So you have decided to go snowshoeing, great choice! But whether you are an expert, novice or beginner, you need to be sure you have a safe, fun day out in the snow. I am going to list just some of the things you need to remember when heading out to go snowshoeing. Of course this article can never tell you everything you need to know to be safe, so always use common sense, and don’t do anything you do not feel safe doing.

Always check the weather forecast before heading out into the snow. This may sound like one of those “duh” tips, but so many people don’t check the weather forecast before heading out, and that can make for a bad day snowshoeing, or, in some cases tragedy if a storm hits and you get stuck out in the wilderness somewhere.

Not only should you check to see if a storm is coming that you are unaware of, you should also check to see what the conditions will be when you will be out there. I find that a good time to go snowshoeing is after a storm has dropped fresh snow and cleared out. Many times you will actually have a nice sunny day, and the temperatures will be somewhat warmer for you.

Remember, if you plan on going on a cloudy day, or at a time when it will actually be snowing, you might encounter poor visibility conditions, which will heighten the chances that you may lose your way and get lost in the forest. You don’t want that to happen! So please be sure to check more than one source for the weather forecast.

You can use apps on your phone or tablet, and of course local news websites. The key is to check and see if you should even be out there. If you are a very experienced winter sports enthusiast, and have all the proper gear for spending the night in the snowy wilderness, please use common sense when deciding to go out. If you are a novice or beginner? You should wait for a day when the forecasts call for clear good weather.

However, keep in mind that weather forecasting is not an exact science, and sometimes storms come faster than expected, so don’t go out into the wilderness without being prepared with the other items we will list here.

Full Moon Showshoeing-6For your safety, never, ever go snowshoeing alone, or go out hiking alone in winter. If you fall and break an ankle or leg you might pay with your life! Even if you are very experienced accidents can happen. Just don’t go out alone!

Also, remember that daylight hours are shorter in the winter and the sun goes down earlier in the day. Get an early start, and go prepared with a headlamp and extra batteries just in case you don’t get back to your vehicle when you expect, and remember that lithium batteries are usually more reliable in cold weather than alkaline batteries.

Leave a trip itinerary with a friend or family member who knows who to call if you are late in returning. Make sure and tell them that you will call or contact them when you get home, and if they don’t hear from you that they are to try and contact you. However, remember that cell phone service in the wilderness is usually spotty, and sometimes nonexistent, so don’t depend on your cell phone when out snowshoeing. Tell your contact person to call the authorities if you are late in returning. Also, if you decide to go someplace other than where you planned make sure you actually talk to your contact person and let them know your change of plans. Don’t assume they see a text, talk to them, better to be safe than sorry.

Also remember that deep snow may hide the trail markers when you are in an established Sno-Park, and it is easy to get turned around when out in the wilderness and you might lose your way. Bring along topographical maps, a good handheld GPS unit, and a Compass. But, please don’t rely on modern technology, bring the maps and compass, and know how to use them! While a GPS device is a fantastic piece of technology, don’t rely on a GPS device to help you when out snowshoeing. The batteries may go bad (always carry extra), or the device may just stop working. Know how to use maps and read a compass! And especially don’t rely on your smartphone to help you navigate the wilderness. You see so many stories of people who got lost while out in the forest who said they were fine until their phone battery died. Just don’t rely on your phone!

Always dress for the snow! While snowshoeing is a fun sport, remember that it gets cold when out in the snow during the winter. Go prepared with proper winter sports clothing. Dress in layers as you can always take off a layer if you get too warm, but you can’t add clothing you don’t have. Always have waterproof snow pants, jackets, gloves, warm socks (bring extra in your backpack just in case) and something to cover your head and ears. Cotton clothing is something to stay away from when out in the snow as it will absorb your perspiration and get saturated with moisture. This will make you feel even colder, and it will not provide proper protection from the cold. This of course can lead to hypothermia, which is one of the biggest dangers of being out in the cold, and can lead to your death if you are out unprotected for too long.

Sunglasses are also a great item to carry with you.

Full Moon Showshoeing-36You should also carry a headlamp for each member of your group, and one or two small flashlights. I know, you are going on a DAY snowshoe adventure right? But if something happens and you are out there after dark, you will be glad you did. You also need to be sure to have extra batteries for the headlamp and the flashlights!

Always have a hydration backpack with plenty of water. Even though it is cold out there, you need to stay hydrated just as much as you would when out hiking on a warm summer day. You can find a wide variety of hydration packs at Amazon.com that should work for snowshoeing, and that you can also use for hiking during the summer. You do need to make sure the tube for your hydration pack is insulated so the water in the tube won’t freeze. Yep, happened to me once. You should also carry some extra water in a Hydro Flask just in case.

Your backpack should also have a lightweight waterproof Windsack , or some kind of multipurpose bivy bag that can act as emergency cover during an emergency, or at the very least a lightweight tarp to help protect you from the elements if something happens when you are out there.

Another item to carry in your backpack is some kind of waterproof emergency blankets to help keep you warm. They are lightweight, and come packaged in a very small wrapping and won’t take up much room in your backpack.

Your backpack should also have an outdoor safety and survival kit of some kind, matches in a waterproof container, and something light that burns hot and quick like cotton balls, or fire starter of some kind (you just never know when you will need them).

You should also have some good sunblock that can resist sweat ( the higher the SPF number the better ), and aspirin, ibuprofen, or whatever pain reliever you prefer. You should also carry ChapStick or other lip balm.

And you should either have a good outdoor survival knife either in your backpack, or strapped to your belt.

You should also carry extra food and snacks when out in the wilderness. We usually carry apples or other fruit, some string cheese, and energy bars like Cliff or Luna Bars, along with a sandwich to eat when we get hungry. We also usually have trail mix or nuts in our backpack just in case we start feeling weak and need an energy boost. Bring more food and snacks than you think you will need in case something happens that delays your return to your vehicle.

