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If you can walk, then you can snowshoe. It's that simple. Plus, strolling, hiking, jogging, running, and most any other form of bipedal locomotion can be done on snowshoes. (I am still trying to perfect my skipping technique in snowshoes, however.)

The beauty of shoeing is its simplicity. Just strap a pair of modern snowshoes onto your favorite running shoes (for running or dry snow) or hiking boots (for strolling or slushy snow) and hit the trail with a completely natural stride. (Yes, modern shoes do not necessitate a bow-legged gait.) Just enjoy the low-impact workout that the shoes and snow beneath them provide. (Finally there's a way to train without nearly the long-term deleterious wear and tear and risk of injury that pavement pounding necessitates!)

Equipment-wise, you won't need much: Choose the smallest and lightest snowshoes that will support you over the snow; 8X22 inches is the norm for sport and racing, while 10X33 inches are de rigeur for deep powder or when wearing a heavy pack. Wear a good layered clothing system tFhat you can vary according to the weather and your level of exertion. Gore-Tex gaiters will keep the snow out of your footwear and protect your ankles from the occasional shoe slam. Running in slush or powder will kick up a rooster tail, so wear a waterproof shell to keep your backside dry. Snug clothes are best, so sport some lycra tights, with polypro underwear beneath them if it's cold enough. Some shoers Flike to use ski poles to spread out the weight and to get a little upper body workout, especially for the backcountry. Butt-packs for food and spare clothes come in handy, as are CamelBaks or something comparable for carrying liquid. Spare socks, sunblock, map, and a compass are always good ideas.

In terms of technique, walk or run with a light step, and lead with your heel down. A rolling motion from heel to toe is the most efficient, comfortable, and traction-grabbing. Be forewarned that snow can be unstable, so be wary of everything from collapsing creek bridges to avalanches. Use your ears as much as or more than your eyes to evaluate the snowscape. Don't cross questionable areas immediately near your partner or you could go down together. Don't get lost, at least not for too long. And finally, remember: "He who hesitates is wet."

Step One

Choose a pair of snowshoes that are compatible with your snowshoeing interests and the type of snow in your area. Different snowshoes are made for running, exploring, packed trails, deep snow, firm snow and many other types of activities and snow (see "How to Buy Snowshoes").

Step Two

Select a pair of poles to use for added balance while snowshoeing. Poles should be a little taller than your hands when you stand and bend your elbow 90 degrees.

Step Three

Have an underlayer of polypropylene clothing or a similar synthetic fabric to remain warm and dry.

Step Four

Use wool socks to keep your feet warm even if your feet get wet.

Step Five

Have waterproof, breathable pants and a jacket to protect you from winter weather and the snow you'll be walking on. Gaiters will keep snow out of your boots.

Step Six

Select a pair of boots or shoes that are water-resistant to keep your feet warm, dry and comfortable.

Step Seven

Stay warm by bringing a hat and gloves or mittens.

Step Eight

Find a backpack that will hold the necessities for any outdoor venture. This includes a map, first aid kit, knife, compass, matches, food, water, sunscreen, sunglasses and a flashlight.

Step Nine

Bring a few plastic ties, wire, duct tape and pliers to fix your snowshoes if anything should happen.

Tips & Warnings

Much of the gear used for snowshoeing is also used for hiking, running and skiing. Check your closet for gear you already own.

Step One

Dress appropriately for winter recreation.

Step Two

Stretch your muscles for 10 to 15 minutes. Be sure to stretch at least the thighs, groin and calves.

Step Three

Attach the snowshoes to your footwear snugly so your foot and snow-shoe move as one.

Step Four

Keep your feet shoulder-width apart, as most snowshoes are wider than regular footwear.

Step Five

Swing the striding foot sideways and forward, clearing your opposite ankle. Your foot will wing out in an arc pattern. Be sure to swing away from your body and far enough forward to clear the opposite snowshoe.

Step Six

Land with the pressure focused on the ball of your foot.

Step Seven

Repeat with the opposite leg.

Tips & Warnings

Packed trails and flat slopes are the best places to learn to snowshoe.

Avoid stepping on your snowshoes by swinging your striding foot away from your body and far enough forward to clear the opposite snowshoe.

Look back at your tracks - they should look like a zipper line.


Step One

Visit a camping, hiking, or outdoor gear store.

Step Two

Choose a style of snowshoe according to the activities you will be pursuing. There are snowshoes designed for mountaineering, all-around recreation, and running.

Step Three

Select wooden, plastic or aluminum snowshoes. Wooden models are usually the cheapest, plastic snowshoes are the lightest, and aluminum varieties are the most durable.

