Snowshoeing 101: Equipment

Have you ever imagined yourself breaking a pristine snow covered trail without sinking up to your knees into the white stuff? You may be interested in trying out snowshoeing. If you love hiking you might enjoy snowshoeing just as much.

When it comes to equipment you may already have everything except the snowshoes. Equipment shops and, as is the case in Nova Scotia, many municipalities rent snowshoes through their recreation department. We are so fortunate here in Parrsboro: snowshoes are available to rent for free for a two week period.

Let’s talk about this equipment: snowshoes come in all sizes. Depending on where you plan to venture you need to consider what best suits you. As a beginner we go to the basic snowshoe and just look at lengths. Be aware that there are snowshoes for children, women and men. And the size you need ultimately depends on weight, that is body weight, outdoor clothing AND the pack you are carrying. I suggest a google search with keywords: men, women, snowshoe sizing chart. It will yield the info you are looking for. For example: 21” snowshoes will accommodate a female with a combined weight of up to 150lbs, 25” snowshoes allows for a combined weight of up to 200lbs.

Above are my 25” snowshoes that have served me well for over 10 years. I recently invested in some adjustable carbon trekking poles for hiking which do double duty for snowshoeing.

It took me a while to make friends with the binding. These days most snowshoes feature a ratchet binding system that is easy to adjust across your boots, the adjustable strap that wraps around the heel varies from a simple silicone strap with securing post to a click in fastener, depending on the brand you decide on. There are pros and cons with either heel strap but one gets used to the mechanics easily.

The question comes up often: what footwear do I need? If you have waterproof hiking boots they meet the requirements spot on. Sneakers, no matter how much you love them, will not work for snowshoeing. A soft winter boot also lacks overall support but may be fine for a short excursion. In my experience participants with inadequate footwear tire easily and don’t find the experience enjoyable.

Let’s move on to some tips on how to attach snowshoes to your boots. It took me several frustrating attempts to get comfortable with my snowshoes. Once I realized that there is a right way to put on snowshoes the sport became much more enjoyable.

And yes: there is a right way to proceed. Start with your dominant foot and step into the binding, lining the ball of your foot up with the front of the binding. Fasten the strap across your toes first. The ratchet mechanism (grey square) easily tightens the strap to the point where the toe section is secure. To release the strap, lift the red square. Another consideration: the straps always point to the outside!! Strap ends facing each other while snowshoeing contribute to tripping, falling or other difficulties.

Lastly tighten the strap across your foot and arch. Bring the heel strap around and pull the silicone strap to the point where it is tight and the post easily slips into the hole. Now guide the strap back and slide it into the provided holder so it doesn’t flop around. (See above image)

If you are not wearing waterproof or snow pants you may want to use leg gaiters to stay dry. When snowshoeing we kick up snow which often clings to our pants and has a tendency to melt. Exercising in wet conditions is not a lot of fun, so protect yourself, stay dry and warm and look for gaiters. The set pictured above are short, full length gaiters reach from just below the knees to the ankle, they hook onto the shoelaces and a strap positioned just in front of the boot heel keeps them securely in place. Here is is an example of what it looks like in use:

What do you wear inside your boots? Stay away from cotton socks. Cotton absorbs perspiration but it does not wick it away from the body. Get yourself wool socks, synthetic socks work in a pinch. If you are a knitter or know someone who knits see if they will make you a pair. Hand knitted merino wool socks sound not only luxurious, they are the best. Once you have tried hand-knit socks you will be hard pressed to wear anything else!

A word about trekking poles: some like them, some don’t, others just use one.

I am flexible with that decision. I always bring both but there are loops on my backpack I can use to fasten them to in case I find they hinder my movement. if you have never snowshoes before I suggest you use them. Trekking poles will aid with balance. On uneven terrain they help us test the ground and if the trail has a lot of elevation differences poles are wonderful.

If you opt to include poles in your hiking and snowshoeing gear look for lightweight options. You won’t regret this! The fact that trekking poles are adjustable make them easy to pack. My poles have clips for quick adjustment, I also have a set that adjusts by simply twisting the section to losen or tighten for height adjustments.

Poles usually come with two sets of baskets. I like the smaller set as they provide a little resistance when snowshoeing or passing through muddy sections.

As always, dress in layers. Wear comfortable pants and outer shell to allow for unrestricted movement. Carry a pack with water, high energy snacks, extra socks and mittens. Mittens are warmer than gloves and remember a hat! We lose more heat than we realize via our unprotected head.

That’s it for today: a primer for snowshoe equipment. Feel free to contact me with questions. Check back tomorrow where I talk a little about the basics on how to break the trail and general trail etiquette.

Happy Thursday! May you be blessed with a fresh layer of snow to embark on a snowshoe excursion, Anna

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