Have you ever tried to walk in snow only to find half yourself sinking, suddenly knee deep in icy powder? If you have, you probably know the frustration of struggling to either pull your leg out, often loosing your shoe in the process, or attempting to push yourself out of the snow with your arm, which sinks into the snow too. With nothing solid to push on, walking in snow can be an arduous, breathtaking experience (not in a good way). Have you ever wished there was some special shoe that would allow you to float atop the snow without sinking? Great news! There is. Snowshoes are designed just for this purpose. Snowshoeing is a sport that allows adventurers to hike atop the snow. Snowshoes -- which look a little like narrow tennis rackets strapped to your feet -- distribute your weight across the snow allowing you to hover on top of it. This makes it relatively easy to traverse deep snowdrifts or icy surfaces.

The ancient practice of snowshoeing dates back thousands of years and was initially developed by indigenous peoples as a means of travel and hunting in snowy regions. Today, snowshoeing has evolved into a popular winter sport enjoyed by people of all ages and fitness levels. Snowshoeing provides a memorable way to explore winter wonderlands, strolling through tranquil forests, ascending snowy hills, or embarking on backcountry adventures to beautiful places like frozen lakes. 

Benefits of Snowshoeing

First and foremost, Snowshoeing allows individuals to explore nature even when there's abundant snowfall. Without snowshoes, hiking in the mountains in wintertime would be treacherous. But with snowshoes, adventurers can immerse themselves in the tranquility of nature, easily venturing to beautiful destinations such as wintery forests, frozen waterfalls, lakes and vistas with panoramic views. Snowshoers can witness wildlife like elk, deer or moose in the wild. Your family or friends might like to pack a nice lunch and make a memorable day snowshoeing to a beautiful picnic spot. Some snowshoeing parks also have night snowshoeing treks to bonfires where they serve hot cocoa and apple cider. Snowshoeing is an excellent opportunity to make memories with the ones you love.

Another benefit of snowshoeing is that the sport is wonderful exercise. Snowshoeing is a fantastic cardiovascular exercise that gets your heart pumping. Snowshoeing engages multiple muscle groups in your body. With each step, you activate your legs, including the calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes, while also working your core muscles for balance and stability. Additionally, using poles for stability engages your upper body muscles, such as the arms, shoulders, and back. or hiking in the snow requires more effort due to the added resistance, resulting in an effective workout that burns calories and strengthens your heart and lungs. Unlike high-impact activities like running or jogging, snowshoeing is a low-impact exercise that puts minimal stress on your joints. The snow acts as a cushion, reducing the impact on your knees, ankles, and hips, making it an ideal activity for individuals with joint or mobility issues. And the sport is far less risky than other winter adrenaline sports like alpine skiing. 

Getting Started with Snowshoeing

Getting started with snowshoeing is relatively simple and requires just a few key steps. 

  1. Rent or Purchase Snowshoes: Begin by renting snowshoes from a local outdoor gear shop or consider purchasing a pair of your own if you plan to snowshoe frequently. When selecting snowshoes, consider your weight, the type of terrain you'll be traversing, and the snow conditions in your area. The staff at the outdoor gear shop can assist you in finding the right snowshoes for your needs.

  2. Dress Appropriately: Dress in layers to regulate your body temperature and stay comfortable during your adventure. Opt for moisture-wicking base layers, insulating mid-layers, and a waterproof and breathable outer shell. Don't forget to wear warm socks, insulated boots, a hat, gloves, and sunglasses or goggles to protect your eyes from snow glare.

  3. Choose a Suitable Location: Identify where you' like to snowshoe. Look for local parks, nature reserves, or designated trails. Research the difficulty level and length of the trails to find options that match your skill level and fitness.

  4. Learn the Basic Techniques: Familiarize yourself with the basic techniques of snowshoeing. Walking in snowshoes is similar to walking with a wider gait. Lift your feet slightly higher than usual to prevent the snowshoes from catching on each other. Practice walking uphill, downhill, and traversing various types of terrain to build your confidence.

  5. Check the Weather: Before heading out, check the weather forecast and trail conditions.

  6. Carry the Right Supplies: It's a good idea to carry a map, compass, and a fully charged cell phone for navigation and emergencies. Additionally, pack essential items like water, snacks, a first aid kit, a headlamp, and extra clothing layers in case of unexpected changes in weather.

