Snowshoeing is an activity that can open your eyes to breathtaking new dimensions and faces of nature. Not only is it a fun and achievable goal to help you get outside during the winter, but it is an experience unlike any other that is sure to make an impression.
Though it can be overwhelming to think about planning a beginner trip in the winter weather, anyone can take a snowshoeing trip with the right preparation and mindset. For me, a cold-natured summer hiker, snowshoeing offers confidence in my own abilities and an outlet to enjoy the winter that I have grown to anticipate and love.
Begin by deciding where you would like to go snowshoeing. Options for beginners are wide and simple, making it fun and unintimidating to get out with little or no experience. Check out local Nordic centers and ski resorts for structured experiences, where you can rent, get navigation, and even have a guide all in one package. REI also offers snowshoe classes at many locations, giving you an instructor, rental gear, and fellow first-timers to learn with.
For a more self-guided trip, look up areas specifically designed for snowshoeing. For me, there is an easily reachable snowshoe area in a National Forest, complete with a warming hut and clear signage high enough off the ground to be visible even after a snowstorm. Another resource for reliable and easy planning is the gear shop where you rent your snowshoes from. Ask for the best beginner trail, making sure that it is flat, short, and clearly marked. If you need more suggestions, check out your options on the AllTrails or Hiking Project smartphone apps.
Your first day on snowshoes will be dramatically different from hiking. The cold, new environment and the exponential amount of energy spent snowshoeing call for a trail far below your hiking level. Find a trail that is flat and only a few miles in length at most. Your mindset should be that this is your introduction to snowshoeing. This is not about how many miles you can clock, or showing how tough you are in fairly extreme conditions. Your first snowshoeing trip is all about understanding and coping with the environment and movement it calls for, and of course, enjoying a different and exciting type of adventure.
Once you have a trail picked out, read over recent comments and trip reports. When scanning trip reports, look for up-to-date information on the snow, difficult or confusing sections, and road conditions on the way. In case you are not familiar with the area you will be snowshoeing in and cannot find any recent reports, contact the district’s Ranger Station for information.
Just like a hike, it is crucial that you have a map. Either find a physical copy, take a picture at the trailhead, or save the sections of your hike on a GPS.
As soon as you have information and feel confident that you can both reach the trail safely and navigate the area, check the weather as close to the trailhead as possible. Find a day with weather warm enough for you to be comfortable in the gear you own, and with clear visibility.
Lastly, decide who you would like to take with you on a snowy adventure. This is a great time to get other adventurers out, and can also be an incredible experience for your more indoorsy pals. Regardless of who you choose to join you, each person has to be prepared with the right gear. Here’s how to pack for a full day in a white wonderland:
- Buff, thermal balaclava or scarf
- Thermal top (base layer)
- Non-cotton fleece or sweater (mid layer)
- Puffy Jacket and Outer shell or snow jacket (outer layer)
- Warm gloves or mittens
- Thermal bottoms (non-cotton leggings will work)
- Snowpants or quick-drying hiking pants
- Wool socks
- Warm, sturdy boots
- Snowshoes (rental information below)
Layering is important for keeping you warm and dry on the trail, especially in extreme conditions. Take a look at this article for tips, tricks, and directions on putting together a strong layering system.
- Water bottles or bladder (you need to carry at least 2 liters with you)
- Extra warm layers
- Extra pair of wool socks
- Thermos full of warm beverage
- Camp stove, fuel, lighter, pot, and warm drink mix
- Hand/toe warmers
- Trekking poles
- Trail journal
Never leave without:
- Light source
- Sun protection
- First aid
- Repair kit
- Emergency shelter
- Extra food
- Water purifier/ extra water
For a budget-friendly approach to the 10 essentials, click here.
Depending on your location, there are a few possible locations to rent snowshoes. First, check local gear shops both where you live and near the trail you will be hiking. Compare prices from multiple shops, and if the trail you are going to tackle has an elevation gain, opt for snowshoes with a heel lift. Ski and snowboard shops are another excellent place to try, so call around to see which ones near you have a day snowshoe rental option.
On the trail
While snowshoeing, be attentive to your body. Spending a significant time exerting yourself in the cold calls for consistent snacking to keep up your calories. Eat more than you would on a typical hike, slowly throughout the day.
Proper hydration is key in keeping your blood flowing smoothly and your body temperature consistent, making it important to drink at least two liters on the trail.
While out in the winter, the key to staying warm is never getting cold. As obvious as it might sound, do not allow yourself to get cold and assume that you will warm yourself up again. Keep enough layers on, and make sure that you stay dry. If you need to pee, go quickly so that your body does not spend energy warming something unnecessary. Keep your core warm, and check up occasionally on your extremities to make sure they are receiving proper blood flow.
If your toes or fingers begin to go numb or your core will not warm up with movement (try jumping jacks) and drinking a warm beverage, the smartest and safest move for you is to turn around.
Being well planned and prepared for your day in the snow will allow you to fully and confidently enjoy your time in the wintry wild. Take pictures and enough time to appreciate the winter with all of your senses.
Snowshoeing will take you on a gorgeous tour of nature at her most silent and spellbinding. Suddenly, intricate details that have gone unnoticed in former seasons sparkle and reflect light, calling attention to tiny icicles and every variation of evergreen. Snowshoeing is raw and open, putting you in instant connection with the world around you. The beauty we so rarely take time to steep ourselves in of the mountains and forest covered in snow holds deep serenity and playful delight. I hope you love it as much as I do.
Stay warm out there!