We all love our spring, summer, and fall hikes, but winter weather doesn’t always need to keep us indoors.
While it’s raining, foggy, and dreary in the lowlands, we can still experience some great weather when we head up to hike in higher elevations.
What gear do I need?
Well, obviously, snowshoes! But If you already hike in the other seasons, you probably own the majority of the gear you will need, more on that later.
Most recreation retailers will rent out snowshoes, I recommend trying this first before investing in snowshoes. Snowshoeing is much different than hiking in the other seasons, and it may actually not be for everyone. Giving it a try with a minimal investment may be a good idea.
I had gained experience with different features of snowshoes, and the following features are ones that I prefer not to do without.
Solid traction – some shoes, such as MSR’s Lightning models, have better teeth on the bottom for traction, compared to just a tubular frame found on other models. I had learned that these gripping teeth are a must for me, since sometimes I will encounter solid ice.
Elevation bars – these are incredibly beneficial when encountering hills, which you will. These bars help raise your heels a couple of inches while walking uphill, taking any strain off your ankles, and actually making the process of climbing much easier. These bars are simply folded down when not in use.
Also, be prepared that walking in snowshoes will be much more work (although worth it!)
Dressing in Layers
It’s obvious that we need to dress warmer, but since hiking in snowshoes is much more work, you will warm up very quickly.
So I recommend to start with a great base layer, I use a medium weight merino wool shirt and pants. These will keep you a bit warmer while it wicks away any sweat, and will prevent you from getting too hot.
Now, this is where gear from the other hiking seasons come into play, as I had mentioned above.
Over your base layer, this is where your favorite hiking shirt and pants from the other seasons will work perfect, the lighter the better. This will be your middle layer.
For your next layer, which will be your outer layer, a warm coat or sweater (wool, NOT cotton), will serve you will for this. For your lower body, a good breathable pair of rain pants will keep you dry, without retaining too much heat.
The outer layer is meant to keep you warm for most of your trip, but can easily be removed when you begin to feel warm.
Your regular hiking boots, as long as they are waterproof, should work great for snowshoeing. They should attach just fine to your snowshoes with the bindings that are included with them.
And don’t forget your wool hat and gloves! While the generation of body heat while winter hiking may lead you to believe you will be fine without these, you will really appreciate them at the trail parking lot and during snack breaks.
While your 10 essentials are the things that will be with you year round, there some additional considerations while snowshoeing.
Navigation may not be as obvious, due to the trails all mostly snow covered, with footprints being the only indicator of where to go. Just remember that not all footprints will lead you in the right direction, so ensure you have planned your route well, and have a great, waterproof map. I carry a GPS on every adventure, especially on winter routes.
I also recommend start with short hikes (less than 1.5 miles to the destination) with minimal elevation gain until you have gone a few times and understand your pacing and energy level with wearing snowshoes.
In addition to your usual food requirements, keep in mind that a stove and a warm meal and/or beverage may hit the spot while out in the tundra.
Lastly, take into consideration that the days in the winter months are much shorter….and plan accordingly. The best night hikes are the ones that are planned that way.
NOTE: While not all winter hikes require snowshoes, keep in mind that you should not venture out in the winter months without the gear I had mentioned, and I never head out on winter hikes without at least micro spikes in my pack.
Have fun out there, and enjoy! I hope the guidelines above will help you prepare, if you plan to take on this great new adventure!