Snowshoes: everything you need to know

Snowshoes have become increasingly popular in recent years, so outdoor companies have intervened in their technical and structural evolution.

Snowshoes! A term unknown until a few years ago. The term “snowshoe” did not appear in the abecedary of winter outdoor activities, an action relegated to the memory of childhood memories, when the classics of children’s literature, The Call of the Forest and White Zanna, fed our spirit of adventure and romantic myths, such as that of the frontier and wild nature of the Great North.

Do you remember Jack London’s trip to the Yukon during the gold rush in the Klondike? He told of sled dogs, canoes, but also special instruments, made of woven rope and wood that served to “float” in the abundant snow of north-west Canada. At the beginning of the twentieth century, when the American self-taught traveller and writer described the great open spaces of wild nature, snowshoes were a tool to achieve dreams of glory and wealth, today they allow us to satisfy one of our greatest passions.

Snowshoes, without any technical or sporting ability, allow us to get closer to nature in the months that it seems to be silent: these are unique sensations that we feel “snowshoeing” in the forest, when the noise is absorbed by a biting cold and the snow waddles the sound of our footsteps. Every year, while the snow offers new spaces and horizons, constantly changing over time, hikers are interested in choosing and buying snowshoes that are lighter and more colourful, super-technological and resistant.

Choosing a destination

Snowshoeing is an activity accessible to everyone, it does not require special skills, except that of knowing how to walk! And of course, some precautions related to the progression on snow. Using snowshoes is certainly the best way to continue trekking even in winter, without excessive effort and technical preparation if you choose simple routes, without height difference and not dangerous.

There is no age and nothing can prevent snowshoe enthusiasts from walking along ridges, pastures and woods, but remember that moving on the snow requires more energy, up to 50% more than a normal excursion (depending on the type of snow, equipment, etc.). So training, appropriate equipment and experience are important elements in choosing your destination, even to deal with the simplest of excursions – this always – as well as a minimum of documentation of the route you want to explore.

The choice of the route must be the result of an action of documentation through specific websites, paper publications and the more traditional “word of mouth” with friends, before setting out on the way you will have the clearest ideas on the difficulty of the route, the height difference, the length and time of travel.

In the choice of the route there are itineraries for spring-summer hiking that seem to be designed also for snowshoes, especially those that follow forest tracks and mule tracks (wider and with lower slopes), if not even service roads that in the favorable season are passable by motorized vehicles. A recommendation, do not walk on the slopes created specifically for cross-country skiing: you would do a great spite to fans of this winter discipline.

You must also think that in the winter period there are few hours of light available, so it is good to prefer short routes and always provide the time of return.

Once you have chosen the route, the second thing to check is the condition of the snowpack: before embarking on any excursion, even the least demanding, find out from the mountain guides and the special bulletins. Also for this reason, if you are at your first experience, avoid challenging tracks, with slopes and objective dangers.

Let’s get to the wallet

It’s time to get your hands on your wallet, depending on your budget we’ll try to make the right choice. Price is not always an indicator of quality, so try to get help from experienced friends, professionals and salespeople prepared. However, simple tips and tricks will help us get off on the right foot.

The first instrument to be analyzed, needless to say, are the CIASPOLE: on the basis of the shape are divided into short and wide, suitable for our most severe and steep alpine environments, or long and narrow, suitable for flat crossings and walks in the woods, then in environments more “gentle” and without real slopes. The size of the person also determines the choice of snowshoe: wide, long and structured for adults over one and a half metres tall and weighing 80 kg or more. A shorter, narrower, more manageable and less tiring snowshoe is suitable for “feather weights”.

In addition to shaping, the surface is essential, so as not to sink into the snow: the greater the weight of the hiker, the greater must be the support area of the snowshoes. The total weight also includes clothing and a “full load” backpack. Of course, the “needle of the scale” is low if among the “user” groups we also have children: so even the age counts and companies know it well, so they make models designed for the needs of the little “Jack London”!

The shape, size and colour of the snowshoes are also studied on the basis of gender: we know that the most important companies now have different models for men and women, as is the case for boots, backpacks, clothing and other sports items.

However, among the basic requirements that snowshoes must have to wear there is absolute simplicity and an easy and quick attack (“challenging” operations when the hands are cold), which allows an optimal locking of any boot.

