Snowshoeing is an excellent way to enjoy getting outside all winter and a fun progression for anyone who enjoys hiking or walking outdoors. It is also a way to enjoy the outdoors in the winter that requires minimal gear and no specialized skills (unlike skiing!). Snowshoeing is taking one step beyond in adventure, fun and challenge so read ahead to learn how to start snowshoeing for absolute beginners!
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What is Snowshoeing?
Snowshoeing is walking or hiking with two differences. The first is that you’re hiking on snow and the second is that you’re wearing snowshoes. Snowshoes are devices that you strap to your shoes or boots which distribute your weight over a larger area, therefore allowing you to stay on top of the snow instead of sinking in up to your knees/waist/armpits! In addition they have some type of traction on the bottom (usually metal spikes of some sort) to help keep from sliding on ice. There are times when you can hike or walk on snow without snowshoes, if it’s not very deep or if it’s very packed down and solid on top. In the Pacific Northwest, if there’s been a recent snowfall, you definitely need snowshoes to keep from sinking in deeply (and becoming completely exhausted in five minutes).
Snowshoeing Tips and Safety
Here are a few tips for how to start snowshoeing in the Pacific Northwest:
- Snowshoeing is much more tiring and slower than hiking or walking. How tiring and slow it is does depend a lot on the conditions. For example, an uphill trail with two feet of new snow on it will be much slower and MUCH harder than a more packed trail or one that’s on a flatter trail. I would recommend cutting your distance and elevation gain AT LEAST in half for what would feel comfortable hiking and definitely more if there’s a lot of new snow. This is especially important for disabled people while getting used to a new activity (check out this helpful resource for disabled people in snowshoeing)
- Snowshoeing around here is WET. Our mountain temperatures often hover right around freezing and above during the day, so it can be very, very wet. Waterproof footwear really is a must.
- Snowshoeing is HOT. I know that sounds crazy, because hello?!? it’s winter and you’re on snow. However, I get really hot snowshoeing because my body is working extra hard (extra weight of the snowshoes, extra effort to walk/hike in snow). Wear layers so that you can wear a lighter layer while moving and make sure to bring warm layers for stops or unexpected things like injury.
- Be aware of the avalanche forecast and do not go into avalanche areas when there is avalanche danger. REI also hosts avalanche awareness classes for free, which I highly recommend.
- WSDOT has important information about the road conditions, always check this before heading out
- SNOWSHOEING INSPIRES SILLINESS!!! EMBRACE IT! It’s hard not to feel a little bit silly wearing snowshoes, so embrace it and have fun out there! Focus on silliness and fun and be less destination oriented,and you’ll have the best time!
What if I don’t have a car? Or I don’t want to drive in the snow?
If you don’t drive, or don’t want to drive in the snow, or if you want to find a group to snowshoe with, you can look for a meet up group for snowshoeing, or you can join the Mountaineers and their outings include carpooling (you can also take classes there in how to start snowshoeing, avalanche awareness and more). Another option is to do a snowshoeing tour or trip with REI, where you’ll have a guide and someone else to do the driving. These can be great ways to build confidence in how to start snowshoeing!
How to Start Snowshoeing: Where to go near Seattle
Check out this post for five recommended beginner snowshoe trips in Western Washington. You will need a Federal lands pass to park at Forest service trailheads and in National Parks, and for the Washington State Sno parks, you’ll need a pass for those as well.
How to Start Snowshoeing: Gear
The most important thing you’ll need is a pair of snowshoes! There are options for renting them if you’d like to try them before buying. You can rent them from REI (in my experience they often sell out on weekends, so a reservation is a good idea) as well as at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park and Paradise at Mt Rainier for ranger guided snowshoe walks. If you’re ready to buy snowshoes, you can get them at any outdoor retailer, and Costco often has them during the winter. Mine are 20 years old (!) but they are basically the same as these ones (the newer ones have better straps) and I have also used these ones extensively leading tours (for myself and guests). Both of them are great. If you want to go more in depth about what to look for in snowshoes, check out my friend Gabby’s excellent comprehensive guide to purchasing snowshoes here! This post has my recommendations for the best clothing for outdoor activities in the Pacific Northwest during the winter, including snowshoeing. Make sure to always carry the 10 essentials on any trail outing in the mountains! I would also suggest bringing more snacks and water than normal and warm layers as well as light layers for working up a sweat and then taking breaks. Here are some additional pieces of gear you might find helpful (but do not need to get started)
- Trekking poles: super helpful for balance and navigating steeper sections (I also use them for hikes)
- Waterproof footwear: Boots or shoes that are waterproof are necessary! I also recommend wool socks (with a dry pair at the vehicle!) I usually wear these hiking shoes (if you wear shoes instead of boots you might want to consider a pair of gaiters to keep the water out of the top of them, and actually you may find these helpful even if you are wearing boots)
- Sit Pad: This inexpensive piece of gear is life changing if you want to sit down and eat lunch in the snow!
- Rain pants: I’ve talked before about how much I don’t like rain pants, but they can be really helpful for snowshoeing especially since you tend to get wet.