Why go snow shoeing
Getting a pair of snow shoes and going hiking in the backcountry is a great source of seeing a side of nature you never had the chance to explore before. Hiking through the snow is a great type of exercise and the releasing of endorphins will make you feel wonderful. This can be a very cheap activity if you want to just rent some snowshoes for the weekend. I live in the Rocky Mountains and Utah Vally University has a great rental place with snowshoes including poles for only $15. Compared to the cost of skiing, renting a pair of snowshoes is like throwing pennies in a bucket. The best times to go hiking in the snow is either after a fresh snowfall or when there is a slight humidity in the air because the trees will develop awesome phenomenon known as hoarfrost that is absolutely beautiful. The picture to the left shows an example of hoarfrost in Utah – when the moisture in the air just freezes to the trees. It will make you feel like you are really in a winter wonderland. Makes for great photoshoots.
The benefit of a good pair of snow shoes over a regular pair of shoes is the area imprint on the ground. Most of the time snow is pretty powdery, at least until it melts and freezes again. Walking with a regular pair of boots in the snow is a lot of work, especially if the snow is deep because you spend that much more energy making larger steps. Snow shoes help disperse the weight of your body over a larger area giving you the ability to not sink deep in the snow. The picture to the left shows how deep snow can get where I lived as a child. Snow shoes or cross country skis are the only way to traverse this deep snow.
One of the funnest activities you can do in a group is to make a list of pictures to take. This is a game I often play when I go hiking in the snow with my friends or family. Everyone has a camera on their phone or a go cam. Whoever gets the most pictures from the list wins. If there is a tie then you simply vote whose photos are better. Make your list consisting of several wild animals that roam during the winter where you will be hiking, nice winter scenes like hoarfrost on a tree, specific type of trees, a frozen waterfall, a stream, a person in a particular pose or action, or any combination of things in a scene.
Start your adventure snow shoeing
There are a couple of different techniques that you should use depending on the snow conditions. If you are going up particular steep hill or terrain a lot of snow shoes have an extra feature called a heel lift on the heal of the snow shoe. Flip this up for easier ascents .
- Powder Snow – When the snow is really fine or powdery you will want to kick hard into the snow with every step. Kicking toe first will help create a good a good step with enough pressure underneath from the packed snow to give you the ability to keep walking uphill.
- Hardpacked Snow – This type of snow has usually melted on the top and frozen again. This type snow really doesn’t need the extra imprint from the size of the snow shoes, rather you will need to rely on the claws on the bottom of the snow shoe for traction. This is also where having a set of poles can really be beneficial. Poles have points in the bottom that will pierce the ice crusted snow and help your momentum in moving forward.
Having poles with you during this part of your winter hiking journey will help. I have had a lot of experiences where I started sliding downhill because the snow gave way. Keeping your poles in front of you, angled away, and pushed into the snow will help give you added traction to keep you safe. If you overstep you have the chance of getting the snow shoe stuck too. Walking downhill can be a lot of fun, especially if you get speed and just go down a hill of fresh powder. The most important thing to realize is know your limits and be safe.
Hiking with poles
Where I grew up as a kid there were absolutely no hills to climb. Snow shoeing in the winter was fun, but there was no need for poles. Poles are beneficial if you will be doing any type of uphill or downhill hiking. The best type of poles to get are adjustable or retractable. There will be times when you don’t need to use poles and if you can fold them up and clip them onto your belt or jacket you will save lots of energy. Your arms can get tired from carrying poles and using them as extra traction. Most poles come with straps that help keep the pole grounded to your hand.
- Wear good shoes. Insulated winter waterproof boots are best. Wear with wool socks
- Have layered clothes. Avoid cotton because it retains sweat and moisture. When you’re wet you get cold fast, which means a higher risk of getting sick.
- First layer – wool or some other synthetic that will keep you warm even when wet. This can be long underwear or just some tight clothing. Patagonia Capilene®, UnderArmor ColdGear®.
- Second layer – Something made from polyester. This will help keep heat in and allow water or sweat out as you hike through the snow.
- Last layer – A layer of Gore-Tex is best. Something that breathes and yet fairly waterproof.
- Winter hazards – Be careful about crossing streams and snow conditions that could trigger an avalanche. Most national and state parks have avalanche condition statuses on their websites.
- Have a float plan – Make a written document of where you will be when and roughly when you will be there. Make sure that someone who does not go out with you knows your float plan. This way if you don’t return back safely rescuers will have a good idea of where you were and where to start looking. Another item I always take with me is my Baofeng ham radio transceiver. You need to be licensed to use a ham radio, but if you are in an emergency you are allowed to use the radio on any channel. The Baofeng is so cheap that it would be a good idea to just keep with you even if you are not licensed for emergencies.
- Stay warm and dry
- Don’t get dehydrated – You will sweat a lot when you go out hiking in the snow and because it is cold outside you will not feel dehydrated. Take a bottle of water. When it is empty you can put fresh snow in the bottle and keep the bottle inside your coat. The heat from your body will melt the snow giving you fresh water.
