The Hiking World Needs More Snow Angels

Winter backpack hiking with snowshoes has become a popular winter activity for recreation, fitness and beating the winter "blues."  Winter is cold, and yes we tend to stay indoors more, yet undoubtedly hibernating like bears is not good for our state of mind or our health. Snowshoe hiking extends the hiking season into winter. Temperatures may be lower, but the sky can be just as blue with the air so fresh and crisp, breathing it in is a welcome relief from the stale air quality of indoor heat. If you have never been snowshoeing, dust off your hiking bag and let me tell you why you should play in the snow.

Hiking Can Be Done At Any Age

All ages and ability levels can enjoy this sport. It makes for a great family outing with the kids. As adults, we tend to be so caught up in the pressures of our daily lives, we don't take time to play in the snow. Why the heck not??  It's better than any therapy on the planet. You can enjoy winter solitude making your own trail over a farm pasture or wooded meadow. Turn it into a social activity with a bunch of friends. Pack a thermos of hot chocolate, a couple of sandwiches and seize the season.

Backpack Hiking With Snowshoes

If you can walk, you can snowshoe. Hiking with snowshoes is much easier to learn than skiing or snowboarding.  It's inexpensive fun that only requires snowshoes, appropriate footwear and clothing, and (maybe) a pair of poles. That's it! No lift ticket is required, no skis, no special boards. You will need snowshoes though, which are merely footwear for walking over snow.  Most snowshoes have simple "strap and go" bindings that fit a wide range of boot styles and sizes. Snowshoes work by distributing your body weight over a larger area so that your foot does not completely sink into the snow, a quality called "flotation." The weight of your hiking backpack combines with your body weight and rarely causes anyone to fall during showshoe hiking, so you are basically pretty stable on showshoes. While optional on flat terrain, poles come in handy on many snowshoeing outings. They will give you better balance while providing an upper body workout.

Get Your Winter Hiking Exercise

This form of hiking exercise is very versatile.  You can control your activity by going easy or hard. Plus, you can snowshoe many trails that you can't ski due to trees or low-snow conditions. Most parks and winter recreation areas having trails to snowshoe on, but I always found it more fun to blaze my own trail. It's a good workout for sure. Snowshoeing offers low-impact, aerobic exercise that helps you stay in shape during the winter, however, you may feel your hips and groin muscles ache after the first few times out, due to your wider stance as opposed to regular walk hiking. Your body will acclimate. Just like 3 season backpack hiking, the outdoors will revitalize you and even create perfect zen moments. No need to skip these benefits in winter.

Stay Warm and Dry During Your Hike

You'll want to make sure you stay warm out there. Like any winter outdoor activity, you will need a base layer of synthetic and wool to retain warmth even if you get wet. Long thermal underwear that wicks away moisture will insulate you well and dries quickly. Polyester fleece makes a good insulating mid-layer since it retains heat when wet and breathes as you exercise.  Choose from microlight, lightweight or midweight versions based on the temperature and your activity level. A zippered waterproof outer shell jacket and pants keeps your body heat stable and protects from wind. Warm dry feet are essential. Waterproof insulated boots that have thick soles are best, combined with moisture wicking inner liners. Pair them with wool socks (not cotton!) I'm not a fan of low top boots in winter. Soaked cold feet can happen in a matter of minutes, unless the snow is so hard that snowshoes themselves are somewhat superfluous.

Always come prepared with the same basic gear you'd take on any day hike, including extra clothing, food, and water. It is not advisable to go snowshoeing alone, unless you are totally familiar with the sport and the area you will be in. If you plan to venture away from a patrolled area, be sure you and your companions are prepared. Carry a topographic map of the area, a compass or GPS to help you navigate. Know how to use them, because the backcountry in winter is not the best place to learn. Before heading out, leave your trip plans with a responsible person and let them know whom to contact in case you don't return on time.

Be A Hiking Angel

Once you've gone for a snowshoe hike you will understand why it is such a unique experience. Vigorous yet gentle exercise, beautiful views, peaceful silent wilderness and low-cost gear makes it the perfect winter activity. I am always enamored by unspoiled and snow-covered winter landscapes. Take a moment, toss of your hiking backpack bag aside and drop into that powdery soft snow to make a snow angel. Your inner child will enjoy this immensely. This is yet another hiking adventure that is worth the journey!


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