  7. Start Easy: Begin your snowshoeing journey with short, easy trails to familiarize yourself with the activity. Gradually increase the length and difficulty of your outings as your skill and fitness levels improve.

  8. Consider Joining Guided Tours: Guided tours can be a fun way to explore nature and learn about your natural surroundings. Many guides are a wellspring of knowledge about the trees, plants and animals you'll see on your trek. They also will know the best routes to take to sightsee. 

Choosing the Right Snowshoes

Choosing the right snowshoes is important. You'll want to be as comfortable as possible as your trudge the snow. Here are some general tips for selecting the right snowshoes. 

  • Snowshoes are designed with specific features for different terrains, such as flat trails, rolling hills, or steep and rugged terrain. Consider whether you'll be snowshoeing on groomed trails, backcountry areas, or a mix of both. This will help you determine the appropriate style and features of snowshoes you choose.

  • Snowshoes are available in various sizes, and each size is designed to accommodate a specific weight range. It's important to select snowshoes that can adequately support your weight so that you float effortlessly without sinking. You can check with the manufacturer or consult the rental shop to make sure you are getting a shoe that will support your weight.

  • Consider the typical snow conditions in your area. Snowshoes with larger surface areas and more aggressive traction systems are suitable for deep, powdery snow, while smaller snowshoes with less aggressive traction may work well on packed or icy snow. If you'll be encountering varied snow conditions, look for snowshoes with adjustable traction systems.

  • The binding system secures your boots to the snowshoes. Look for bindings that are easy to adjust, comfortable, and provide a secure fit. Some snowshoes have simple strap bindings, while others feature more advanced binding systems with ratchet or boa closures.

  • Snowshoes can be made out of different materials, such as plastic, aluminum, or composite materials. Plastic frames are lightweight and flexible, ideal for recreational snowshoeing. Aluminum frames offer durability and stability, making them suitable for more rugged terrain. Composite frames provide a balance of lightweight design and durability.

  • Some snowshoes have a heel lift feature that can be engaged to alleviate calf strain when ascending steep slopes. This feature is especially beneficial for longer or more challenging treks. Consider whether this feature is important to you based on the terrain you'll be exploring.

  • Some manufacturers offer gender-specific snowshoes, designed to accommodate differences in stride and weight distribution. It might be best to rent a snowshoe for your gender. 

  • Research and read reviews from reputable sources or seek recommendations from experienced snowshoers or outdoor gear experts. Their insights can provide valuable information about the performance, durability, and comfort of different snowshoes.

Selecting Appropriate Clothing and Accessories

The great Alexander Graham Bell once said, “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” So what clothing accessories should you prepare to take with you snowshoeing? We've compiled this packing list for you to prepare wisely:

Snowshoeing Trip Packing List

Clothing:

  • Base Layers: Moisture-wicking thermal or synthetic base layers to keep you dry and insulated.
  • Insulating Layers: Fleece or wool mid-layers to provide warmth in cold conditions.
  • Outer Shell: A waterproof and breathable jacket and pants to protect you from snow, wind, and moisture.
  • Snow Pants: Insulated or waterproof pants to keep your legs dry and protected from the elements.
  • Warm Socks: Thick, moisture-wicking wool or synthetic socks to keep your feet warm and dry.
  • Insulated Boots: Waterproof and insulated boots designed for winter activities to provide warmth and traction.
  • Hat: A warm hat or beanie to protect your head from the cold.
  • Gloves or Mittens: Insulated, waterproof gloves or mittens to keep your hands warm and protected.
  • Gaiters: Optional but helpful accessories that cover your lower legs and keep snow out of your boots.

Accessories:

  • Snowshoes: Properly fitted snowshoes suitable for your weight and intended terrain.
  • Trekking Poles: Optional but recommended for stability, balance, and reducing strain on your joints.
  • Sunglasses or Goggles: To protect your eyes from snow glare and harmful UV rays.
  • Sunscreen and Lip Balm: Protect your skin and lips from sunburn and chapping.
  • Backpack: To carry essentials such as water, snacks, extra layers, a first aid kit, and navigation tools.
  • Headlamp or Flashlight: In case your snowshoeing adventure extends into low-light conditions.
  • Map and Compass: Essential tools for navigation in case of unfamiliar terrain or unexpected situations.
  • Cell Phone: Fully charged and stored in a waterproof bag or case for emergencies and communication.
  • Water and Snacks: Stay hydrated and fuel your body with lightweight, high-energy snacks.
  • Emergency Kit: Carry a basic first aid kit with essential supplies such as bandages, blister treatment, and emergency items like a whistle and emergency blanket.