This may sound like a lot of items to carry in your backpack, but remember, everyone in your party should have their own backpack, and you can kind of share the load when it comes to food, water, and the emergency items you might need.

Also, if you have kids going with you don’t be afraid to teach them how to carry their own food and gear. Get them a good quality backpack and let them carry their own gear. It always amazes, and kind of irritates me, when I see adults carrying everything for the kids, especially when those kids are in their teens. One of the best things I saw when out hiking one day was when a group of Cub Scouts were returning from a trip into the wilderness and all those kids were carrying their own backpacks. I was kind of amazed at how big those packs were on those young kids, but they all looked to be having fun, and they were learning how to carry their own food and gear when out in the wilderness!

While not a piece of survival gear, you should also bring your camera! Almost anyplace you go snowshoeing will be very beautiful, and you will want to share it with your friends! While the cameras on today’s smartphones take really nice photos, I always bring along one of my Canon DSLR cameras. Just remember to keep your camera inside your jacket when not in use as the batteries can fail if they get too cold, and the lenses may fog up when exposed to the cold and then warmed again. If your camera does get fogged up is should be fine if you let your camera warm up slowly when you return from your winter adventure. Place it on a cool windowsill or in an unheated room or porch for a couple of hours so it can rise slowly to room temperature. Try to avoid exposing it to higher temperatures until after it has time to warm up as that can cause condensation which can damage the electronics of your camera.

You should also be aware of your surroundings, and be on the lookout for thin ice, and never walk over frozen water unless you are sure of its safety, or avoid walking on ice altogether. Remember that even in the middle of winter after a long freeze, a body of water may have thin spots. So be careful, use common sense, and avoid walking on ice if it isn’t known to be safe!

Photo Credit: Nathan Forget

Photo Credit: Nathan Forget

You should also respect the wildlife you will encounter out in the wilderness, remember to keep your distance and respect them, and their environment.

You also need to be aware of the dangers of frost bite when out snowshoeing. Keep all exposed appendages protected, especially if the temperatures drop, or if it is a windy day. This is where those waterproof gloves, hat and other outdoor clothing will come in handy.

Of course you always need to be aware of the risk of hypothermia when out snowshoeing. Use your waterproof clothing properly, stay dry inside and out, and dress properly for the snow and cold. Also, keeping hydrated is important, and sometimes we even bring along some hot coffee or hot chocolate in a Hydroflask to help keep us warm when out snowshoeing.

Another danger of being out in the wilderness during the winter is the risk of avalanches. You can get some information on the dangers of avalanches by reading this page at Avalanche.org, and if you are in the Central Oregon area you can get current avalanche information at the Central Oregon Avalanche Association website.

You should also make sure your vehicle is full of fuel. You don’t want to run out of gas when getting to, and from snowshoeing. Also, if you slide off the road, or have some kind of mechanical failure that doesn’t involve the engine not working, you can use your vehicle’s heater to keep you warm until help arrives.

You should also have proper snowshoeing gear. If you are very experienced and are planning an overnight snowshoeing trip you will of course need some high-end snowshoes, but if you are a novice or beginner you can get some decent beginner snowshoe kits for a very reasonable price.

You can find a lot of good snowshoe kits by using the Amazon.com ads below. If you don’t see what you want just use the search bar below the items shown.

Just make sure to get the proper size snowshoes for your body weight, and also make sure you have ski poles, or the really nice poles that come with most snowshoe kits. Believe me, you will regret it if you don’t have the poles. Keep in mind that adjustable poles are best, as they can be shortened for uphill travel, and lengthened for when going downhill. The length of your poles should be adjusted so your elbow is at a right angle.

If you have never gone snowshoeing, and are not sure you will like it, you may want to rent a pair of snowshoes from a local sporting goods store or resort rental shop. Most daily rentals run from $15-30 a day and they will provide you with snowshoes and poles.

Photo credit: Jeff Moser

Photo credit: Jeff Moser

Ok, you have told someone where you are going, and you have your snowshoes, survival gear, food, water and other items, what is next? Well, one of the first things you need to do is decide where to go! You can find out about many of the Sno-Parks in the Bend and Central Oregon area at our snowshoeing page. If you are not in the Central Oregon area, just Google snowshoeing trails for your area. You should be able to find something that will work for you! You can also ask at local sporting goods stores, they will usually know the best places in your area go to.

You should also know the basics on how to get around when you strap those snowshoes on. Snowshoes are longer and wider than your hiking boots, and walking with them on will take a little getting used to. I advise you to just walk around your neighborhood if you have snow on the ground, or just walk around the parking area of the Sno-Park (watching for moving vehicles of course) until you feel comfortable walking with them on.

When snowshoeing, place your feet firmly on the snow, and keep those poles in front of you for balance. When you go uphill try to dig your toes in to allow for the metal cleats on the bottom of the shoes to grip the snow, and when going downhill keep your poles planted in front of you, knees bent and relaxed, and your body weight slightly back. Walk smoothly and plant heel first, then toe, and try to put your balance on the middle of your foot. For more detailed instructions on how to get around in snowshoes, try reading this nice article on snowshoeing at REI.com, or Snowshoe Magazine’s “First-Timer’s Guide to Snowshoeing,

Whew! That is a lot to take in, and if you plan properly and use common sense you may never need a lot of this information, but it is always best to be prepared just in case. So know what you need to know to be prepared, and then just get out and go snowshoeing! It is an extremely fun winter sport! Of course this article can never tell you everything you need to know to be safe, so always use common sense, and don’t do anything you do not feel safe doing.