Humans began snowshoeing over 6,000 years ago driven by the basic need to find food in the winter. Early snow shoes emulated successful winter travelers like the snowshoe hare, whose large feet allowed them to move efficiently in deep snow. A variety of ancient snow shoe designs have been discovered in archeological digs in Europe, but the webbed snowshoe design, which we are most familiar with, was developed by Native Americans.
In the early 1900’s snowshoes became more than simply utilitarian, and recreational opportunities for snow shoeing expanded.
Today approximately 5.5 million people snow shoe in the United States alone. Affordable, easy to use, snowshoes provide a great way to stay active during winter months. If you can walk, you can snow shoe. Snowshoes are easy to put on and take off, and snowshoeing requires no special training.
Snowshoes are highly maneuverable so, snowshoer’s can go places cross country skiers and snow mobilers cannot. Places to snow shoe are everywhere, from snowshoe trail centers at ski areas and local parks to quiet hiking trails, there is something for everyone interested in the outdoors. Whether you’re looking for a quick walk in the neighborhood, a day hike, access to mountain backcountry, a new winter workout, or some family fun, snow shoeing could be just the sport for you.
Snowshoeing offers participants the peaceful, quiet of a snow-covered landscape – a great activity for the body and soul.
Health Benefits of Snow Shoeing
“Snowshoeing is an effective, low impact, and safe form of exercise to change body composition. It burns up to twice the number of calories as walking at the same speed,” said Dr. Declan Connolly of the University of Vermont’s exercise physiology department.
“Snowshoeing utilizes major muscle groups which, when combined with a higher metabolic rate in cold weather and the added resistance of moving through snow, results in a higher energy activity.”
Burns Calories. Snowshoeing provides the aerobic workout that you get from running, hiking or biking except you can burn more calories per hour snowshoeing than running. This is due to several factors: you have to lift your legs higher when you’re snowshoeing than walking or running. You are moving with added weight on your feet (the snowshoe) which is the equivalent of wearing ankle weights. And there is the added resistance of moving through snow.
Your body works harder to keep you warm in the winter so you also burn more calories. Depending on the difficulty of the terrain, the speed you are walking and the depth of snow, you can burn between 400 and 900 calories per hour.
“Snowshoeing is the best bang-for-your-buck, fat-burning workout in winter,” according to Dr. Ray Browning of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado’s Health Science Center and Vail Mountain Man champion. “It’s an exceptional way to achieve cardiovascular fitness, expend energy and reduce your chance of heart disease; plus it’s low cost, easily mastered and fun.”
Builds Muscles and Endurance. Snowshoeing works out all the major muscle groups including: the quads, hamstrings and calf muscles which get the main workout, but the use of poles also works your back, arms and shoulders.
Low Impact. Snowshoeing provides a low impact workout that’s easy on the knees. This is because snow acts like a cushion, absorbing shocks and bumps.
Cardiovascular fitness. “Snowshoeing is a great way to cross train and get out of the gym,” says competitive snowshoer Dewey Peacock, ACE and ACSM certified personal trainer at The Ridge Athletic Club in Bozeman, Montana. “It not only provides super cardiovascular benefits without the impact of running, it can also help improve strength and performance in other activities.”
Agility and Balance. Varied terrain and snow depths, climbs, descents, and side slope traverses require the participant to use every part of their body particularly the core muscles which improve agility and balance.
Snowshoeing also develops “proprioceptive muscles”. Proprioception is the body’s ability to orient itself in space without visual clues. The body uses its muscles, joints, tendons, and inner ear to adjust posture and position. Snow is one color and also covers terrain features such as rocks and downed limbs, so the body relies on proprioception to control the micro muscles used for balance.
Snowshoeing can incorporate a variety of activities. You can just go on a casual hike in the woods, an overnight trip into the backcountry for winter camping or cozy inn at the end of the trail, or an alpine climb.
- Snowshoeing is an inexpensive way to spend time with the entire family. Snowshoeing provides hours of fun for adults and children of all ages.
- Snowshoeing is the least expensive winter sport, at roughly 20% the cost of alpine skiing equipment. Once you have the equipment, it’s free.
- Snowshoeing allows access to winter’s veiled panorama.
- Snowshoeing is a rich, rewarding social activity that combines, fitness, outdoors, and friends.
Even though the equipment needed to snowshoe is relatively inexpensive it’s still a good idea to try out the sport before you invest in gear. Many resorts and recreation organizations offer snowshoe rentals and tours, giving you the chance to see if you like snow shoeing before you shell out hard earned bucks. When you are ready to buy your own, visit your local sporting goods store or winter sports specialty store and ask about the snowshoes that will best suit your needs.
Snowshoes. Snowshoes are divided into three types:
- Aerobic/running – small and light, not intended for backcountry use
- Recreational – a bit larger, use for gentle to moderate walks of up to five miles
- Mountaineering – the largest, use for serious hill-climbing, long-distance trips and off-trail use
A common formula for adequate support is for every pound of body weight, there should be one square inch of snowshoe surface. In addition, if you plan on wearing extra gear or backpacks or if the snow is deep and powdery, choose larger shoes.
Poles. Poles are not necessary but can be useful in helping you keep your balance, especially if you are covering rough terrain or hiking up and down hilly trails. Trekking poles have a removable basket at the bottom, similar to ski poles. Some poles are adjustable, allowing you to find the right fit for your height and varying degrees of snow pack. In the summer months, poles can be used for walking or hiking.
Boots. Waterproof hiking boots are ideal for snowshoeing. Ski boots are not usually an option because they will not fit properly in the bindings of the snowshoes.
Clothing. A pair of waterproof pants or gaiters can keep your legs dry. Also layer up. If it is snowing or raining, cover up with a waterproof shell.
Where to Snow Shoe
Just make sure you know where you are going and you are aware of the weather conditions. The last thing you want is to get lost in the snow or have a heavy storm move in while you are miles from a trailhead.
Humans weren’t made to hibernate indoors during the cold weather months! Snowshoeing gives you the ideal opportunity to get your winter exercise and enjoy the great outdoors.
Snowshoeing can change your entire relationship with winter, exercise outside helps in alleviating seasonal affective depression (SAD) and replacing it with a healthy and wholesome alternative to visiting the gym.