NOTE: This is part 2 of a 3 part article on "How to Snowshoe". Click here to read part 1.
In our last article, we covered the basics of choosing snowshoes that fit your style of adventure. So you’ve got the basics down and you’re ready to head out, right? Wrong. There’s still a couple more things to consider.
How will you get water?
Its a simple, important but often ignored question. How will you hydrate and stay hydrated? Snowshoeing, even in its simplest form is capable of burning more than 400 calories per hour. That means, you’re going to sweat. You’ve got to replace those fluids to keep moving. I have a friend who went snowshoeing last year with a friend. It was a simple enough hike, covering no more than 2 miles. On the dry trail it would’ve take about 45 minutes to an hour to complete. But it snowed that day. It was deep, powdery, dry snow. Which means they sank more than usual. It was more work to power through than they had planned. About 2 hours into it, they realized, neither of them had brought water, turning what should have been a relatively easy hike into a dangerous journey. They had to rest more so they wouldn’t start to sweat, take breaks to eat snow, and recoup energy. Overall, the journey took more than 5 hours.
Don’t end up like my friends. Plan ahead how you will hydrate. Will you need a stove to melt snow? Are you packing a filter to clean creek water? Are you going to use a bladder or a bottle to keep the water in? How will you keep that from freezing? The cold complicates everything and you need to mentally prepare for it ahead of time.
How will you refuel?
When you have the kind of energy output one see’s when you’re snowshoeing, you have to be thinking about refueling your body. Are you going to be taking some PB & J’s with you on the trail? Or are you packing energy gels, chews, and bars? How about freeze dried meals for dinners and breakfast on longer excursions? Will you need a stove and fuel to melt and boil snow to rehydrate them? Evaluate the length of your trip and plan your energy intake accordingly.
How will you keep warm once you stop moving?
When you’re snowshoeing, you are burning off lots of calories, you’re sweating, you are creating your own heat and a lot of it. Its a different story though once you stop moving. You go from burning 400+ calories per hour to burning about 35 to 60 calories per hour. You’ve got to find away to retain your body heat. You’ll want to have a good hat, a nice warm jacket and something to keep your hands warm like gloves or mitts. Here are a few factors to consider when you’re choosing your insulation layers.
Is it light weight? Remember, you’ll be carrying these layers with you but not wearing them until you need them. Choose a light-weight packable insulation material so that you can go farther and longer on your adventure.
Is it wind proof? Often, people choose to take breaks in places with great views, which means you’re exposed to the elements. Finding a windproof layer, especially in your jacket and trousers, can mean the difference between taking in the vistas and begging to get moving again.
Is it water-proof? You’re snowshoeing. Snow is wet, and when your hot body plops down onto of a snowy stump for a break, you’re going to wind up melting that snow and sitting in a puddle. Choose a layer that has water proofing where you need it most. The most common areas are on the seat of the pants, the front of the jacket and across the neck and top of the shoulders (places where snow will come to rest).
How will you pack it all up?
Now that you’ve chosen how you’ll hydrate, and how you’ll stay warm, its time to think about how you’ll keep all those things together with you as strike out into the wilderness. The most common solution is a simple one. A backpack. It’s easy to access, out of the way till you need it, and versatile. Here are a few tips to help you choose the right pack for your journey.
How long will you be gone? This is the most important question to ask when choosing a pack. If you’re going on a 5 day snowshoe expedition, you’ll definitely need a bigger, burlier pack than someone who is just going out for the afternoon. A good rule of thumb to find a correct pack size (in Liters) is to take the number of days you plan to be gone and multiply it by 12. So for instance:
EXAMPLE: I’m planning on being gone for 4 days and 3 nights. 4 (days) x 12 = 48 (Liters). I should look for something around 48 Liters in capacity to suit my supplies for a 4 day expedition.
As you put together your kit and gain experience on what you personally need, you might want more or less capacity. Experiment with it and find what suits you!
How will you keep the contents dry? As you hike, snow will accumulate on your pack whether or not it’s actually snowing. You brush tree branches and knock snow off, the wind blows snow around, you’re hiking buddy pelts you with snowballs. The question is not “if”, but rather “when” your pack will get wet and how will you keep it’s contents dry?
Pack Covers. Pack covers are a waterproof cover that go all the way around the front, top, and bottom of your pack (think of it like a shower cap for your backpack). They can be held in place by elastic bands, nylon straps or if you’re my father, an old fraying bungee cord held together by duct-tape. They are light weight, easy to use and pretty effective in snow and rain. They do, however leave the back of the pack open and susceptible to water permeation. Usually this is not a big deal because the back of the pack is usually on you, the snowshoer. If you’re in a down pour, or you fall in the creek (not out of the question…trust me) this can leave the contents vulnerable to getting wet.
Dry Bags. Another option is dry bags or dry sacks. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The way these work is you put whatever you want to stay dry inside of these backs and seal them. Some have a gasket closure, some have roll-tops. Either way, you’re stuff will be protected should the worst happen. The down side to them is that it is a separate bag with in your pack, so it takes more time to stop, take off the pack, open it up, pull out the dry bag, open it up and retrieve your stuff.
The beautiful thing about snowshoeing is that the sport is what you make of it. If you want it to be a calm walk down a familiar trail or just a few laps around a park, it can be. If you want the thrill of hiking through the backcountry, it can be that too. You decide you’re own level of adventure. The suggestions made in this post and the questions posed are just a few things to get you thinking about what your personal level of adventure will require along with your new snowshoes. You’ll learn that you need something more, you might learn that you actually need less. The snowshoe experience is as unique as the snowflakes that make it possible.
What have tips do you have that you’d like to share with those who might be new to snowshoeing? Share them in the comments below.