- Take high calorie foods – Any snacks high in carbohydrates and electrolytes.
Where to go snow shoe hiking
Often times trails in the mountains get closed during the winter because the roads leading to them are closed due to the high snowfall and adverse weather conditions of winter. Not all roads are closed in national forests or BLM land. These are open to the public making them free and great places to go hiking in the snow. Find an outdoor store that rents gear and go rent a pair of snow shoes. They will have some great locations in your area that you can go hiking that are popular and safe. If you are going to go out more than five to ten days over your lifetime then it would be prudent to buy a pair of snow shoes rather than rent them.
Which snow shoe is right
There are several types of snow shoes available pretty much anywhere. You can even make your own, which is a great family activity to do in the winter. When purchasing a pair of snowshoes there are a few things you need to keep in mind. Seeing how other people who have purchased the snow shoes and rated them will help.
- External Traction – Good snow shoes need to have some type of clamps or spikes on the bottom to help with areas that are more icy than snow.
- Durable – Obviously you do not want to be out hiking when a piece of plastic breaks or metal bends. See if there is a weight limit on the shoes. The larger the shoes the more the weight is dispersed, so if you are like me you will want a larger snow shoe size.
- Adaptable – Some snow shoes have extras like the heel lift. See if the snow show is adaptable to various scenarios like hiking up steep hills or in muddy areas. Also see if there are attachments that make them more floatable (larger area to keep from sinking in the snow).
Being outside in the winter
There are so many fun activities to do in the winter. I grew up in an old creaky house located in small town South Dakota. Some years we had several feet of snowfall. As a kid this is the greatest thing that can happen because it usually means having school closures due to the adverse weather. My brothers and I would often go sledding down giant hills of snow out in a parking lot or build some awesome snow fort by digging out holes in the already five feet of snow in our yard. My parents naturally worried about us going outside because the weather can get very cold and snow is just water – melt it in your shoes for example and you can get sick fast. They didn’t prohibit us from going outside by any means, but rather wanted us to be protected. We would always have good quality waterproof snowboots, some type of jumper or snow pants to go with them, a warm duck down coat, and excellent gloves and head gear. I have gone outside in the winter with just my tennis shoes when I had to shovel the sidewalk. The snow accumulated next to my ankles and began to melt. This made my feet all wet and uncomfortable because the heat from my feet left faster with my feet being wet rather than dry. Dry feet equals warmer – remember that!
My dad is a great man. He loves to be prepared. In South Dakota you never know if you will get stuck in your car during a blizzard on the way to the nearest grocery store (the nearest grocery store at the time was over 20 miles from our house). We would always have winter survival kits in our cars. In this process my father also bought some of the most ridiculous looking winter snowboots. My brothers and I tease him to this day for his eccentric tastes. Be that as it may my dad knew what to look for in boots. Looking ridiculous is a price well worth it if the alternative is having frost bitten toes and having to have them amputated. Any of the snowboots I buy today follow the standard my dad has taught me. You need your boots to be warm, prevent snow from getting inside, and keep you dry from water on the outside.
Best snowboots for winter
When looking for a pair of snowboots there are several attributes that need to be taken into consideration. The following is a list my dad has taught me to keep in mind and then a couple of boots that I either have a pair, come highly recommended, or remind me of my dad.
- Materials – It is difficult to determine the exact materials. If part is a polymer, it may be urethane, rubber, vinyl, or other such material. I do notice that if the part that actually touches the ground is a little flexible does help for traction. Really hard bottoms of boots can slip easier out from underneath you. Totally enclosed waterproof material keeps water out, yet will also keep sweat in. Can air circulate while walking? Some high tech materials like gortec can breathe somewhat and that can help. Your feet will be cold if the get wet from the inside also.
- Construction – Is the boot sewn, glued, or a combo of both. Today you cannot find any that do not use adhesive. They work. I have seen some of the adhesive’s hold an engine to a ceiling. Ice is a different animal all together. I have found that if the bottom is labeled slip resistant it does help, Lugs on the bottom may or may not help on ice. I have a couple pair of that slip over my boots that have ice spikes or cleats on them. It is good to have the lugs at angles and to have a little space between them, Think of snow tires.
- Insulation – The thing I look for is how much insulation the boot has, especially below and above your actual foot area. Some cheap boots will give you foam at the top of the boot where you put your foot in but have just a thin layer around your foot, This will be cold. A leather upper works. Also think of buying a pair thick socks (usually wool). I like to wear a liner sock over a wool one as the inner liner (usually made of part wool and synthetic and is thin) will wick away sweat away from your skin.
- Comfort – This is determined on a case by case basis. You need to make sure the boots are comfortable for you.
- Intent – There are two main types of snowboots. The first type you use as a cover over other shoes or boots. They don’t have a great amount of insulation. The second type is a standard snowboot that you use by themselves.
- Tread – Tread is needed to keep traction in snow. Having lugs that will push down harder to interlock helps in snow.
- Price – What are my other options (other snow quality shoes available) etc. Remember you do pay for what you get. Cheaper price can often mean cheaper quality materials.