HOW TO SNOWSHOE: BEGINNER TIPS FOR FINDING A TRAIL, GEAR & MORE
This post on how to snowshoe is sponsored by REI, our favorite place to pick up quality winter gear. As always, all words and advice were crafted by the Bearfoot Theory team.
Need a winter sport that is easy, fun, and inexpensive? Learn how to snowshoe. On a day when the conditions on the ski hill aren’t great or maybe ice skating isn’t your thing, grabbing a pair of snowshoes and a friend or two is just the thing to help you get outside in the snow.
Not only does it 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 around and make the most out of any condition.
Learn the basics of snowshoeing, how to find trails, and what gear to hit the trails on in this beginner’s snowshoeing guide!
What is Snowshoeing?
To put it simply, snowshoeing is an easy way to go winter hiking when there are snowy conditions. The snowshoes prevent hikers from sinking into the snow by way of floatation and an effortless gliding quality that keeps them on top of the surface.
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 is less risky or physically demanding than others like skiing. However, you can increase the difficulty by snowshoeing on steeper, more mountainous terrain. A 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 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. The frame is the outpart that gives it its shape and the decking is the material, usually nylon, that makes it lightweight.
This is the part that attaches your boot to the snowshoe’s frame and decking. There are two types of snowshoe bindings that you can choose: rotating or floating bindings or fixed bindings. In general, neither style is right or wrong but 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, steep slopes and allows your foot to pivot as needed. A majority of snowshoes fall into this category.
Fixed bindings attach the entire foot to the snowshoe, preventing your heel from lifting up. It’s a good approach for those who like a bit more control while walking, as you can easily back up or step over obstacles, however, it doesn’t allow as much pivot.
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”.
How to Choose the Right Snowshoes for the Conditions
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…
- 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.
Poles with baskets help keep your poles from sinking in the snow. I use my ski poles when I go 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.
MSR Revo Snowshoes
The MSR Revo snowshoes are suitable for flat or rolling terrain. They are lightweight, weighing less than 4 pounds, and are suitable for a recommended load capacity of 180 pounds.
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.
Best Intermediate Snowshoes
Rolling Terrain is good for beginner-intermediate or everyday snowshoeing. Snowshoes made for this type of terrain are the more versatile and can bear a heavier load, i.e. backpacks.
MSR Evo Snowshoes
Whether you’re adding some elevation or conditions aren’t ideal MSR Evo snowshoes are a step up from the MSR Revo snowshoes. They’ve got more traction and weigh less than the Revos.
Tubbs Flex TRK Snowshoes
The “flexible” tail on the back of the Tubbs Flex TRK snowshoes helps to absorb shock as you’re moving, which reduces stress on your joints. They have webbing similar to Keen boots, making them easy to take on & off. They’re the lightest of all the snowshoes we’ve featured and they also have the largest recommended weight load max at 250 pounds. Here is the men’s version.
Best Advanced Snowshoes
Mountain Terrain is the most advanced category & thus you will find snowshoes in this category are generally the most expensive. These snowshoes are outfitted with sharp crampons that can dig into icy conditions and 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.
MSR Lightning Ascent Shoeshoes
The MSR Lightning Ascents are the heaviest of the snowshoes we’ve featured but they are built to last. They have traction on all sides of the snowshoe to keep you from slipping even on tough inclines. The recommended weight load maximum is 180-280 pounds depending on the size (22, 25, or 30 inches). Here’s the men’s version.
Fimbulvetr HIKR Snowshoes
The Fimbulvetr HIKR snowshoes are the same weight as the 30 inch MSR Lightning Ascents and have webbing that makes strapping in as easy as sliding in your shoe. The maximum recommended weight load is 220 pounds.
How to Snowshoe
Learning how to snowshoe is as easy as putting them on in the first place. 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.
Tips on How to Find a Snowshoeing Trail
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.
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 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. Use precaution and stay safe by checking the weather forecast for your area with the NOAA Weather Radar app or Mountain Hub. When in doubt, don’t go out.
Need some ideas? Want to go with an experienced outdoor guide? Join one of REI’s classes on Snowshoeing Basics. Check your local REI store for more information.
What to Pack For Your First Snowshoeing Trek
Before you strap on your snowshoes and grab your poles, take a 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 cold weather clothing 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. We also included in our cold-weather layering guide, our favorite winter weather clothing essentials.
- 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.