Learning Basic Techniques and Safety Guidelines

When it comes to snowshoeing, there are several basic techniques to master including walking, ascending uphill, descending downhill, traversing sideways down steep hills, and breaking new trail where no other snowshoers have been. Learning these basic techniques will greatly help you as you make your first treks into nature. 

First off, the walking technique. When walking on snowshoes, you'll need to take slightly wider steps than your normal walking stride to avoid stepping on your snowshoes. Lift your feet slightly higher than usual to prevent the snowshoes from catching on each other or obstacles. Keep your body upright -- beginners often hunch over, but this isn't necessary. Stay natural and relaxed. 

When ascending up hills, you'll want to lean slightly forward into the slope to maintain your balance and avoid slipping backwards. Step hard to engage the crampons and traction points on the snow. This will help you maintain a better grip. Dig your toes into the snow as you step up. You may also want to shorten your steps on uphill climbs in order to conserve your energy and maintain control. Use your poles to push yourself up steep inclines. This will take some weight off your legs. 

When descending downhill, you'll want to shift your weight toward your heels and lean back slightly to keep your center of balance toward the mountain. Engage your hell crampons for better traction. Keep you knees slightly bent to maintain your balance and control. You may also want to use your poles by stabbing them into the snow and moving them forward with each step. 

For steep slopes, you might want to try a sidestep technique. Traverse steep slopes by angling your snowshoes across the slope rather than going straight up or down. Distribute your weight evenly across both snowshoes, keeping your body perpendicular to the slope. Use your poles for balance and to provide extra stability. Angling your body sideways can help you feel more confident that you wont slip or stumble. 

The last technique you'll want to know about is meant for "breaking trail" -- this means being the first person to venture into fresh, deep snow. This is a beautiful experience, but can be more taxing as the snow has not been compacted by previous snowshoers. When breaking trail, take smaller steps and use more effort to lift your snowshoes higher out of the snow. Allow your weight to sink into the snow a bit, but avoid overexerting yourself by lifting excessively heavy snow with each step. Switch leaders periodically if you are in a group, as breaking trail can be physically demanding.

Throughout your hike, you will want to remove excess snow that has caked onto the bottom of your snowshoes because it adds extra weight for your legs to lift. In wet or sticky snow conditions, snow may accumulate on your shoes regularly. Periodically check and remove any snow build-up to maintain proper flotation. Use your poles or gloved hands to knock off the snow from the snowshoes.

In terms of safety, we recommend a few rules of practice:

  • Check weather conditions before heading out. Avoid snowshoeing during heavy snowfall, blizzards, or high winds.

  • Dress appropriately. Wear multiple layers. Avoid cotton.

  • Carry essential equipment, such as a map, compass, or GPS device to navigate, extra layers, plenty of water, food, a headlamp or flashlight, a whistle, a multi-tool or knife, first aid kit, and a fully charged mobile phone.

  • Inform others of your plans. This way, they can alert authorities if you're overdue.

  • Stay on marked trails. Avoid venturing into unfamiliar or unmarked areas, as they may pose hidden dangers or avalanche risks.

  • Be cautious of avalanche risks, especially if you're snowshoeing in mountainous areas prone to avalanches. Educate yourself about avalanche safety. 

  • Stay hydrated and nourished by drinking plenty of water. Carry high-energy snacks or meals to maintain your energy levels.

  • Be aware of wildlife. Familiarize yourself with the local wildlife in the area where you're snowshoeing. Take precautions to avoid encounters with potentially dangerous animals, such as bears or cougars. Carry bear spray if necessary and know how to use it.

