Need a winter sport that is easy, fun, and inexpensive? Learn how to snowshoe! When the conditions on the ski hill aren’t great or maybe ice skating just isn’t your thing, grabbing a pair of snowshoes and a friend or two is a perfect way to help you get outside in the winter. Not only does snowshoeing suit people of all ages and abilities, but it’s also a simple way to enjoy a beautiful winter day (even if you’re a winter hater!).
Be it a snowy woodland trail or an urban adventure after a particularly big snowstorm, snowshoeing isn’t hard. It’s one of the best ways to get outside in the winter and make the most out of any condition.
Learn the basics of how to snowshoe, how to find trails, and what gear you need to be comfortable in this beginner’s snowshoeing guide.
What is Snowshoeing?
To put it simply, snowshoeing is an easy way to go winter hiking in snowy conditions. The snowshoes prevent you from sinking into the snow by floating along the surface with an effortless gliding quality that keeps them on top of the snow.
It’s a great activity for people who can’t do more vigorous snow sports or are looking to take up a winter sport that isn’t as risky or physically demanding as, say, skiing or snowboarding. However, you can increase the difficulty by snowshoeing on steeper, more mountainous terrain. Flat and rolling terrain is much more suitable for beginners and is a great way to get used to snowshoeing since you’ll be using certain muscles differently than you might be used to.
Snowshoeing Gear 101
There are three main components to every snowshoe that will vary depending on your experience level, ability, and terrain. It’s also important to consider how your shoe size and footwear factor into your snowshoe as well. We’ll talk more about that below.
Frames and Decking
This is the basis of every snowshoe and the component that provides floatation and glide on top of the snow. The frame is the outer part that gives a snowshoe its shape and the decking is the material, usually nylon, that makes it lightweight.
The bindings are the part that attach your boot to the snowshoe’s frame and decking. There are two types of snowshoe bindings that you can choose: rotating (also known as floating) bindings or fixed bindings. In general, neither style is right or wrong but rather a matter of preference.
The rotating bindings only attach the toe of your boot to the snowshoe which frees up your heel from the tail for easy maneuvering through deep snow and steep slopes. They also allow your foot to pivot as needed. The majority of snowshoes fall into this category.
Fixed bindings attach the entire foot to the snowshoe, preventing your heel from lifting up. Fixed bindings are a good approach for those who like a bit more control while walking, as you can easily back up or step over obstacles. However, they don’t allow as much pivot as rotating bindings.
Besides your body weight, the added traction underneath your snowshoes is what keeps you grounded. Most models have crampons, also known as spikes, to help you keep your grip. If you are walking on flat terrain, spikes will be relatively flat, while snowshoes for icy or steep climbs have crampons with bigger “teeth”.
Tips for Choosing the Right Snowshoes
Snowshoes are made for three different types of terrain: flat, rolling, and mountain. An easy way to remember them is ranging from beginner to advanced or easy to difficult.
A few more things to consider when choosing snowshoes
- Choose snowshoes with a larger deck to float easily in deep, dry powder (like we have in Utah) or to bear a greater load, be it bodyweight or heavy packs.
- Women’s snowshoes are different because they have narrow bindings and/or decks to fit smaller boots. However, if you have a larger foot, consider buying a pair of men’s snowshoes instead.
- Many snowshoers like to use trekking poles for better stability and balance in rocky conditions. Make sure your poles have a basket at the bottom so they don’t sink into the snow.
- Wear snow boots or warm waterproof hiking boots with gaiters (or ski pants) to keep snow and ice out while snowshoeing.
Best Beginner Snowshoes
Beginner snowshoes are built for flat terrain. Since they are designed for easy trails, they will have less traction than snowshoes in the intermediate and advanced categories.
Crescent Moon Eva Snowshoes
The Crescent Moon EVA Snowshoes are perfect for beginners and have a recommended load max of 200 pounds. If you struggle with staying warm, the foam component of these snowshoes is designed with insulation to keep you warmer.
