Introduction to Snowshoeing
So it’s winter in Ontario, snowsqualls and school closures for the last four days. You want to get out and enjoy nature but how.
The answer is snowshoes. With a good set of snowshoes you can head off through the forest and fields regardless of the amount of snow. Snowshoeing is easy to learn, relatively safe and inexpensive.
Types of Snowshoes
There are two primary types of snowshoes, Traditional and Modern.
Traditional snowshoes have been around for centuries and are made of hardwood frames and rawhide webbing, which require more maintenance but look great. They come in a ton of different shapes with each one excelling at a particular terrain or type of snow they are used in. For example, the popular Algonquin style snowshoes excel at flat or slightly hilly terrain because of their tail.
Modern snowshoes have become very popular and are made of metal and plastic, making them lighter and stronger. They also commonly have “crampons” built in to the foot pivot. These metal teeth grip the snow and ice better, especially when climbing hills. You can obtain very specific modern snowshoes for a variety of different activities (hiking, running, mountain climbing, etc.). This article is focused more on average recreational snowshoe use? walking, hiking and basic winter camping.
Picking the right snowshoe
The main factor in choosing a snowshoe is the size, usually stated in inches for width and length. Larger people require larger snowshoes (floatation) to keep them from sinking into the snow. And the whole idea of snowshoes is to stop you from sinking so you can travel wherever you want. You want enough floatation to make it through a nice layer of fresh powdery snow, but not so big and wide that you end up walking like a duck. Manufacturers provide weight ratings, pick one that’s good for you, but be sure to consider extra weight you might be carrying, like a backpack.
My personal choice is to get a modern snowshoe on the bigger end of your weight scale. I find these ideal for breaking trail in the backyard or the backcountry. If you expect to mainly use hiking trails or packed snow you can stay within the normal weight ratings.
Assuming you have figured out the snowshoe, you just need to prepare yourself for being out in the cold. A good winter boot, warm clothing and mitts are essential of course. As in most outdoor winter activities, layering is key. Snowshoeing can be a good physical workout and being able to add or remove clothing as your exertion changes is always important. Remember that it is winter and you may end up in out of the way places not visited often in the cold weather. Be prepared for the conditions you will be experiencing.
Once there is a good layer of snow you can head out to enjoy some snowshoeing. Fresh snow is best, icy or hard packed snow can be difficult to walk on especially going up and down hills. A lot of people will use ski poles to help them keep their balance.
While walking you lift one foot up and slide the edge of the snowshoe over the one below, or use a bowlegged motion to bring the snowshoe around the other. It is much more tiring to swing the snowshoe, so learning to lift and slide will be more enjoyable and allow you to be out longer.
To maneuver can be tricky in tight spaces like between trees. If you’ve got space you can just walk a big circle to turn around. But on hills or in amongst some trees this isn’t always possible. In these cases you should pick up one snowshoe completely and then put it down at an angle to the foot remaining on the ground. A bit of a kicking motion can help shed snow from the shoe. Then do the same for the next foot, sometimes stepping several times to get turned in the direction you want to go. Ski poles for balance can be very useful to help you maintain your balance while turning.
While snowshoes are made for walking in snow, it is actually very tiring when you are the first one breaking the trail. For this reason it is common for the lead position to be rotated, giving everyone a turn breaking trail and getting a bit of a rest at the end of line.
Give it a try
Snowshoeing is one of the fastest growing outdoor sports right now. So stores and manufacturers have lots of great information to help you find the right setup. You can rent at a growing number of locations and that’s a great way to try out the various types available.
If you can walk, you can snowshoe. So get outdoors and enjoy winter in Ontario.
By Scott Rogers
Scott Rogers, an IT Coordinator, provides support to a non-profit organization. Camping is a natural escape for Scott from his technology driven workplace. Over the past 15 years, Scott has connected with many outdoor enthusiasts while planning and taking numerous outdoor adventures.
To connect with Scott check out his web site at http://www.smedleyco.com/