Finding the Right Trail

To find a good location and trail for snowshoeing, it is important to conduct research. Start by researching snowshoeing destinations and pre-established trails, focusing on regions known for this sport. If you opt for an area that is not pre-established for snowshoeing, be sure to  check local regulations and permits to ensure snowshoeing is allowed in the area you're interested in. Consider your skill level and physical fitness when selecting a trail, looking for options that suit your abilities. Consult trail maps and guides, both online and offline, for detailed information on difficulty, length, and points of interest. Seek advice from local sources like outdoor stores, rental shops, or tourist information centers for up-to-date information on popular spots and trail conditions. Take snow conditions and weather into account, selecting days with favorable conditions. Joining snowshoeing groups or guided tours can be a fun and safe way to explore. Guides are highly knowledgeable about the areas where they trek. Evaluate the amenities of a trail, particularly if you're traveling with children. Not all trails have accessibility to water and restrooms, so know what you can expect. Once you've made a decision ensure you have the necessary equipment and supplies. Always prioritize safety and respect the environment during your snowshoeing adventure.

To find a good location and trail for snowshoeing, it is important to conduct research. Start by researching snowshoeing destinations and pre-established trails, focusing on regions known for this sport. If you opt for an area that is not pre-established for snowshoeing, be sure to  check local regulations and permits to ensure snowshoeing is allowed in the area you're interested in. Consider your skill level and physical fitness when selecting a trail, looking for options that suit your abilities. Consult trail maps and guides, both online and offline, for detailed information on difficulty, length, and points of interest. Seek advice from local sources like outdoor stores, rental shops, or tourist information centers for up-to-date information on popular spots and trail conditions. Take snow conditions and weather into account, selecting days with favorable conditions. Joining snowshoeing groups or guided tours can be a fun and safe way to explore. Guides are highly knowledgeable about the areas where they trek. Evaluate the amenities of a trail, particularly if you're traveling with children. Not all trails have accessibility to water and restrooms, so know what you can expect. Once you've made a decision ensure you have the necessary equipment and supplies. Always prioritize safety and respect the environment during your snowshoeing adventure.

Advanced Snowshoeing Techniques

In addition to the basic techniques we've already reviewed, there are a few advanced techniques you might like to try. The first are called kicking steps. When climbing steep slopes, you can use your snowshoes like ice picks by kicking your toes into the snow. This technique helps you gain traction and stability by creating footholds in the snow with the front crampons of your snowshoes. Secondly, you might practice controlled turn steps. When making a downhill turn, shift your weight to the outside snowshoe and use your poles for stability. For uphill turns, use your poles and lean into the slope to maintain balance. If you are traveling in deep snow, you'll want to know some techniques for getting up if you fall. When you fall in deep powder, you wont have much leverage for getting back up. Use your ski poles by arranging them in a diagonal cross sign on your uphill side. Use this cross for leverage. Lastly, you might want to learn some emergency techniques for things like avalanches, snow slides, injury and frostbite. If you are attempt any long or strenuous snowshoeing, having knowledge of basic first aid is also a good idea. 

Tips for Snowshoeing with Others

While snowshoeing alone or with one other person may be a more tranquil experience, snowshoeing is also a fun social opportunity to exploring in groups. The sport can be quite memorable, especially when snowshoeing to beautiful destinations. The more people you bring, however, the more complicated the adventure can be. Here are a few tips for snowshoeing with others:

  • Establish clear and open communication with your group members. Discuss the route, trail conditions, and any potential risks or hazards. Use walkie-talkies, if available, to maintain communication during the snowshoeing trip.

  • Set a Comfortable Pace. Ensure that the pace of the group is comfortable for everyone. Consider the fitness level and experience of each member and adjust the speed accordingly. Take breaks when needed to rest, hydrate, and regroup.

  • Stick together as a group and avoid getting too far ahead or lagging behind. This helps ensure the safety and well-being of all members. If someone is struggling, adjust the pace or consider taking breaks more frequently.

  • Pair up with a buddy, especially in larger groups. Look out for - each other and maintain visual contact. If someone needs assistance or encounters difficulties, there is someone nearby to provide support.

  • Distribute responsibilities within the group. Assign someone to lead the way, navigate using maps or GPS, and someone to sweep at the back, ensuring no one gets left behind. Rotate these roles to give everyone a chance to contribute.

  • Ensure that each member of the group carries essential safety equipment, such as a whistle, flashlight or headlamp, first aid kit, and navigation tools. Make sure everyone knows how to use these items and is familiar with emergency protocols.

  • Identify meeting points or landmarks along the trail in case someone gets separated. Share emergency contact numbers and determine in advance what you will do if the weather changes.

