First Snowshoe Adventure

Here are seven tips for your first snowshoe adventure.

By Courtney Johnson
Explore Ambassador

Snowshoeing is a relatively easy winter activity that requires little equipment but packs a punch for cardiovascular health. It offers the opportunity to see the landscape from a new perspective while experiencing the finer parts of winter. This low-impact activity can be enjoyed by outdoor enthusiasts of all ages who are looking for new ways to get outdoors despite the colder temperature. Here are seven tips for your first snowshoe adventure. 


Pick A Short And Easy Route

Snowshoeing takes a lot more endurance than one would think. Between the additional weight of the snowshoes and having to maneuver the snowshoes through snow, you will get a good full-body workout. If you hike regularly, think about halving the distance of your typical hikes for your first snowshoe trek. Choose a route that isn’t too technical and is relatively flat for getting used to wearing snowshoes. You may have to also break trail if there is fresh snow, making it even more of a workout.

From your local forest preserve to a Nordic center and beyond, there are plenty of short snowshoe trails to choose from. Use an app like AllTrails, onX Backcountry or Hiking Project to find the right trail for you. Choose established routes so that you can check on the avalanche danger and other risk factors. A good source is


Have The Right Equipment

Enjoying snowshoeing means having the right equipment. You can rent snowshoes at outdoor retailers, including REI, and at Nordic centers. You may also be able to borrow a pair from a friend for your first outing. Just be sure the snowshoes fit properly. Companies make size-specific snowshoes for children and adults, so be sure to get the proper size (length), typically based on weight. If you don’t have retractable hiking or ski poles, you may want to ask for those when you rent. Poles will help with stability, especially on uphill and downhill slopes. 


Look The Part

The name of the game while snowshoeing is layering. You will work up a sweat quite quickly, and weather conditions may also change when you are out on the trail. Moisture-wicking clothes are the best choice to keep you dry and warm. Have a base layer, mid layer and outer layer that you can take on and off based on the weather conditions. The outer layer should be waterproof to keep you dry if snow begins to fall or if you take a tumble. Don’t forget to cover your extremities, like your hands and head, where you lose the most heat from. Choose waterproof gloves, as well, for those times you need to put your hands down on the snow. Waterproof hiking boots are the best choice for snowshoeing. If you don’t have tall, waterproof boots, waterproof trail running shoes with gaiters will also work. 


Be Prepared

Just like when you go hiking, it is important to remember the 10 essentials, including navigation tools, a headlamp, first-aid tools and a knife. Pack water, snacks and extra dry clothes for your day on the trail. Sunscreen is a must, as the sun is much more intense when it reflects off snow. It is also a smart idea to have snacks, water and extra clothes in the car for the drive home. 

Check the weather and snow conditions before you head out. Some trails may be located in avalanche territory. It is your responsibility to know the dangers before heading out, and be prepared for changing conditions. Check for the latest conditions and avalanche danger ratings. Get an earlier start to your trek because snowshoeing through the snow will take longer than you estimate. 

Know the rules of the area you are heading to. Some places require you to purchase a trail pass or permit. Some routes and trails may be skier-only, or some may be shared with skiers and even snowmobilers. Always have your eyes and ears open. Having winter trail etiquette goes a long way toward keeping the peace. Skiers and snowmobilers have the right of way. Snowshoers need to stay out of ski tracks. Snowshoers also need to yield to those traveling uphill by moving to the side.


Stick To The Basics

Before you head out on the trail, be sure your snowshoes are nice and tight. Floppy snowshoes are no fun! Take a longer stride than you typically do when walking. This way, you will avoid stepping on the frames of your snowshoes. Yes, it will take a bit of adjustment to get used to your wider and longer feet. Stumbling and falling are all a part of the process. 

For downhill stretches, bend your knees slightly. Plant your poles in front of you and shorten your stride. Your heel should strike the snow first. For uphill portions, dig your toes in so that the crampons on the bottom of your snowshoes can dig into the snow for some grip. If you go on a powder day, the kick-step technique will be your friend. Pick your foot up and kick it into the snow so that the crampons can grab the snow underneath the powder. 

If you find yourself on steep terrain despite my first tip, traversing may help you navigate the hill safely. You will want to create a shelf by pushing the uphill side of each snowshoe. Keep the weight on the snowshoe that is in front. Poles are especially helpful in these situations. Your uphill pole should be shorter in length than your downhill pole. 

If you fall, don’t panic. It will happen at some point, whether it is because your snowshoe gets caught in deep powder or you trip over a hidden root. If you feel yourself falling on a downhill slope (where falls are most likely to happen), try to fall toward the uphill side if you can. Take your poles off and plant them to the side. Maneuver yourself so that your feet go downhill with your head uphill. Face the slope and bend your knees up to your chest. Use the slope to press off and move onto your knees. From your knees, shift your weight onto your snowshoes and stand up. You can also use your poles to press up on to help you get to your feet. Even grabbing on to a friend’s pole can help with pulling yourself up. 

Probably the hardest part to conquer, behind getting back up after you fall, is backing up or walking backward on your snowshoes. It’s quite awkward. The best suggestion is to turn around in a circle. If you must back up, take it slowly. 


Take In The Scenery

One of the best parts of snowshoeing is taking in the scenery. The world looks quite different under a blanket of snow. Enjoy the fresh air and the peace and quiet that a winter trail brings. How do your favorite trails differ in the winter? Do you recognize any tracks, maybe from a snowshoe hare or deer? Are there different birds singing from the trees? You may feel like you are in a storybook. It’s amazing how much the landscape changes from season to season.


Bring A Friend

New experiences are more fun when you bring along a friend. Take the opportunity to introduce yourself and a buddy to new winter recreation. Snowshoeing is good for the body, both mentally and physically. If you feel comfortable enough, bring along a furry friend to also enjoy the winter wonderland. Just be sure dogs are allowed on the trail you choose, and keep them on a leash! 

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