You Can Shoe It! Snowshoeing for Beginners
Published on 01/03/2013
By Heather Balogh
The temps are dropping, snow is beginning to fall, and it looks like winter has finally arrived. We are psyched to usher in the arsenal of activities that comes along with these chilly months and can't wait to break out our skis and snowboards to hit the slopes. However, sometimes we don't want to deal with the hassle of lift lines and the mental stress of waking up early to catch first chair. Why press glass when there is a stash of powder, just waiting to be explored with your own two feet? Snowshoeing has come a long way in the past 100 years and it is one of the most simplistic activities that can be enjoyed outside.
Snowshoeing is one of the easiest and most user-friendly winter sports out there. The learning curve is steep and anyone from novices to experts can get out and enjoy the woods with a simple five-minute tutorial. If you can walk, you can definitely snowshoe. Additionally, 'shoeing is safe and easy on the body. Let's face it: there is minimal chance of tearing an ACL or crashing into a tree when you are trekking through knee-deep snow. In our book, that is definitely considered a win.
Even better? The price point of snowshoeing works for everyone. If you can beg, borrow or buy the gear, you're set up for the entire winter. There are no lift tickets to purchase so it is relatively inexpensive when compared to other winter sports. You just need to grab your snowshoes and head out the back door.
Gone are the days of wooden tennis racket-inspired snowshoes. Instead, technology has woven its way into the backcountry by providing us with lighter, smaller and more efficient snowshoes than in past years. In fact, enthusiasts even have a variety of types to choose from, depending on their desired use:
• Aerobic/Running Snowshoes
• Recreational Snowshoes
• Mountaineering Snowshoes
These shoes are smaller and lighter than the other two categories but are definitely not intended for backcountry treks. However, if you are a runner who is looking to keep your fitness level up during the snow-covered months, this type of frame is for you. When purchasing, keep in mind that a lighter construction and a narrow-waisted frame are more important than a large amount of crampon teeth or a substantial binding. For this reason, the Atlas Race snowshoe is the best running snowshoe on the market. It is insanely light at 2.1 pounds, which makes it half the weight of other snowshoes. After all, if you're trying to outrun the Honey Badger, maneuverability is going to reign supreme over flotation every single time.
These frames are arguably the most commonly purchased by first-time consumers. Also known as hiking snowshoes, these are a bit larger than the running variety, as well as a tad heavier. They are meant for frequent jaunts of 3-5 miles, and can be used on gentle-to-moderate rolling hills. While the crampon teeth are definitely adequate, they won't be vicious enough to bite into any steep mountains or hard, icy faces. However, hiking shoes are a great place to get started and will get you frolicking outside in no time. The Komperdell Mountaineer snowshoe is going to be your best value in this category at a super affordable price of $75. Although the binding is a bit more complicated than it needs to be, the low price point definitely makes up for that minor inconvenience.
These frames are the most rugged of the bunch and are intended for snowshoers with experience. Everything about this type of shoe is more extreme from its slightly heavier weight to the more pointy and larger teeth of the crampons. Mountaineering snowshoes are perfect if you will be exploring areas with serious powder or climbing up steep mountain faces. Additionally, these types of shoes work best for long overnight trips into the backcountry that may require you to carry a large pack. If you're thinking of going on a winter hut or yurt trip this year, these bad boys are definitely the shoes you will want. The MSR Lightning Ascent shoes reign over this category due to their additional crampon teeth around the outside of the frame. When combined with the heel lifter and easy-to-use binding, these snowshoes are ready to help you tear up any conditions you may encounter on the trail.
Although it may be tempting, using downhill ski poles for snowshoeing is not ideal. The poles should be adjustable so that the user can vary the length based on the topography of the hiking terrain. Snowshoeing up a crazy steep hill that is leaving you red-faced and gasping for air? Shorten those poles up by a few inches and some of your weight will be transferred to your shoulders, arms and back. While going downhill, you can extend the poles to help balance your body and take the pressure off the knee joints. If you already own adjustable 4-season hiking poles, you're golden. Make sure to add some large snow baskets to the base of the pole, and you will be ready to rock 'n roll. If you are in the market for a new set, check out the Dynafit Broad Peak poles. At an incredibly light weight, these poles have a glove-friendly locking mechanism that will make your trek that much easier.
Obviously, your footwear is the most important item of clothing to be considered when planning a snowshoeing excursion. Luckily, if you already play in the outdoors, it is likely that you own a pair of waterproof or insulated winter boots. If not, check out Vasque’s Snow Junkie boot. It has a lightly insulated waterproof upper with a commendable weight of 18 ounces. However, if your shoes are low-top hikers, you may want to consider investing in a good pair of knee-high gaiters such as the MEC Kokanee 2 gaiters. These will keep the snow out of your boots and away from your snugly dry toes. Additionally, these gaiters will be clutch if you find yourself venturing into deep powder conditions. After all, nothing ruins a good adventure like frostbitten feet.