If snowshoeing seems unapproachable, think of it as a modified kind of hiking, only with shoe attachments that distribute your weight evenly, allowing you to walk on snowy terrain without sinking 3 feet down with every step.
Snowshoes really do make it easier to hike those snowy routes. Ready to give it a try? Here are the basics you'll need as a beginning snowshoer.
When it comes to procuring showshoes, you have several options.
See what's available at your used sporting good store. Play It Again Sports offers a $20-$25/day (or $80/week) package including a carrying bag and poles. Renting is a good option for beginners since it allows you to experiment with different styles and sizes. The best showshoes for the job will depend on weight and terrain.
Buyer beware: Used snowshoes are much harder to come by during winter. But Play It Again Sports stocks some decent options for $70-$150.
New, quality snowshoes range in price from $139 to $300.
Discount retailers like Costco sell new showshoes for $60 to $80. They might do the trick for an entry-level jaunt, but lower-quality options may not hold up (or hold you up) as well.
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What lies beneath
Snowshoes don't go right onto your feet. You put them on over your shoes. So make sure your feet have a functional base layer. The right footwear will be warm and waterproof or water-resistant and offer good ankle support.
While the snowshoes will be your primary gear, supplemental items that might be helpful include gaiters, an outer garment worn over your shoes to keep the snow out, and poles for balance and ease of use.
Sizing it up
There is no definitive size guide for snowshoes, but in general, more weight, between you and your gear, requires more snowshoe surface area.
Also consider terrain. A good rule for beginners: If the snow's light and powdery, think big. If it's dense and wet, think small.
You'll also find variations among men's, women's and unisex snowshoes. Snowshoes designated as men's and unisex tend to accommodate larger and wider shoe sizes and heavier loads. Snowshoes designated as women's tend to be narrower. Try different styles to find what works for you.
Away we go
Ready to hit the snowy road? Think flat. Entry-level routes with minimal elevation will help you to get the hang of walking in snowshoes. (They're also simpler logistically. When you're ready for more challenging terrain, you may need more technical showshoes.)
Plan ahead. Check weather conditions and trail status reports where you're going, and carry the National Park Service's recommended 10 Essentials. A map, a water bottle, snacks, waterproof and insulating layers, and sun protection can be especially helpful.