Getting Started in Snowshoeing

With winter descending upon us and bad weather forcing many people to cut back on some of their regular fitness activities such as running and biking, now is the ideal time to learn a new sport suitable exclusively for the cold, snowy season. Snowshoeing has become the fitness enthusiast’s answer to winter running and hiking.

Depending on your pace and the type of snow you are on, snowshoeing is a low impact activity that allows you to burn between 400 and 1,000 calories per hour. Not only does it offer excellent cardiovascular conditioning; it is also considered one of the best winter cross-training activities for runners, bicyclists and hikers.

Before you head out to begin your snowshoeing adventures, dress warmly in layers of cold-weather clothing. The layer next to your skin should consist of a material that will wisk away perspiration and offer insulation. Polypropylene is a good choice. Subsequent layers should add warmth with the outermost layer being a waterproof shell that will keep out the wind chill. It is very important to wear a hat, warm gloves, sunscreen and sunglasses to protect your eyes from the glare of the sun and snow.

There are a couple of options for learning how to snowshoe. The first is to contact a snow sport shop and inquire about snowshoe clinics. The second option is somewhat simpler. It involves the trial and error method. Strap on your snowshoes and start going. Most people claim that after a short period of time using modern snowshoes, anyone will be an intermediate to advanced snowshoer. Basically, someone new to the sport merely needs to become accustomed to walking with oversize, flat shoes on their feet.

Snowshoes have come a long way from the days of wooden frames and rawhide lacing. Modern snowshoes consist of a lightweight, aluminum frame with synthetic decking materials for flotation and a supportive binding system to hold your feet securely in place. Some snowshoes are also made of plastic or composite materials.

For your first snowshoeing excursion, it is advisable to rent snowshoes at a local snow sport shop. Most places offer good equipment at affordable prices for daily or weekly rental. If you will snowshoe often, then buying your own equipment would be cost effective. You can either buy new or used snowshoes. When buying used equipment, avoid garage sale items, as this gear could be either outdated or inappropriate to your particular use.

Snowshoes fall into three categories and each is designed for a different activity. The first category, recreational hiking and fitness, is aimed at casual family outings and walking trips. The snow conditions include packed or lightly broken snow trails over easy terrain. Snowshoes used in this category feature oval, symmetrical frames and built-in crampons (“teeth”) to maximize traction and stability.

The second category, aerobic fitness, includes any winter training shoe and is usually done on packed trails. The snowshoes used by people in this category are lightweight and smaller for greater ease in running. Often you can find asymmetrical snowshoes that provide greater clearance and a better stride.

The third category, hiking and backpacking, often involves steep climbing and snow conditions that range from packed trails to ungroomed terrain. Because of the more difficult conditions, these snowshoes are more durable and built to withstand extreme weather conditions. Not only do they feature highly supportive bindings but they also offer built in crampons in the toe and heel for the greatest amount of traction.

When searching for the right pair of snowshoes, you will find that they are measured in inches and that the proper size will depend on your weight and the conditions that you will be using them in. Wet or icy snow conditions require smaller snowshoes whereas powdery snow will call for bigger snowshoes to provide more flotation.

The type of footwear used will also be determined by the type of activity you are doing. For casual hiking, lightweight boots work well. Many snowshoe runners tend to use running shoes. For powder snow or backpacking, use waterproof, insulated hiking boots covered by gaiters to keep snow out of your boots.

Finally, numerous snowshoers use poles to improve balance and rhythm. You can choose from alpine, cross-country or backpacking poles. Just make sure that they are made with a lightweight, durable material such as fiberglass or graphite.

Armed with this general knowledge to get you started in the exciting sport of snowshoeing, you are ready to try it yourself. Perhaps you, too, will be one of the many who have adopted this as a great way to cross train during the winter.

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