Snowshoeing for a Winter Workout

If You Can Walk, You Can Snowshoe

Snowshoeing. Westend61/Getty Images

Snowshoeing is a great way to enjoy a winter walking workout. Unlike cross country skiing or downhill skiing, you don't need lessons. The basic snowshoe walking technique on level ground is simply walking, although you will have a wider stance.

Snowshoe Equipment

Modern snowshoes are narrower, shorter and lighter than the long wooden snowshoes of yore. The bindings pivot to allow you a more natural walking gait. They spread out your weight so you don't punch down  into the snow with each step (post holing). Snowshoes are widely available for under $100, with some models under $50, far less than ski equipment.

Poles are optional when showshoeing, just as they are optional in hiking. Ski poles can help you maintain balance, but are not necessary. Many trekking poles come with snow baskets, the flange you can add at the end of the pole so it doesn't sink into the snow. You can use them for snowshoeing.

Footwear: You can wear snowshoes with hiking boots, trail running shoes or snow boots. Waterproof or leather footwear are be best for staying dry and warm. Gaiters help keep snow out of your shoes and keep your pants dry.

A ski helmet isn't required as you won't be shushing down slopes at high speed. But if you are going to headed into an area where there may be falling rocks or ice, a helmet is a good idea.

Getting Started Snowshoeing

I went snowshoeing the first time on an outing organized by my gym trainer. We stopped at a ski shop to rent snowshoes on our way up to snowy mountain trails. The cost was under $15 per day, which included ski poles.

The snowshoes went on easily with three straps. It's best to find a dry place to sit to gear up. I wore the snowshoes with waterproof New Balance trail walking shoes. Once the snowshoes were on, it was easy to move about simply by walking. The only tricky part was when I managed to step one snowshoe onto the other one and trip myself.

Snowshoes grip the snow with built-in crampon spikes at the toe and heel. The spikes allow you to simply walk along without slipping and without using any fancy technique. It is important to plant the snowshoe flat on the surface to get a grip with the crampons.

Going uphill and downhill, you use the same maneuvers as when walking or hiking. On extreme slopes you may want to kick steps into the snow and walk up each step as you create it.

Burning Lots of Calories

Showshoeing can burn over 1000 calories per hour. I certainly felt a good exertion and heated up quickly, shedding layers after the first mile. At that rate of calorie burn, you will sweat no matter what the temperature.

Speed can be surprisingly similar to plain hiking - we covered 2.5 miles in about 50 minutes. A round trip of five miles with a lunch stop took up only three hours.

The muscles used for snowshoeing are similar to those used in walking and in hiking in hilly terrain. Your hip flexors may feel more of a workout, and your quads may get more exercise than usual in walking due to the lifting motion with each step.

Dressing for Snowshoeing

Layering is important to wick away sweat, keep you insulated and protect you from snow and wind. Your inner layer should be of a wicking fabric. The middle layer should be an insulating layer of wool or fleece. The outer layer should be windproof and either water-resistant or waterproof depending on the climate.

A hat and gloves will help keep you warm. Sunglasses or ski goggles will protect your head and eyes from sun and snow glare. Don't forget the sunscreen - the snow will reflect the rays and burn you faster.

Carry a pack with water, a snack and other hiking essentials. A mobile phone is strongly suggested when hiking on winter trails, although you may be in an area without cell coverage and the battery may not last as long in the cold.

I found snowshoeing a great way to enjoy winter trails without need for lessons. Use it for a great winter walking workout.

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