  • While enjoying the group experience, be mindful of personal space. Give others enough room to maneuver and enjoy the surroundings. Avoid stepping on each other's snowshoes or getting too close when using poles.

  • Enjoy the Experience. Remember to look up to enjoy the scenery, share stories, and encourage each other along the way.

Joining a Snowshoeing Club or Group

Joining a snowshoeing club or group can be a fun way to get outdoors, make friends and enjoy the sport in a social way. There are many ways to go about finding a snowshoeing club. Start with some internet research in the area where you are snowshoeing. You can also call local rental shops, trailhead visitor centers, city visitor centers or recreational facilities. Facebook groups are also a great way to connect with the snowshoeing community. Check Meetup.com -- a site that is specifically designed for meetups of people with similar interests. Joining a guided tour may also be a great place to start because you will meet others who are interested in the sport. 

Participating in Snowshoeing Events and Races

If you fall in love with the sport of snowshoeing, you might want to take your athleticism to the next level by participating in snowshoe events or races. Here are some online resources for finding them:

The United States Snowshoe Association is set up to govern the growing sport of snowshoeing in the United States and assist in the production of Nationals each year.

World Snowshoe Federation is the governing body for the sport of Snowshoe Running. Here you will find information on the World Snowshoe Championships and other special snowshoe events.

The American Trail Running Association has a division specifically for snowshoe runners.

Cute Moose maintains an online schedule of snowshoe races and events.

You might also consider joining Facebook groups for snowshoe enthusiasts. These groups regularly post about upcoming snowshoe races and events. You can access the Facebook groups discovery page here.

Finding Resources and Guides for Guided Tours

Guided snowshoe tours are a great way to learn more about the sport and the mountain destination you are visiting. Snowshoe guides usually share a wealth of information about the local wildlife, forests, cultures and history of the areas where they snowshoe. Guides can also help you perfect your snowshoe abilities. Tours are also a great way to meet other like-minded outdoor enthusiasts and make new friends. To find these opportunities search online. You can also call local rental shops, trailhead visitor centers, city visitor centers or recreational facilities who might be able to connect you with qualified snowshoe guides.

Planning a Snowshoeing Trip with Friends and Family

The wintertime can be an excellent time to plan a snow vacation with friends and family to a beautiful mountain destination. The season is ideal for creating memories that will last a lifetime. Planning, however, can become a headache with logistics, dining, transportation and accommodations. But not with Club Med. Club Med is a perfect solution. We make planning a group trip seamless. Our all-inclusive packages include stays in our well-appointed rooms and suites, all-day dining in multiple restaurants, ski lessons, lift tickets and more than 25 winter activities, including snowshoeing. Our knowledgeable staff are an incredible resource for helping you find the right snowshoe trails for your group, and equipment from our rental shops is included in the price of your stay. After a long day of snowshoeing, Club Med has glorious hot tubs to relax your body, while our spa offers massage and wellness treatments. When you opt for a room in our Exclusive Collection space, you will also have the pleasure of upgraded luxury, a VIP concierge service, private lounge with fireplaces and nightly champagne service at 6pm. If you need a getaway from your children, Club Med's kids' clubs make it easy for you to take a break. We have numerous activities and special events for children. When you book with Club Med, we take care of all of the hassles so all you have to do is show up and enjoy. 

Club Med Québec-Charlevoix is a fantastic choice. Nestled in the heart of Québec’s Laurentian Mountains, bordering the St. Lawrence River, Charlevoix is known as the place where "the mountains meet the sea." Snow-capped peaks tower above the expansive valley below offering adventurers incredible panoramic views as they venture into the great outdoors. Québec-Charlevoix boasts a wide variety of snowshoe trails for you to enjoy. No matter your skill level, you will find a trail with beautiful views, lush alpine forests, vast snow fields and wildlife. 

Conclusion

Snowshoeing is a fantastic way to explore nature this winter. We hope we have provided you with the essential knowledge you need to get started on your snowshoeing journey. We discussed the basics of snowshoeing equipment, the fundamental techniques to master and tips for snowshoeing in groups. We shared resources for guided treks, social groups and competitive snowshoeing, and recommended a great destination resort to take your next winter vacation. We wish you well as you trek the great outdoors.