Snowshoeing: How to Get Started

get started snowshoeing

Snowshoeing is one of the most accessible outdoor winter activities. It’s also one of the easiest to get started in. No athletic ability is required—if you can walk, you can snowshoe!

Why Snowshoe?

Snowshoeing is great exercise: It burns calories, revs your heart rate up and works your muscles all while being easy on your joints.

Whether through the woods, over a prairie or on a frozen lake—snowshoeing gets us outside and takes us into nature. What a great way to enjoy winter!

My first experience snowshoeing was back in the early 90s on the Gunflint Trail in northern Minnesota. My dad and I decided to snowshoe around one of the small lakes.

Even with snowshoes on, we sunk down more than a foot into the deep snow. By the end of our trek we were peeling off coats, gloves and hats, even in temps down near zero! It was hard work!

Snowshoe Equipment

One of the nice things about snowshoeing is the lack of expensive equipment we need to buy. Many parks and retailers are renting them now. So if you’ll only get out once or twice a season you may be able to get by with just renting.

get started snowshoeing
Sarah, Jamie and Marissa snowshoeing near the Boundary Waters, northern Minnesota

Buying Snowshoes

Snowshoes are designed for the terrain they’ll be used on. Will your snowshoeing take you mainly on trails through flat and gently-rolling terrain? Or will you be blazing your own trail up and down mountainsides?

The old-fashioned wood-and-webbing snowshoes (shown in some of the photos here) work great—as long as you’re on flat terrain and don’t have to make your way through tight spaces. They’ve really awkward, especially turning around.

Modern snowshoes are smaller and lighter. And they have metal crampons on the bottom to provide grip on ice and hills—that’s a biggie.

Snowshoes made for women are narrower than those made for men, so accommodate a smaller stride. They also come in varying lengths, with weight suggestions for each length.

You’ll pay more for better materials, of course, as with anything else. And you’ll also pay more for an easier strapping configuration—which is worth it if you plan to make snowshoeing a lifelong activity.

These short videos give a brief explanation of the basic differences. In less than 10 minutes you’ll have a great idea of what to buy:

My snowshoes from LL Bean came with poles and a carry bag—a nice feature!

I personally own LL Bean’s Winter Walker snowshoes (the set includes poles and carry bag) and my daughter has their Trailblazer set with the Boa bindings. We both are happy with them. I love having the carry bag and adjustable-length poles.

What to Wear

The above videos touch on this, too, so if you haven’t watched them yet, do so. A great point: Dress in layers. Wear a wicking layer underneath and a water-and-wind resistant outer layer. Then enough insulation in-between for the temperature you’re in.

If you’re hiking hills while you shoe, you’ll get warm!

Snowshoes are designed to accommodate a variety of footwear. The best choice is a waterproof snow boot or hiking boot. Some insulation but not too heavy.

Whatever you wear on your legs and feet should be waterproof, especially if you’ll be in deep or wet snow. The last thing you want is for your pant legs and feet to get wet and cold.

Poles or No Poles?

If you stay on well-maintained and well-used trails over fairly flat terrain you probably don’t need poles. But if you’re a blaze-my-own-trail type of person or will be trekking up and down hills or mountains, poles are great for stability.

Snowshoeing on Swamp Lake in the Boundary Waters, northern Minnesota

I’ll leave you with one more short video—this time from the Alps near Tirol, Austria: A Beginner’s Guide to Snowshoeing (in German, with subtitles!).

Related posts for you: