Get Started With Snowshoes: Q&A For Outdoor Seniors
If you’re wishing you could enjoy a snowy landscape with an activity that’s easy to master, give snowshoeing a try. Rustle up some warm clothes and gumption, and off you go. Here’s a bunch of questions (and answers) you may be asking if you’re wondering where to go or how to get started with snowshoes.
Do I need snowshoe lessons?
Heck NO. You strap them on, then you walk, waddle, whatever. Ten steps in snowshoes, and you’ll get the hang of it. Anyone who tells you otherwise is WRONG, especially if they want your money.
Snowshoeing is invigorating but not wildly athletic. It depends where you go. From Muddy Boots’ personal experience, it takes a low-moderate fitness level, a bit more than walking, unless you’re in deep snow. In other words, it’s not necessarily a lung-buster.
If snowshoeing gets you moving and out and is safe for you (consult your doctor), there’s no reason to lurk miserably at home while your friends have all the fun. But choose a trail that is compatible with your fitness level, take it slowly if you need to, and always take poles.
Will I be able to make footprints like Bigfoot?
In a matter of seconds! Just get out there.
Pretty much anywhere there’s 4″ or more of snow. Beginners might like to find a rail trail or a golf course, more savvy outdoors folk might snowshoe to a backwoods lake or mountain view. And if it snows a bunch in your neighborhood, heck there’s always right out your back door.
Can I try them out to see if I like snowshoeing?
Big yesssss! At a National Park! This is one of the best winter gifts the National Park Service offers. You’ll experience park features and wildlife in a different way when blanketed with white stuff. Do a little research and you’ll find free guided snowshoe “hikes” led by rangers in almost any National Park that has significant snow. Not only that, they have loaner (or low fee) snowshoes. Try Rainier, Olympics, Yellowstone, Crater Lake, Craters of the Moon, Yosemite….
Anywhere else I can get a feel for snowshoes?
Besides a National Park? Yes indeedy! Look up the larger outdoor stores (e.g. REI and LL Bean) or ski areas. What you want is a snowshoe “demo”. On the scheduled day, you show up at the demo site, and there’ll be one or more trucks emblazoned with the logos of snowshoe companies. Those trucks are full of snowshoes and paid enthusiasts (“experts”) committed to getting you hooked on snowshoeing. Try a pair or two or three and scamper into the woods for a little test-drive. They might even give you hot chocolate.
Do they rent snowshoes?
Yes. Where there’s snow, there are likely to be snowshoe rentals. Ask around. If you’re in the market to buy a pair of snowshoes, consider renting at a store that will apply the rental fee towards the price of a new set. (It will pay, in this case, to choose a place that has a good selection of high-quality snowshoes for sale.)
Are there outdoor groups that welcome all-comers so I can get started with snowshoes?
You betcha! You’ll want to use the internet to find the local hiking group, mountaineering club, Sierra Club chapter, Audubon Society. If outdoors folk can’t hike in winter, very often they’ll go snowshoeing. Also try your community’s recreation department or the senior center: they may have groups going out. And then, there are outdoor stores that offer free or low-cost trips. Or, consult your local librarian. Librarians love to be know-it-alls and helpful at the same time. They are likely to know where to look it up or who to ask.
Do I need any other equipment?
Glad you asked. Take your trekking poles (with snow baskets, if you happen to have them). Otherwise, round up a pair of ski poles, even if they’re ancient. Poles will help you balance and make it easier to take big steps. Muddy Boots never goes snowshoeing without poles. Faceplant!
Cheapskate solution: Go Steady: How To Get Hiking Poles On A Budget
Always. You need somewhere to put your whistle, water, energy bar, map, phone, and sweaty hat even if you’re on an in-town rail trail. Muddy Boots uses a small day pack for snowshoeing on short trips, a substantial pack for longer ones in the backcountry.
What do I wear?
NOT JEANS. Not anything cotton. Have you ever seen jeans left out on a clothesline in winter? Stiff and flapping in the wind? Instead of a clothesline, it will be your body. Jeans will freeze on your legs if they get even a teensy bit damp. Hypothermia can set in before you know it, winter or summer. Search and Rescue will come after you if you’re lucky, and they will not be pleased. They will mutter loudly and add you to their statistics of IDIOTS WHO WENT OUT IN JEANS.
Need more info on the risks of wearing jeans in outdoor activities? Try Outdoor Activities And Jeans? Not On Your Life!.
If not jeans, WHAT?
Dig out whatever you have that’s synthetic or wool: workout gear, ugly sweaters, old panty-hose, leisure suit pants. If you don’t have anything like that (which seems extremely unlikely), go to Goodwill and throw together a make-do budget outfit. Use layers. Don’t worry if you don’t have special clothing for snowshoeing, there is none! Some folks (e.g Muddy Boots) don’t like to snowshoe without gaiters, but that’s about it.
Hat and gloves or mittens?
Yes. ‘Nuf said.
How about my feet?
Wear waterproof boots. Hiking boots work very well. If you have gaiters, you can even use low boots. Pac Boots, Wellingtons, or Bogs may be a little awkward to move in. Better to have footwear that won’t slop around. Wear wool or synthetic socks. Wear two pairs if you only have thin ones. NO COTTON.
Find a group, try it out, and get started with snowshoes!
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Get started with snowshoes photo credits. Featured image and top…Craters of the Moon, ranger-led snowshoe: Courtesy National Park Service. Tracks: CC BY 2.0 by Tracy Ducasse via Flickr. Ranger-led snowshoe, Denali National Park: CC BY 2.0 by Lisa Pietralia at NPS at Denali via Flickr. Snowshoe Demo: CC BY-ND 2.0 by Ski Leavenworth via Flickr. Ranger-led snowshoe in Rocky Mountain National Park: Courtesy National Park Service/Ann Schonlau. Snowshoeing in a snow storm: CC BY-SA 2.0 by Mitch Barrie via Flickr. Group snowshoeing in Lassen National Park: CC BY 2.0 by Lassen NPS via Flickr. Snowshoeing in Big Deer State Park, VT: Courtesy Vermont State Parks.