Check Price: evo
Best Intermediate Snowshoes
Rolling terrain is good for beginner-intermediate snowshoers or everyday snowshoeing. Snowshoes made for this type of terrain are more versatile and can bear a heavier load like backpacks.
WildHorn Sawtooth Snowshoes
Whether you’re adding some elevation or conditions aren’t ideal, the WildHorn Sawtooth Snowshoes are a great intermediate snowshoe option. They’ve got more traction and weigh less than flat terrain snowshoes.
Check Price: Amazon
Best Advanced Snowshoes
Mountain terrain is the most advanced category of snowshoeing and thus you will find that the snowshoes in this category are generally the most expensive. These snowshoes are outfitted with sharp crampons that can dig into icy conditions and have heavy-duty bindings to prevent your foot from coming loose.
They’re designed to withstand the wear and tear of going off-trail in harsh conditions. Snowshoes in this category also often have optional heel risers which help reduce strain on your calves on steep ascents. If you think you are going to get serious about snowshoeing, you’ll be able to grow with snowshoes in this category.
Crescent Moon Gold 13
The Crescent Moon Gold 13 Snowshoe is an advanced women’s snowshoe with a single-pull loop binding that envelops the entire foot for a stable, secure feel. The teardrop shape makes for easy walking and the strong, lightweight platform is designed to distribute weight across the entire shoe.
Check price: Amazon
How to Snowshoe: Tips for getting started
Learning how to walk in snowshoes
Learning how to snowshoe is as easy as putting them on and hitting the snowy trails. Many models are outfitted with straps, laces, or rubber webbing that you can simply pull on over your shoe. Make sure they fit snug and won’t come undone as you walk.
To learn how to walk in snowshoes, walk as you normally would with a more purposeful step. This ensures that you will have a good grip in slippery, snowy conditions or icy terrain and can easily adapt to unseen obstacles underfoot.
You might feel a little awkward at first, but once you get into your groove, it will start to feel more natural.
How to Find Snowshoeing Trails
Now that you’re booted up and ready to get out there, we bet you’re probably wondering how to choose a snowshoeing trail. It’s easy. Most hiking, walking, and biking trails double as snowshoeing trails during the wintertime.
When you are first starting out, an established trail provides a gentle surface with a clear path for beginner to intermediate snowshoers to enjoy the outdoors all year long. Once you’ve got more experience and are comfortable with navigation, you can venture a little further off the trail.
Safety tips for snowshoeing
Being safe while you’re out on the trail or in the backcountry is a huge factor when it comes to learning how to snowshoe. We recommend that first-time snowshoers find a buddy and stick to well-marked trails, like cross-country trails.
When you’ve built up enough confidence to venture onto more challenging terrain keep an eye out for running water, tree and rock wells, and other winter hazards.
If you live in an area that is avalanche prone, educate yourself on warning signs to be aware of:
- New snow
- Wind-drifted snow
- Unstable base layer
- Wet snow
- Gliding snow
Your local avalanche center can be a great resource for knowing avalanche risk before you go. I like to follow the Utah Avalanche Center on Instagram because they share current avalanche conditions and let people know which slopes to avoid.
What to Pack For Your First Snowshoeing Trek
Before you strap on your snowshoes and grab your poles, take a minute to few things with you as you head outside this winter.
- Wear insulating yet moisture-wicking layers that will keep you warm and dry. Check out our winter hiking clothes and cold-weather layering guide to help you stay warm.
- Bring a hat, gloves, and something to keep your neck warm, as well as wool socks that won’t chafe or absorb sweat.
- Sunglasses and sunscreen help to protect from harsh UV rays and sun that reflects off the snowy surface.
- A small backpack with the ten essentials and plenty of water.
- If you are snowshoeing where there is no cell phone service, we always recommend bringing a communication device that you can use to call for help in case of an emergency.
Have you ever been snowshoeing? What are your tips on how to snowshoe and what are your favorite locations? Leave your comments and questions below!