As we said, according to the type of snowshoeing you intend to do, you will pick the best kind of snowshoes for you: this will already make a lot of difference, improving (or not) the quality of your activity. At the same time, a few other good tips and techniques may help you to improve your snowshoeing and allow you to have an even better time.
Tips to improve your snowshoeing
From the types of exercises you should do, to how to traverse, here are a few tips for better and safer snowshoeing.
Asset your step and strengthen your hips
In order to avoid stepping on your own snowshoes, your stance will have to be wider than normal. This means your hips and groin muscles will work more than a classic kind of hike and might be sore after a long day snowshoeing around.
A good solution in order to prevent muscle ache, but also to improve your snowshoeing basic technique and step can be to exercise hips and groin muscles exactly during your weekly training, as well as stretching your body properly after your activity, in order to keep it elastic and healthy. Treat snowshoeing as every other sport: practice and get stronger.
Make your own trail
When on the trail, you will probably be sharing it with other cross-country skiers and other backcountry snow-athletes. A good idea might be to make your own trail while following the main track, especially when this latter is very narrow. This is to avoid interfering with the tracks that skiers have made day after day, and that can be incredibly helpful for them. Indeed, for you it will be irrelevant where you place your steps, especially in flat to rolling terrains.
If you are new to this activity, always keep in mind that, in general, skiers have the right-of-way on trails, and this is a rule that can help you in many situations, when you don’t know what to do or how to behave. The reason is very easy: it’s much easier and safer for a snowshoer to step out of the way than for a skier. In general, be polite and don’t behave as if you were the owner of the trail.
Poles can be incredibly useful and as much important as snowshoes themselves in some situations, so to have the right ones and to know how to use them is very important.
The two main reasons you want to keep them with you are balance and upper body workout. Adjustable ones are, of course, the best ones, since they can adapt to many conditions and solutions: shorter when going uphill, longer for downhills, or even two different lengths for traversing, or for similar techniques.
In general, to understand which is the best length for your poles when you are at a neutral angle, consider your arm: your elbow should be at a 90 degrees angle. Also, make sure to wear them properly through the straps, so you can give your hands some rest if you need to.
Snowshoeing is fun when it’s safe and, being a snowsport, remember that besides classic hazards, there are snow hazards too. So how to stay safe during snowshoeing? First of all, stay within the limits set by your physical abilities. If you are still new at this activity, even if you are very fit, don’t behave as a pro.
Also, know your gear and how to use it: in case of emergency or if an accident may occur, you will know what to do and how to use the equipment you have with you. Know the snow: know what are the hazards that you should be looking out for, and know how to spot them. Also, know what to do in case they happen.
A good way to stay safe is to plan in advance: get to know the trail that you are planning to do and the weather conditions. If there’s a chance of snowstorm, avoid going. And if you are planning to do a bit of exploration on your own, then make sure to bring a tracking device with you, possibly a GPS, or a topographic map and a compass for orienteering. Know the area that you are going to explore and where and how to look for help in case you need it.
A space blanket and a bushknife should also be on your emergency kit list, as they could be incredibly helpful in many different situations.
Last but not least, learn how to use (or read) all of your gear, especially those items you would be needing in case of emergency: when you will need them, it’s going to be too late to learn.
Last but not least, if you are planning to go into the backcountry, then make sure at least one member of your team is carrying an avalanche beacon, a probe and a shovel. If you see signs of unstable snow, refrain.
Stay warm and dry
From the clothes you wear to the right precautions you have, make sure you don’t get wet, especially your feet. Also, make sure that in case of sweat your clothes breathe enough. Dry and waterproof should be the two most important words when snowshoeing.
Going uphill and downhill
These might be the basics for some, but might be a very good point to deepen for those who just started.
When ascending uphill, use your toe for traction. Your feet should be firm and your step should be steady and a bit like a kick in the snow, especially when dealing with powder and fresh snow. Plant the poles in front of you (it can help if you shorten them a little bit) and use them to raise the other foot and make your next step.
In case the snow is too hard or crusty, then kicking is probably not going to be a good idea: in this case, you should better use your traction devices.
For long ascents, use your heel lift, also known as the climbing bar. It will allow you to have a more comfortable asset. Also, if the terrain is too steep, too hard or too powdery, then change and opt for a different track to follow.
For downhills, use the poles as some sort of break, keeping them always in front of you. Don’t walk too fast and proceed heels first, then toes. Unless you are wearing snowshoes with heel crampons, then keep your weight well on your feet, in order to help them to stay planted in the snow properly.
Last but not least, traversing. As we mentioned before, having your poles of different lengths, shorter for the uphill and longer for the downhill, can help greatly in keeping the balance and distributing the weight equally.
While traversing, keep your weight on the uphill snowshoe, in order to keep a better balance.
If you are snowshoeing with someone and you are off the beaten track, then take turns in opening the way through the fresh snow. Indeed, this will be a harder, more tiring task that should be carried out by both parts, in order to keep it equal.
Many people don’t think of snowy places as environments where you will be needing plenty of water, but this idea couldn’t be more wrong. Especially when doing a lot of movement, such as snowshoeing, you will be needing lots of water to stay hydrated and healthy.
Funnily enough, water will also help you to feel warmer and, generally speaking, it will help your body to cope best with the cold and the bodywork. Cold weather can be extremely and dangerously dehydrating if you don’t pay attention.
You can substitute part of your water supply with some warm beverage, such as tea, or even better an infusion, so you won’t be assuming theine all day long. Some ginger will help to keep your body warm and energized.