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Step Into Winter with Our Complete Snowshoeing Guide

If you can walk, hike, or run, you can snowshoe.

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Life’s been hard, which is why we’re starting with something easy. If you can walk, hike, or run, you can snowshoe. Add at least six inches of snow, strap snowshoes to a pair of running shoes, and go. That’s it! You can walk, you can hike on your favorite trails, and you can run.

“The beauty of snowshoeing is you can go on your regular trails and places you’ve never been before, and just play like a little kid,” says Syl Corbett, who was a professional, multi-sport athlete. “You’ll come back with rosy cheeks, a fresh perspective, and a great workout. It’s immeasurable what it can do for you.”

Corbett also touts snowshoeing for the ability to work different muscles due to the changing nature of snow as a striding surface. She also likes it for the opportunity to spice up workouts over the winter. Whether you walk or run in snowshoes, the workout is also a calorie blaster. If you opt to use poles as well (they aren’t necessary, but can help with balance), expect to burn from 500 to 1,000 calories an hour, depending upon the terrain and your effort, while getting a full body workout.

Corbett always experiences massive strength gains and an increase in lung capacity after a winter spent snowshoeing. “It’s like water running in that it’s generally not something you do unless you have to,” she says. “But once you do it and are able to go back to running, you’re like a machine. You don’t feel physically beat up after a season of snowshoe workouts, and you enter the spring running season with vigor and better fitness.”

What to Know Before You Go

While snowshoeing uses the same stride motion as walking or running, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Mind the Motion

The first is that your stride may need to be wider to accommodate the width of the snowshoes. This will depend upon the model of snowshoe you use. The more surface area you have, the more float you achieve.

So, for deeper snow, go for a wider shoe, and, if you would rather run, you’ll go for something lighter and potentially narrower. In addition to the surface area, what makes snowshoes so handy, especially for going up and down hill, is their spikes. Take a look at your snowshoes to see where the spikes or crampons are, generally under your forefoot and under your heel, and remember to let them do their job as you go. Heading up a hill, you’ll focus more on the forefoot spikes, while going downhill you’ll engage both sets of spikes for stability.

Don’t Keep Watch

Darcy Piceu, an ultrarunner and former snowshoe racer based in Boulder, emphasizes the importance of working out by effort rather than your watch when it comes to snowshoeing.

“Typically, you’re at a higher altitude when snowshoeing, plus it’s colder and you’re moving slower, but the aerobic workout is a lot more intense than standard running,” says Piceu. “You’ll get a killer workout in 45-60 minutes—it’s really hard work—with a lot less impact on knees and joints, especially in soft snow.”

Start Slow

Piceu, who also Nordic skis and does skimo (ski mountaineering) in the winter to take a break from running, encourages newcomers to the sport to start out slow and get comfortable in their gear. Begin someplace flat if you can, like a mellow trail, golf course, or park. You can also look for dedicated snowshoe trails at ski mountains and Nordic facilities.

Break a Sweat

If you want to try snowshoe running, Piceu suggests working up to a running pace, with the reminder that it will be slower than your regular running pace. Beyond logging miles and enjoying the scenery, you can also translate your standard running workouts to snowshoeing. Corbett likes incorporating hill repeats to turn up the heat during her snow sessions, with the added fun factor of flying downhill.

Check out our snowshoe gear guide for everything you’ll need to get started.