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Snowshoeing 101: Gear, Planning and Safety

When the weather gets cold it’s easy to restrict your workouts and weekend activities indoors; but snowshoeing is a great way to winterize your favorite hikes and take advantage of some fresh air during the colder months. Snowshoeing is as easy as walking and is a very low-cost outdoor activity in comparison to skiing or snowboarding. But before you hit the trail, there are a few snowshoeing essentials you need to know.

Gear

The most daunting part of any winter activity is purchasing the right gear for your adventure. Snowshoeing is no different. Like most cold-month activities you’ll need a thick winter coat and some woolly layers to keep yourself warm—not to mention some waterproof hiking boots. Gloves, hats, mittens and sunglasses are also a must. But the more complicated gear, like snowshoes, can be just as easy to find.

Snowshoes
There are three types of snowshoes for weekend warriors, like yourself, to choose from based on the terrain and your experience level. For beginners, Snowshoe Magazine recommends the recreational shoe. Built for first timers, the shoe is light and narrow to simulate a normal walking feel. For snowshoers looking to really exercise, they recommend the fitness shoe, which is built for semi-experienced hikers looking to run or cross train in the snow. The fitness shoe can also be used for rolling terrain, such as hills, for people looking to branch out from flat terrain hiking. Last, the backpacking shoe is built for experienced hikers with a durable aluminum frame and water floats. The backpacking shoe is used for mountainous terrain.

Ski Poles or Trekking Poles
Although not quite as important as the shoe, trekking poles can change the way you snowshoe. They provide balance for beginners or explorative mountaineers as well as an upper body workout for the fitness snowshoe-er. A good pair of poles will have a full basket at the bottom and be adjustable for your height. The correct height for your pole will leave your elbow at a right angle when the tip is emerged in snow (the basket should sit on top of the snow).

Extras
Depending on your snowshoe hike, you’ll need a variety of extra gear. Even for beginners it is worthwhile to add a few things to a lightweight backpack in case of an emergency. All snowshoers should at least have a lightweight shovel to dig themselves out of holes during the hike. Other extra accessories include water, first aid kits, beacons, probes, robes and other safety gear we will cover below.

Planning

Even if you’re just planning on a scenic hike on a beaten trail, it is important to thoroughly plan your outdoor adventure. Look at the terrain you’ll be experiencing. Has it been packed down or is it fresh powder you’ll have to wade through? Also, think about the length of the hike. You should always bring water, but will you need food, snacks or electrolytes like Gatorade? Even a 3-4 hour hike should have some snacks along the way. Planning can extend past looking at your trail and terrain; it also involves looking at what safety precautions you should take with your trip.

Safety

The most important part of your snowshoeing adventure is making sure your trip will be safe. Taking general precautions, such as checking the weather, looking at avalanche warnings or even packing a safety-oriented backpack, can change an emergency situation into a funny story. Only hike when weather permits, and make sure to take trails or backcountry that have been prepped for avalanche safety by trained professionals. Backcountry snowshoeing proves to be the most dangerous, but only when hikers are unaware of the terrain they are entering. Also, your backpack should be a resource for every situation. Some basics to pack are a knife, rope, first aid kit, tinder, matches, etc. Taking safety seriously will ensure your hike is successful.

Snowshoeing is a great outdoor activity, so get out there and take advantage of the winter months’ hiking trails. With the right gear, proper planning and acknowledgement of safety concerns, even the shortest hikes can be an adventure.
Stay safe, and let us help plan your next snowshoeing hike by downloading the Ultimate Guide to Utah’s Best Hikes.

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