1. Get outside. No joke. There is no better way to really experience a mountain, or wooded area, or even a meadow than on snowshoes. My favorite part about snowshoes? Snowshoeing you can go pretty much anywhere you want. If you can walk through a certain area, you can snowshoe through it if there’s enough snow.
2. You need snow. Seems obvious, but for my money, if there’s not at least 6 to 8 inches on the ground, but preferably ten, you might as well leave the snowshoes home and go for a plain old hike. The point of snowshoes is to “float” on the top of the snow, it’s worth waiting for the deep stuff.
3. Check the weather forecast. Don’t just look up at the sky. Get the report. Weather can change very quickly in Vermont, and you don’t want to get caught in a squall your unprepared to face.
4. Be prepared to face the weather. How you dress for snowshoeing will depend on the weather conditions (how cold, how wet, how deep) and how much you plan on exerting yourself (how far, how fast, how long). For anything other than a simple snowshoe stroll, bring a backpack so you can peel (or put on) base, mid, and outer layers at will.
5. Snowshoeing is less fun with cold feet. No mater what, bring an extra pair of sox. (I usually bring two.) Good hiking socks, and some type of waterproof hiking shoe or Gortex running shoe. Gaters are a good idea as well to keep the snow out of your boots.
6. Choose the right snowshoes. There are lots of companies out there selling snowshoes. Take your time. Know your weight and adjust it up for your boots and whatever you might carry while snowshoeing (see number 4). Find a knowledgeable salesperson to help you; there’s a lot of choice in style, sizes, bindings, frame materials, decking, etc. Choose either a recreational snowshoe, or a racing snowshoe; they are different.
7. Be realistic about your level of fitness. If walking a half-mile on a sunny day is a bit strenuous for you, don’t plan on making your first snowshoe a five-mile hike. Snowshoeing at its most basic is no harder than walking, but that doesn’t mean it’s easier than hoofing it.
8. Walk, don’t run. Yet. If you are new to snowshoes, be sure to spend some time walking around on them, gradually practice increasing your speed before you sign up for a snowshoe race—even a short one. I’ve seen too many people land face first within the first twenty steps when they try to run on snowshoes. The first time I ran in snowshoes, both my ankles were a mess by the time I was done.
9. Leave a note. Let people know where you are going. It’s much safer to let your loved ones, or at least someone, know where you are going, just in case something comes up. If you get lost and go missing, you’ll want someone to know you’re gone, and where in the world to start looking for you.
10. Don’t leave home without them. If you are going out for an extended snowshoe adventure, put some emergency supplies in your backpack: water, high-protein snacks, extra socks, hat, gloves, and a cell phone.
11. Give yourself a break. If you are breaking trail, know that it can become very tiring very quickly. If you are out snowshoeing with other people, take turns breaking trail to avoid over exertion. If you are on your own, know your stamina and pace yourself accordingly when blazing the trail.
12. You may want to take a pole or two. Poles are very good for maintaining balance on snowshoes and are excellent for climbing. It’s nice to have them, but know that it’s tough to get used to them if you have never tried them. I personally like the collapsible poles, but in any event, you definitely want something lightweight.13 Snow is not see-through. The deeper the snow, the more likely it is that there are obstacles lurking below the even expanse of level plain. Things like barbed wire fencing, a culvert, dips in the terrain, downed trees. If you take a step, and suddenly find yourself waist deep in snow, don’t panic. Just know that it can take a while to extricate yourself and your shoes. If you don’t know the terrain at all, proceed with caution or stick to the trail.
14. Take a night prowl. It’s worth going snowshoeing at night; it’s so amazingly quiet. Even if you are a beginner, night snowshoeing is not to be missed! BUT, do not snowshoe at night alone. Check out the touring centers or ski places; many offer guided group snowshoe tours at night, even midnight.