Six Tips for Beginner Snowshoers

Snowshoeing - Couresty of Suzie Dundas

Not sure if you'll make it to the slopes this season? No problem – why not just give snowshoeing a try? Sure, snowshoeing may not have the "cool" reputation skiing does (though that's changing quickly), but it can be a great way to get out in nature without being surrounded by crowds (or spending $100 or more on a lift ticket.)  And snowshoeing is affordable, fun, and a great workout – you can burn 400 calories or more per hour. Skiing and snowboarding burn about 400 calories per hour, but taking into account sitting on ski lifts, you'd have to be at the resort for three or four hours to add up to one hour of actual skiing. Combine that with the fact that you can snowshoe just about anywhere, and it's no wonder that the sport is having a moment right now.

Snowshoeing is a fairly straightforward activity, and people of any age or ability level should be able to learn the basics in a few minutes and feel comfortable after an hour or so. As long as you have the correct gear and know a few simple principles, you'll be all set. So we put together a list of a few essential tips to know before getting started to help you feel a little more comfortable in the snow.

Get ready to fall in love with a new winter sport (and get a great workout in during the fun!)

1. Dress for a Good Cardio Workout

In backcountry skiing, there's a saying about how to dress: "Be cold at the car." And that saying stands for snowshoeing, too. Because snowshoeing is a cardio workout, you'll heat up quickly. And once you start creating a little bit of body heat, your insulation will do its job and reflect that heat back at you. It's not unusual to be down to your base layers once after just a few minutes of snowshoeing uphill.

Base Layers

Helly Hansen Athlete Summit_Cam McLeod

You don't need unique base layers for snowshoeing; you can wear those you already have for skiing. Check out the Peter Glenn guide to base layers, or invest in a quality Merino wool top and bottom you can wear for seasons to come.


You don't need any special "snowshoeing" footwear, but you do want to make sure your shoes are waterproof, snug (so you don't pull your shoe off if your snowshoe gets stuck), and probably at least ankle-height. While snowshoes stay near the surface of the snow, they do sink in a bit, and you don't want snow getting in your boot if you sink too far. You could also wear waterproof gaiters over shorter shoes if you don't have any winter boots.

Mid & Outer Layers

Dress as if you were going skiing, but understand you'll likely get warmer than you do downhill skiing, especially as you won't have a 10-minute lift ride between runs to cool down. Consider wearing a mid-layer with a shell instead of a full ski jacket, or if the weather's nice, just wear your favorite puffy over your baselayers.


Your feet tend to get cold snowshoeing; after all, they're in the snow the whole time. Wear thick, insulative socks; those designed for snowboarding are usually a bit thicker than ski socks.


Fresh snow is quite bright, so wear polarized sunglasses (or your ski goggles, if you prefer.) You'll want a beanie and potentially a neckwarmer in chilly weather, and gloves come in handy even when it's warm out as they protect your hands from blisters that can arise from holding poles too tightly.

Snowshoe Trails - Courtesy of Suzie Dundas

2. Choose the Right Snowshoes

Gone are the days where all snowshoes were wooden frames with leather straps – you'll find most remaining snowshoes like that decorating the walls of ski lodges. Snowshoes today are lightweight and modern, and it's important to buy the right size for your weight. Snowshoe size guides usually go by weight, and snowshoes for people who weigh more will usually have a larger surface area to distribute that weight and keep you on top of the snow.

If you're new to the sport and plan on exploring parks and trails, you'll likely want recreational snowshoes. They're your "everyday" snowshoes and all share similar design principles, though there are differences in materials and binding systems. Most will be a metal frame (usually carbon) with plastic straps around the toes and heels. Remember that individual straps can be difficult to tighten with gloves on, so it's usually best to look for a snowshoe that has a quick-pull or single-strap tightening system.

If you plan on snowshoeing in icy conditions, opt for a snowshoe with extra traction, usually in the form of crampons. And if you're planning to use your shoes on very steep trails or to carry a snowboard out for short backcountry ski sessions, you'll definitely want a pair of snowshoes with heel lifts – small pieces that flip up from the snowshoe to stop your heel from dropping all the way. They make uphill ascents a lot easier on your leg muscles.  And skip the curved running snowshoes unless you plan on using them exclusively for running one snow (in which case they're great.)

