Hear that? It’s the sound of snowshoes breaking through fresh snow. First the crunch of the frozen top, then feet sinking just slightly into powder. Pause for a second and appreciate where you are. Look up at the trees, listen to a birdsong. Repeat for as many steps as you’d like.
There truly is nothing that calms the mind like a leisurely snowshoe. It’s incredible how this simple piece of gear enables travel through deep snow. It’s why people have been making snowshoes since before the invention of the wheel. It’s why we still love them today.
Whether you’re a first-timer looking for a new way to explore outside or an experienced snowshoer planning a winter backcountry outing, there’s joy to be found with snowshoe straps around each boot. We’re here with the tips and resources to get you there.
For Beginner Snowshoers: The Basics
What are snowshoes?
While they’ve taken many forms across cultures and history, from finely woven rawhide to the plastic and metal snowshoes available for free to guests at the AMC Highland Center and Joe Dodge Lodge, snowshoes all work basically the same way. Each creates a wider base under the foot, spreading out the user’s weight. This makes it possible to walk on snow drifts without sinking through. The wider and longer the snowshoes, the more “flotation” they provide. However, the extra surface area can come at the expense of maneuverability.
What’s the best technique for snowshoes?
If you can walk, you can snowshoe. While snowshoeing form is (almost) identical to walking, moving with a wider base on each foot can take getting used to. Basic techniques include:
- Turning: A common beginner mistake is tripping over your snowshoes when changing directions. Practice turning “tip to tail.” This means alternately turning each leg bit by bit so your snowshoes don’t overlap, until you’re facing the desired direction.
- Kick stepping: On steep hills, you may need to lodge your feet in the snow for secure footing. Kick one shoe in the next spot you want to step in several times to create a solid base. Step up and repeat.
- Side stepping: Another trick for inclines is side stepping. Angle your body perpendicular to the hill and take small sideways steps up. This technique can also be used to carefully make your way downhill.
- Getting up: It’s ok to fall! If you’re on a hill, position your snowshoes facing to the side of the hill to avoid falling again. Worse comes to worst, you can always take your snowshoes off if you’re having difficulty.
Before heading to the woods, practice walking in your backyard, a nearby park, or an open field. Within a few walks, you’ll be sure to get your snow legs under you! Slowly introduce new terrain into the mix. Some folks even enjoy running with snowshoes on.
For more beginner tips and tricks, read our Snowshoeing 101 guide.
For Intermediate Snowshoers: Buying Your First Pair
Starting to fall in love with snowshoes? It may be time to ditch the rentals and find a pair of your very own (we’ll miss you at the L.L. Bean gear room). Having snowshoes at home means there’s a fun recreation option at your fingertips any time the snow starts falling. Some common questions you may have include:
Which snowshoes are best?
The ideal snowshoes aren’t necessarily the most expensive. Think about what you’ll be using them for. Snowshoe styles vary based on their intended use, from leisurely strolls to backcountry exploits. In general more rugged (and often expensive) pairs will have crampon-style traction and more secure binding systems that keep the feet attached to the snowshoe no matter the terrain.
If you plan on taking your snowshoes on multi-day outings, or trips where you’ll be alternating them with other forms of traction, consider how easily you can attach the snowshoes to your pack.
How should my snowshoes fit?
Snowshoes typically have straps that cinch down around the foot. Different models, however, use different binding systems. When purchasing your first pair of snowshoes, ensure that straps fit securely around the foot while still being comfortable. The best bindings are easy to adjust and take on and off while wearing gloves.
You don’t need special footwear to use snowshoes. Whatever boots or shoes you ordinarily wear for a snowy hike will do just fine. Your footwear should ideally be insulated and waterproof. You’ll still be exposed to plenty of moisture, even as your snowshoes keep you above the surface.
For Advanced Snowshoers: Plan A Backcountry Adventure
At this point, you’re a snowshoe pro. Walking with them on feels as natural as walking without. You understand what types of terrain require snowshoes, and which are better served by crampons or microspikes. It’s time for your first foray into the world of backcountry snowshoeing.
Winter is a beautiful time to explore the wilderness of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. From the famed Appalachian Trail to local forests, you’ll find miles of solitude even in places that attract crowds during other parts of the year. But heading to the backcountry also means preparing for challenges ranging from injury to inclement weather. That’s true year-round, but it’s especially true in winter. Being ready isn’t just a matter of physical fitness or prowess with your snowshoes.
How can I prepare for the backcountry?
Preparation is the key to any successful backcountry outing. That includes making the right plan and having the right gear. Know where you’re going, but understand it’s ok to turn back if you need to. Check conditions in advance but acknowledge that weather can change rapidly, especially at higher altitude. And, as with any backcountry trek, tell someone your plans and when they can expect you to return.
In addition to the 10 Essentials, you’ll want to bring winter-specific gear. Come with everything you need to spend a night in the woods, even if you’re planning a day trip. This could save your life if you find yourself lost after sunset, which arrives in the middle of the afternoon in New England. Some winter-specific gear suggestions from the AMC Worcester Chapter include:
- Pack cover/liner
- Trekking poles
- Emergency blanket or bivy
- Hand warmers
- Foam pad
- Dry clothes
How does working with an outdoor guide help?
One way to take the guesswork out of your outing is by working with an experienced guide. Outdoor guides set the agenda for an outing that suits your group’s experience level and ensures you don’t miss any highlights. Along the way, you can learn new outdoor skills from seasoned professionals.
AMC’s mountain guides offer snowshoe adventures for all skill levels, from family-friendly outings to snowshoe hikes deep into the White Mountains. Not seeing what you’re looking for? Guides can assist with custom adventures. Drop us an email and we’ll help make the next adventure on your list possible.