Photo: Stephen Matera/Tandemstock

How To Snowshoe

Walk over the deepest snow with the right snowshoe technique.

You’ve got your snowshoes, you’ve got your poles, and you’re itching to get out to explore the snowy landscape—now what? Put simply, if you can hike, you can snowshoe. But there’s still a learning curve to master safe, efficient snow travel. Here’s what you need to know to get out there.

Use Poles 

Poles offer critical aid with balance, especially on tricky terrain. You can use trekking poles with snow baskets or ski poles, but either way you’ll find they’re critical for moving through the snow.

Wear the Right Footwear

Different types of footwear work in different types of snowshoes. Most snowshoes pair well with boots (get insulated winter boots for frigid temps), but lighter snowshoes made for running are meant to be worn with trail running shoes. No matter what shoes you’re wearing, make sure to tighten the straps across the top of your foot and around your heel so they feel secure but not too tight. Tuck any excess straps out of the way so you don’t step on them. 

Photo: Stephen Matera /Tandemstock

Learn the Techniques for Every Terrain

You’ll walk in snowshoes a little differently depending on the snow conditions and the landscape. These strategies will get you up, down, and across anything. 

Flat Terrain

This is the easy part: Just walk. You’ll need to widen your stance a bit so your snowshoes don’t bump into each other, but that’s about all it takes. Swing your poles so that you plant each one in front of you when the opposite foot comes forward. In deep snow, you’ll need to step higher than usual to break a trail to walk through—this gets exhausting, so switch leaders every so often if you’re traveling with others. 

Keep in mind that different snowshoe styles perform best in certain types of snow. In deep powder, a longer snowshoe with more flotation will be easier to maneuver. In packed or icy snow, a snowshoe with more aggressive crampons and side rails will be more secure.

Uphill

Here’s where the crampon under the ball of your foot really comes in handy. With each step, plant your foot firmly in the snow so the crampon can bite into it for traction. If the snow is on the deeper side, stomp a few times to make a platform for your foot, pause for a moment to let the snow firm up, then put your full weight on it (this is called “kicking steps”). If the snow is hard or crusty, the crampon and the rest of the traction on your snowshoe will give you grip to travel upward. 

Shorten your poles for a steep ascent. And if your snowshoes have them, flip the heel bars up when going uphill. They make it easier on your calves and Achilles tendons. 

Downhill

First, lengthen your poles and plant them in front of you as you descend. Keep your knees loose and slightly bent, and either center your weight over your feet or lean back slightly (depending on how steep the slope is). Take short steps to maintain control, and land solidly on your heel crampons so you don’t slide downward.

Traversing

To move across a slope, put most of your weight on the uphill snowshoe. If the snow is deep, stomp out a platform for each foot as you go so that you can keep your feet in alignment (rather than tilted sideways). Adjust your poles so that the uphill one is shorter and the downhill one is longer. If it’s very steep or icy, cross at an uphill angle or face the slope and sidestep. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.