Living in Minnesota, it can be a long winter unless one embraces the great outdoors. Having enjoyed spring, summer and fall hikes at nearby Lebanon State Park, it was time to see if walking trails could be as enjoyable in the winter. Friends who had recently purchased snowshoes encouraged us to give it a try.
My previous snowshoeing effort was in Jr. High school where for gym class we put on the old traditional shoes, made of wood and rawhide laces, and walked around the football field four times. So, while not quite an expert, I do remember there really wasn’t much to it. Just put one foot in front of the other, and spread your legs a little wider when you walked. It’s really a lot like hiking. Now, that was on a flat surface. It is more challenging go up and down hills.
Functionally, snowshoes distribute the weigh of a person over a larger area so that feet don’t go so far down into snow. They usually work best with a minimum of 8” of snow. Beyond getting from one place to the next, why would anyone want to snowshoe?
Seven Snowshoeing Benefits
- Gets you outdoors in the wintertime. Even with Netflix, watching TV gets old during a long winter. Some fresh air does a body good. Snowshoeing extends your outdoor exercise regime. Remember, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices.
- Good exercise. This is a low impact, aerobic exercise that can be done at a pace that you’re comfortable with. More experienced and more fit snowshoers may choose more challenging treks, and go at an increased pace. Newcomers can take a more leisurely approach. Go hard or go easy. You make the call. Remember to stay hydrated and bring along some snacks or a meal if you’re going to be out for a while.
- An all-family affair. From young kids to senior citizens, snowshoeing is great for the whole family. With first timers and youngsters, you’ll probably want to stay on established trails.
- It doesn’t cost and arm and a leg. A one-time investment in snowshoes will last you a long, long time if you take care of them. Both of the snowshoes shown cost less than $200 per pair. You can go just about anywhere to snowshoe where there’s enough snow. And, leave the wallet behind.
- It’s easier on the environment. Snowshoes reduce the effect of wear and tear as they’re less damaging to snow and the ground surface below.
- It’s a whole new world. The same trek in winter with a foot of snow looks a lot different than it did in fall. Each hike in new snowshoes will seem like new for some time. And, nature’s winter beauty may be on full display.
- It’s fun! Unlike skiing and snowmobiling, it’s pretty easy to carry on a conversation as you exercise. If you pick a good trail, you’ll feel more in touch with nature. It seems more and more studies suggest that a nice walk in nature is great for reducing stress and general well being.
Snowshoeing for Fun – A Beginner’s Guide
Historians inform us that the first snowshoes go way back to 4,000 BC in Central Asia. More recently Native Americans were noted to be skilled users of snowshoes. The Algonquin tribe and others soaked or steamed ash wood to make it pliable, and then used rawhide for the lacing.
French fur trappers picked up on the use of snowshoes from the Indian tribes and used them extensively. British settlers were slow to catch on to the advantages of snowshoes in the winter, and as a result paid a heavy price. In the French-Indian War in 1758, in what some called the Battle on Snowshoes, the French and Native Americans using snowshoes could move more effectively, and as a result, defeated the Brits near Lake George in New York. More advanced snowshoeing skills nearly turned the war in the French’s favor, but the British were quick learners and made adjustments.
Gearing up for Snowshoeing
Our Mountain Safety Research (MSR) Evo Snowshoes and Revo Explore Snowshoes are significantly smaller and much more high tech than traditional wood and rawhide versions. Made of powdered steel and plastic, the snowshoes looked as good as they worked. MSR is located in Seattle, Washington and is owned by Cascade Designs.
The Revo Explore model has a fast two-strap rachet system to get the snowshoes on and off quickly. The strap-and-go features made it super easy to get ready. With no pressure points, they were very comfortable. The MSR Evo snowshoes were built for trails and rolling terrains, which made them perfect for our favorite park.
Both snowshoes provided excellent traction, comfort and were easy to get on and off. With a smaller footprint than older snowshoes, there really wasn’t much difference between walking and snowshoeing. As a freezing ice had recently fallen on our trails on one of our outings, the shoes created a little noise. But, on powder snow, there were quiet. The great traction came in handy on icy patches of snow.
Keep those extremities warm
If Mom taught us anything, it was to protect that head and toes.
For a hat, we relied on the stylish “Love Your Melon” beanies. The poms on top are detachable. On fashion alone, these hats are winners. But, what makes them really cool is that the company donates half of all profits to trying to put a hat on every kid battling cancer. They also started donating money for cancer research. To date, they’ve donated over 90,000 hats and 2.5 million dollars.
We relied on our Outdoor Research PL 400 Sensor Gloves. Made of 300 weight fleece and form fitting, we were able to put on our shoes without taking them off. There’s even sensors on the index finger and thumb if you just can’t wait till you’re done to check your phone. A small touch, but it came in handy when I received an important call on our trek.
On our heaviest snow days, we relied on Outdoor Research’s Crocodile Gaiters to keep the snow out of our boots. These gaiters come in handy when there’s a lot of snow on the ground. They hook up easily under your boots, and believe me, it’s nice not have snow melt within your socks.
- Where to Go? State parks and established trails work well. Places where you hike in other seasons typically make good snowshoeing routes. Forrest areas are particularly appealing for the aesthetics.
- Dress for Success. Layers work wonders. It’s important to stay warm and dry.
- Keep an eye on the weather. As with any outdoor adventure, being well informed about the weather is always a good idea.
- Considering poles. For steep terrains, poles can be very helpful – especially on descents where it can get rather slippery.
- Snowshoes types. Snowshoes fall into three categories generally speaking: recreational, running, and mountaineering snowshoes. Make sure you buy the appropriate shoe for where you intend on using them the most. A good sales person can help.
Snowshoeing can bring you to some amazing vistas if you plan your hikes. It can also quickly get you into shape. No sense in waiting, go try on some snowshoes and give it a try. You’ll be glad you did.