If the heart of your exercise program is walking, what do you do when it’s cold and snowy? A treadmill at the gym is one option. Snowshoes are another. They can keep you moving all winter, and some people enjoy snowshoeing enough to travel to a snowy climate to do it.
It’s the easiest of all winter sports; if you can walk, you can snowshoe—on a golf course, in a local park or woodsy area, on a hiking trail or a meadow. Take a companion, or enjoy the solitude. It’s also a fine group or family activity. Walking sticks or ski poles are helpful.
Choosing a snowshoe
Like so much else, snowshoes have gone high-tech. They are about 25 to 30 inches long, lightweight, and made of plastic, rubber, and aluminum. The platform, which used to be webbed like a tennis racket, is now usually solid. The easy-to-use bindings attach the platform to your boot at the toe (the heel lifts off the snowshoe).
Snowshoes come in many different types and sizes, designed to accommodate your weight and the weight of any pack you carry. Children’s models start at about $50; most adult models cost $100 to $200.
When buying snowshoes, tell the salesperson how you plan to use them (what kind of terrain, for example), and ask how good the shoe is at keeping you on top of the snow. You’ll want to consider how much traction it provides, and you’ll want to be sure the binding is comfortable.
You can choose a simpler recreational type or else a "backcountry" model with heavier bindings and platforms, designed for steep ascents or icy ground. You can also buy online—many sites offer lots of help. If possible, rent snowshoes before buying a pair to see what you like.
A good workout
Depending on how long you walk and the terrain you choose, snowshoeing can provide a good aerobic workout, often more strenuous than walking. Walking in snowshoes at 3 miles per hour burns about 350 calories in an hour (a little more than regular walking at that pace); snowshoeing at a brisker pace should increase this to about 500 calories.
Using ski poles or walking sticks adds an upper-body workout and burns more calories. A small older study found that fit young women burned 800 calories per hour of snowshoeing, and men 1,000 calories, but that’s a more strenuous workout than most people can sustain.
Start out slowly on level ground to accustom yourself to having platforms on your feet. You’ll have to widen your stance and learn to keep the shoes parallel. When going up or down hills, you can keep your stride short to avoid falling. Get used to the feel of snowshoes before tackling steep slopes. Poles can be a big help on inclines.
What to wear, what to drink
Dress warmly, in layers that include “wickable” materials that draw perspiration away from your body, as you would for any cold-weather activity. You’ll want to be able to remove outer layers when you get hot. Also wear wickable socks. Mittens or gloves and a hat are necessities. So are sunscreen and sunglasses or goggles. A windbreaker is a good idea.
If you’re out for the day, carry a light pack with snacks and beverages. As with all winter sports, it’s important to drink a lot of water. If you’re going into the woods, know your route and take a map.