Snowshoeing Information

Insider Info

dotSnowshoes are one of the earliest forms of transportation known to man. As far back as 6,000 years ago, Arctic tribesmen invented snowshoes in order to hunt and travel more effectively during the winter months.

These ancient snow-walking devices were probably made of bent wood and animal skins. They worked by distributing the traveler's weight across a larger area of snow, giving him or her the ability to "float" on top of the snow.

dotThough snowshoes were found in almost all snow regions of the world, they were most widely used by the native people of North America. Each tribe developed a shoe design that best suited the topography and snow conditions where they lived.

Few people today use snowshoes as a tool for survival in cold climates. But snowshoeing is increasingly popular as a winter recreation.

dotFans of hiking and those who simply love venturing into nature find that snowshoeing lets them extend their favorite activities into year-round fun. If you like the outdoors and are able to walk, snowshoeing may be the perfect winter sport.

dotCompared to winter sports like skiing and snowboarding, snowshoeing is easy and relatively inexpensive. You can snowshoe in almost any open recreational space or designated hiking trail.

All you need are snowshoes, minimal equipment, proper clothing and supplies, and a few snowshoeing companions, and you're off for a day of fun.

dotSnowshoe styles have changed very little since they were first invented. All are made in one of two styles: bearpaw with a curved heel, and teardrop with a tail.

dotEarly snowshoes were usually made of wood with rawhide-lace latticework inside the frame and leather bindings. Today's snowshoes are usually made of light, durable aircraft aluminum with durable-material decking (the material inside the frame that lets the shoe "float" on the snow).

dotToday's shoes are smaller, lighter, stronger and easier to maneuver than those in the past. Most also have claws on the toes and heels to help with traction on icy surfaces. A good pair usually costs between $200 and $300 (US), though they can often be bought on sale in the spring at outdoors shops.

Snowshoes may seem expensive. But if you choose a well-made pair that is constructed for the type of snowshoeing you want to do, they can last a lifetime.

Getting Started

dotMost outdoor shops can help you decide what type of shoe to buy. It may also be good to attend a snowshoeing clinic where you can try on several different types of shoes.

dotWhen purchasing shoes, consider these factors:

  • The more you weigh, the larger the shoe you will need in order to stay afloat on the snow.
  • Walking on light, dry snow takes a bigger shoe to keep you from sinking.
  • Large shoes are also best for trekking in flat, open country.
  • If the snow is heavy and wet, you'll need a smaller shoe with good traction.
  • Smaller shoes with good traction are also best for steep, mountainous terrain.
  • For running, racing, and casual walking, small, light shoes are best.

dotYou should also consider what type of snowshoeing you want to do when purchasing equipment. There are three basic categories: aerobic and fitness, recreation, and mountaineering.

Aerobic and fitness shoes are designed specifically for running and exercise, and shouldn't be used on trails or in the backcountry.

Recreational snowshoes are best for moderate-length walks of three to five miles over flat to moderately steep terrain. They are also good for trails and some off-trail use.

Mountaineering snowshoes are for rigorous long-distance travel, steep snow climbing and extended off-trail hikes.

dotThe intended use of the snowshoes is also important when selecting bindings and hiking boots. Choose hiking boots that are warm and waterproof. It is easy to suffer frostbite when participating in any outdoor winter activity, especially if boots become wet inside.

If you are planning to snowshoe in the backcountry, for an extended period of time, or on ungroomed trails, you will need additional equipment.

dotTelescoping snow poles that fit into a backpack are good for keeping balance and navigating risky terrain. An ice ax can also be critical when hiking in the mountains.

dotOther important gear includes a small, lightweight snow shovel, an altimeter, a map and compass to help you pinpoint your location, wands (thin bamboo poles with colored flags to use as trail markers), and avalanche beakers and probes in case a showshoer in your group is buried in an avalanche.

dotAlways take precautions and be sure to check avalanche conditions before setting out in remote or risky terrain.

dotFor safety, carry water, a high-protein snack, extra socks and even extra gloves and a hat. Take frequent breaks to eat and drink something. Snowshoeing is strenuous, and you'll be sweating and burning lots of calories even though you may not realize it. Adjust your clothing to avoid chills and make sure you are keeping dry during your trek.

dotYou will stay the most comfortable while snowshoeing if you dress in layers. Start with a base layer of lightweight thermal underwear that keeps away moisture and lightweight glove liners.

Windproof vests and micro-fleece jackets are good for a middle layer. On the outside, wear a breathable windproof jacket and pants. Never wear cotton. It does not insulate and will leave you cold! Also, don't forget some knee-high gaiters to keep snow out of your boots.

dotOne you're properly outfitted and supplied, it's time to head out. The great thing about snowshoeing is that anyone who can walk can learn to do it with very little (if any) formal instruction. It's always best to snowshoe with others for safety, so grab a few friends and hit the trails!

dotBreaking a trail can be tiring. If you snowshoe with a group of people, take turns leading so that every snowshoer can get a rest from this tough work.

The leader should consider the pace of the slowest member of the group when breaking the trail. Those who follow should try to step in the leader's footprints as best they can. This conserves energy and keeps a better-defined trail for those who are following behind.

dotIf you're snowshoeing anywhere other than on a flat trail, there are a few basic techniques you can use to get up and down hills. One is the herringbone step, where the toes are angled out and the heels angled in. This works well on short, steep slopes.

You can also traverse, or walk back and forth from side to side up a slope. On a steep, long slope, try kicking in a motion that's similar to pedaling a bicycle. By doing this, it's possible to kick a "staircase" of steps into a slope.

Should you encounter a rock or log on your trek, either side step over it or step directly on it with the snowshoe frame and the center of your foot.

dotIt's possible to take snowshoeing lessons. But most snowshoers simply learn from experienced enthusiasts or develop skills by trial and error.

Start off slowly and be sure to take the proper precautions, and you'll find that snowshoeing is one of the easiest, most versatile ways to have fun and get a workout in the winter. After a trek through a quiet, snow-laden landscape, you just may find yourself hooked!


The Essential Snowshoer: A Step-by-Step Guide,
by  Marianne Zwosta
Snowshoeing Colorado,
by  Claire Walter


Winter Backpacker
Lots of information, techniques and advice

Articles and photographs about the sport by a dedicated snowshoer