Step Four

Choose the size of snowshoe according to your weight and the type of snow you will be walking on. Pick a larger snowshoe for dry, powdery snow, or if the combined weight of you and whatever you're packing will be heavy. A smaller snowshoe is best for firm, packed trails, or if the combined weight of you and whatever you're packing will be light.

Step Five

Select a snowshoe with bindings that you can use easily, even with gloves or mittens on.

Step Six

Test several models before buying.

Tips & Warnings

There is some overlap in snowshoe models - you could run in a good pair of recreational snowshoes or walk something as friendly as a golf course in mountaineering snowshoes. Check with a knowledgeable salesperson

Simply Snowshoeing

by Carl Heilman II

Walking in the snow on snowshoes is one of the most enjoyable and relaxing things I've done. It's hard to explain to someone how something so simple can be so rewarding until they've tried snowshoeing themselves. Each time I put on my snowshoes and walk in an enchanted woods that's draped with a fresh mantle of snow, I still feel the same magic I felt the first time I put on a pair of snowshoes and headed off across the snow.

Snowshoes have been in use for as long as 6000 years and they're one of the earliest forms of transportation. Over the centuries, many different sizes and styles of snowshoes were designed for all the various types of snow conditions and topography. Since snowshoes were used more for utility and survival, they were designed for weight carrying capacity, and tended to be a good bit larger than what we're using today. While the traditional styles used through much of this century were the result of centuries of evolution, the past 10 years of snowshoe evolution has seemed to be almost more of a revolution.

When I started snowshoeing in the early 1970's, there were just a few choices in design, and only a couple of choices for lacing material. Neoprene/nylon had become a common substitute for the traditional rawhide lacing, but the frames were all crafted from steam bent wood. Snowshoe bindings were little more than a few straps attached to the toe cord, and snowshoe traction came from the grip of the lacing pattern in the snow.

Since practically all of the snowshoe styles were about twice the size of those recommended today, I handcrafted a pair of 13" by 48" snowshoes for my 150 pound body and then headed out to conquer the Adirondack High Peaks. I snowshoed up a lot of mountains on those first, large snowshoes, and began to learn firsthand about the performance tradeoffs of size vs. light weight and maneuverability.

Today's snowshoes and bindings are MUCH easier to use than the comparatively large, wide snowshoes of the past. Modern materials and designs cut down on weight and provide maximum traction and control. Snowshoeing today is about as simple as it gets!

Choosing snowshoes though, has seemed to become more difficult. Snowshoes are now available in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. In addition to a few traditionally laced wood frame snowshoes, there are aluminum or synthetic frames, various decking materials, and a multitude of binding designs. Even the crampons for traction on the bottom of the snowshoes vary considerably in shape, size and configuration. As the variations in designs have become more plentiful, choosing a pair of snowshoes has become more complicated. Snowshoeing articles and evaluations, as well as advertising literature from different manufacturers, often offer conflicting suggestions, and it's tough to make choices based on inconsistent recommendations.

During the past two decades of designing and handcrafting snowshoes, and leading snowshoeing workshops, I've used many different snowshoes on quite diverse terrain and snow conditions. Since the only consistent thing about snow conditions in the northeastern US is it's inconsistency, I've had a chance to snowshoe here in snow conditions ranging from an unyielding crust, to densely drifted snow, and even deep, fluffy powder. While there are definite differences in approach and terrain when snowshoeing the west in places like the Sierras and the Wasatch Range, I found that snowshoe performance in different snow conditions in the west was the same as snowshoe performance in similar snow conditions in the east.

When trying to choose snowshoes for different conditions, one thing to remember is that ALL properly designed snowshoes work - it's just that some will work better in certain conditions than others. If you were to take all of the different snowshoes made today and in the past, and start to categorize them according to various design features, you'd soon start to see many similarities. Since each of these features will perform a certain way in certain snow conditions, it's possible to decide on the type of snowshoeing you want to do, and then choose snowshoes according to the desired design features.

Snowshoeing can be broken down into three basic types of activity: Recreational, Mountaineering, and Aerobic / Fitness snowshoeing. The accompanying chart describes what activities best fit into each of these categories, as well as suggested snowshoe design features that are most appropriate for each. In addition, I've broken down the design features into their separate characteristics and described how each component affects snowshoe performance.

The level of Snowshoe Performance is related to both the Design Features of a snowshoe, and the amount of Control a person has over a snowshoe. These two categories cover everything about the snowshoe, from it's overall shape and balance, to the traction design, binding design, and how the bindings are attached to the snowshoe. A well designed snowshoe should feel like an extension of the body, rather than an extra appendage.

