski poles.  You can buy snowshoes and poles at many outdoor shops or at your favorite online outdoor retailer. Also, unless you are in your own backyard, you might want  a map, compass and to memorize key features by looking back so that you can retrace your steps.  Sometimes, it snows while you’re out and you may well need that map and some recognizable features.  Smartphones can be great for helping you find your way but often there is no cell coverage in the wilderness.  Also, don’t forget extra layers and a snack and drink in your pack.

Make your first snowshoeing adventure an easy, short hike that is fun. Stop and take pictures. Drink water and have a snack or lunch. If you are quiet while resting, you may spot birds, snow hares, squirrels, deer or elk. Then expand your experiences to longer and more challenging adventures. For more tips about how to safely and comfortably do outdoor activities, click here. Let me know if you go snowshoeing and how you liked it.

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