Snowshoeing Techniques and Etiquette

Last week I talked about my newfound love of snowshoeing. It is a fantastic winter sport that almost anyone can enjoy. Snowshoeing has motivated me to get out during winter to get fresh air and exercise. 

Another great aspect of snowshoeing is that it is beginner-friendly. You can learn a few simple techniques the first time you go out on snowshoes.

Snowshoeing is also one of the least expensive winter sports. You will already have most of the gear you need among your regular winter paraphernalia. You need only add snowshoes and poles to your stock. Gaiters are nice too, but not completely necessary. 

See last week’s Trail Family for a guide to wearing layers while you snowshoe. Inexpensive snowshoes are available on Amazon, but many trail offices or local trail shops have the gear to rent or borrow.

Walking On Snowshoes

I’ll give a quick review of how to walk in snowshoes. Your feet will stand slightly wider than your hips to accommodate the width of the snowshoes. As you pick up your foot, allow your ankle to be loose so that your toe hangs down slightly. Step forward onto the ball of your foot first and then your heel. 


While you don’t need trekking poles when snowshoeing, they are a great help. They will aid you in balancing while walking on flat trails or hills. As we go over techniques for ascending and descending hills, you will see how the poles come into play.

Stock photo from WordPress. It shows you how the snowshoe looks when you lift your foot.

Ascending a Hill

Always plant your feet firmly with your poles in front of you when ascending a hill. Three ascent techniques depend on the conditions. 

On hardpack snow, you’ll rely on the cleats on the bottom of the snowshoes to grip the snow. Keep your poles in front of you and walk normally. If you are sliding down or having trouble balancing, the hill is too steep. Find another route.

In powdery snow, you can use the kick-step technique. Kick into the snow with the toe of your snowshoe and boot. You may need to repeat the motion until you create a firm step to stand on. The backs of your snowshoes will hang down on the angle of the slope. Firmly plant the ball of your foot where the cleats are. If kicking into the snow only makes a deep hole, find an alternate route. 

Side-hilling works in both snow conditions. You will turn sideways on your route and press the uphill side of each snowshoe into the snow to create shelves to stand on. Adjust your poles so that the uphill pole is shorter and the downhill pole is longer. This will help you balance as you work your way up the hill.  

Descending a Hill

Adjust your poles so that they are longer when descending a hill. Keep them in front of you to help balance. Keep your knees slightly bent and lean your weight backward. Plant your heel first, and do not roll onto the ball of your foot if the hill is steep. If you begin to fall, just sit down. 

Snowshoe Trail Etiquette

Sharing the trails with others comes with any trail activity. We all want to be safe and take care of the trails. Snowmobilers and cross country skiers are your primary trail companions in winter. 

Keeping to the edges of the trail and walking single file helps keep you safe and preserves any cross country ski tracks on the trail. 

When you first begin snowshoeing, you will likely stick to the trails. A hike through frost-covered woods makes a memorable snowshoe trip. But you should be aware of any posted signs for private property. Going on a guided walk is an excellent option too.

Enjoy your snowshoe adventures! Share your photos on Instagram. Tag @trailfamilylife and use #trailfamily.

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