Some components are more important than others. For example, I feel the Binding is the most important element of the snowshoe. A binding that's easy to use, and holds the foot on the snowshoe comfortably and securely with the least amount of slippage or lateral movement, will be the most enjoyable to use. Even a poor snowshoe design can be relatively easy to use with a good snowshoe binding.

The second most important feature is the overall Frame Geometry. Frame geometry determines how evenly a snowshoe sinks in the snow, and how easy it is to place one snowshoe in relation to the other when walking, running, and climbing. It also affects how easy it is to snowshoe in different conditions, and how well the shoes work with different snowshoeing techniques.

From there the features break down into Traction, and Hinge design. The length, style, and placement of the snowshoe crampons determines the amount of traction for walking and climbing on consolidated snow and crust. Hinge design affects how the snowshoe moves with each step, and how easy it is to use different snowshoeing techniques, particularly some of those used in more extreme mountaineering conditions.

Each of these design features affects any snowshoe in a similar way. It doesn't matter if the snowshoe is a bearpaw style with a curved heel, or a teardrop style with a tail, or one of the several variations of each - all snowshoes with similarities in overall frame geometry and size, will perform the same way in similar snowshoeing conditions.

So... what snowshoe is best for YOU? The best way to find out is to choose several snowshoes with design features that are most important to you, and try 'em before you buy 'em in some different snow and snowshoeing conditions that are like those you'll be in most often. Then ask yourself some questions... Are they easy to use? Are the bindings simple and secure, and are the snowshoes comfortable and easy to walk on? Are they maneuverable and functional for what you'll be doing? If you'll be climbing a lot, at least try them out on some plowed up snow piles - or better yet - out on a mountain! Will they be versatile enough for the different types of snowshoeing you want to do? While most designs can be used for a variety of snowshoeing activities, some are more specific and may only perform well on a groomed or packed surface.

Once the decision is made on a style of snowshoe, the big choice left is ... what size? Most size recommendations for snowshoes today are pretty similar. However, one thing to consider is that there may some difference in the amount of surface area between a teardrop snowshoe and a bearpaw snowshoe that has the same overall dimensions. For that reason, I prefer to choose snowshoes according to the amount of surface area of each snowshoe. Since few manufacturers list the surface area though, the following guidelines may be helpful.

For average snowshoeing where a high proportion of time is spent on a broken out or groomed trail, and a smaller percentage is in the fresh snow, an 8" by 25" snowshoe with about 170 sq. in. of surface area is fine for folks weighing up to 170 pounds, a 9" by 30" snowshoe with at least 220 sq. in. to about 220 pounds, and a 10" by 36" with about 275 sq. in. to about 275 pounds. If you like to explore and most of your time is spent breaking trail, then you'll want to add your average pack weight to your body weight when choosing a size. And, if most of your time is spent snowshoeing in light powder snow conditions, you may also want to step up a snowshoe size. For climbing and mountaineering conditions a person may opt to stay with a smaller snowshoe because of the increased maneuverability and traction. Those are tradeoffs that are best decided after you've had some snowshoeing experiences in the mountains with a winter pack on your back. For the most enjoyable snowshoeing experience overall, remember to choose the smallest pair of snowshoes that accommodates the majority of your needs.

One of the best ways to compare different designs and sizes is to put one snowshoe on one foot, and a different one on the other foot, so you can make more accurate comparisons of the two snowshoes in the same snow conditions. Then it's important to try the snowshoes you've chosen as a pair to see how well they'll work together. Borrow or rent some snowshoes in addition to gathering advice from others, or attend a good snowshoeing clinic that allows you to try out a number of different snowshoes from different manufacturers. A well selected pair of snowshoes should last a lifetime with normal use, so a careful choice in the beginning can help pay off years down the road.

I still feel that the biggest attraction of snowshoeing is it's simplicity. Snowshoeing is the easiest way for folks of all ages to enjoy a winter snowfall whether walking, running, jumping, or climbing! Snowshoeing can be as easy or as rigorous as you like, and compared to some other winter activities, it's gentle on the body's muscles and joints. Snowshoes are also fun to use on many different snow conditions. To get started in the sport, a good snowshoeing workshop may be helpful, but lessons aren't necessarily needed... If you can walk, then you can snowshoe!

Over the many years that I've been snowshoeing, I've found it's one of the best ways for me to get out every winter to exercise and explore. Each time I go out I find a sense of peace and freedom in the woods that helps revive the spirit of youth that's inside each of us... See you in the snow!

snow shoeing