Snowshoeing: Winter’s walk

Man and woman snowshoeing
Snowshoeing is fun, easy to learn — and good for you.

If you think of snowshoes as those tennis-racket-looking things strapped to your feet, like in those 1960s adventure movies, you might want to give them a closer look — especially if you’re looking for a fun, healthy, and relatively inexpensive way to keep exercising outdoors during those snowy winter months.

“If you can walk, you can snowshoe,” says Anthony Zembrodt, Midwest Regional Manager of L.L. Bean’s outdoors programs.

Snowshoes have been around for a long time, born of necessity for traversing the white stuff. Indigenous people of the north have used them for centuries, and European settlers in North America quickly adopted the concept when they arrived and began exploring in the 1600s.

Why use showshoes? When the snow gets deep, the walking gets tough. You have to pull your legs out of a hole with each and every step. It’s like slogging through a slug of mud, and it will tire you right quick. It doesn’t take much imagining for you to feel your hip flexors tiring and aching. Snowshoes, however, spread your weight over a larger area of snow, thus allowing you to travel near the surface, aloft on the snow. The less you sink, the easier the walking.

Modern snowshoes have certainly evolved from those early versions. Though the concept of the snowshoe seems nearly as involved as that of the wheel, the types of modern snowshoes range in nature depending on how they’re to be used. They’re typically made of aluminum frames with a sheath or decking of strong plastic around the part that binds to your boot.

According to Zembrodt, it’s essential that you pick a snowshoe according to your weight, not your height. “The bigger the snowshoe, the more weight it can support,” he says. “It’s also important to consider the types of terrain you will be trekking — some shoes offer better traction than others.”

Bear in mind snowshoeing is not skiing. Shoeing is relatively inexpensive; you can buy a pair of recreational snowshoes for an adult for less than $100, less than $60 for youngsters. If you venture into more specialized territory, say, long-distance trekking, the shoes become significantly more expensive.

Snowshoeing is an opportune sport; you don’t have to go anywhere special to do it — you can snowshoe out your back door. Neither do you have to get on groomed, designated trails, as you do with most skiing. The equipment is low- to no-maintenance, and there’s little chance your shoes will break under normal wear. It’s easy to learn, too, and unlike skiing, there’s almost zero chance you’ll run into trees or careen off a cliff. Even if you do fall, you’re not going far. You can snowshoe as slow or as fast as you desire.

If you are a walker or a hiker, snowshoeing is a great way to keep up your routine over the winter — and that speaks to perhaps one of the best reasons to snowshoe: for the exercise.

Snowshoeing at a moderate pace burns hundreds of calories in an hour’s time, outpacing running, cycling, or walking in terms of caloric output. “Snowshoeing is a great aerobic activity,” Zembrodt says. “A lot of folks struggle to get outside in the winter months, even if they are frequent hikers during summer. It’s a great way to get outside and have fun in winter.”

With shoeing, the learning curve is flat and the investment minimal. With half a foot of snow on the ground, the bike path, nature center, golf course, or walking trail becomes a whole new adventure and the cold, dark winter a little more pleasant.

Let’s face it, though: Strapping on an extension to your foot to walk on snow is not normal. Of course, it will be a bit clumsy at first. Outdoors-oriented stores such as L.L. Bean, Cabela’s, Dick’s, and Field & Stream, among others, have the shoes you need, and many have clinics to get you breaking trail with that first big snowfall.