Before buying snowshoes, we need to concentrate on our feet and therefore on the footwear created for snow activities. WINTER SHOES must be wear-resistant, water-proof and provide maximum protection. We recommend a medium stiff, doweled sole that makes contact with the ground safer, even on snowy or icy surfaces. This category of winter footwear must have the possibility of using automatic attachments mounted on many types of crampons and snowshoes. The choice of boots is a delicate matter, should not be underestimated at all, to deepen the topic we suggest the following articles:

We mentioned the boots, but also the role of THERMAL SOCKS is fundamental: they are the “cushion” between the skin of the feet and the shoes, they keep the feet warm in difficult weather conditions and cold temperatures.

Often and willingly they are snubbed, in the shop we choose the first pair that happens, in reality the socks are real masterpieces of construction technique for the choice of the combination of fabrics: for example, natural fibers such as Merino Extrafine wool (excellent thermal insulation), or Kashmir (which allows you to combine exceptional qualities of softness, thermal insulation and elasticity), combined with synthetic fibers such as polyamide (which improves the strength of the sock) and elastane make the sock perfectly wrapping, warm and breathable. All combined with special twisted yarn processing, which combine different yarns, transforming them into a single yarn more resistant.

When choosing the length of the sock, if you use gaiters we suggest the one that is as long as the knee. Let’s also remember that comfort and lightness are certainly not the prerogative of winter boots, so reinforced, resistant and cushioned socks can avoid the onset of annoying blisters and abrasions.

We can’t forget about the CLOTHING: comfort, functionality, lightness, protection from the cold to face the winter rigours, price… there are several factors that influence the choice of the technical garments that we have to wear in the coldest season of the year. Fortunately, today’s technology offers clothing that is almost “perfect” in guaranteeing comfort and performance in all weather conditions.

We suggest to invest mainly in the jacket, in fact during winter hiking we can not do without our shell, a protective barrier against rain, snow and wind. Waterproofness, wind insulation and breathability are common features of jackets for trekking and mountaineering, while the strength and resistance of the fabrics are essential for activities on rock or ice, where abrasion and rubbing are frequent, while lightness is an aspect that must be of particular interest to those who practice and trek. The subject is varied, so we refer you to the following articles:

Some ACCESSORIES useful for comfort, balance and personal safety are part of the “essential” for walking with snowshoes, in particular gaiters, poles and crampons are used to improve grip on snow and ice. Buy them, it’s money well spent!

The BASTONCINI help to maintain balance and rhythm, they are good for all seasons, in winter the only precaution is to mount on the lower end of the stick a wide wheel, so the tip can not sink into the snowpack. The poles belong to different price ranges, you must choose the model best suited to the frequency and use that we want to make of it.

An often obligatory association, certainly advantageous, of mutual “mutualism”, is that between snowshoe and GHETTA. This accessory is essential on the snow because it contributes to the general impermeability of the footwear and the lower part of the trousers, as well as protecting the front part of the boot. The gaiter is made of water-repellent material, resistant to rubbing and tearing. Choose the ones that are taller than the knee. On the market you can also find gaiters made of breathable material, but the price rises and so on: in our opinion it would not be an unnecessary expense!

Now we come to our most important travel companion: the backpacker! Also in this case, as for clothing and boots, there are some topics to be addressed, so we refer you to the insights published on our website. Remember, however, that the choice of a backpack is related to the type of activity we are going to face and the winter season: in this case the winter clothes are more voluminous than the spring-summer ones, so we need more “liters”.

The winter backpack must be waterproof, sturdy and abrasion-resistant (…we hang snowshoes from buckles, sticks or even crampons). Side buckles, lanyards or nets are therefore not an option: when provided, they allow snowshoe poles to remain firmly attached to our “mobile home” and make them easily accessible in case of need. Among the indispensable in the backpack, certainly a thermos with some hot tea and a spare shirt.

In the backpack, especially if you leave the wooded areas, you should never miss the A.R.V.A. and finally, it is always better to have a topographic map or a GPS, just not to lose the road, or better, the track. Remember that in winter the snow “masks” the path and you can only see the signs placed on the trees and the signal poles (everything ‘on the ground is invisible to our eyes).

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