Many snowshoe are unisex, but otherwise, the key difference in men’s and women’s shoes is usually the weight limits, and size of the foootbox; women’s tend to be smaller. But there aren’t any major differences aside from that, so if you’re a woman with large feet or a lightweight guy, you may be better served by a snowshoe designed for the “opposite” gender.

3. Snowshoe On Your Favorite Hiking Trails

One of the best parts of snowshoeing is that you can snowshoe just about anywhere – no grooming, ski lifts, or steep hills required. When you're a beginner, the best place to snowshoe will be on the same trails you hike or bike in the summer. Staying on an established trail ensures you don't get lost and is a better place to practice as other people will probably have packed down the snow already. The harder the snow, the less likely you are to sink into it. Nordic centers often have very well-maintained and well-marked trails for beginners.

Once you know what you're doing, all you need is snow. You'll sink in more if the snowfall is light and fluffy, while heavier snow can make each step a little more challenging as you'll be lifting wet snow with each step. After a few snowshoeing sessions, you'll quickly learn how to gauge the snow quality.

4. Use Your Snowshoes & Poles In Unison

Mountains Snowshoeing

As the saying goes, "if you can walk, you can snowshoe." That's true, though you'll want to adjust your gait just a little. Since snowshoes are much larger than actual shoes, you'll need to take slightly larger steps and keep your feet a little further apart to ensure you don't tap the edges together when your feet pass. Nearly all snowshoers use poles, and you'll want to have your left foot and right pole (and right foot and left pole) move in unison, much like using hiking poles. Make sure the straps are tight enough across your toe and heel to stay put, but not so snug that they create pressure points or, worse, start to cut off your circulation.

A note about poles: you can use any pole with baskets, like your current ski poles, but some snowshoe packages come with adjustable poles especially for snowshoeing.

5. Be Prepared

As far as snow sports go, snowshoeing is probably one of the safer ones, but it's not without its risks.  Anyone who lives in mountainous areas with heavy snowfall should never go anywhere near terrain that could be avalanche prone without first knowing the basics of backcountry avalanche safety (usually a weekend class.)

The easiest way to avoid snowshoeing accidents is to be prepared. You'll always want to carry a backpack for snowshoeing to hold water and stash your layers as you warm up, so there's no excuse for not having a few basic items. Some snowshoers carry the “10 Essentials,” while others carry extra food or bear spray, depending on where they live. At a minimum, you'll want a way to contact people (a cell phone isn't useful if you don't have service), an extra layer, and items like sunscreen or a baseball cap since sun and windburn are some of the most common winter injuries. Twisted ankles or wrists can also happen if you misstep, so it can be useful to have an ace wrap or support brace, too.

6. Practice Good Snowshoe Etiquette

Mountains Snowshoeing Stylish

Just as it's important to know some basic rules while skiing or hiking, it's important to know some basics while snowshoeing, too. Most are the same as hiking – pack out whatever you pack in, try to minimize your impact as much as possible, and don't blast loud music or otherwise create too much sound pollution (of course, listening to music or a podcast with headphones can be great!)

But with snowshoeing, there are a few snow-related rules to keep in mind that will help ensure everyone has a good time. Try to stay out of cross-country ski tracks, as skiers follow each other's routes and snowshoe bumps can make that more challenging. And if you wouldn't walk somewhere, don't snowshoe there - exploring a snowy golf course on snowshoes is fine, but walking across a field of tiny saplings is decidedly uncool.

And voila: now you know the basics of snowshoeing. The best way to learn is to treat yourself to a pair of snowshoes, head outside, and learn on-the-go. You can even walk around your backyard or a neighborhood park until you feel comfortable heading out on a trail. And whether you snowshoe up mountain peaks or just make a quick lap through the neighborhood with your dog, what matters is being safe and having a good time. As long as you do that, you’ll be a snowshoe pro.